Social distancing isn’t my favorite.
Maybe it isn’t yours either.
But if you ever feel like you’re social distancing life isn’t very fun for you, google #SocialDistancingFails. You’ll quickly realize maybe you don’t have it so bad.
Like this guy who wanted some bananas, because he wanted to stay safe, he ordered 3 bananas for delivery –and received three bunches instead.
Or the guy whose phone stopped working, but because the repair shop was closed, he bought himself a brand-new phone – which he proceeded to drop as he opened the package.
Or this family, whose kid heard his mom talking about how she’d have to give him a haircut since the barber was closed, so - he tried it himself.
Social distancing is necessary for preventing the spread of the virus.
But it may also exacerbate another struggle:
Loneliness has been a problem in America before social distancing was ever a thing.
Today we’re going see how Jesus gives us VICTORY OVER LONELINESS. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. What Makes the Good Shepherd “Good”
The Scripture we’re going to start with today comes from John 10.
Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd.” (John 10:11)
Shepherding was very common at the time of Jesus. Shepherds would usually take their flocks outside the city. They’d watch over them as they grazed. They’d lead them to water. They’d protect the sheep from any dangerous predators.
If you were a good shepherd, the sheep would be generally well fed.
You’d be awake watching the flock, for as long as your shift lasted.
And when the owner showed up to ask how you were doing, you were amicable.
That’s the human definition of “good” shepherd.
But that’s not God’s definition of a GOOD shepherd:
The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired man, who is not a shepherd, does not own the sheep. He sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep, and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. Because he works for money, he does not care about the sheep. (John 10:11-13)
In the literal sense of what Jesus says, let’s not judge the hired hand too harshly.
We see the passage and we think – how awful that hired hand is – he runs away from those poor sheep.
How could he do that?
If you worked at Starbucks, would you be willing to mix up a Latte, if it meant dodging machine gun fire over your head?
If you were a dog walker, would you keep doing your job, even if there were reports of land mines planted up and down your street?
If you were an accountant, would you be willing to do people’s taxes, even if alligators kept attacking you every time you started a spreadsheet (because they love “crunching” numbers)?
Of course not.
These are just jobs.
They might not be worth your life.
This is happening right now.
People aren’t going to work, because it isn’t worth getting the Coronavirus and possibly dying.
It’s the same thing with shepherding.
Shepherding was a regular line of work.
You got paid to watch sheep.
Most shepherds would not lay down their lives for their sheep.
Because $10 bucks an hour is not worth becoming a deli sandwich for a wolf pack.
Most shepherds wouldn’t lay down their lives for the sheep.
Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
You are his sheep.
Jesus lays down his life for you.
Key TRUTH 1:
The Good Shepherd would rather lose HIS LIFE than lose YOU.
II. The Good Shepherd Rescues
And you ask, “How was God about to lose me?”
Do you want to know the honest truth about sin?
Sin is reprehensible to God.
Granted – some sins are repulsive to us too.
But not all sin is.
You probably don’t have a problem with a few lies.
A gossipy comment on Facebook.
A lustful look every now and then.
A brief headache from a night of overdrinking.
Even a short, three-minute complaint session about your spouse.
Here’s where God is different.
God won’t allow SIN in his PRESENCE.
It’s like that one friend on Facebook that gets a bit too political for your taste.
They post every hour on the hour.
Unfortunately, you’ve paused to get angry at his posts long enough that Facebook recognizes your interests and shows you more and more of his political commentary.
Until eventually, you can’t stand it anymore.
You click in the upper right-hand corner.
You SNOOZE him for 30 days.
You have successfully removed him from your presence.
That’s how God feels about sin.
He hates sin so much that he wants sin completely removed from his presence.
But it’s deeper than that.
The other day there was a stink coming from our house. I couldn’t exactly identify what the stink was, so I tried various things.
Open the windows? Didn’t get rid of it.
Grab some Febreeze and cover the couches? Nope.
Burn a Pumpkin Spiced Latte candle? Now it just smells like Pumpkin Spiced Latte stink.
Finally, I got a bit too close to my dog, Clay.
I gave him a sniff.
And immediately took him outside.
If you want to treat the stink, remove the source of the stink.
God truly wants to treat sin.
But he knows that he can’t just treat the symptoms of sin.
He must remove the source.
And what’s the source of a sin? A sinner.
What’s the source of your sin?
Look at what Isaiah 59:2,
Your sins have separated you from your God!
Read that again. Slowly.
Your sins have separated YOU from God.
It doesn’t say, “Your sins have separated themselves from God!”
It says, “Your sins have separated YOU from God. “
God won’t allow SINNERS in His PRESENCE.
Friend, listen to God’s Word.
If this isn’t corrected, you’ll be socially distanced from God for all of eternity.
It’s the worse social isolation of all time.
Hell is eternal social distancing from God!
It’s a place where God isn’t there.
Sometimes on earth – things are bad.
But…at least we’ve got God.
There’s no GOD in hell.
There’s only LONELINESS.
But you see, this is where the Good Shepherd comes in.
Even though God, as Holy Judge, can’t stand your sin,
God, as Good Shepherd, can’t stand losing you.
He noticed that you were missing.
He noticed that you weren’t with the flock.
He noticed that you weren’t safely in God’s pastures.
The Good Shepherd picked up his staff.
The Good Shepherd put on his cloak.
The Good Shepherd walked out of his pasture.
The Good Shepherd came into Valley of the Shadow of Death. (We call it: Earth.)
And on earth, he found you.
Surrounded by wolves:
All led by that alpha dog, Satan.
But the Good Shepherd wasn’t afraid.
The Good Shepherd didn’t turn back.
The Good Shepherd made a deal with the wolves.
“Let my sheep go.”
“You can have me instead.”
And the wolves tore him to shreds.
They surrounded him!
They roughed him up.
They barked insults at him.
They tore his clothing.
They salivated as his blood.
And howled with delight as he died.
Why did the Shepherd allow this?
Why didn’t he run?
To save you.
The Good Shepherd allowed the wolves to HARM him that they wouldn’t harm YOU.
Allow me to give you a straightforward message from God’s word.
Because of what the Good Shepherd did, the wolf of sin no longer surrounds you.
Because of what the Good Shepherd, the wolf of guilt cannot lick its chops.
Because of what the Good Shepherd did, you will not be eternally isolated.
Because of what the Good Shepherd did, you are not separated from God.
Because of what the Good Shepherd did, you…have been brought…home.
KEY TRUTH 2:
The Good Shepherd saved you from ETERNAL ISOLATION.
III. The Good Shepherd Lives
Granted, that is great news!
You aren’t alone.
You are in God’s flock.
You are a part of God’s pasture.
You aren’t spiritually isolated from God.
It’s a bit dissatisfying.
We’re out of isolation.
But we had to lose the Good Shepherd in order to get here.
It’s too bad he couldn’t overpower the wolves.
Look at what Jesus says in verse 18:
No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it up again. (v.18)
Do you see that?
The wolves didn’t take the Good Shepherd’s life,
The Good Shepherd gave his life to them.
And why did he give it?
Because he knows he could take his life back again.
The Good Shepherd let the wolves OVERPOWER him because he knew he could overpower DEATH.
Talk about a skillset!
I don’t think any other shepherd had that skill.
Some were skilled at navigating to find water.
Others were skilled at identifying non-poisonous plants for the sheep to eat.
A few could probably sheer the wool into a killer mohawk.
But the Good Shepherd’s greatest skill?
Mastery over death.
And that’s exactly what happened!
Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead.
He came out of the grave.
He resurrected his own body.
And he lives!
KEY TRUTH 3:
The Good Shepherd LIVES!
Right now, he’s with you.
Right now, he’s watching over you.
Even if you’re at home alone.
Even if you’re in a hospital bed alone.
Even if you haven’t seen another person in 16 days!
Jesus is with you.
You aren’t alone.
IV. The Good Shepherd Knows You
Sometimes you’d rather be alone than with someone.
For instance, I have no desire to be left alone with any kind clown.
Not a creepy one.
Not a regular one.
Not Bozo the clown.
I’d rather be alone than with any of those clowns.
Maybe it’s similar for you.
Maybe you don’t want to be alone with your 7th grade math teacher.
Maybe you don’t want to be alone with your ex-spouse.
Maybe you don’t want to be alone with that former friend who dragged your name through the mud.
Maybe you don’t want to be alone with a stranger!
Picture that. Imagine you were isolated with someone who didn’t know you and you didn’t know them.
I see that you have hair.
So…what’s your favorite flavor of Dorito?
Jesus isn’t a stranger.
“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.” (V.15)
Granted, there are billions of people in the world. It would be downright impossible for any one human to know them all.
In fact, I doubt there’s anyone in Raleigh who knows everyone in Raleigh.
Honestly, I don’t think I know all the people on my Facebook feed.
But Jesus knows all of those people.
And Jesus knows YOU.
And he knows you WELL.
Jesus knows YOU as intricately as he knows his FATHER.
God is Triune.
That means he is three in one.
The Father is God.
Jesus is God.
The Holy Spirit is God.
Yet there aren’t three gods, but one God.
The Father is God.
Jesus is God.
The Holy Spirit is God.
Yet there isn’t just one person, but three distinct persons.
This is impossible to fully grasp and understand.
But God gets it.
He understands how the three persons in the Godhead intersect.
He knows where one ends and the other begins.
He grasps how they are all three perfectly united as one Being.
And that’s how well God knows you.
He knows your fears.
He knows your sadness.
He knows your heartaches.
He knows what you’re going through right now.
And he is there with you.
Jesus knew your SECRET sin – and still DIED for you.
That’s what he repeats in verse 15. He says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”
But Jesus isn’t repeating it just to show off.
He wants you to know how well he knows you.
He knows that it was YOU who stole the cookie from the cookie jar way back when you were 6.
He knows that it was YOU who graffitied that bathroom stall in high school.
He knows that it was YOU who passed on that gossip about your best friend.
He knows what YOU did behind closed doors.
He knows what YOU did under cover of darkness.
He knows what YOU did and have never told anyone.
He knows it.
And he still died for you.
KEY TRUTH 4:
The Good Shepherd KNOWS you better than ANYONE.
He knows your strengths.
He knows your weaknesses.
He knows exactly how he’ll work through you to bring more sheep into his sheep pen.
This leads to the “What Now?” for the week.
V. What Now?
(1) Call Out to Sheep Outside the Pen!
Jesus says this, “I also have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. (v.16)
Jesus isn’t satisfied with the sheep that are in his sheep pen now.
There are others who don’t know about his love.
There are others who aren’t believers.
There are others who aren’t a part of his sheep pen...
If that’s you, listen to his voice right now.
He’s calling you.
Come into the sheep pen.
But for those of us already in the sheep pen, this is Jesus command to us.
Call out to those other sheep.
Tell them about Jesus.
Share with them the Gospel message.
If you know someone who doesn’t know about Jesus, write their name down.
Write it down and then, here’s what I want you to do.
Look for ways to share Jesus with them.
You could talk with them about Jesus.
You could send them a text message with a link to this video.
You could send them an inspirational scripture.
Do this today – and then – put the note on your fridge –
So that you can do it again later this week.
The truth is that sometimes you must keep calling and calling.
If you have a pet, you understand this.
As you keep calling and calling, the Good Shepherd’s voice will be heard through your voice…
Calling them home.
(2) Call Out to Sheep Inside the Pen
Right now, we can’t physically get together.
But we need to still stay connected.
Look at what verse 17 says:
Then there will be one flock and one shepherd.
We are one flock.
We have one shepherd.
Write down someone that you know from our church community.
You can use the same piece of scratch paper.
Write down someone that you know and haven’t talked to in a while.
Got it down?
Reach out to them today.
Text to see how they’re doing.
Call to see what’s been going on.
Facetime so that you can smile at them.
Not only will they be hearing your voice.
Not only will you be hearing theirs.
But together, you’ll be hearing the Good Shepherd’s.
Because sheep know their shepherd’s voice.
There’s this video on YouTube of a field trip to a farm.
They came to the pasture with the sheep and the shepherd asked them to each take a shot at calling the sheep over to the gate.
The first kid tried, “Here sheepy! Sheepy!”
The second kid tried, “C’mon! Sheep. This way!”
A chaperone tried, “Baa! Baa! Come over here!”
Finally, it was the shepherd’s turn.
Now, it’s in Norwegian, so I’ll give you my best guess, but…
The shepherd calls out: “Alright sheep. Time to go!”
As soon as they hear his voice, the sheep look up.
As soon as he finishes his sentence, the sheep start moving.
Within 15 seconds, the whole flock comes running to their shepherd’s voice.
The sheep know the voice of their shepherd.
We know the voice of our shepherd.
And our shepherd says, “We aren’t alone.” Amen.
We are in the middle of our VICTORIOUS sermon series. So far, we’d talked about how Jesus gives us victory over DEATH and FEAR.
Maybe you listened to both of those messages.
You felt encouraged.
But then, a few days later, you started to DOUBT.
Today we’re going see how Jesus gives us VICTORY OVER DOUBT. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Why Thomas Doubted
As a case study for doubt, we’re going to look at the story of one disciple named Thomas.
