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A New Way of Relating-Full Sermon Transcript

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JULY 7, 2019 // MARK 2:13 - 3:6 // A NEW WAY OF RELATING

PASTOR: VINNIE HANKE

SCRIPTURE READING

“He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”

—Mark 2:13–3:6 ESV

INTRO

Good morning, church. As Forrest said, my name’s Vinnie Hanke. It’s a great pleasure to be with you this morning. It’s been an odd week, hasn’t it? We’ve had fireworks, earthquakes, Kawhi Leonard signed with the Clippers, it’s odd. But, ultimately, today is about Jesus, no matter what has gone on Monday through Saturday, amen? If this is your first time in church, or first time in a long time, we want you to relax, just take a deep breath. We don’t want anything from you today, but we do want something for you. We want you to know the peace and love that comes from acknowledging Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Amen, church?

We also want you to be sure that we believe two things about you today. Number one, we believe that if this is your first time here, or your first time in a long time, that you’re not here by accident. But, we believe in a sovereign God who is in control and desires to meet with you today, and he has chosen this place, and this time, and this passage, and these people all on purpose, in order that he might meet you right where you are.

As we make our way into the gospel of Mark today, something I always like to do whenever I preach in a new place or in a new book, for me, is kind of set the content and the context of where we’re at. So, real quickly, the content of the gospel of Mark. This is one of the three synoptic gospels. It’s partnered with Matthew and Luke, and they serve to teach and tell about the life, ministry, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as Savior. Each one has its own personality, they’re own points of emphasis, and yet all are equally inspired by God. Mark seeks to answer the question, who is Jesus? In fact, this question will become the central theme of the entire gospel. Who is Jesus of Nazareth, and what is the good news that is the gospel about him? That’s our content. 

Readers in Mark will see Jesus’ entrance into his ministry, his selection of the 12 disciples in chapters 1-3, they’re follow Jesus as he teaches and travels in chapters 4-8, they’ll watch as Jesus suffers, and sacrifices in chapters 9-15, and then they will ultimately rejoice as Jesus is resurrected and raised in glory in chapter 16.

Our context today is Mark chapter 2 verse 13 through chapter 3 verse 6, which we just heard read for us. Mark will provide a recounting of Jesus’ calling of Levi, continue to turn up the heat on Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees. Here’s my main idea. If you like to take notes inside your Mark journal or on your phone inside your fake Bible, Jesus has created a new way of relating to God that is free from religious try-hardism, and entirely built on his grace towards sinners. That’s where we’re headed today. WiIl you pray with me?

Father God, 

I thank you for this morning. I thank you for the people, God, and the purpose of Emmaus Church, to bring you glory, and to make disciples, and to love their community. I thank you, Father, and am humbled that you would allow me to open your Word with them. I pray, God, that you would forgive me of my sins, God, anything in the places where I’ve grown weak and weary, and you would allow me to deliver your Word carefully and clearly to your people God, that are here. God, we pray these things that by your Spirit, you would teach us what we know not, you would give to us what we have not, and you would form in our character what we are not. And, God, we ask these things at this time, ultimately, for your glory. We keep none for ourselves, and we ask this through Christ our Savior, amen. 

I. JESUS CALLS LEVI (vv2:13-2:14)

Amen, let’s begin. Beginning in Chapter 2, verse 13 … He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him …  If you were here last week, you know that Pastor Forrest delivered a message on Jesus’ ability to create a deeper healing, a soul healing and meet our greatest need. As we watch Jesus not only heal a paralytic man at the behest of his friends, but also forgive his sins. From there, Jesus continues his teaching and ministry, he again is going to press up against the sea as the crowds around Jesus are ultimately attracted to him. This is a guy who is teaching with authority, who is performing not only supernatural work, but is carrying with him an influence in his community. 

And, as he makes his way along with the crowd out toward the sea, he encounters a man sitting in a tax booth named Levi. And, Jesus looks at Levi and says two simple words … follow me. And, Levi responds with two simple actions … he gets up, and follows him. One of the things that’s interesting here, is Mark leaves out the content of what Jesus was teaching right now. He’s going to begin a section intended to describe the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day. As Jesus and the crowd are making their way out to the sea, he calls Levi the tax collector.

Now, we might miss this if we’re not first century Jews. Any first century Jews in here? Okay, I didn’t think so. What Jesus has just done is a social and religious taboo here, inviting a tax collector to become a disciple, to follow him. Tax collectors, in general, are not popular folk. No love songs are written about tax collectors. Now, a jewish tax collector working for Rome, an occupying nation, were extremely unpopular. Think about this. Think about this, if the nation of Canada invaded the United States. I know, it’s far fetched, but let’s just say our Canadian brothers and sisters decide that they’re going to invade our country. They ultimately overthrow the government, take over everything, and then they set up local tax houses, and then some of your fellow American citizens go to work at those tax houses. They would not be very popular folk, would they?

That’s who Levi is. He’s a Jewish man, working for the occupying nation of Rome. The tax collectors became equally, if not more, despised than the Romans. They were dishonest, they often used intimidation and even force, and had regular context with Gentiles. All of this would have made them ceremonially unclean according to Jewish religious law. Think of having a bad case of the religious cooties. Remember the cooties, right? Whereby contact with someone who had cooties then transferred the cooties to you? That’s, essentially, the ceremonial unclean law of the first century Jewish temple. Who knew second graders were such religious zealots? 

Jesus continues to break cultural and social bounds by inviting Levi to being a part of his company of disciples. Like Peter, Andrew, James, and John as we saw in chapter 1, Levi responded to the call by leaving his secular work and following Jesus, becoming a disciple. Tradition tells us that Levi will be renamed as the disciple Matthew. Levi follows Jesus, there is an immediacy to the response of Jesus’ call. And, no doubt, this is not just an external call, but Jesus was doing something in Levi’s soul in that moment, when he invited him to come and belong. This might beg us to investigate our own soul this morning and say, what might we need to leave behind to follow where Jesus calls? Is there a level of comfort, security, or identity that we continue to cling to despite Jesus’ ongoing call to follow him where he would lead?

II. JESUS SHARES A MEAL WITH SINNERS (vv. 2:15-2:17)

Verse 15 … And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him … So, what we do, is we shift from Jesus teaching along the seaside, calling Levi to now, probably later in the afternoon and evening, Jesus and his disciples and many from the crowd have made their way back to Levi’s house. If you’ll excuse me, I have a Bible nerd moment. The word disciple, here, in verse 15, appears … [AUDIO BREAK] … in Mark. It’s an indication of how important discipleship is in the gospel of Mark. The word disciple simply means to be a learner. But, the disciples of Jesus were meant to be more than just students. They were devoted not just to his teaching, but even more so to him as a person. Jesus intended them to become ministers to the needs of others.