In fact, Thomas is such a good case study for doubt that he has developed the nickname “Doubting Thomas.”
This is unfortunate.
I bet he wishes he was remembered as “Believing Thomas,” “Courageous Thomas”, or even “Good Dental Hygiene Thomas.”
I doubt Thomas wanted to be known for Doubt.
But Thomas, one of the Twelve, the one called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. (John 20:24)
This account occurs late into the evening on that first Easter.
This after the women see the stone rolled open from the tomb.
This is after the women talk to angels who tell them about the resurrection.
This is after Mary Magdalene sees Jesus near the tomb.
This is after the other women meet Jesus outside the cemetery.
This is after two disciples traveling to Emmaus meet and speak with Jesus for three-plus hours.
This is after Peter gets a one-on-one visit from Jesus.
And this is after Jesus enters the locked room filled with 10 of the Twelve apostles - minus Judas, who took his own life and Thomas.
And I don’t know what Thomas was doing.
…Was he out shopping?
…Was he out visiting friends?
…Was he out grabbing some Starbucks orders?
…Was he stocking up on hand sanitizer for the group?
I don’t know.
The point is that he missed Jesus’ appearance.
So, the other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!” (v.5)
You wouldn’t believe it Thomas – He was alive!
Peter was scared. He thought it was a ghost. But it was real!
He let us touch his hands.
We put our fingers into the nail holes.
We placed our hands into the speak mark in his side.
He is alive! Isn’t it amazing!?!
And Thomas listened.
He stroked his beard.
And said, “It is amazing…how absolutely gullible you think I am!”
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)
Thomas didn’t trust his friends’ words.
Not as much as his eyesight.
Not as much as his sense of touch.
But it was more than just not trusting his friends.
Thomas trusted him OWN ABILITIES more than Jesus’ DIVINE ABILITIES
Thomas trusted his own ability to determine the veracity of the resurrection.
More than Jesus’ ability to accomplish one.
This is foolish when you consider the differences in Thomas and Jesus.
Thomas had the ability to defeat a cold, if he drank a lot of Orange Juice.
Jesus could beat a cold by speaking to it.
Thomas had the ability to float on water.
Jesus had the ability to walk on it.
Thomas had the ability to go to the local McDonalds and buy a Fish Filet.
Jesus had the ability to make 5000 more out of thin air.
It’s silly to trust a human being more than a Divine being.
It’s silly to trust a human being – even if that human being is yourself – more than Divine God.
II. Why We Doubt
This is not political, but pastoral.
In New York, the number of diagnoses each day has been going down. That’s good news. And maybe you saw that in response to that, the governor said this:
“The number is down because we brought the number down.” “God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that... That’s how it works. It’s math. And if you don’t continue to do that, you’re going to see that number go back up. And that will be a tragedy if that number goes back up.”
I get it. He was trying to tell people to keep social distancing, because it’s working.
But to say that it’s working apart from God?
Why can’t God have worked through a variety of messages, to turn people to do the kind thing and stay home… in addition to providing doctors and nurses the know how to work with patients and government leaders the wisdom to make wise policies.
Doubting that God is alive and working.
Sounds a lot like Thomas doubting that Jesus is alive and working.
Why do humans doubt God so much?
A few reasons…
(1) Doubt Arises from trusting HUMAN SENSES more than Jesus.
This was Thomas’ simple reason for not believing.
Unless he saw Jesus, touched Jesus, smelled Jesus, and heard Jesus, he wouldn’t believe.
It’s the same with us.
I don’t see God helping me with my finances, I only see it going down.
I don’t hear God’s voice calming my fears. I only hear the cries of panic from the rest of the world.
I can’t touch Jesus and give him a hug. I can’t touch anyone and give them a hug!
God doesn’t care.
God isn’t helping.
God isn’t there. y cares.
Do you realize how unreliable human senses really are?
Have you ever been to the eye doctor and had to cover up one of your eyes to read the eye chart? And they ask you to read line 4 and you’re like, “I think that’s a F. I know that’s an F. It must be an F.” So, you say, “I think it’s an F” and they say, “Nope. That’s an E.”
Our eyes are not totally reliable.
Have you ever seen those Febreze commercials where they blindfold people and put them in a room filled with garbage! Old banana peels, dirty diapers, mounds of pet hair. But…they cover it up with Febreze and the people think, “We must be in some kind of a rose a garden.”
Our noses are not totally reliable.
Auditory hallucination occurs when a person’s brain rewires itself to believe that certain thoughts or segments of music are being heard when in fact they are not. This can be caused by a concussion, a brain lesion, psychiatric disease or even high levels of caffeine. In an article published by the Scientific American, an estimated 15% of American Adults aged 18-64 regularly struggle with audio hallucinations, while that number doubles to 33% after the age of 65.
Our ears are not totally reliable.
He told a paralytic to walk and he did.
He told a blind man to see and he did.
He told a deaf man to hear and he did.
Trust Jesus more than your Senses.
(2) Doubt Arises from trusting HUMAN FEELINGS more than Jesus.
It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to conclude, “I’m feeling gloomy today, therefore, the sun must not be in existence anymore.”
Nor it is sensible to say, “I’m feeling scared, therefore, giant spider aliens must have invaded earth.”
Objective truth is not tied to subjective feeling.
Yet, we do this with God all the time.
I don’t feel very happy about the pandemic, God, so this must be the wrong choice.
The virus is making me sad, God, so you must not care about me.
I feel angry at the economic ramifications, so I’ve concluded that God is in the wrong.
There are all kinds of problems with trusting human emotions.
Human emotions are flimsy. They change rapidly and repeatedly.
Human emotions are singular. They consider one’s self and ignore how someone across the country is affected.
Human emotions are tied to health. If you get good sleep, it’s easier to feel happy.
But perhaps most importantly, the problem is that human feelings are tainted by sin.
You might feel sad that you aren’t able to go back to work, because making money was a great distraction from having to interact with your children.
You might feel angry that you can’t go to the gym, because you miss flirting with the instructor – even though she’s married and so are you.
I can feel sad that we’re doing online church. Some of the reasons for that sadness may be that I’m not able to feed my ego like I used to. Sinful.
But Jesus’ emotions were not tainted by sin.
When Jesus was about to go to the cross, it was the disciples who yelled at him and told him not to do it, because it made them sad.
If Jesus would have listened, they may have been happy for a moment – and currently sad as they spend forever in hell.
Instead, Jesus ignored human emotion and did what was necessary to save them – and us – with his death on the cross.
(3) Doubt Arises from trusting HUMAN REASON more than Jesus.
Here’s human reason on the coronavirus.
The coronavirus pandemic is causing suffering.
Therefore, the coronavirus pandemic isn’t good.
Therefore, God is either…
…good, but not really in control.
…in control, but not good.
…not existent at all.
Here’s some logic.
Humans aren’t perfect.
Therefore, their reasoning is imperfect.
Humans don’t know everything
Therefore, their reasoning is limited.
Humans aren’t always right.
Therefore, their reasoning is morally flawed.
If human reason is limited, imperfect, and morally flawed, then…
Maybe our reasoning about God during crisis is limited, imperfect, and flawed too.
It is unlimited.
It is perfect.
It is always right.
It is still unlimited.
it is still perfect.
it is still right.
III. Why We Shouldn’t Doubt
Like in the case of Thomas.
It didn’t make sense to Thomas that Jesus was alive.
It wasn’t rational.
It wasn’t reasonable.
Thomas didn’t understand it.
He gave his ultimatum.
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)
After eight days, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Take your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting but believe.” (John 20:26-27)
Thomas touches the goosebumps on Jesus arms.
He runs his fingers over the nail marks in his hands.
He puts his hand through the spear mark in his side.
“My Lord and my God!” (v.28)
That’s a total transformation.
Jesus has driven away Thomas’ doubt.
Instead asking “Why should I believe?” he begins to ask, “Why did I ever doubt?”
Jesus changes “why believe” into “why doubt.”
When you think about this story objectively, there were all kinds of reasons to believe.
There had been twenty-some eyewitness reports.
These reports came from a variety of appearances.
The tomb was empty.
There had been a group of trusted friends telling him that they had seen Jesus.
There had even been Jesus’ own promises that he would rise from the dead – long before it ever happened.
Jesus changes “why believe” into “why doubt.”
That’s true for you too.
Because Jesus conquered death.
Jesus conquered your sin.
Jesus lives on high.
He is still in control.
He is still in love with you.
And he is still working all things for your eternal good.
Stop doubting and believe.
IV. How to battle Doubt
Yet…we do struggle.
We are sinners.
We are weak.
We are imperfect.
If we live, we will face doubts.
How do we battle doubt?
A few lessons from Scripture:
(1) Recognize YOU Can’t Stop Doubt
This is an important point. Because what I fear some of you might do when you are done with this worship service is to say to yourself, “I need to stop doubting. I can do it.” Then, you head into the corner, scrunch your face up, and say, “Stop doubting. Stop doubting. Stop doubting.”
This will not work.
It won’t be long before you say, “I doubt that I can keep this up.”
After Thomas’ confession of faith, look at Jesus’ response:
“Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (v.29)
Did you hear that?
Jesus called people who believe without seeing as BLESSED.
Blessed can mean “gifted.”
People who believe without seeing didn’t develop that ability on their own.
God gave it to them.
Faith is a GIFT.
It isn’t something you earn.
It isn’t something you do.
It is something that God gives.
(2) Let God Battle Doubt for You
Though Jesus’ implies that faith without seeing is something that’s impossible for a human to accomplish on their own, in that same sentence, Jesus also implies that people do believe.
Look at John’s answer:
Jesus, in the presence of his disciples, did many other miraculous signs that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (v.30-31)
Did you see it?
God wants you to know the reality of the risen Jesus.
God wants you to know so that you live forever in heaven with him.
God wants you to know and – in order that you would know – he inspired John to write it down for you.
God’s Word Battles Doubt for Us
Doubting that God will take care of your family? God’s Word says, “The Lord is my shepherd. He leads me beside quiet water. He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23)
Doubting that God will be able to conquer COVID-19? God’s Word says, “Praise the Lord, my soul, forget not God’s benefits – He forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” (Psalm 103)
Doubting that God will give you the finances you need? God’s Word says, “Look at the birds of the air; they don’t work, yet our heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable?” (Matthew 6)
Doubting that God isn’t mad at you from all your sin? God’s Word says, “In Jesus we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Ephesians 1:7)
God’s Word battles doubt for us.
When you are starting to doubt.
When you are feeling like God isn’t in control.
When your senses, emotions, and reason are battling you, run to God’s Word and let God battle for you.
And then, once the doubts subside…
(3) Anchor Yourself to God’s word
The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6)
Because life is very much like a sea.
Our senses smack us in the face like waves.
Our emotions swirl around us.
Reason flies into our face like the wind.
When you are anchored in God’s Word.
When you are clinging to God’s promises.
When you are holding to Jesus…
You will not sink into doubt.
But stand on Jesus. Amen.
Last week we began our sermon series called VICTORY and were reminded how Jesus won the VICTORY over death with his glorious resurrection. Today we’re going back to the very first Easter to learn something else that Jesus gives use victory over. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. When Fear Reigns
On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together…(Jn. 20:19)
I don’t think I’ve ever read this portion of Scripture before and felt so envious.
They weren’t practicing social distancing.
They got to be together.
They didn’t have to ZOOM.
They didn’t have to log on to YouTube.
Andrew didn’t have to tell Peter to turn his sound off when he wasn’t talking so that you could hear James the Less.
The disciples were together.
They weren’t having a meal.
They weren’t playing Settlers of Catan.
They weren’t enjoying drinks and throwing darts.
They were scared.
…the disciples were together… behind locked doors because of their fear of the Jews. (Jn. 20:19)
A latch at the top of the door.
A key lock from the inside.
A circular deadbolt.
A square deadbolt.
A combination lock.
One of those big old pieces of wood that you slide in front of the door.
A couple of chains.
A metal boot.
Even a bunch of chairs, tables, and boxes pushed in front.
The doors were locked because of the fear of the Jews.
They were talking about the religious leaders.
These guys were murderers.
They were vicious.
They had plotted.
They had planned.
They had pushed their agenda until Jesus had been brutally crucified.
If they did that to their leader, they might not stop until each of them was nailed to a cross.
But their fears were more than that…
The disciples were out of a job! With Jesus gone, their whole corporation had folded.
They couldn’t get out and make an income. They’d be risking arrest.
They were afraid for the future of their careers, afraid for the future of their families, and afraid for the future of their church
I bet they were even afraid of how they were going to get food through the night.
Without Jesus, FEARS reigns.
Because if Jesus were here, they’d be protected from the Roman soldiers. Jesus even drove out demons.
If Jesus were here, they didn’t need to worry about money. He once caught a fish with the exact amount of money needed to pay taxes.
If Jesus were here, they’d be taken care of, he fed over 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and two fish. He could use that leftover ground beef in the fridge and turn it into a Taco Supreme with the snap of his fingers.
Jesus wasn’t there.
And without Jesus,
This is a big problem in our world right now.
The devil is trying to distract us with bad report after bad report, terrible news after terrible news, horrible thing after horrible thing.
So that we miss out on Jesus.
Without Jesus, Fear reigns.
If I’m honest…
It’s worked on me.
I’ve been afraid.
What are some things that pastors are afraid of during COVID-19? I’ll tell you.
Afraid of never getting another high five.
Afraid that having to stay between lines will condition me not to move back and forth while I preach.
I’m afraid that we will lose momentum.
Afraid that those Sanctuary Updates…may never happen?
Afraid that our idea for a satellite church in Durham will stall.
Afraid that offerings will go down and we’ll have to trim our ministries?
Afraid that Precious Lambs will barely survive.
Afraid that we’ll lose families.
Afraid that we’ll lose workers.
Afraid that the virus might get to one of you.
Afraid that the virus might be spread by me.
Afraid that because of quarantine laws, one of our members might be dying and I won’t be able to see you in person before your final breath.
Afraid that we might not be able to get to little Daniela.
Afraid that she’ll get sick.
Afraid that since she’s immunocompromised that if she gets sick…
…I’ll never get to meet her.
That’s how it feels when the devil distances me from Jesus.
Because without Jesus, FEAR reigns.
II. Replacing Fear
But here’s the good news for you and me:
…The devil can never do that for very long.
…Because Jesus always finds his people.
…even behind locked doors.
Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be with you!” (Jn. 20:19)
To be honest, their initial reaction was probably fear. In fact, the Gospel of Luke tells us that, “they were terrified and thought they were looking at a ghost.” (Luke 24:37)
To help with their fears, “Jesus showed them his hands and side” (20:20a)
Here. Feel the bumps on my skin.
Put your hands on my face. Warm, right?
Touch the ridges of the nail scars.
Notice the spear shaped mark in my side.
I’m not a ghost
I’m not a figment of your imagination.
And here’s what happens next
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. (v.20b)
Did you see that?
It had been a room filled with fear.
But when Jesus enters the room?
He turns it all around.
And its replacement?
Jesus replaces FEAR with JOY.
Afraid of lost income? Jesus offers your eternal riches that will never run out.
Afraid of a lost job? Jesus gives you a place working aside him in his kingdom.
Fearful of the virus? Jesus defeated death itself!
Fearful for your family? Jesus says you will always be a part of his.
Fearful for your church? Jesus is the church’s One foundation. It will not lose.
Afraid of being alone? Jesus is with you now and will never leave you.
III. Proclaiming Peace
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Look at what he does next:
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you! Just as the Father has sent me, I am also sending you.” (Jn. 20:21)
Notice how that starts: PEACE. Jesus says it again!
And I don’t think any of the disciples were upset that Jesus repeated himself. (Honestly, there shouldn’t be a limit in the number of times that God’s people can hear him say: “PEACE.”)
But I think there’s a reason he does this specifically here.
As they realize that it’s all true.
As they realize that Jesus really rose from the dead.
As they realize that he truly was standing before them…
It’s quite possible that another fear hit them.
He’s come to get us back!
Last we saw him, we abandoned him.
We denied him.
We went and hid while he faced death by himself.
We are sinners. Our Holy God has returned to get us!
Oh no! Please shoot your lightning bolts in Peter’s direction. It was all his idea!
But Jesus didn’t shoot them with a lightning bolt.
He didn’t yell at them.
He didn’t even give them a stern look.
He simply said:
I’m not here to hurt you.
Your sins are forgiven.
I’m not here to hurt you.
I’m here to recruit you.
PEACE-filled people proclaim PEACE.
Imagine with me what it will be like.
You’re watching the news.
Suddenly, there’s a breaking report.
The quarantine is over.
The virus is in remission.
What are you going to do when your spouse comes into the room and ask, “Has anything interested happened?”
Are you gonna say, “Nah.”?
No, you’ll tell her the good news.
You’ll text message a friend.
You’ll Facebook live yourself doing a Coronavirus is conquered dance.
We have better news than that.
Our sins have been forgiven.
Jesus conquered death.
We have the promise of eternal life.
This is worth sharing.
IV. What Now?
How do you do it? How do we proclaim peace in a COVID-19 world? I want to switch gears and head to the book of 1 John. That is the first letter written to believers everywhere by the Apostle John. John was one of the Apostles in that room on the first Easter Sunday. He was a guy that had been filled with fear until Jesus showed up and transformed it into joy.
He knows a thing or two about driving fear from people’s hearts,
Because Jesus drove fear from his own heart.
Listen to what he writes in 1 John 4:16-18.
God is love. He who remains in love remains in God and God in him. In this way his love has been brought to its goal among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are just like Jesus. There is no fear in love, but complete love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. (1 John 4:16-18)
I love how that starts.
God is love.
Love is God.
It doesn’t say that God is FEAR.
It doesn’t say that God is ANXIETY.
It doesn’t say that God is TERRIFYING.
God is love.
Because God is love, he drives our FEAR.
And, because you are loved, God drives out FEAR through YOU.
How might God drive out fear through you? A few points
(1) Fill Your Heart with God
This is an important point. Because it is hard to be loving towards others when you’re afraid.
Do you remember my dog Frankie? The one that’s absolutely terrified of laundry baskets? Usually she’s friendly.
Usually she licks your hands.
Usually she has no problem cuddling next to you and showing you puppy love.
If that laundry basket is there?
She runs away.
No love is shown.
Because it’s hard to be loving towards others when you’re afraid.
So, how do we keep fear out of our hearts? Look at verse 16 again:
He who remains in love remains in God and God in him. (1 John 4:16)
This is a cup. It’s filled with air. You know it. I know it. We all know it .
If I wanted to get rid of the air, it would be difficult.
I can pour it out? Still filled with air.
I can dump it upside down? Still filled with air.
I could crush it. It’s still filled with air.
The same is true with fear.
If you have it in your heart, it’s there.
You can try to hide.
You can try to distract.
You can drink a lot.
You can yell a lot.
In the end, fear is still there.
Do you know the only way to remove the air?
Fill it with something else.
It’s the same thing with FEAR.
The only way to DRIVE OUT fear from your heart is to FILL your heart with JESUS.
That’s what we’re doing right now. Keep doing it.
Join a daily devotional.
Add an afternoon devotional.
Add an evening devotional.
Add a bible reading before bed.
Go to sleep to the Bible app (and the guy on the Bible app has such a gentle voice)…
Go to sleep to the Bible app reading from the Psalms.
If you want to drive out fear from OTHERS, fill your own heart with JESUS.
(2) Live God’s Love
In this way his love has been brought to its goal among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are just like Jesus. (1 Jn. 4:17)
Because God’s Love is much different than the world’s love. The world’s love is very emotion based. “It’s about people making you feel butterflies and fireworks and sparks.”
God is love.
And I doubt God felt butterflies for you and me on the cross.
Because we were still sinners that
Yet God is love.
He still died for us. He still rose for us. He still saved us
God’s love is not an emotional reaction.
God’s love is an action DESPITE an emotional reaction.
And God isn’t calling you to feel butterflies with everyone you meet.
He’s calling you to perform actions of love even when others make us feel like we don’t want to
God’s calling you to…
…get up from the couch, do the dishes, even if your spouse didn’t ask in a nice voice.
…text message something nice to that person at work, even if they’ve just been badmouthing you on the group chat.
…give a call to your grandma, even if she’s mostly grouchy.
…spend time with your kids, even if they’re really cranky.
…help out that neighbor, who’s never friendly and always frowning.
Live God’s action-centered love.
(3) Speak the Gospel
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. (v.18)
Perfect love? That’s impossible for sinful humans to achieve.
Perfect love? That’s exactly who Jesus is.
He lived for us.
He died for us.
He rose for us.
That’s the message of love that drives out fear!
Remember earlier – how I described my fears.
Those were real fears.
But I don’t have them anymore. Know why?
I was talking to a pastoral friend. He let me vent. He let me share my fears.
And then…do you know what he said?
Even if all that happened, you’d be ok.
Because even if all that happened, you’d still have Jesus.
In fact, you have Jesus right now.
Don’t be afraid.
Without Jesus, fear reigns.
With Jesus, fear runs.
Share Jesus. Amen.
I love Peeps.
There’s something about gooey, sugary, artificially dyed animal shapes that really get a person hyped for Easter.
I enjoy trying to smoosh them together and see how many I can fit into my mouth at once.
And usually…they are the first thing to remind me that Easter is on its way.
Suddenly, they appear in a giant display at Food Lion visible as soon as I enter.
Not this year.
This year when I went to Food Lion?
Hand sanitizing stations.
And plastic barricades.
Doesn’t it feel a bit like Easter has been overshadowed?
To be fair – this pandemic is still scary.
There have been 1,577,360 cases of COVID-19 and 93,637 deaths.
6.6 million Americans filed for Unemployment last week.
The stock market continues to volatilely jump up and down.
Experts warn that the curve hasn’t slowed down yet.
When do we get a victory?
When do we get a win?
Today we’re going to look at the very first Easter and remember the victory that’s ours Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Sadness of Easter
The lesson this morning chronicles a group of a women who were very close to Jesus. Their story doesn’t start on Easter, but on Good Friday:
Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last...But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
They saw the nails pierce his hands.
They saw the thorns break his skull.
They saw him bleed.
They saw the soldiers mock him.
They saw the religious leaders mock him.
They saw random travelers mock him.
They saw him face.
They saw him weaken
They saw his life slowly slip away…
He was no more.
Instead of Jesus, there was a cold lifeless body.
What ensued next was a bit of a hurried event.
It was Friday afternoon.
By 6 pm, the Jewish Sabbath would start.
It was against religious law to have a dead person exposed and unburied once the holy evening began.
(Granted, you might expect it to be against religious law to kill the Son of God, but…who’s keeping track really…)
The soldiers took his body down.
They quickly carried it to Pilate.
Pilate gave it to a volunteer,
who quickly wrapped up the body.
Linens around the head.
Linens around the body.
Linens around the feet.
Skip the ointments.
Skip the oils.
Skip the perfumes…
There wasn’t much time left.
Grab some soldiers.
Carry the body to a tomb.
Put it inside.
And roll a giant stone in front.
Get home in time for supper.
While all of this was going on, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. (v.55-56)
On that day of rest…
I imagine they couldn’t help but think of what they’d seen.
Flashes of the horrors that Jesus went through interrupting their daily thoughts.
Every door shut triggering the memory of that hammer.
Even the red liquid of the tomato soup matching the red of his blood.
Every unpleasant smell generating a nausea at what they’d seen.
They tried to busy their minds by busying their hands.
Crushing some herbs.
Mixing some ointments.
Heating things to the right temperature.
They needed to properly bury his body.
To do the things that time had not allowed them to do.
To give him the respect he deserved.
To get some closure on this death that was hanging over their heads.
Death over their heads.
On the very first Easter.
I can’t help but notice that this year’s Easter and the first Easter have that in common because…
Like Easter 2020, the very first Easter began with DEATH hanging over the day.
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. (v.1)
“Mary, you pour the myrrh on his feet.”
“I’ll take some frankincense to his head.”
“Other Mary, you put sprinkle some of your special blend near the torso.”
“Salome! How are we even going to do this? There’s that giant stone. It must weigh hundreds of pounds. Do you think the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb will even be willing to let us insi-”
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. (v.3)
The women looked at each other.
Their question changed from who WILL roll away the stone to who DID roll away the stone.
Was it the soldiers?
Was it those nasty pharisees?
Was it some kind of grave robber?
But inside, they found nobody.
And no body.
While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. (v.4)
Messengers of the most high!
Divine servants of the All Mighty.
The women fell to the ground with their faces in the dirt.
The only things more terrifying than DEATH is facing the one who CONTROLS it.
Angels were from God.
God hated sin.
They had sin.
Were they about to be struck down?
But the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”
You came here searching for a tomb.
Death sealed within.
But there’s no death here.
There’s no DEATH in Jesus’ tomb. He LIVES.
Stop being sad.
Start being joyful.
II. Victory Truths
Because Jesus lives, the Bible has some important truths for us to consider.
(1) When it comes to Death, Your Level of FEAR Depends on whom You’re TRUSTING to Defeat It
I remember growing up we had a neighborhood Easter egg hunt. Beforehand, we divided up into teams in order to go and find as many Easter eggs as we could and put them in our basket. My team? We had Jon Lindloff on our team. Jon was the fastest kid on the block. He was the most athletic. He could jump the farthest. Whatever team he was on would end up winning whatever athletic contest he was in because he was that impressive. He was like the 7-year-old, small midwestern town version of Lebron James.
When we were about to start the egg hunt challenge, we were pretty confident.
We weren’t afraid of losing.
Because we had Jon Lindloff.
As you face COVID-19, where do you find confidence for victory?
A latex glove? These can break.
Some sanitizer bottle? They only kill 99.99%
Social distancing rule? What if someone else doesn’t follow it?
Doctors? What if they’re so sleep deprived and tired they can’t give you the best care?
The government? What if can’t get along and come to a partisan agreement to help?
Scientists? What if they don’t discover a vaccine before it’s too late?
Trusting in an EARTHLY things to defeat death leads to High levels of FEAR
Because all those things?
Earthly things die.