As we examine this scene in Levi’s house, the doctor Luke, from his gospel, will tell us this little bit of information in Like 5:29 when he says … Levi made him [Jesus] a great feast in his house, and there as a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with him … Jesus calls Levi to become a disciple, and Levi immediately responds by following Jesus, and then having a party in which he invites friends over, so they too can meet Jesus. The love of Jesus, for all kinds of sinners, his initiative in going and seeking them out, giving them full acceptance, and his desire to have a close relationship with them, was a new and revolutionary element in religious and moral standards of his day. Jesus was turning outcasts into insiders. 

If this morning you feel, or have felt like an outcast, you are welcome here. For, you are in a room full of outcasts, that Jesus has welcomed in. Levi’s life is impacted by Jesus to such a degree that he immediately wants to see others impacted. 

I’ll give you a little math equation this morning. I didn’t create this, I’ve stolen it like every good pastor, but it reads this way … a gospeled life, plus relational proximity, times gospel clarity, equals missional impact. I’m ready for a seminary thesis. Let me break it down, here’s what I mean. What do I mean by a gospel life? A life transformed and changed by Jesus. If there are things that were true about you before Jesus that are no longer true, your life has been changed. If there were things that were untrue about your life before Jesus that are now true, your life has been changed. As you live that changed and transformed life out in the world amongst your family, and friends, and coworkers, and community, that’s relational proximity, the people around you. If you will be clear, that is, if you will use your words to describe why your life is different because of Jesus, you will see missional impact. That is, you will see more disciples made.

That’s what Levi’s doing here. His life has been changed and transformed by Jesus. All of a sudden, he’s left with this outcast position, and become an insider with Jesus and his disciples. And so, he immediately goes to those who he is relationally proximally close with, his friends, his neighbors, his fellow tax collectors, sinners, the fellow outcasts, and he says, hey, you’ve got to meet this guy. You’ve got to hear him teach, you’ve got to hear him talk bout … you’ve got to just be in his presence. So, I’m going to smoke a big pork butt, and we’re going to all get together, and we’re going to have a feast together. It probably wasn’t pork butt, because he’s a first century Jew. See? When you leave your notes, you just get into trouble. We’re going to have Jewish barbeque, and we’re going to have a good time, is what Levi said to his friends, and you’ve got to meet Jesus. And then, they’re going to be clear, Jesus is going to be clear about his message and mission with them, and that’s going to result in more disciples made. 

The same is true for us, living in Southern California in 2019. If we will live lives that have been transformed by Jesus, if we will remain in relational proximity for those who do not know Jeus, and we will be clear about why our lives are different and changed, we will see God use that to reach more people

Verse 16 …  And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  … This and the following two sections are going to deal with what Pharisees consider a religious deficiency in the eating habits of Jesus and his disciples. They are unsatisfied with his religious eating habits. How religious do you have to be to be concerned about the eating habits of another human being? The scribes and the Pharisees will quickly become today’s version of a social media troll. They will constantly search over Jesus’ timeline to point out mistakes, cast judgements, and ignite displeasure among the people over Jesus. Jesus and the early church were often criticized for associating with undesirable characters, and Mark is going to justify Jesus’ practice by showing how the changed lives of the people glorify God. 

By the way, this is the typical response of the religious to the grace and mercy of Jesus. They begin to cast stones. They don’t celebrate and join in at those who are outcast becoming insiders, no, they begin to throw stones. Why would you associate with that person? People are getting to know Jesus and hearing the truth, and the religious are only worried about what kind of people are in the room with Jesus. You see, the scribes and Pharisees prided themselves on living a life of complete religious obligations. Through their lens of interpretation, the law of Moses from the Old Testament contained 613 commandments, 248 positive actions, things they had to do, and 365 negative actions, things they were not to do. These laws were worn like a great, big merit badge by the Pharisees. There were laws for who, for how to, and from whom you could purchase food, and with whom it was safe to eat. 

Now, what’s the big deal with sharing a meal? Why would they become frustrated or curious why Jesus would do such a thing? Well, one of the reasons is the way that people ate might be different from the way you and I might eat today. You and I head into McDonalds, we both order our meals, we each get a separate tray, we sit down, you’ve got your food, I’ve got my food. Never the twain shall meet, unless you’re close to someone, and even then you’ve got to ask permission, right? You can’t just go be stealing fries, it’s just bad form. But, in Jesus’ day, everything was served family style, which meant if Jesus and his friends were going to go to McDonalds - again, probably not McDonalds because he’s a first century Jewish rabbi - but if they were going to sit at McDonalds, they don’t get a just 10 mcnugget box, they get a whole plate full of mcnuggets that they’re all going to share, and they don’t get a little individual sauce packet, they get a whole bowl of hot mustard sauce together, which means every time I’m going to eat, I’m going to take a chicken nugget from the communal bowl, and I’m going to dip it into the communal sauce bowl, which means my food is going to touch your food, our hands are going to be in the same bowl together. And, for the religious leaders, they could not abide by that, because if you were unclean and my mcnugget touched your mcnugget, now I would be unclean. 

So, they have an objection that Jesus would sit with such people, and potentially become ceremonially unclean. See, I like to call Mark the action movie gospel. Doubtless, if you’ve read through the first two chapters, you’ve seen the word immediately several times. Mark wants to use a swiftness of movement and action, and what he’s doing right now, is he’s slowly beginning to turn up the pressure cooker between Jesus and the Pharisees. And, right now at the beginning of our passage together, the concern with how Jesus is eating it, by the end of our passage together, they’re going to be ready to kill him. 

Verse 17 … And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” … Jesus responds to the question of the Pharisees, and his response is simple, it is beautiful, and it is devastating. Jesus is with those who are willing to acknowledge their need. Because, here’s the reality. What we know from the rest of the teaching of scripture, is that ultimately no one is righteous, but rather all are sinners in need of the grace and salvation and the call of Jesus. And, perhaps this is the greatest hurdle that we face in our coming to Jesus, is to understand our sinfulness in front of the eyes of a holy God. See, the gospel continues to save us as we are continuing to acknowledge our need for grace. 