You can’t trust in a thing that dies to defeat the things that causes those earthly things to die.
You need to trust in something that doesn’t die.
Back in the tomb, as the women were trying to process what the angels were saying about Jesus, the angels were trying to process how the women didn’t expect this resurrection. They said,
Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words. (v.6b-8)
They remembered about the time Jesus said he was like Jonah. Jonah had been inside the belly of a big old fish for three day, then come out alive. Like how Jesus had been in the belly of the earth for three days, then come out alive. (Matthew 12:40)
They remembered about the time Jesus said the Pharisees should go destroy the temple, but he would rebuild it in three days. At the time, they had thought he meant the gigantic stone structure in which they worshiped, but he had really meant his body. (John 2:19)
They remembered when Jesus said he was the kind of Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep. But one who did so confidently, because he had the authority to raise his body back to life again. (John 10)
They remembered when Jesus said plainly, “I am going to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill him. But three days after he is killed, he will rise.” (Mk. 9:31)
The truth is that…
Trusting in the HEAVENLY ONE leads to high levels of CONFIDENCE.
He defeated death just as he said.
Jesus is trustworthy.
He’ll get you through what’s going on.
(2) Jesus Holds an UNBLEMISHED Record against Death.
This is the reason that the angel says to the women: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”
Not just because Jesus is living.
But Jesus is the LIFE.
A paraphrase might be:
“You really thought measly old death could defeat Jesus? Ha! Hey, Clarence. Put down your harp. You gotta hear this. It’s a good one.”
In fact, Jesus had already proven his power over death.
He met a young girl who had died a few hours before he made it to her room. Jesus grabbed her hand and brought her back to life.
Jesus stopped a procession for a young man who had died just yesterday. Jesus touched the casket and the brought him back to life.
Jesus missed the funeral of a friend of his and approached the tomb where his friend had been buried for over four days. Jesus opened the tomb and brought him back to life.
Jesus holds an UNBLEMISHED Record against Death.
And to the victor goes the spoils!
If you win at the Olympics, you get the gold medal.
If you win at the Super Bowl, you get a super bowl ring.
If you win a boxing match, you get the winner’s purse. (Which…I always thought was an actual purse. And I wondered why manly boxers carried purses, but…turns out they just meant money…whatever).
To the winner goes the spoils.
What are the spoils for Jesus’ victory?
Peace with God.
But here’s the thing.
Jesus didn’t take these spoils for himself.
He gives them to you.
Jesus’s VICTORY over death means you receive the SPOILS.
You have forgiveness.
You have peace with God.
You have eternal Life.
This means that when it comes to the Corona Virus, you will get the victory.
Regardless of how it comes.
God keeps you safe and you never get COVID-19. You win.
You get sick, but God heals your body. You win.
You get sick. You don’t heal. You die. But then you live forever in heaven!
(3) With hope in JESUS, there is ZERO reason to fear Death.
There’s a pretty fabulous Bible passage that talks about the victory Jesus had over death. It’s found in Corinthians 15:55, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
There was a dad who was sitting outside with his little girl. They were playing. Enjoying the nice day.
When suddenly, a bee flew near them.
This was a bigger deal to the girl than to most. She was allergic.
She began to cry.
She began to wail.
Dad wrapped her up in his big bear arms.
He protected her.
The bee landed on his bicep and stung him.
After the sting, dad let the girl go.
The bee was still flying around, but dad wasn’t worried.
The bee’s stinger was stuck in him.
It couldn’t sting his daughter anymore.
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (v.56-57)
Death has lost its sting.
IT cannot sting you any longer.
It’s no longer separation from God,
But an entrance into the joys of heaven.
III. What Now?
(1) Share the Victory
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. (v.9)
There are others who are fearful.
There are others who are afraid.
There are others who are spending this Easter…with death hanging over their heads.
Give them Jesus.
It’s what the women were so excited to do. They ran out of the tomb. They left their spices behind.
Because suddenly all that mattered was telling others about Jesus’ victory over death.
Do the same.
Put everything else down.
Go to tell a neighbor.
Go tell a friend.
Go tell a family member.
Christ is Victorious!
The penultimate reading of Jesus’ passion history this evening will also serve as a primary basis for our message tonight. Chances are you’ve heard it before. You’re probably familiar with the grim picture it paints. Here is God himself, our savior, brought out after a savage beating and now put to death. Not because he did wrong, but because he didn’t. He would not toe the line with the corrupt religious leaders of the day and instead spoke the truth. Their jealousy drove them to this end. He came to help, and he was executed because they did not worship God, they worshipped themselves.
Of course, it’s easy to point that kind of finger at the events that surround the cross. How dare they attack Jesus. How dare they put him to death for no reason. How loathsome. How vile.
Perhaps you remember some time ago when Mel Gibson produced his Passion of the Christ movie? Now I know he’s been the subject of controversy since then, but let’s put that aside for a moment. There was a stir of controversy around his movie at the time, as it included the biblically accurate line where the crowd, shouting for Jesus’ death, took responsibility for his death. “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” they shout. In compromise, the production chose not to subtitle that line in the film, leaving it only shouted in Aramaic. But what was telling was Gibson’s response to this controversy when interviewed. He was asked, point blank, who really killed Jesus.
His response? “I did.”
Whatever else you want to say about him, his answer was spot-on. The people of the day may have been responsible for carrying out the events that happened, but God orchestrated everything that happened, Jesus allowed jealous men to put him on the cross. But it was my sin that made him go. It was my failures he suffered for there. It was because of me that he did this. It was because of and for me that he died.
The payment made on the cross is universal. Jesus suffered for all at once. Yes. But it is also personal. It happened because of you. It happened because of me. I often like to remind myself that if, in all of creation, I was the only one who ever sinned…Jesus still would have done this. Just for me. Or just for you.
It is a grim spectacle, and a testimony to just how awful our sins are. The defeat of death that plays out here is vicious, and it is difficult to look at, but it is a necessary reminder of the seriousness of our crimes. This is what should have happened to us. Listen, as God goes in your place:
As they were going out of the city, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon. They forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. They came to a place called Golgotha, which means “The place of the skull.” They offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. After they had crucified him, they divided his clothing among themselves by casting lots. Then they sat down and were keeping watch over him there. Above his head they posted the written charge against him: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
At the same time two criminals were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. People who passed by kept insulting him, shaking their heads, and saying, “You who were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!”
In the same way the chief priests, experts in the law, and elders kept mocking him. They said, “He saved others, but he cannot save himself. If he’s the King of Israel, let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now, if he wants him, because he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” In the same way even the criminals who were crucified with him kept insulting him.
From the sixth hour until the ninth hour, there was darkness over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “This fellow is calling for Elijah.”
Immediately one of them ran, took a sponge, and soaked it with sour wine. Then he put it on a stick and gave him a drink. The rest said, “Leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
After Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. Suddenly, the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and rocks were split. Tombs were opened, and many bodies of saints who had fallen asleep were raised to life. Those who came out of the tombs went into the holy city after Jesus’ resurrection and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those who were guarding Jesus with him saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they were terrified and said, “Truly this was the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:32-54)
There’s a detail in the passion reading that may have blown by you with everything that happened, and I’d like to focus on it this evening. But to understand its significance, we have to go back. Way back. Hundreds of years back to the earliest days of the Israelite nation, on their journey away from Egypt, wandering in the desert.
Back then, the primary place of worship was the tabernacle of the Lord. It was built exactly as God prescribed to them. The Temple of the Lord built in Jerusalem built centuries later would simply be a larger-scale version of this same house of worship. The space was laid out like 3 cubes set side by side by side. The first two formed a single space, the Holy Place, where the majority of worship was done. The last cubic space was separated from the rest by a curtain. Not a lot of detail is given about the curtain, except that it was thick enough that you couldn’t possibly see through it, and that it covered the space entirely, making it 15 feet tall by 15 feet wide.
The last space was called the Most Holy Place or Holy of Holies. Here was where the ark of the covenant sat, containing a number of holy relics God instructed the Israelites to store there. But what is more significant is that God said his presence would dwell in the Most Holy Place. Of course, we know from our Lenten series that God is everywhere, but he was making a point here, that his presence dwelt there in a unique way, and so to enter this space behind the curtain was truly to come into the presence of the living God.
In this account from Leviticus, God establishes a festival called the Day of Atonement. And in it, he impresses upon the people just how ridiculously difficult and dangerous it is to approach a holy God as a sinful human being. Aaron’s two sons had already died for not treating God’s presence with the proper respect. Listen how strictly God defends his holy presence and how difficult it is for a sinner to approach him. Only with blood could Aaron make this one, tentative approach to God on behalf of the people once every year.
The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons, who had died when they approached the presence of the Lord. The Lord said to Moses, “Tell your brother Aaron that he must not enter into the Holy Place at any time he chooses by going inside the veil which is in front of the atonement seat that is on the ark. This is so that he will not die, for I appear in the cloud over the atonement seat.”
This is how Aaron shall enter the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a whole burnt offering. He is to wear a sacred linen tunic, with linen underwear covering his flesh, with the linen sash as his belt, and with his head wrapped with the linen turban. These are the sacred garments. He must wash his body with water and then put the garments on. From the congregation of the people of Israel he shall also receive two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a whole burnt offering.
Aaron shall present the bull for his own sin offering, to make atonement for himself and for his household.
After Aaron has presented the bull for his sin offering to make atonement for himself and for his household, he shall slaughter the bull for his sin offering. Then he is to take a full pan of glowing coals from the top of the altar, which is before the Lord, and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and bring them inside the veil. He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord so that the cloud from the incense covers the atonement seat that is over the Testimony, so he will not die. He is to take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger upon the surface of the atonement seat on its east side. He is also to sprinkle some of the blood seven times with his finger in front of the atonement seat. He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering of the people. He is to bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he had done with the blood of the bull. He is to sprinkle it on the atonement seat and in front of the atonement seat. He shall make atonement for the sanctuary to cleanse it from the uncleanness of the Israelites and from their rebellions and all their sins. This is what he shall do for the Tent of Meeting, which dwells in the midst of Israel’s uncleanness. When he enters to make atonement in the sanctuary, no other person may be in the Tent of Meeting until he has come out. In this way he shall make atonement for himself and his household, as well as for the entire assembly of Israel. He shall then come out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it. He is to take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat and smear it all around the horns of the altar. With his finger he is to sprinkle some of the blood upon it seven times. In this way he is to purify it and set it apart from the uncleanness of the Israelites. (Leviticus 16:1-6,11-19)
And here’s where we come to our point.
The Most Holy Place still existed in Jesus’ time. It was simply much bigger and was part of the stationary temple built in Jerusalem, and not a mobile Tabernacle that could be put up and taken down as needed. The linear dimensions were double that of the tabernacle, which means if you remember your volume equations, it was eight times larger inside than the previous model. The curtain separating the Holy from the Most Holy place would hang 30 feet in the air down to the floor.
The rules and promised consequence around the Most Holy Place still stood. No one could just approach God. You didn’t go in there unless you were instructed to and only if you did everything just right or literally being in God’s presence would kill you. Sin cannot stand in the presence of a Holy God. It is a stark reminder of how seriously we are separated from him.
But on this day:
After Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. Suddenly, the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom.
Thirty feet, top to bottom. This was not some damage as a result of the earthquake that happened here. This was a deliberate, miraculous sign. Jesus went to the cross for our sin, and he suffered there for it. It was ugly and he died. It looked like a miserable defeat. But then, the curtain was torn.
You see...the divide was gone.
Our sin, our un-holiness is what separates us from a Holy God. It’s what keeps us from being able to approach him. It divides us from him.
But it’s gone.
Your sins are paid for. They don’t exist to God anymore. You can approach him with confidence, because you are holy in his eyes now. The tearing of the curtain says, “Come on in.” As we sit here, day by day feeling cut off from the rest of the world, we have this privilege. We can approach God ourselves with petition and prayer, not needing any intermediary.
And at the end of all this nonsense, we go to him. Nothing stops us anymore. The curtain is gone. We leave here, we go direct to God’s presence, to be with him forever. This is our promise, bound up in the tearing of that curtain as Jesus gave up his life for you.
Tonight, with reverence we humbly remember why this was necessary. We let ourselves be reminded what the stark cost of our sin really is. We feel the shame that it was my fault this happened. It is good to be reminded why we need a Savior. It’s good to look at the cost of our sins so we stay humble. But we should not wallow in this evening as though it were a loss. More than ever we need to remember that this was a triumph for God and for us.
Jesus went willingly for you and for me. He stayed there because he loves you. He died to pay your price. It looks ugly, but it was a victory. God did exactly what he set out to accomplish this night. The curtain is torn, the divide between us is removed. Defeat? No; victory!
This Palm Sunday is a bit different.
There’s loud trumpet music.
There’s a palm procession with kids waving palm branches.
Some little kid hits the other in the face with the branch.
There’s not a lot of room to sit down in church.
The church is packed full of people.
The ushers set up the extra chairs in the back.
And I’m amped up on 5 cups of coffee.
Today. It’s a bit different. (I’m still amped up on 5 cups of coffee, but…it’s a bit quieter.)
How do we celebrate Palm Sunday when we are so far apart?
How do you raise a righteous ruckus in a Quarantined Neighborhood?
Why would you raise a righteous ruckus in a quarantined neighborhood?
Today we’re going to hear from God’s Word for the answers. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Original Ruckus
The story of the very first Palm Sunday starts n Matthew 21. As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, telling them, “Go to the village ahead of you. Immediately you will find a donkey tied there along with her colt. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you are to say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” (v.1-3)
Take note of their plans. Jesus knew exactly what would happen. And keep in mind. Jesus couldn’t text the owner of the donkey to see if it’s ok. He couldn’t send him an email. He didn’t even set up a ZOOM account. Jesus simply knew. He knew where the donkey was and that the owners would lend it to him.
And he wants to ride on a Donkey. You and I might picture a king coming to his city on a white stallion or on a muscular black beauty. Even Aladdin, when he came to Agrabah as Prince Ali, he rode on the back of an elephant.
Jesus came on a donkey.
Making obnoxious noises.
The text Scripture tells us by quoting another part of Scripture:
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: (v.4)
Look, your King comes to you, humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9b)
And Jesus was their king!
And unlike any other king in history:
He wasn’t riding to Jerusalem in order to make the history books.
He wasn’t riding with the express purpose of trending in Twitter.
He wasn’t riding in order to take over Caesar’s throne and become ruler of the Roman empire!
He was riding…to die.
He was riding…to serve.
He was riding…for you.
Jesus riding into Jerusalem was a part of a prophecy over 400 years in the making.
But that’s not all the prophecy said:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! (v.9a)
Because in Ancient Jerusalem, Jesus was something like a local celebrity.
He had taught with wisdom.
He had befriended the lowly.
He had silenced the Pharisees.
He had done miracle after miracle:
He had healed the sick.
He had made a man who was paralyzed to walk.
He had driven out demons.
he had walked on water.
He had stopped storms.
he had fed over 5000 people with a few loaves of bread.
He had raised the dead.
When people heard Jesus was coming, there were filled with excitement.
Scripture says that a very large crowd gathered.
You ever been in downtown Raleigh for one of their parades? Over on Fayetteville street? It can be tough to navigate. It’s like the opposite of social distancing. You bump into people on your right. You try to avoid people on your left. You have to watch out for that little kid that is twirling one of those light up spinny toys in front of you.
That’s the crowd on Palm Sunday.
It isn’t just family gathering.
It isn’t just neighborhood barbecue.
It’s a full-blown parade!
And the people begin spreading their clothing on road… (v.8b)
This is something that still happens today. Usually at the Oscars. What do the celebrities walk on? A red carpet. No one wants any dirt or bugs to get on their Armani shoes. (They take a couple thousand just to clean.)
The people didn’t have a red carpet.
So, they welcomed Jesus by laying on the ground whatever they had:
Even Unicorn Onesies.
Whatever they were wearing, they took it off so that Jesus’ donkey could walk on it.
And they began cutting branches from the trees.
Locally, these were Palm trees. So, think of this – Someone ran to their garden shed, grabbed some kind of machete, and began chopping down palm branches for them to walk upon. It’s like photosynthetic version of a red carpet.
But there’s more.
The Palm branch? It was the ancient symbol for victory.
Jesus didn’t have any victory yet.
The people were simply anticipating it.
The crowds who went in front of him and those who followed kept shouting,
Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest! (Matthew 21:9)
Hosanna is a Hebrew phrase.
It simply means, “Save us.”
Since they were shouting it at Jesus?
They were implying that he was their Savior.
II. Reason for a Righteous Ruckus
I don’t know exactly how y’all have been feeling lately.
But maybe you’ve been searching for a Savior.
And if you’re feeling lousy, you might find your Savior in a variety of places:
Hosanna, Coronavirus graph! Save me! Give me some hope that the social distancing is working.
Hosanna, Netflix! Save me! Save me from my stress and help me get lost in your plot devices and episodic storytelling.
Hosanna, bottle of booze. Save me! Make all my fears go away.
Do you remember that prophecy from Zechariah?
The one that says:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! (v.9a)
At first, this a message for genealogical Jews.
Jerusalem was the capital of Israel.
Zion was another name for Jerusalem.
That means this is a direct call for the people the people that saw Jesus riding into town on a donkey to shout his praises!
But Scripture later says this:
It is not the children of the flesh who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are counted as his descendants. (Romans 9:8)
Did you catch it?
God’s children used to be a phrase that referred to genealogical Jews.
But now? God’s children are those who received God’s promises…by faith.
That means you are Jerusalem.
You are Zion.
You are the one that God is calling to REJOICE!
To SHOUT Hosanna.
To say, “Jesus Save us!”
Why raise a righteous ruckus? Here’s some reasons:
(1) The King is YOUR King.
“Look! Your King is coming to you.” (Zech. 9:9)
Every time there’s an election there’s a collection of memes and tweets that come out that say, “Not my president.” It happened for our last president, it happened for our current president, and it will happen for our next president.
Honestly, there’s some truth to that statement. Because it isn’t as if any president ever said, “Everything I do, all the laws I make, all the meeting that I attend, I will do so with YOU in mind Phil Kiecker. My presidency is dedicated to you.”
But that is the case with Jesus!
Jesus is YOUR king, if ever there was one.
He knows you.
He knows your fears.
He knows your anxieties.
He knows your struggles.
He knows your guilt.
And he was riding into Jerusalem on that donkey to do something for you.
(2) The King is Righteous!
We’ve seen it a lot lately. Leadership in our state and country as asking for some grace during COVID-19.
The rationale? Leader are people too. They aren’t perfect. They make mistakes.
I echo that sentiment. Thanks for your forgiveness as we navigate the crisis. We’ll probably make some mistakes on the way. We’re human.
But here’s the things about Jesus.
He doesn’t ask for your forgiveness.
Because he doesn’t need it.
Jesus is NOT some bumbling, stumbling, mistake-making, error-prone human being. He didn’t mess up at all.
He is righteous (Zech. 9:9)
His plan was perfect.
His plan is perfect.
His plan will be perfect!
(3) The King brings Salvation
In this time of isolation, it is so every exciting to get a delivery. Usually, it’s my dog Clay that bounces up and down with excitement, but now I’m feeling the same way:
Is it my pizza?
Is it a shipment of toilet paper?
Is it an autographed photo of Ted Danson from Cheers that I ordered on my phone last night at 3am?
When Jesus shows up, look at what he brings:
He…brings salvation. (Zech. 9:9)
Salvation means saving.
Saving from sin.
Saving from guilt.
Saving from shame.
Saving from fear.
Saving from sadness.
Saving from death itself.
Saving to a place where there isn’t social distancing, where there isn’t a need for hand sanitizer, where no one dies.
Saving to heaven.
Saving to eternal life.
Saving to His kingdom.
(4) The King is Humble.
You might expect a king like this to show up very brazenly.
To kick off his boots.
To throw down his sword.
To put his feet up on the table and grab a giant turkey leg:
“Y’all should be thankful I am here.”
“You’d be lost without me.”
“Grab me a beer and I’ll get to saving you sometime tomorrow.”
He is humble and is riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (v.9b)
“Don’t worry. I am here.”
“And let me get to work.”
“I need to suffer.
“I need to be arrested.”
“I need to be falsely convicted.”
“I need to be crucified.”
“I need to die.”
“Next to criminals.”
“It’s a tragic end.”
“When this happens to me?”
You will be saved.
III. How to Make a Ruckus in a Quarantined Neighborhood
I know we’re all separated.
God still calls us to raise a righteous ruckus.
He has given us good reason to raise a righteous ruckus.
The only question is how to do it.
I think there are some tips from the OG Palm Sunday crowd.
(1) With Your Families
On that first Palm Sunday, it wasn’t just “the adults” who were making this ruckus. There were kids there too.
In fact, that’s why the Pharisees were so mad. They could handle adults following Jesus. That felt like there choice…even if it was stupid.
But kids!?! Kids were young. Kids were impressionable. Kids could be brainwashed!
In fact, it’s just a little bit later that week that they confront Jesus:
“Teacher, do you hear what they are saying?” Stop them! (v.16)
Yes,” Jesus told them, “Have you never read:
From the lips of little children and nursing babies
you have prepared praise?” (v.17)
In other words:
Yes. Kids do believe what you tell them.
So…Tell them the truth.
Tell them about Jesus.
And I feel for you parents.
You’re getting emails every day filled with resources and things you should be doing for your kids during the pandemic.
You better teach them math.
You better hook them up to this LIVE violin lesson.
I don’t even have kids in my home, yet I received an email yesterday telling me to remember to stock up on Organic Brussel Sprouts during the pandemic.
I’m sorry. Brussel Sprouts are the last things on my mind.
But it’s a real deal.
All these stores telling you what to do with your kids.
It can make you feel overwhelmed.
Jesus says this.
Don’t be overwhelmed.
Just tell them about me.
Because I’m the one thing that lasts forever.
Today here’s what you can do.
Cut out some of the Palms.
Wave them up and down.
Blast some of the worship music.
Blast some kids worship songs.
Teach them what Hosanna means.
Teach them that we say it to Jesus.
Then, challenge them to see who can shout it the longest, the loudest, and the most boisterous!
Throughout this coming Holy Week – you have a chance to make it like Jesus unlike any other time in your life.
Through Bible readings.
Through family worship.
Through whatever way you can think of to teach your kids about Jesus.
Raise a righteous ruckus in your family.
(2) In Your Neighborhood
Because wouldn’t have happened if people had not passed on the word to others that Jesus was here.
It wouldn’t have happened if people had not shouted loudly enough for their neighbors to hear.
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, asking, “Who is this?” And the crowds were saying, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (v.10-11)
What should you do? Go outside and bang pots and pans?
But you could take advantage of the conversations you have.
The truth is that you might not have a lot of interactions each day.
Take advantage of them.
Whether the conversation is….
Over the phone or over the fence.
Over the counter or over the computer.
Over a text message or over the property lines.
Take advantage of conversation to steer your neighbors towards Jesus.
Here’s a way to get two sermon “What Nows” with one stone.
Get together as a family – with your children– and think about unique ways you might share Jesus in your neighborhood.
That’s raising a righteous ruckus in your family and in your neighborhood.
Unless, the way you plan on doing it is through the internet….
Because then you’re killing three WHAT NOWs at once.
(3) On the Internet
The crowds were pretty ingenious.
They grabbed their cloaks.
When they ran out of cloaks, they tossed down branches.
They used whatever was available to them to give Jesus glory.
Friends, we need to do the same.
We need to use whatever is available to us to Plant Jesus in North Raleigh.
It’s Facebook messenger.
It’s the internet.
Here’s how you can help:
Invite others to Come and See
This is our best chance to get people to hear the message of Easter. Because think about it:
One of the main reasons that Easter worship is so populated is because people come together to worship as a family.
Without that family invitation…they’ll probably sleep in.
Have your family join you.
You can do this on Facebook. You can hold a watch party for our Sunday service. Then, you can interact with others in your family as you attend online worship.
In fact, here’s a simple way.
Today is Palm Sunday. We are planning a Palm Processional Challenge. It’s as simple as this.
Use some of the links to this worship page in order to help you make your own palm branches.
Video record your family waving the branches or take a photo.
Then, post online with a message pointing people to Jesus!
It’s that simple.
Go and Tell.
Because now more than ever we may need to do more than simply invite others to come learn about Jesus.
But to actually bring the teaching of Jesus to them.
Do the same.
You know someone who is struggling.
You know someone who is fearful.
You know someone in need of the Gospel.
Tell them that Jesus died.
Tell them that Jesus rose.
Tell them that in Jesus there is VICTORY.
In fact, look at verse 12 of Zechariah 9.
I will bend Judah as my bow, and I will load it with Ephraim. (v.12)
Remember that Judah can often be understood to be believers.
God says that you are his bow and arrow.
He loads you into weapon.
He takes aim.
He sets you to fly.
This Easter who are you aimed at?
Who are the people who need hope?
How will God work through you to bring them the message of Jesus?
Raise a righteous ruckus.
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve learned a lot about IDOLATRY.
Idolatry is placing something that isn’t GOD in God’s PLACE.
Our idols are that we FEAR, LOVE or TRUST more than God.
Church is a place where idolatry can creep in and take God’s place in our worship
Jesus has FREED us from slavery to idolatry.
As a result, God wants the FREE to FLEE idolatry & SERVE others.
Putting these truths into practice means we are to approach each day like a battle.
One of the things that I legitimately struggle with is eating too much junk food. The whole Doritos thing. It’s real. I can go through an entire bag in a sitting which will cause me to feel “wonderful” in the morning.
I was talking to some pastor brothers earlier this week and we discussed how this is a stressful situation as pastors and how the devil will use this stressful situation to try and get us to turn to our vices for comfort.
Now I was feeling pretty pumped up. I was excited to try and not eat Doritos at the end of the day. I was confident that I’d do well.
When Julianna texted me to go to the store to see if I could pick up some supplies…
And I happened by the Dorito aisle because it was next to the contact solution (like 5 aisles to the right, but…)
And I saw that delicious bag taunting me.