Coming to the realization that you are sick, that you are broken, that you are a sinner, is not a one time thing where you said a prayer at a Sunday school 30 years ago, and now you’re good. It is a daily recognizing our need for Jesus. That, God, apart from your sin and mercy, I am broken and lost. That apart from your intervention through your son, Jesus Christ, I’m lost. I’m separated. There is no hope. When you come back daily to that need, you are immediately aware, once again, every morning of what the scripture tells us that God’s mercies are made knew every day. And, that’s what Jesus is getting at here that he has come not to call the righteous, for they have no need. But, to call the sinner, in the same way the doctor doesn’t spend a whole lot of time with not sick people, the gospel will continue to save us as we are continuing to acknowledge our need for grace. 

The structure of the next section as we continue to make our way, Mark’s going to do three things. He’s going to set the scene for us, he’s going to tell us what’s going on, there’s going to be an accusation or a question lobbed at Jesus, and then Jesus is going to respond. 

III. PHARISEES ACCUSE JESUS & JESUS RESPONDS (vv2:18-2:24)

Verse 18 … Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” … Essentially, Jesus, why aren’t you following the religious tradition that everybody else is doing? Well, why aren’t you continuing in the pattern that is socially and culturally acceptable? 

Verse 19 …  And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” … Jesus really has a way of making clear things muddy, doesn’t he? So the scene is set. John’s disciples and the Pharisee’s disciples, and the Pharisees themselves are all fasting. The question is made, hey Jesus, why aren’t you doing that thing? Why aren’t you and your disciples fasting? That is, why aren’t you refraining from food for a period of time, out of religious devotion?

Jesus answers the question of the people using three illustrations. A wedding guest on a diet, a bad seamstress, and a lazy bartender. The first illustration is a wedding guest on a diet. It would be odd and out of place, wouldn’t it? I mean, a wedding is a time of celebration. If you go to a good wedding, there’s going to be a good meal there. I’m talking about that rubbery chicken, I’m talking about steak or something hearty. And, it would be out of place at a moment of celebration for you to suddenly decide, you know what? I’m going to go on a diet, and I’m fine with these little mints on the table. No, you would partake in the celebration and in the meal. It would be an insult to the guests, and to the celebration around you, to refrain from enjoying the feast. As Jesus answers the people, it would be odd for my disciples to fast at this time for I am among them, celebration is now. As we’ve heard Pastor Forrest talk about last week, the kingdom of God is at hand. There will be a day - Jesus alludes to his death here - there will be a day when it will be appropriate for them to fast, when I depart from them. It’s a small illusion to what’s coming next. 

Jesus continues, he talks about a bad seamstress, someone who takes an unshrunk piece of cloth and tries to sew it on an old piece of cloth, that way it would lead to a greater tear. Again, something out of place. It doesn’t fit. And then, finally the lazy bartender who would put new wine into old wineskins, ultimately creating them to burst. What Jesus is alluding to here with each one of these, is that the kingdom of God is something new, that Jesus is doing a new thing, that he is bringing the reality and the revelation of what everything from before him has meant, and it’s to try to fit Jesus and the kingdom of God into the religious conception of what the Jewish Pharisees and religious leaders have made it out to be, would not fit. Essentially, the old religious structure will not hold the kingdom of God. It’s too big, it’s too great, it’s too magnificent, and it’s too beautiful. 

The legalism of religious obligation will not stand in the kingdom, rather it will be relational obedience. The way to God is not through religious practices, but through joyful faith and association with Jesus. The way to God that Jesus is creating is not through religious practices. The old way that the Pharisees related to God, by obedience to a law that they interpreted and created for themselves, would not be the way to God, but rather through joyful faith and association with Jesus. And, what was true of Jesus in the first century is true of today. Going to church will not get you to eternity. Writing a check will not get you to eternity. Conducting a Bible study will not get you to eternity. It is only through joyful faith and association with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that will get you to eternity. 

Verse 23 … One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain … So, think about this. You’re walking through a field of grain, and as the disciples are walking along, they’re just plucking a few heads of grain, okay? Just kind of walking along, same as if you were going on a hike and you saw some berries and you knew they were safe to eat, you might pluck a few, plop them in your mouth, and continue on your journey. 

Verse 24 … And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” … The last two sections of the five conflicts that Mark will describe for us, deal with the observance of the Sabbath. The scene is set. It’s the Sabbath day, and Jesus and the disciples are walking. An accusation is levied against the disciples, that they are actually working on the Sabbath. So, again, you’ve got to hear the ridiculousness and the accusation. These are men who are just walking through a field, plucking heads of grain, and the Pharisees accuse them of actually reaping, harvesting. In answer, Jesus recalls a time when David breaks ceremonial religious law to meet the needs of the men who were with him. Jesus closes with a statement that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath. We also hear Jesus’ statement that he, himself, is Lord even of the Sabbath. 

See, the religious leaders had taken the Sabbath and created a burden instead of a blessing. They had taken this thing that God had set aside for man to rest, and enjoy God, and creation, and rest from his work, and they turn it into a religious burden that these men, these people of their day, were to obey. So you’d become so freaked out that you didn’t want to violate Sabbath law, that you ended up doing nothing. It wasn’t a sense of freedom and joy around the Sabbath in this time, but a sense of religious obligation. And, what we see Jesus do here in his answer, he gives us this great truth, that Jesus set forth a basic principle, that human need should take precedence over ceremonial and religious laws. Alluding to the time, again, when David and his men invade the temple and eat the ceremonial bread which would have been reserved for priests, breaking all ceremonial and religious law.

This, too, begs the question, I might ask, where do we do this? Where might we be taking the blessing of God and making it a burden to others? Where might we be taking the get-to’s that God gives us, and making them have-to’s? That’s what the Pharisees and the scribes had done, here, with the sabbath. They turned that which was meant as a gift to man, and flipped it upside down, and created it as a religious obligation that man must serve. The Sabbath was designed by God in order to serve man, not the other way around.

IV. JESUS HEALS, AND THE PHARISEES PLOT TO KILL (vv3:1-3:6)

Our final section, Mark chapter 3, verses 1-6 … Again he entered the synagogue … This was his natural, regular pattern to teach and preach among the synagogues and the towns that he traveled to … and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him … You could see just in the few short verses, probably within a short amount of time, the Pharisees go from asking questions about Jesus’ behavior, hey why would he eat with such people? To, now just living with an attitude and a spirit of bitterness and accusation. They’re watching Jesus as he’s in the synagogue worshiping, and they’re watching the man with the withered hand, and they’re just waiting to call foul. They’re just waiting to lob an accusation. Is Jesus going to do something good? Is he going to heal that man? Is he going to change that person’s life forever? How dare he, is the heart of the Pharisee. 

Verse 3 … and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them … In this description in chapter 3, Mark flips the scenario. He sets the scene, Jesus is in the synagogue, there’s a man with the withered hand, but rather than the accusation or question coming at Jesus from others, now Jesus is going to lob his own question. 

Verse 4 … And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?”  It would seem like a simple answer, shouldn’t it? Like, of course we would say, the Sabbath, we must do good on the Sabbath, of course we should save a life on the Sabbath. But, the Pharisees had created such laws and such an entanglement of what morality and goodness look like on the Sabbath, the people might not even be sure what Jesus’ answer was. The Pharisees respond with simple silence at the end of verse 4. 

Verse 5 … And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart … I like the New English Bible version of this, Mark 3:5 … And Jesus, looking around at them with anger and sorrow at their obstinate stupidity … The Pharisee’s religious try-hardism had created not people who honored the holy God, but obstinate, stupid people who thought they could behave their way their into the good graces of God. And, I might submit to you today, this morning, church, that if you are stuck in religious try-hardism, that this is one of your two fates.

See, religious try-hardism, that is, when I create a list of do’s and don’t’s for my life that i think will earn me God’s favor, I am setting myself up for one of two ends. The first end is obstinate stupidity. That is, I will become so prideful, because I will begin to list my religious achievements, that I will begin to think that God owes me, that he’s lucky to have me, that I’m so special and so benefit my local church and so benefit the kingdom of God, because I am so righteous, because look at all the things that I’ve done. Look at the money I’ve given, look at the services I’ve attended, look at the mission trips I’ve gone on. I don’t know what’s on your religious to-do list, you fill in the blank. But, whatever it is you try to do to get God to like you, that’s religious try-hardism. And, one of the fates of that is this obstinate stupidity in which you become a prideful creature, thinking that the creator owes you something. And, if that is not your fate, the other one might be worse. Because, you will realize very soon that you can’t keep the list, that you can’t get it done. And so, what are you left with? Only to recognize that your own efforts could never get God to love you, to like you, so you are left with this broken guilt and shame, often abandoning faith altogether, because you realize you’re not worthy, because you couldn’t even obey your own rules. 

This is the fate of the Pharisee lifestyle - obstinate religious stupidity and pride, or a crushing weight of guilt and shame because you’ll never be good enough. But, what Jesus does is he gives us an entirely new way of relating to God. 

Verse 5 … and he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians … the Herodians from history are those Jews who were in favor of the Roman installed Jewish government, the political party. The Pharisees hold counsel with the Herodians against Jesus, and plotting ... how to destroy him … which begs the question, exactly what Sabbath law does that one honor? See, the Pharisees are faced with a choice now. Either Jesus is who he says he is, is he the Lord of the Sabbath, able to forgive sins, and produce supernatural healing, and if so they must leave their carefully religiously choreographed lives and follow him or worship him, or they have to get rid of him, cause he’s a threat. He’s a threat to the established order. He’s a threat to their religious choreographed life. 

And so, they being obstinate, stupid religious people, decide that they cannot have Jesus in the kingdom of God, because he will not fit their image, he will not fit their pattern, he will not fit their way. And so, they begin to plot with the Herodians, a political party they would normally have nothing to do with, but they become enemies of Jesus and begin a plot to kill him.

So, I would beg of you today, would you examine in your soul what are you are clinging to and allowing to get in the way between yourself and Jesus? For the Pharisees, it was their choreographed religious life, it was their religious try-hardism. They couldn’t get it out of the way, they couldn’t leave it. And so, what we end with here in this section, is Levi, a man who left the tax booth to follow Jesus immedaitely and wholeheartedly, and the Pharisees who leave Jesus and plot to murder him.

To be a disciple of Jesus this morning, you must believe two things, and do one thing. The first thing you must believe, is like the paralytic last week, and even Levi this week, we cannot work our way into the good graces of God. That, you cannot save yourself. That, you must admit that Jesus said that you are sick, spiritually, and that there is no cure. The second thing you must believe, is that Jesus is the good doctor, the physician who comes to heal and to provide hope, that he has the power and the ability to do that which you cannot do, and through his life, death, and resurrection, has made atonement for your sin, and would call you now to be his very own, and provide healing where you need it. If this morning you are ready to believe these two things, than the final thing you must do, the Bible describes it in a variety of different ways, but in each moment it is clear it is an indication, and we must choose to follow Jesus. It would be my greatest hope and earnest prayer that every soul in this room would believe these two things, and do this one thing, that you would follow Jesus. Let’s pray. 

Father God, 

I thank you for your Word this morning. God, i just admittedly and openly confess that there are places where I have allowed religious try-hardism to creep into my soul, and ask that you would forgive me for the places I’ve grown religiously prideful, and that I’ve allowed guilt and shame to create in me an overwhelming sense of sorrow. God, would you free me and free us from this room, from religious try-hardism. When we come back to your grace, when we admit our need that we are unable to do it, but we trust that you can. Father, thank you for the pastors, and elders, and deacons, for the staff, for the congregation, Father, for those serving in children’s ministry, to those who work behind the scenes to make this place a place that preaches the gospel. I pray that you be glorified by the efforts today, that you would continue to bless the community and mission of Emmaus Church, and that you would use it to glorify yourself. We thank you, Father, and ask that you would receive our worship now, through Christ our Savior, amen. 


The Call to Follow-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.”

—Mark 1:14–20 ESV

INTRO
Well, good morning. My name’s Forrest, and I’m one of the pastors here, and as always, it’s good to be with you. Man, it’s been a good morning already, hasn’t it? The music team, I looked over on that third song they were doing - which is an incredible version. My wife’s crying, she’s like … what’s happening right now? This is incredible! They did a great job, didn’t they? Leading us in singing this morning. I’m grateful for that.

See if any of this sounds familiar to you. You have a really good friend that, perhaps, this friend is single and you value the relationship, and this friend comes to you and tells you, I’ve met someone. And, your first thought is not rejoicing, but your first thought is how it’s going to affect you. It’s going to affect how your relationship has played out. It’s going to affect the time that you have together. Or, let’s say you have a teacher, your kid’s in school, your child has a teacher that you love, and that teacher announces that they’re pregnant, and you immediately don’t think … oh, how great, a new life is coming into the home. You think … they better have thought through who the substitute is, cause we’re not going to suffer for this. Or, maybe you’ve invited some friends for an evening out, and just before you are headed out, you get a phone call, and one of them is sick and they’re not going to make it. And, rather than in the moment, really, feeling bad for them and perhaps praying for them, you immediately think … what are we going to do now? These people are lame. She couldn’t have thrown up some other time? Why does she have to do it now?