I made the healthy choice.
I bought Cool Ranch.
I think there’s veggies in it.
Ever feel like that?
That the idols you struggle with are just too powerful?
As if they’ll always win?
Are you ready to give up?
This message from God’s Word is for you. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Dire Situation
To learn more about how to battle idolatry, we’re going to look at one of the most prolific times of idolatry in the Bible. It revolves around a king named Ahab. Listen to the Bible’s brief description of him: Ahab committed more evil in the eyes of the Lord than all those who had gone before him. (1 Kings 16:30)
He considered it a trivial thing to walk in the sins of Jeroboam. (v.31a) Jeroboam was a king who brought back the worship of golden calves. That’s the sin from back at the time of Moses. It had returned. And Ahab? He kept it going. But to him, it was just child’ s play.
Ahab served Baal and bowed down to him. (v.31b) Baal was a bit more hardcore. He was a statue of a half man and half bull. Baal was more hardcore than the golden calf because, Baal required child sacrifices. Something that the REAL GOD was and is absolutely against.
But Ahab, the king of the people of Israel, the REAL GOD’s people, didn’t fight Baal worship.
Ahab erected an altar to Baal in the house of Baal. (v.32)
Ahab spent government money on a house for Baal.
Ahab spent tax money on a monument to this “Baal”.
Ahab placed a tiny golden plate at the entrance that said, “Temple to Baal – Built by Ahab.”
Ahab did more than that!
He erected Asherah poles around Israel.
He commanded festivals for people to worship these false gods.
He gave positions to over 450 Baal-ian clergy
He murdered the prophets of the REAL God.
There is no wonder that the Bible summarizes Ahab like this:
Ahab did even more to provoke the Lord God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who had gone before him. (v.33)
He was terrible.
Because of his terrible leadership, the situation in Israel was spiritually terrible.
Notice I said spiritually terrible.
Because economically things seemed to be going well.
There was plenty of food.
There were buildings going up.
People were wealthy.
Everything seemed wonderful.
Though it was a spiritual disaster.
Elijah… said to Ahab, “As surely as the Lord lives, the God of Israel before whom I stand, there will be no dew or rain during the coming years.” (1 Kings 17:1)
The skies closed.
The rain stopped.
The crops dried up.
No morning dew.
No afternoon showers.
Not even a “sprinkling.”
For three whole years.
On a seemingly good economy?
Friends, I’m not Elijah.
I don’t have a special verbal revelation from God.
I can’t tell you exactly why the Pandemic is happening.
But I do have God’s Word and I can say this.
God works through CALAMITY to return people to the REAL GOD.
During this calamity, I can say confidently that God wants you to RETURN to Him.
To turn from your idols.
To turn from things.
To turn from stuff.
To turn from your social media.
To turn from your own agenda.
To turn from selfishness.
To turn from pride.
To turn from anything that is not the REAL GOD
And turn back to Him, the REAL GOD.
II. The Challenge
At the end of the three years of drought, God sent the prophet Elijah to King Ahab. As he approached, Ahab said this to Elijah, ““Is that you, the one who brings trouble on Israel?” (v.17)
Not a repentant bone in his body.
Not a bit of humility in his heart.
Not an inkling of thought that ‘Maybe this has something to with the fact that I slaughtered all of God’s prophets, erected false idols in God’s temple, sacrificed children to piece of stone and generally led hundreds of thousands of people away from the true God onto the road to hell.”
“This is all God’s fault.”
Idol worshipers tend to blame GOD for problems caused by their own IDOLATRY.
Elijah calls him on it:
He says, “Dude, it isn’t I who have brought trouble on Israel. It was you. You abandoned the real God. You stopped obeying his commands. You started bowing down to a statue. You have been single handedly leading a nation of people away from their Savior.
“You and me? Let’s not fight.
Let’s have our Gods fight.”
They made a plan.
A notice was sent to all the people of Israel.
Thousands gathered on a local hilltop.
Ahab gathered all 450 prophets of Baal.
Elijah, the only prophet of God left, gathered himself.
Then Elijah said to all the people, “How long will you stagger around on two crutches?”
“I can’t follow God. All of my friends like Baal.”
“Oh no! I’m sick. Better return to God.”
“OK. I’m better. Just in time to join my friends in THINGS & STUFF.”
“Uh oh. There’s a recession. I’d better get back into my Bible.”
“Crud. The girl I like doesn’t like Jesus. I’d better stop name dropping him.”
“Well, since she dumped me. I guess it’s ok to go back to worship.”
Stop staggering on two crutches.
If the Lord is God, follow him. If Baal is God, follow him.” (v.21)
And the people, well…
…You know how at work…when the boss asks if anyone is interested in doing extra hours over the weekend…and it wouldn’t be an increase in pay, just something you do because “blah blah blah” you “love the company?
And no one says anything.
That’s how the people responded to Elijah.
With awkward silence.
III. The Showdown
“I am the only one left of the Lord’s prophets, but the prophets of Baal total four hundred fifty men. Provide two bulls for us. Let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it up and place it on the firewood, but they are not to light the fire. I will prepare the other bull and place it on the firewood, but I will not light the fire. Then you will call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers with fire, he is God.” (v.22-24)
The people nodded.
Elijah let prophets of Baal go first.
They carefully examine both bull carcasses.
Between the 450 of them, they would have been able to select the one that burned more quickly.
Then, they took their carcass.
They placed it on some firewood.
And they called on the name of Baal from morning until noon. (v.26)
Oh Great, wonderful Baal! Send fire upon us your servants.
Baal, Baal, amazing and magnificent. Showcase your power right now!
Baal, Baal, he’s our half man, half bull, if he can’t do it no one can!
Baal, Baal, please…
At noon, Elijah began to mock them.
“Shout louder! He is a god, isn’t he?
He may be deep in thought…you know. Trying to figure out how to light the fire without matches.
Or busy…The word in Hebrew means “busy using the restroom.”
Or on a journey…visiting his cousin in Newark.
The prophets shouted louder.
They screamed at the top of their lungs.
They danced as fast as their feet could move them.
They cut themselves thinking – that if they bled, maybe Baal would care enough to send one little spark.
They kept up a prophetic frenzy until the time of the evening sacrifice, but there was no sound. No one answered. There was no response. (v.29)
After eight long hours, Elijah stood up.
Calmly, he took twelve stones and made an altar.
He dug around the altar until there was trench.
Then, he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the sacrifice and on the wood.” (v.33)
The servants looked at one another oddly. Because that’s not usually the best way to prepare a sacrifice. But…it was Elijah’s turn now, so…
They poured the four jars of water onto the sacrificed.
Until the sacrifice was soaked.
The water was drenched.
There was even a little river flowing in the trench.
Then, Elijah walked to the altar.
He looked up.
“O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and that I have done all these things by your word. Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you are turning their hearts back to you.” (v.36-37)
As soon as he finished.
As soon as he put the “n” sound on the “Amen…”
Fire from the Lord fell on the sacrifice and on the wood, the stones, and the dirt. (v.37)
It burned up the water-soaked carcass.
It consumed the drenched firewood.
It burned up the stones.
And even licked up the water in the trench. (v.37)
When all the people saw this, they fell on their knees and said, “The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!” (v.39)
Friends, here’s a truth that remains true to this day:
God UTTERLY DEMOLISHES any idol he’s up against.
It doesn’t matter what idol you put up against the REAL GOD, the LORD, Jesus Christ, in a one-on-one battle, God wins.
God versus Baal? God wins.
God versus Asherah? God wins.
God versus Dagon? God wins..
God versus Zeus. God wins..
God versus Aphrodite. God wins.
God versus Poseidon. God wins.
God versus Vishnu. God wins.
God versus Buddha. God wins.
God versus Allah. God wins.
God versus Entertainment. God wins.
God versus Social Media. God wins.
God versus A Booming Economy. God wins.
God versus Science. God wins.
God versus Politicians. God wins.
God versus Society. God wins.
God versus Greed. God wins.
God versus Lust. God wins.
God versus Pride. God wins.
God versus yourself? God wins.
God utterly demolishes any idol he’s up against.
And God utterly demolishes any idol worshipers he’s up against.
Elijah’s words seem appropriate:
Stop staggering on two crutches. If the Lord is God, follow him. (v.21)
Turn to God.
But don’t do so in fear.
Even if you’ve been staggering between idol worship and God.
Don’t be afraid.
God UTTERLY DEMOLISHED our SIN of idolatry.
The title of this sermon is the Great Idolatry showdown.
But…I wasn’t talking about this incredible public event on Mount Carmel.
I was talking about the quiet private event in the garden of Gethsemane.
Because there, the devil used every idol he could think of.
To tell Jesus, “Stop listening to your Father. Don’t go through with the plan. None of these people are worth it. None of them matter. They’ve gone after their own idols. They haven’t worshipped the true God. They’ve sinned. Let them the fire of God consume them.”
Bowed to the ground.
He looked up to heaven.
He said, “Father…not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
Then, Jesus got up.
He went to be arrested.
He allowed himself to be sacrificed on the cross.
In doing so…
Jesus utterly destroyed all your sins.
He utterly destroyed all the times you’ve staggered between idols.
He consumed with raging fire all the times you’ve worshipped things other than him.
He burned to ash every last one of your sins.
Friends, take heart.
Jesus, the True God, is on your side.
IV. What Now?
All that being said, idols are a part of life. The devil will do everything he can to make you lose battle after battle against idolatry. How do we fight back? A few ideas:
(1) Lift Up Your Eyes
Because that’s what Elijah did. Instead of looking forward at some stupid statue, he looked up to the true God.
Right now, God calls you to the same. Colossians 3:1-3 says this, “Because you were raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.”
During the Coronavirus crisis, it’s tempting to look around. To look at your bank account, to look at doctor’s recommendations, to look at social media post after social media post to try and find answers.
And it’s not wrong to do that.
But if we’re not LOOKING UP, we’re not looking to the true God.
Because when you look to the true God.
When you see that he burns up water drenched sacrifices with a giant fireball from heaven…
When you see that he defeats sin with his death and resurrection…
He’s the One you need.
(2) Remember your Identify
That’s what the people of Israel had forgotten. They had forgotten that they were God’s children. They had forgotten all of God’s incredible miracles. They had forgotten God’s merciful promise of the Savior.
They had begun to believe – they belonged to Baal.
It’s easy when Idolatry attacks to feel like that’s your identity:
I’m a drunkard.
I’m an addict.
I’m a grump.
I’m a failure.
That’s not who you are.
I was watching a show called 100 humans on Netflix. It does experiments on a variety of humans to gain input on the human psyche. One experiment had humans learn to twirl plates on a stick. They had two hours of guidance and instruction from a professional plate spinner. Then, they would come and perform for judges.
But before they performed the judges would blindly pull out a ping pong ball from a hat. If the ball was blue, they would give positive reinforcement no matter how terrible they were. If the ball was red, they would give negative reinforcement, no matter how good it was.
Then, after receiving the judge’s reaction, the humans would be allowed two more hours of practice. Then, they’d re-perform.
Everyone who was told that they did terribly? Their time of plate in the air went down. One guy didn’t even attempt because he believed what the judge’s said: “I’m worse than a dog.”
But everyone who was encouraged? They improved. One lady who hadn’t actually gotten the plate to spin the first time said, “You told me I doing great. So I kept trying.”
Here’s what God says about you:
For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (v.3-4)
You are his child.
You are forgiven.
You are a GOD worshiper.
No matter what idols you have worshipped in the past, that identity is dead because of Jesus.
(3) Put to Death Your Idols
Did you know that’s what Elijah did at the end of the section? God had Elijah and the people put to death the 450 prophets of Baal.
That might sound harsh to you.
But remember – these prophets had been involved in the murder of God’s prophets, the murder of young children, and leading an entire nation to eternal destruction in hell.
Do the same with your idols:
Put to death whatever is worldly in you: sexual immorality, uncleanness, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. (v.6)
Understand – that does NOT mean harm any person in any way at all.
But it does mean REMOVE the idols that you fall to.
Put a filter on the computer that leads to Internet porn.
Install an app that limits access to social media.
Pour your booze down the drain.
Cut off the friendship that’s leading you away from Jesus.
(4) Be Confident
Because GOD wins! Despite the disadvantages it appears that God has.
Think of the account of Elijah.
Baal has 450 prophets; GOD only had 1.
Baal had first pick of the sacrifices; GOD got the leftover.
Baal had a dry altar area; GOD’s was drenched.
Baal had 8 hours to set it on fire; GOD had a few minutes.
But GOD won.
It might look like the idols in your life will always win.
With the help of the virus, it might seem impossible.
But you’re wrong.
GOD always wins.
Even when it looks like he’s at a disadvantage, he’s not.
He’s the only TRUE GOD.
And the true GOD always wins. Amen.
We are in the middle of our IDOLATRY sermon series. This week we want to learn about living how to BE FREE and how to LIVE FREE. Before that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Proof that You’re Free
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve learned a lot about IDOLATRY.
Idolatry is placing something that isn’t God in God’s place.
Our idols are the things that lead us to fear, love, and trust in them more than God.