What this reveals to us, and I think we can all identify with this on a different level. In moments where, perhaps, we should be rejoicing at some good news that we’re receiving, we immediately think about how it’s going to affect us. It reveals to us something that I think our text is addressing. It reveals to us that we are all prone to a kingdom of self. We are all prone to think about self first, and think about self foremost, which is why we do that in the midst of good news. And, what we see here in the book of Mark - this is our second week in the book of Mark, which is our summer series - and, we come to the first words of Jesus in the book of Mark, the first words of Jesus there in verse 15 … the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel …

So, this is a summary that Mark is laying out for us, of the message of Christ. So, we’re going to spend some time unpacking that this morning, because just as this last week and the connections that were made to Isaiah sets up the rest of the book of Mark, so does this proclamation. We need to understand what’s being said here, because this is foundational to what we’re going to be digging into, into Mark, throughout the summer. So, we’re going to look this morning at kingdom contrast, then we’re going to look at kingdom entrance, and then we’re going to look at kingdom life. What is the life of the kingdom and how do we live in step, and in rhythm with the life of this kingdom? So, with that, let’s pray.

Jesus,

We are thankful for your word. Lord, we’re grateful for the grace that we experience as your people who gather under your word, and we ask that your Spirit would be at work in us. Lord, we ask that we would hear clearly the call of the gospel into the life of the kingdom. And, Lord, this morning that by your grace, we would dethrone self, so that we can come under the kingship of the true king, Jesus Christ, that we might live. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

I. KINGDOM CONTRAST (vv14-15)


So, kingdom contrast. Notice how this particular passage starts in verse 15 .. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God … After John was arrested  … it’s the kind of phrase that we just kind of skip over, but Mark is very intentional here. Mark is intentionally, for us, placing two kingdoms side by side, two kingdoms that are very different. One is the kingdom of this world, the kingdom which, ultimately if you keep reading Mark and you get to Mark chapter 6, you see that his arrest leads, ultimately, to his beheading. He is beheaded by Herod. And, piecing this story together from the story in Matthew 14 and Mark chapter 6 where we get the story of Herod and John the Baptist … John the Baptist was beheaded for challenging the validity of Herod’s marriage to Herodius, his wife, who was previously married to Herod’s brother, Phillip. Are you following that? It’s a lot of drama. Sin leads to a lot of drama, by the way, and we see that here. There is a lot of drama.

And, Herod, then, ultimately has John killed after his daughter in law is dancing for him - more drama - and he’s so mesmerized with her dancing that he basically says, ask whatever you want, and I’ll give it to you. Well, she goes to Herod’s wife - her mother, Herodius - and says, what should I ask for? And, Herodius said, asks for John’s head, cause, John has come against our marriage. Ask for his head. So, she does, and though Mark tells us that Herod was sorrowful to do it, he ultimately beheads John to - if you read between the lines - you see that there is something deeper at work. He does it to save his throne, because going back on his public promise would undermine his authority as a leader, as a ruler.

So, what we see, what Mark very intentionally wants us to see here, is the juxtaposition of these two kingdoms. He wants us to see that this kingdom - the one that had John the Baptist, the prophet, arrested - this kingdom is a broken kingdom. It’s a kingdom of self. And, there is no doubt that Mark intends us to make this connection. See, Herod was living for self, and in the midst of living for self, we tend to suck everyone else’s lives into the blackhole of self. Right? Everyone is there for us, to serve us, our best friends, the people we invite to dinner, our child’s teacher, they’re all there for us. That’s what the kingdom of self tells us, and that’s the way the kingdom of self works.

But, by contrast, he also means for us to see a truer and better kingdom, the kingdom of God, the kingdom not of death, but the kingdom of life - the kingdom where the true king is enthroned. It says right after John the Baptist is in prison, Jesus comes on the scene in Galilee - which, is this backwater corner of the empire, not a place where you’d think the true king would show up. Nevertheless, he does. And, he comes saying … The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel … So, let’s break down what he’s saying here because, again, it matters. This is foundational to the rest of the book of Mark, and it’s important for us to grasp this morning.

So, what’s he saying there? First, he says ... the time is fulfilled … Now, it’s important to remember - and we heard a little of this last week - that, the Jews were longing for this coming kingdom, the Jewish people, God’s people were longing for this coming kingdom for centuries. It had been 400 plus years of oppression by the Babylonians, the Medo-Persians, the Greeks under Alexander, and then finally, the Roman Empire - which, in the book of Mark, that is who is ruling at that time. By this time, them, you can imagine centuries on, by this time when Jesus shows up and says … the time is fulfilled … Christians are being thrown to animals as spectacle. This is part of the reality that God’s people are living under. So, you can imagine God’s people awaiting, longing for their freedom. When is this going to happen? When is this king coming that we’ve been hearing about for centuries? We long for him, we desire him, we need him. And, Jesus shows up and he says … it’s here. He says, the time is fulfilled.

Now, there’s two words for time in Greek …

Chronos = Chronological or sequential time

Kairos = Opportune time for action

There’s chronos, which is chronological of sequential time, and that would be, you know … it’s 11:00 a.m. That’s chronos. But, there’s also kairos. Kairos is an opportune time for action. This is when your pregnant wife looks at you and says … it’s time. That’s very different than, it’s 11:00 a.m., right? You realize it is time for action. It’s a unique moment, a longed-for moment that is at hand, that is waited for, for some time. And, that’s the word that’s used here. The time is fulfilled, the kairos is fulfilled. It’s here, it’s now. So, this was - you can imagine, and we we’ll see the ripple effects of this, this was shocking, this was a shocking statement that Jesus made. It was incendiary to some people, it was an explosive proclamation that after all the centuries of longing and waiting and desiring, Jesus shows up in this little corner of the empire and says … the time is fulfilled. It’s here.

He says, the time is fulfilled and … the kingdom of God is at hand. Now, what is the kingdom of God? There’s a lot of confusion around the kingdom of God. There’s a lot of misunderstanding, I think, around the kingdom of God. But, simply put, I think we could say that the kingdom of God is God’s rulership, God’s rightful rule and reign. It’s the active, exercising of God’s power and authority. You might think of it, and it’s spoken of in Old Testament language at times, as government. It’s this righteous, perfect government with the rightful king enthroned. So, Jesus’ proclamation says, there’s a new king in power, and this king will usher in the healing of the world in a whole new way, even beyond what they realized. See, God’s people in the prophecies didn’t get everything that Jesus was coming to do. They didn’t get the degree to which he was coming to change things, to free them. Their freedom was far more than just freedom from oppression from another ruling people, another ruling empire. It’s far greater than that.

So, when he comes, he says that the kingdom of God is at hand. He says that he will usher in the healing of the world, a whole new way of life. And, this comes to bear for all of us. We know from Genesis 1, 2, and 3 that we were built to live in a perfect world where all the relationships were holy, right? Relationship to self, relationship to God, relationship to one another, relationship to his creation. All of those things were right, all of those things were good. There was flourishing in the garden.

And, in Genesis 3, what we see is that we have chosen in the midst of that perfect reality, to enthrone ourselves, rather than God. In our hearts, we’ve displaced the rightful ruler of our lives, and we’ve put ourselves there, which is why in the midst of life, we think about ourselves first. Because, we are all born into that reality. Through Adam’s sin, death came into the world, Paul tells us in Romans. And so, we all know the reality of enthroning self. And, let’s be honest … few things make us more miserable than self absorption. Few things make us more functionally miserable, day to day, create more havok in our lives, than being self absorbed.

Because, what does self absorption do? The spotlight is always on us, and so we think about everything that happens in our lives, and everything that happens in the world in relation to us. So, we’re constantly thinking, how am I feeling? How am I doing in the midst of this? How am I being treated? Am I being treated justly? Do people appreciate me? Do people love me? Do people see what I’m doing? The reason it makes us miserable is because we live before everyone else. And, I don’t know if you’ve tried that very long, but it’s horrible. Because, everyone is not going to love you the way you want them to. Everyone is not going to see you as you desire to be seen. In fact, very few people are.

And so, there are very few things that actually make us more miserable, that create more chaos, and lead to death. But, this is the reality post-Fall, in the kingdom of this world where we’ve enthroned ourselves. Eugene Peterson, in his book The Contemplative Pastor, he writes this …

“The Kingdom of self is heavily defended territory. Post-Eden Adams and Eves are willing to pay their respects to God, but they don’t want him invading their turf. Most sin, far from being a mere lapse of morals or a weak will, is an energetically and expensively erected defense against God.”

—Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, pp. 31-32

Mark Sayer’s, in his book The Disappearing Church, he brings in to bear specifically in our increasing secular, western culture. And, this is a really good book, I’d encourage you guys to read, that just talks about our cultural moment as the church in the West, what’s happening. And, here’s what he says …

“What we are experiencing is not the eradication of God from the Western mind, but rather the enthroning of self as the greatest authority. God is increasingly relegated to the role of servant, and massager of the personal will.”

—Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church, pg. 11

This is what secularization looks like in the West. It is not a dethroning of self, it is an entrenchment in enthroning the self. But, the gospel of the kingdom is that Jesus - the true king - has come in weakness to die for us, and will come again in strength to put everything right, so that all that was lost will be restored, and even beyond restoration, to consummation. See, when we come into this kingdom, and back under the kingship of Jesus, all of the relational brokenness, the relational brokenness to self, to others, to creation, and to God, they begin to be healed. They begin to be restored. And, the dethroning of self begins to happen so that Christ takes up his rightful rule in our lives. And, it is a freeing thing, it is a beautiful thing, and it is what God desires for us. It is what God desire for Emmaus Church.

In Jesus, God’s kingdom is at hand. Now, what does he mean by that? His kingdom is at hand. It means, essentially, it is within reach. It’s kind of like on a road trip, especially you that have little ones that have been on roadtrips, right? What are they saying the whole time? Are we there yet, are we there yet … and then, as soon as you can say you’re there, as soon as you can see the city, it still may be 15 miles off, but you see the glimpse of the skyscraper, you tell the kids … we’re there. It’s within reach! We’re basically there, right?

So, to calm them down, we let them know that we’re there. Are we actually there? No, But, it is within reach. I think this is what is meant by the kingdom of God. Are we there fully? No, but it’s within reach, and we can experience glimpses of it and some of the realities of it in our lives. So, this is the kingdom contrast, these two kingdoms that Mark wants us to clearly see. One, the kingdom of self and the other, the kingdom of God - the kingdom of life.

But, how do we - in light of that, this kingdom that’s at hand, this kingdom that’s near - how do we enter that kingdom? What does it look like to come into that kingdom? Because, the truth is, if this is true … this message that Jesus has put forth, it demands a response. It’s not something that we can just be passive about, or apathetic about. It demands a response. It says that there are two kingdoms, and everyone is a part of one of those two kingdoms. But, the time has come, the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand. What are you going to do with it?

KINGDOM ENTRANCE

So, if the kingdom is here, and the king has come, this reality demands a response. And, we’re given the response in verse 15 … repent, and believe in the gospel …  The word repent, there, is metanoia …

Repent (Gr: metanoia): meta = renew, noia = to think

Meta means to renew, noia means to think. So, we hear that oftentimes it means to change your mind, which I don’t think is bad, but I think it’s more than that. I think it’s more than simply changing your mind, though it is that. I think it is to rethink everything. It’s to rethink everything. It’s to think about the world in a whole new way. See, when we’re in the midst of kingdom of self, we’re thinking about the world in one way, and all of the world terminates in us, and on us. And so, to repent from that means we now think about the world in a whole new way, where it terminates in and upon the true King, Jesus. So, one scholar translates it this way, a paraphrase. He says … give up your agenda and trust me for mine …

Can we just say his agenda is better than ours? It’s good for us, it’s life giving, it’s good for the world. And so, what we’re hearing here in … repent and believe in the gospel … is that if your agenda and my agenda does not fit God’s good rule, then give it up. Give it up, don’t squander your time, don’t squander your money, your talent, don’t waste your brokenness and your difficulty. Don’t waste your past. Get a bigger dream than outpacing your neighbor in their material goods.

You ever feel that? I feel it. I’ve been wanting a trailer for a long time, because I haul stuff three times a year, so I need a trailer. And, my neighbor always rented one, and I felt good about that, cause I’m like, yeah, I rent a trailer too. And, you know what I immediately thought? I’ve got to buy a trailer. And, I want to go measure his to see how big it is, cause I want it to be a little bit bigger. But, that’s what we do, right, with that kingdom. My agenda is not what’s best for me. Right? When my wife asks … why’d you spend $2,000 on a trailer? And I’m like … cause I haul wood twice a year, honey. Don’t you get that? That’s what my agenda does, right? It’s a waste. Don’t waste your life. We’re hearing, repent and believe the gospel. Turn to Christ.