Church is a place where subtle idols can creep up and take God’s place in or hearts.
All of this awareness of idolatry has begun to make me think it’s a lot like Coronavirus
It feels like it’s everywhere.
You can’t see it coming.
It can make you do all kind of things that you don’t normally do.
Like a slave.
Jesus agrees. Look at John 8:34 “Everyone who keeps committing sin is a slave to sin.”
Since sin happens when you don’t treat God as your true god, it follows that, “Everyone who keeps committing sin is a slave to idolatry.”
If you keep lusting after photos of your gym mates online, you’re a slave to the idol of your sex drive.
If you keep getting hammered on Jack Daniel’s, you’re a slave to the idol of alcohol.
If you keep spending hours upon hours on Facebook checking how many likes your post received, you’re a slave to the idol of your pride.
If you keep telling lies about your struggles to your church family, you’re a slave to the idol of reputation.
If you keep being lazy around the house, you’re a slave to the idol of sloth.
If you keep getting angry with your family, you’re a slave to the idol of “It’s my way or the highway.”
If you keep SINNING, idolatry is ENSLAVING you.
So…how does one break free?
Jesus said, “A slave does not remain in the family forever. A son does remain forever.”
Jesus is referencing the ancient system of servanthood. In that system, you would sign on to work as a “slave” or a “servant” to pay off a debt or to borrow money for a mortgage. For our sakes, imagine you took a job at a local pig farm and were contracted to work until the end of summer. You live on the farm. You’re greeted as a family member. You get to eat at the big family-style table for BBQ and greens every evening.
But when your time was up, you leave. And you don’t get to be at the farm anymore.
On the other hand, if you were a child of that family?
You would always be a part of the family.
You’d be greeted as part of the family.
You’d have a bed waiting for you on the farm.
Even if you were away for a long period of time, when you returned mom would make sure there’s a spot at the table with your favorite, Lemon Meringue Pie, waiting for you.
Brothers and sisters, you are God’s child.
You are a part of his family.
And always will be.
You ARE NOT a slave.
But you are free.
In fact, Jesus says, “If the Son sets you free, you really will be free. (John 8:34-36)
Did you hear that?
If Jesus sets your free, you’ll be free indeed.
Jesus did set you free.
Here’s the truth then:
You are FREE from idolatry because JESUS set you FREE.
Because Jesus doesn’t do anything half way.
He didn’t get you some of the way free.
He didn’t attempt at freeing you and fail.
He doesn’t say, “You free yourself.”
He set you FREE.
You are not a SLAVE to idolatry.
You are FREE!
II. “The Free” Flee
The Corinthians were a group of believers who lived in Corinth. Corinth was a city filled with idol worship. There was a large temple to Aphrodite the goddess of love, another impressive temple to Poseidon, the god of the sea, and various miniature temples to Apollo, Isis, Venus and Demeter.
Some of the believers in the Corinthians church had formerly been practicing idol worshippers.
But Jesus had set them free.
In his letter to this group of former slaves to idol worship, Paul encourages them in how to LIVE Free. He says, “Therefore, my dear friends, FLEE from idolatry.” (1 Cor. 10:14)
Flee means get out of there.
It means “run.”
It means “sprint.”
It means be like my dog Frankie. Frankie hates… (that probably isn’t a strong enough word)… Frankie loathes laundry baskets. I don’t know why. Maybe a laundry basket bullied her for days on end before she came to our family. Regardless, when she sees a laundry basket near her, she cowers in the corner with her tail between her legs and as soon as there’s a space for her to get out of the room, she sprints outside and goes to the corner farthest from the basket.
“Flee” means to run out of the room as fast your four legs can carry you and get as far away from idolatry as possible!
But the thing about humans is that we tend to be more like my cat, Minnie. The other day Minnie found a bunch of string and played with it until she was tangled up within it. She started meowing. I let her out.
No more than about 5 minutes later, she was meowing again, because she was back in the string.
“Flee” does not mean getting entangled in the idolatry that you were just released from.
The FREE from idolatry FLEE from idolatry
In Corinth, there were often feasts for the different idols. (Think about it like Lenten meals…just…dedicated to a false god.)
Zesty Chicken Sunday dedicated to Zeus.
Apple Pie-Apple Turnovers dedicated to Apollo.
Doritos Dinner dedicated to Demeter.
These meals would allow the community to gather for FREE food in the name of the idol.
Now remember the people of Corinth had been freed from idol worship by the message of Christ.
Yet when they were walking by the local idol temple and saw that there was FREE FOOD?
They joined in.
Would you consider that “FLEEING” from idolatry?
Paul didn’t. Allow him to explain. “Judge for yourselves what I am saying. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? (v.15-16)
The answer to both questions is YES.
When we eat the bread of Lord’s Supper, we are intimately connected with Jesus’ body that was broken so we might have life.
When we drink the wine at Lord’s Supper, we are intimately connected with the blood Jesus shed for our forgiveness.
When we sit at the Lord’s Table, we are intimately connected with the REAL GOD.
More than that we are connected to God’s people. Paul writes, “Because there is one bread, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (v.17)
This is a simple principle:
If you’re connected to Jesus in Lord’s Supper…
And I’m connected to Jesus in Lord’s Supper…
Then we are connected.
This is an awesome truth.
But if that’s true about the Lord’s table, then it’s true about an idol’s table too!
Paul writes, “Those who eat the sacrifices are partners of [that] altar, aren’t they? (v.18)
He adds, “What am I saying? That food from idol sacrifices is anything, or that an idol is anything? No. (v.19)
An idol is nothing more than some wood, some paints, and a bunch of glitter.
An idol isn’t real.
Therefore, you can’t be united with an idol, because an idol isn’t anything.
But this wasn’t a harmless offense.
Because while idols aren’t real, the demons that make you believe that idols are real…
“What [these idol worshippers] sacrifice, “they sacrifice to demons, and not to God” and I do not want you to become partners of demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and of the table of demons.” (v.20)
Because here’s the truth:
Continuing in idolatry connects you with DEMONS.
Using the internet to worship God on a Sunday morning, partners you with GOD! But using that same internet to look up dirty pictures on a Sunday night, partners you with demons.
Typing “Praise Jesus” on social media now, partners you with God! But typing “curse this person” later, partners you with demons.
Tuning in for the family devotion now, partners you with GOD! But getting the popcorn ready for the R-rated horror flick later, partners you with demons.
Giving online to the church now, partners you with GOD! But giving the rest of our funds to internet gambling later, partners you with demons.
If Paul still hasn’t convinced you to FLEE from idolatry, look at verse 21.
Are we trying to provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he is? (v.21)
It’s a call back to the 1st Commandment: “You shall have no other gods” Why? “Because the LORD your God is a jealous God, punishing those who hate him.” (Exodus 20:5)
Because the truth is that GOD wants you badly.
That’s why he invites you to his altar.
At an idols’ altar, people want the idol’s help so badly they would shed blood for the idol.
At God’s altar, God wants you in his family so badly, GOD gives his blood for you.
At his altar, God speaks to you and says:
You are FREE.
Live FREE & FLEE.
III. “The Free” Serve
This is not all God has to say about how the FREE, live FREELY. He writes,
“Everything is permitted”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permitted”—but not everything builds up. Let no one seek his own good, but that of others.
The concept in Greek culture was, “do whatever you want, because who cares!?!” For Greeks, this way of thinking revolved around their moral law. It’s the reason that GREEK culture is the culture that later is associated with frat house party.
Paul pits that logic against God’s logic.
There are some things in life that are permissible.
They are neither commanded nor forbidden by God.
Let’s call those “Free-to-Choose Things”
“Free-to-choose things” include…
…what kind of socks you’re wearing right now.
…what kind of donut you had for breakfast.
…how much cream you put in your coffee.
…whether you should eat turkey bacon or pig bacon.
All of these things are neutral. We are “Free-to-choose.”
Yet, in these “free-to-choose” things, the FREE, must be careful of making these neutral things into an idol.
The FREE must be careful not to use these “Free-to-choose” items to serve themselves.
Rather, The FREE use their freedom to SERVE others.
Besides meals dedicated to idols which Paul already identified as something believers should not participate in, there was the issue of “food that had formerly been sacrificed to idols, but was now being sold at the local farmer’s market for a value menu price.” Leftovers were often sold by the pagan priests to the merchant, who in turn would sell it to the people.
Now Paul had just told the believers to never eat at the table of the idol worshipping feasts.
What about this formerly sacrificed to idols meat?
The answer? It depends.
Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without asking questions for the sake of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” (v.26) That includes this chicken and asparagus plate. It is from God, so go ahead. Just don’t ask questions. Otherwise, the devil will make your conscience over sensitive and you’ll think you’re doing wrong.
If one of the unbelievers invites you over and you want to go, eat whatever you are served without asking questions for the sake of conscience. (v.27) Again, don’t ask. Eat! Enjoy. Make friends with unbelievers in the hopes that you can share the Gospel with them.
But if someone says to you, “This is from a sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. I mean the other person’s conscience, not your own. (v.29) Because imagine you are with a recent believer, who had just stopped worshipping Aphrodite. They just learned the 1st Commandment in Starting Point class. And now, you are about to eat piece of Tiramisu that had been sacrificed to a false god?
Best case scenario? You’ll leave them really confused.
Worst case? They’ll head to the next Aphrodite fest, participate in the things of demons, and be pulled away from faith.
Sometimes serving others means we DON’T.
You don’t have a beer, even though you can, because you’re sitting next to a former alcoholic.
You don’t call Peter a saint, even though it’s Biblical, because you’re talking with someone who occasionally prays to saints.
You don’t watch a movie in the basement with the lights off, alone, with your girlfriend – even though it’s not wrong to do so – because you’re both trying to be pure. And this is counterproductive.
But Paul continues, “I mean the other person’s conscience, not your own. Why is my freedom judged by someone else’s conscience? If I eat the food with thankfulness, why am I criticized for something for which I give thanks?”
I think this is included because of one particular group that Paul knew would read this letter and totally abuse his words.
The Judaizers were a group of believers who believed that people were saved by faith in Jesus and by adhering to Old Testament Jewish customs.
The Judaizers didn’t struggle with whether idols were real.
They struggled with humility.
Meaning they could take what Paul just said and respond:
You’re right. This is just food.
It’s not wrong to eat, but we won’t because we’re better than you.
And you better not…
…or you’ll be sinning against our conscience.
In this instance?
Paul recommends you take a big old bite.
You’re not dealing with a young in faith believer struggling with a lack of knowledge.
You’re dealing with a “mature” in faith believer struggling with a lack of humility.
Sometimes serving others means we DO.
For instance, baptism. We baptize at Gethsemane church by pouring water over people’s heads. This is because the word Jesus when he tells us to “baptize” simply means to “wash with water.” That means, however you wash with water, is baptism.
But some church groups confess, “You must put someone completely under the water or it isn’t baptism.”
We could capitulate.
We could get a baptismal tank and only dunk people.
After talking and explaining and showing from God’s Word what God actually says,
We could “serve them by DOING.”
By pouring water, our action speaks to them, “This is permissible. Stop making YOUR WAY into an idol.”
Sometimes serving others means we DO; sometimes serving others means we DON’T.
How do we know when to do what? Paul gives us 2 questions to apply to any situation.
(1) Is it for God’s Glory?
That’s our goal as Christians to bring God glory as we freely serve him. Paul says, “Whether you eat or drink, or do anything else, do everything to the glory of God.” (v.31)
Because ultimately, that’s what we’re here for.
This is an important question our leadership asked this week.
Does refraining from in-person worship and going online give glory to God?
It obeys the Fourth Commandment by honoring our government.
It obeys the Fifth Commandment by honoring the lives of others.
It obeys the Third Commandment by bringing God’s Word to God’s people.
A question for you to reflect these coming weeks will be --
Is the way I’m worshipping giving glory to God?
Should I watch in front of Netflix? Or in a quiet area of the room?
Should I scroll on my phone? Or set my phone aside?
Should I sing along with the music? Or not even click on them?
Do everything to the glory of God.
(2) Does it lead others to Jesus?
The ultimate way that God has glory is when someone comes to faith in him as their Savior. We are God’s church, so that’s our goal too. Paul writes, “Do not give offense to Jews, or Greeks, or God’s church, just as I also try to please all people in all things, by not seeking what is best for me but for the many, so that they may be saved.” (v.32)
If eating that exotic food dish gives me an opportunity to discuss Jesus’ love with my Hindu friends? I do.
If throwing that BLT away, allows me a chance to talk to my Jewish friends and share Jesus with them? I do.
If worshipping with an organ causes someone to check out of church before we can share Jesus with them, we don’t.
If worshipping with a drum set causes someone to walk out of church before we can share Jesus with them, we don’t.
If using hand sanitizer soothe someone’s worries so that they might listen to me calm their fears about Jesus, even if I just hand sanitized out in my car and I’ve already sanitized about 15 times today and I’m not even planning on high fiving them anyways? Hand sanitizer it is.
Because our goal as the FREE is to live FREE that others might also be FREE. Amen.
We are in the middle of our IDOLATRY sermon series. So far, we have…
(1) defined idolatry as PLACING anything in God’s PLACE.