He says repent, and then he says … believe … Now, we think the mind, with believe - oftentimes immediately. And, it certainly includes that. It is the mind. Believing is the mind, it is believing these truths about God. But, it’s more than that. It’s not less than that, but it is more than that. I think a better understanding is trust. The idea of leaning your weight onto the true king. Trust him fully, trust this good news. He says what? Believe what? … the gospel … The word for that is the euangelion, the good news. It’s an announcement of literally joyful news. Believe, trust, turn, give up your agenda for mine, trust the joyful news that I now, here and now, have come to bring.

See, we’re all trusting something. We’re all trusting someone who we believe is bringing us good news, joyful news. When you think about your life, when I think about my life, where do we look for our source of good news? And, I’m talking about ultimate good news, the good news that drives us in life. Where do we go to for that? What are we trusting in? What are we leaning upon for what we think matters most in this life? For joy? What are we leaning on?

Jesus says, if you’re leaning on anything other than me, it is another form of trusting yourself, and enthroning yourself. So, Jesus’s invitation is to trust him. See, believing is acting on what we know to be true. It’s acting on what we know to be true, and let me just say this as an aside. One of the things I read in studying this week, is that it seems like this was part of a catechism that they would read over baptism candidates in the early centuries of the church. And, I was just reminded that that is acting on what we know to be true. And so, I want to say this … maybe you’ve been at Emmaus for a while, maybe you haven’t placed your faith in Christ, you’ve been hearing, you’ve been thinking, you’ve been processing the scriptures and what you’ve been hearing as you’ve been a part of a body. And, maybe the Lord is drawing you. And, the way to respond is through baptism. Some scholars say that this summer was actually read at the time of baptism.

What the wedding is to marriage, baptism is to the kingdom. Right? It is this way of coming in to the kingdom. It is not what saves us, but it’s our first act of obedience. We come into the kingdom. It’s the entrance into the life of the kingdom, and the waters are always open. So, at the end today, maybe when you hear the call and we respond through communion, and your desire is to respond, let me know. I’m going to be at the front, and I would love to talk to you about what that means to take that next step.

So, this call to respond, to repent and believe, is an invitation, but even more accurately, it’s a command. It’s present and perfect tense in the Greek, which means it’s an ongoing act, not a one-time event. It is not only the entrance into the kingdom, it’s the way we continue in the life of the kingdom. It’s not something that happened in your life, it’s something that should be happening in your life today, and tomorrow, and the day after. This should be something that’s normal for us. There’s a Martin Luther quote that we have up on the screen from his 95 Theses that he nailed to the Wittenberg door …

“our Lord and Master Jesus Christ…willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

—Martin Luther, Thesis 1

It’s not only entrance into the kingdom. It is the way we continue in the kingdom. See, repentance puts us in step with this life, with this true king. Ongoing repentance puts us in step with him. So, repentance looks like, on a daily basis, when we have those moments where self rises to the surface, when we hear some joyful news and the first thing we think is not, let’s rejoice with our brother and sister, let’s lament what we’re losing in the midst of this good news … that is a call to repent. To turn from self, from our agenda to Christ’s agenda for us, which is that in that moment, we would rejoice with those who are rejoicing, and we would pray with them, and we would enter into that rejoicing.

I talk often about how prayer is something that should be always below the surface, ready to pop out at any moment. I think it’s true of repentance as well. That, repentance should always be just below the surface. We should be realigning our agenda with the true king throughout our days, again, and again, and again.

So, you might be thinking at this point … how can this actually be true? This kingdom of God at hand, the true king coming and taking his rightful place among his creation, 2,000 years later and the kingdom of God is here? Really? In the midst of school shootings, and war, and injustice, which seems to be rampant and growing, the world is getting better, really? I don’t see it. How is it here?

You may have heard this phrase before. It is good to think about the kingdom of God as now, and not yet. See, sometimes Jesus talks about the kingdom of God in the present tense, and sometimes it’s in the future tense. So, which is true? Both. They’re both true. Right? It is here, but it is not yet come in fullness. All four gospels teach two comings of Jesus. Jesus, the son of God, the incarnation, and Jesus the resurrected one who will come again in power to put everything back together again, perfectly. The first coming inaugurated the king, the second coming will usher in this kingdom for all of creation.

In theology, they call this inaugurated eschatology. So, when someone asks you how was church today, you’ll be like, great, we talked about inaugurated eschatology. It’ll be impressive. But, this is the reality of the kingdom. Eschatology is the study of the future, the end times. And, an inaugurated eschatology says that in Jesus’ first coming, he inaugurated God’s future rule over all the earth. We find ourselves in the midst, in between the now and the not yet. And, the kingdom of God being at hand, in some sense, it’s as if he has dragged the aspects of future kingdom into the present. It’s like an appetizer before the main course. Right? You’re at the table, and you get the appetizer, and it’s good, but you’re really thinking about the main course. That’s what the kingdom of God is at hand, that’s what it means.

See, the kingdom of God is coming. Because the kingdom of God is coming, there’s still sickness and death. But, because the kingdom of God is here, we pray for healing, and we pray for peace. Sometimes we experience that healing. We can certainly experience that peace. But, because the kingdom of God is coming, even if we receive healing, we are at best postponing the inevitable. Because, one day we will die. The kingdom is now and not yet. The kingdom of God is coming, because it’s coming, there are 200 million - roughly - orphans in the world today. Because the kingdom of God is here, we have a church full of people who have made outsiders, insiders, who have adopted orphans into the family, into their family, into the family of God.

This is the reality of the now and not yet, and it’s a difficult place at times, but it is always a hopeful place. We don’t mourn in the midst of death the way others mourn. We do mourn, we do miss people. Jesus, himself, cried at the death of Lazarus, right? So, we do mourn, but we don’t mourn as those without hope. We have hope. Why do we have hope? Because the kingdom of God is coming. See, we get glimpses and tastes of God’s brand new world here and now, and the church is where that comes to bear.

I was thinking about that book The Disappearing Church, where he talks about the secularization of the West. And, what he talks about some, in there, is it can be tempting for us to make … I’m very much paraphrasing here … but, the idea is that it can be tempting for us in the midst of a quickly secularizing culture for the church to try to make the gospel of the kingdom palatable. We think that, somehow, what we need to do is, let’s remove some of the offense around the hot button issues so that we can make the gospel more palatable. But, what we actually do in that, is we strip the gospel of its power when we proclaim that.

See, we don’t need a more palatable gospel, we need a more powerful gospel. We need the fullness of the gospel to come to bear. We need a sharp distinction between what the world is experiencing, and what they experience when they come into the midst of us. And, if that’s not happening, if the lines become blurred there, we no longer have the powerful gospel of the kingdom.