(2) identified personal idols as those things that we FEAR, LOVE or TRUST more than God.
(3) marveled as Jesus loved US more than himself by going to the cross to win forgiveness for our idolatry.
(4) been empowered to discover our own idols and get rid of them
In order to do this, I think it’s helpful to consider the places you visit each week and identify the idols that tempt you in each location. For example…
…work, where your boss sends you email reminders to worship idols of money and career every five minutes on the five minutes.
…the local bar, where you go every Thursday to practice some Thirsty Thursday Theology.
…your gym, where bowing down to do burpees quickly becomes bowing down to your bodacious body.
…your couch, here you have a nice little altar set up to the Netflix God.
… the bedroom down the hall from yours, where this tiny little 5-year-old God that demands all of your time and energy be spent pretending to be a Paw Patrol Character with them.
But, as you consider places where idols tempt you to worship them, how many of you thought of…
If we were playing Family Feud and the topic was “Place You’d Find an Idol in Modern America”, giving the answer “Church” is something that would cause Steve Harvey to do a double take.
Today we will be warned from God’s Word not to be deceived: church can absolutely be a place where idolatry lays hold of our hearts. We’ll consider if any idols have taken their way into our hearts and ask God’s help exposing and removing those idols. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Background of Ezekiel
The lesson for this morning comes from Ezekiel 8. A bit of background:
In 597 B.C. the Babylonian Empire defeated the people of Israel and carried many people back into Babylon as exiles. These people were apart from their country, apart from where they grew up, and apart from their families.
But the truth was that God had ordained this exile. For years, God had been warning the people of Israel through prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, that this would unless they stopped worshipping idols and returned to worshipping the true God.
They didn’t listen.
So, God allowed the exile.
One might expect the exile to be what finally caused the people to change their ways, right?
Enter Ezekiel. Ezekiel is one of the priests of God who had been carried off with the exiles to Babylon. In Babylon, God transforms Ezekiel from a priest that brings requests from the people to God to a prophet that brings messages from God to the people. God had Ezekiel present these messages to the people in strange ways.
Once, God had Ezekiel go the city square and lie down on his side for 390 days. This was to represent how the 390 years that the people had been engaged in the sin of idolatry. (Ezekiel 4:5)
Another time, God had Ezekiel build a miniature model of Jerusalem. Then, he took an iron pan and placed it as a wall against the model, representing a Babylonian siege that God would send against the people of Jerusalem. (Ezekiel 4:3)
Yet one more time, God had Ezekiel shave off his beard. Then, he took a third of the beard shavings and burned them (to represent the third of Jerusalem that would be set on fire), a third of his beard shavings he threw into the wind (to represent the third that would flee the city and be scattered), and a third of the beard shavings he threw into the air and slashed with his sword (to represent the third of Jerusalem that would die by the sword). All these things would happen if the people didn’t return from idols to the true God.
These action prophecies led to Ezekiel garnering quite a following. Many of the elders in the city spent time with Ezekiel hoping to be present for another strange prophecy.
On the fifth day of the sixth month, in the sixth year of the exile, Ezekiel is chilling in his house with some of the elders. (I imagine they’re drinking some wine and watching the latest episode of the Bachelor).
When suddenly, Ezekiel goes into a trance.
He sees the figure of a man.
Chest of blazing fire.
Legs of glowing metal.
It’s the LORD.
And the LORD reaches out his hands,
Grabs Ezekiel by the hair,
And lifts him into the air.
He soars with Ezekiel out of the walls of Babylon.
He skyrockets him past the desert plains.
He lifts him up past the mountains.
And sets him down in Jerusalem.
Right in front of God’s temple.
I’m sure Ezekiel was filled with excitement:
This is my home!
This is my temple.
This is where I worked!
That is where I carved my name into a rock.
Over there is where little Suzy Lou gave me a kiss on the cheek in grade school!
As Ezekiel’s looked around his home…
He saw something…
II. Church Idols
(1) The Idol of JEALOUSY
The Spirit…brought me to the entrance of the north gate into the inner courtyard of the Temple, where the idolatrous image of jealousy, which provokes jealousy, was located. (8:3)
Can you imagine that? This is God’s holy temple. The place where you worship God and only God. And yet, there at the entrance welcoming you as you come in, is an idol.
At the entrance of our church, we’ve got some flowers.
We’ve got a bench.
We’ve got a sign that says, “worship this way.”
How would you feel if next week there was a big old statue of Buddha out front?
The idol that was in front of the temple is simply identified as jealousy.
While churches today might not have an actual, statue like idol at the entrance to their church, the IDOL OF JEALOUSY is absolutely a threat.
A while back, I noticed a young child that was in tears throughout the worship service.
Having a hard time.
Afterwards, he was still having a difficult time, so I asked him, “What’s wrong?”
“My brother ate the last goldfish. I didn’t get as many!”
Mom said, “Yep. That’s pretty much all we cared about throughout worship.”
Jealousy is a threat to take over your time of worship and craft an idol in your heart.
“Would you look at that person? He’s got so many friends. I wish I was more like him.”
“Really? She’s engaged and I’m not? How is that even possible? I’m way better looking.”
“That musician is very talented. So…it’s kinda cool they just made a mistake…Knock them down a peg or two.”
“That guy shouldn’t be on church leadership. I’d do a much a better job than him.”
“Look! There’s pastor capitulating to the new people again. When he’s gonna spend more time talking to me!?!”
The thing about the idol of jealousy is that it provokes jealousy.
Remember the first sermon in this series? God said, “You shall have no other Gods… for I am a jealous God visiting punishment on those who hate me.” (Exodus 20:3)
You might be consuming with jealousy for other people.
That leaves God jealous for you.
And Ezekiel was in shock.
And God tapped him on the shoulder.
And said, “You will see even great abominations than these.” (v.6)
(2) The Idol of REPUTATION
Next, he brought me to the entrance to the courtyard, and I looked and saw that there was a hole in the wall. (v.7)
Instead of telling Ezekiel to get out his spackle and a trowel to fix it, God tells him, “to dig through the wall.” So, Ezekiel does. I don’t know that he had some kind of Ancient Hebraic shovel, but he dug until he had a space big enough for his body to fit through.
Then, God told him, “Look around at the abominations in this room.” (v.8)
As Ezekiel enters, he notices the walls are engraved with “Every form of creeping creature and every kind of detestable animal and all the filthy idols.” (v.10) This is most likely a reference to the Gods of the Egyptians. Hieroglyphics – that glorified hawks, cats, and beetles as Gods.
But Ezekiel hadn’t discovered ancient room that no one knew existed.
People knew about it
Temple people knew about it.
In fact, inside the room was a group of about 70 Israelite elders, burning incense and praying to the carvings.
But what’s interesting is that these men were hidden! From the outside, the room looked like a temple of God, but hidden deep within the inside? Idolatry.
They wanted to protect their REPUTATION. It’s the only reason that they kept up appearances as “priests” of God. They craved the REPUTATION of God followers even though their hearts were far from him.
REPUTATION is just as much an idol today.
“I don’t want to be at worship today. But I better go so that it looks good to others.”
“Lots of prayers on social media for the Coronavirus. I’d better post one too so I look like a good Christian.”
“I can’t confess my secret sin of pornography to the elders, because they might look at me funny. I’ll just put on a smile, act like everything’s ok, and keep sinning.”
Want to know the ironic part of this?
REPUTATION worshippers think that everyone is fooled.
According to verse 12, the worshippers in the secret room were saying:
‘The Lord does not see us.’ (v.12)
Because the one that was seeing them do this, was the very one they claimed didn’t see them.
And God sees it when reputation becomes our idols.
And he hates it.
But God wasn’t done yet.
God grabbed him by the hand.
And said, “You will see even greater abominations...” (v.13)
(3) The Idol of PROSPERITY
Next, God brought Ezekiel to the entrance of the gateway of the House of the Lord that is on the north side, and right there (he) saw women sitting and wailing for Tammuz. (v.14)
Tammuz was the ancient Mesopotamian God of fertility. According to religious myth, when Tammuz was healthy then the land would be fertile. He’d bless the farmer with healthy crops. He’d give them an abundance of grain. He’d make sure that there was a BULL market in ancient crops.
But when things went poorly, perhaps during winter or a famine, Tammuz had died. Then, it was up to the worshippers of Tammuz to bring Tammuz back to life through mourning and crying.
(Sounds like some kind of Disney movie: “If you shed a tear of true love for your idol, then Tammuz will come back to life.”)
But really, it wasn’t Tammuz they loved.
It wasn’t Tammuz they were sad that died.
It was their PROSPERITY.
PROSPERITY is a big idol in the modern church.
People that worship just to get a better job.
People that worship just to get more money.
People that worship just to find themselves a happily family.
Not that any of those things are bad on their own.
But LOVING them more than God is.
Even right now. There’s a pandemic of COVID-19.
And we’re praying to God to get us through this.
To keep us from illness.
To keep our jobs strong.
To keep our economy prosperous.
Are we doing so because we LOVE God?
Or because we LOVE prosperity?
Because we TRUST God to take care of us…
Or we don’t TRUST life without stuff?
Because we FEAR God and know he’s in control…
Or because we FEAR the virus and think it is?
Worship is not a means for you to get PROSPERITY.
It’s a way to show trust in God when there isn’t PROSPERITY.
Because think about this.
You don’t have to mourn to bring the real God back from the dead.
He did that on his own.
God turned Ezekiel around.
And led him away from the entrance.
And said, “You will see even greater abominations than these.” (v.15)
(4) The Idol of REBELLION
Finally, God brought (Ezekiel) to the inner courtyard of the House of the Lord, and there at the entrance to the temple of the Lord, between the vestibule and the altar.
This is the main event.
It’s the place where priests would offer sacrifices to God.
It’s the place where priests would offer prayers to God.
It’s the place where priests would sing worship songs to God.
Usually that was done facing the altar (not that God was the altar), but it was a visual reminder that all of their worship was directed to God.
These men weren’t facing the altar.
Their backs were.
There were twenty-five men, showing their backsides to the temple of the Lord with their faces toward the east, and they were bowing down to the sun. (v.16)
They didn’t care what God wanted.
They did what they wanted.
And what they wanted was to be like all the other nations.
Worship isn’t about you.
It isn’t about what you want.
It isn’t about what you like.
It isn’t about what you desire.
It’s about God.
And here’s the warning, if you are making worship all about YOU, then it’s as if your back is turned to the altar.
As if you’re worshipping the sun.
As if you’re stinking a branch up God’s nose.
Look at that figure of speech in verse 17, “They are even sticking the branch up my nose!”
It’s the Old Testament equivalent to thumbing your nose at God.
Only the phrase is usually “stick a branch to my nose.”
God says that this open rebellion isn’t just a branch to his nose, but a branch up his nose.
This seems like a TERRIBLE idea.
III. The Church’s Real God
How does the REAL God feel about all this idolatry among his people?
“I also will act in wrath. My eye will not show pity, and I will have no compassion. They will call out to my ears with a loud cry, but I will not hear them.”
This segues directly into the very next chapter. Where God tells his servants to go through out Jerusalem and bring destruction to all who worship idols. And the messenger is about to go.
But before he does, he gives the messenger one last instruction:
The Lord said, “Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a TAV on the foreheads of those who moan and lament over the abominations being committed in her.” (v.4)
Those were the ones that God wouldn’t destroy.
Those who heard his message and repented.
But we need to talk about this “tav”. It’s a Hebrew letter that makes the sound of a “t”.
In the modern world, it looks similar to a lower case “n” just with a rocking chair like foot to the bottom left and a crossing between the two strokes at the top.
If you trace the history of the tav back to the time of Ezekiel?
It’s a cross.
Not that anyone who read this at Ezekiel’s time said, “There is a savior who will come and die on the cross to remove our sins of idolatry in God’s temple…” But as we look back and see what Ezekiel was saying, “Isn’t this amazing?”
Jesus has covered your sins.
His death on the cross has covered.
He has covered your idolatry of jealousy.
He has covered your idolatry of reputation.
he has covered your idolatry of prosperity.
He has covered your idolatry of rebellion.
He has covered you with his blood, called you his child, and made you his church.
Rejoice! You are forgiven!
IV. What Now?
(1) Honor God in Church
This is the main principle of worship. We want everything we do to be Christ centered.
It’s why Jesus comes up so much throughout the service:
In the songs.
In the prayers.
In the lessons.
In the kids’ lesson.
In the artwork.
In the bulletin.
On the powerpoint.
in the sermon, etc.
That’s absolutely what God has called us as church leadership to do.
But God also calls you to honor God in worship.
To throw out your jealousies.
To throw out your worries about reputation.
To throw out your desires for prosperity.
To throw out your own sinful wants and desires.
To worship God.
(2) Honor God AS Church
The Bible teaches in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that “you are the temple of God and the Holy Spirit lives in you.”
God loved you.
He bought you.
He threw out your idols.
And made your heart his temple.
In your heart, there’s a sign outside that says, “God is worshipped here.”
Because when you do, this whole thing about idolatry in church flips.
Instead of idols entering God’s domain of the church,
God’s church enters the idol’s domain of the world.