See, our call is to bring glimpses and tastes of God’s brand new world that is coming, here, and now, in this place, on this campus, in this physical reality. Right? This kingdom is coming. It’s not disappearing somewhere else for the kingdom. That kingdom is coming, here, to earth. And so, this place, this campus, this particular church building, maybe it’s not the most important thing, but the most important thing isn’t the only thing that matters. This place matters. And, what people need to experience here, is an outpost of the kingdom of God, in the midst of a world that operates by the kingdom of self. That is our call.

And then, finally, we have Kingdom life in verses 16-20.

KINGDOM LIFE

So, we see Jesus, this is the call to follow him. And, this is unique in Jewish tradition, what’s happening here, where Jesus shows up and he sees Simon and Andrew. We’ll read it. Verse 16 … Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat … That is a funny picture to me … with the hired servants and followed him.

So, this is unique what’s happening here. The call to follow him is unique in Jewish tradition. rabbi’s did not choose their students. Students would have to go to the rabbis, to the teacher, and they’d have to request and essentially earn the right ot be able to follow a rabbi. But, these men are sought out and called. They are sought out and called. See, we can’t come to know the king, we can’t come to know Jesus apart from his gracious call. He must call us, and he graciously does. So, he goes to Simon - we know his name is later changed to Peter - and Andrew, and he says … follow me … And, they left.

Now, we’ve heard this so much, we kind of lose how shocking it was that they just left everything in the midst of their work. Then, he goes to James and John, and they leave as well, and it’s even more shocking because they leave their father in the boat, and I have this picture of James and John just walking away and going … we’ll see you, pops. Sorry, I know we were going to inherit the business. You got it, though, you’ve got some servants. We’re going with this guy. Right? They’re leaving family, and they’re leaving career, the two most important aspects of their life, they’re being called to give up.

Now, these days, we say goodbye to family more readily, because we are more individualistic, more career oriented. And, in that time, if the family’s business was fishing, you knew what you were going to do with your life, you were going to fish. If your family’s business was farming, you already had your career in place, you were going to farm. So, saying goodbye to their career was is felt much more deeply by us. For them, they felt both, honestly. To follow me, means … and here’s what it’s saying … we know from the gospels that they actually do come back and they’re, in some way, united with family. We do know that they continue to fish at some point. What’s really being called here is not that you just up your career, but that to follow Jesus means that knowing him because the supreme passion of your life. That’s the call to follow Him.

Now, I know culturally, that can sound a little over the top, right? Can we be a little more moderate with this stuff? I mean, that’s heavy. The supreme passion of my life? Yes. That is the call of Jesus. And, you think that’s over the top, listen to this … Jesus, in Luke 14 verse 25, now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them … if anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yes and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple … Jesus doubles down. Jesus does not make this more palatable. He brings the reality, the powerful call of the kingdom that you must die to self to come into the kingdom.

Now, what is Jesus saying there? Now, I think he’s using hyperbole, or I think maybe more accurately, a hyperbole would be intentional exaggeration to make a point, but I think what he’s doing - because we're also called, we know, to honor our father and mother, right? It’s a commandment we have - so, he’s not calling us to hate actively, he’s calling us to hate comparatively. He’s saying, follow me so fully, so completely, that all other attachments pale in comparison. That, your passion and love for me is so great that all other passions and all other loves pale in comparison.

He’s saying, don’t come to me because I’m relevant, don’t come to me because I make you happy, don’t come to me because you feel better, come to me for me. Come to me because you desire me, because you see that I am everything that you long for. And then, in that, yes. Happiness, joy, peace, it follows it. But, if we come to him for that, we’re missing the point. We’re not actually coming to him for him. He is the prize, he is the goal. And then, he says … as you come, I will make you fishers of men …

And, we’ll end with this. He doesn’t say, come learn about me and I’ll give you information. Again, that is part of the Christian life, to know things about the Lord. But, it’s more than that. He says, follow me and along the way, I will make you become. Transformation will happen so that you become fishers of men. Notice what he’s saying there. He’s taking these men, their life, and he’s saying … you are not just a fisherman, you will become fishers of men. Two different things. In the midst of being fishermen, you become fishers of men. In the midst of your job, my job, what God has called us to, we become fishers of men.

So, to follow Christ is active. It’s moving. It is discipleship that happens on mission, as we’re going. Jesus is with the disciples on mission, and he’s pointing to all of these realities of the world, and calling people to himself, and in that, they are growing and being transformed into the image of Christ. It’s not stagnant pew sitting, though you’re all sitting in pews and it’s a good thing, and I’m grateful for it. But, this is not the summation of the life of the kingdom. This is fuel for the mission. This is, in fact, it’s part of the mission as well. See, God has called us not to a stagnant call, but a process of growth and Christ-likeness.

And, to be honest - just if I can speak honestly, pastorally for one second - it’s one of our biggest weaknesses as a body. Our mission. We are people who love to study God’s word, we love theology, we love one another, and I am incredibly grateful for that. But, if we’re not careful, this becomes about information rather than transformation. God has called us to be on mission, to be moving, which means every Sunday, we should have those who do not know Christ in our midst, a watching world. Paul says that you need to think about the watching world that’s in your midst, in Corinthians. And, here’s from our GC guide. It says this …

“As a disciple, Jesus wants to align our goals and ambitions with His kingdom so they don’t destroy us. Chief among these is His kingdom ambition: to save the lost. Like these fishermen, Jesus wants to reorient our careers, talents, and personalities to serve a glorious and eternal end, transforming us into fishers of men”

—Mark GC Guide, Emmaus Church

That is a great summation of the call to follow Jesus. In biblical imagery, the sea is a place of coldness, of darkness, and chaos. It represents the kingdom of self, the kingdom of this world. And, what makes it chaotic is this self kingship, and self kingship is what makes us full of self pity. It’s a thing that erodes us psychologically and spiritually. But, have you ever come into the presence of someone who is satisfied internally, so fully emotionally, so well adjusted that they are not thinking about themselves, but they’re thinking about you?

I can think of a couple of people, here in this church, that every time I see them, I just have a gut reaction of happiness. Like, man, it’s so good to see you. Why? Because, they draw you out. They are so healthy, they’re so fixed upon the king, and have gone through the process of dethroning self by God’s grace and God’s Spirit, that they want to draw you out. They want to hear from you. They want to embrace you, to serve you emotionally and practically. It feels like coming out of the darkness. That is a fisher of men. That is someone who is so satisfied in Christ, so fixed upon Christ, that it overflows to love of neighbor. That is what it is to be a fisher of men, and that is what it means to follow Christ.

See, Jesus has already done all that he calls us to do. In calling James and John to leave their father’s boat, he had already left his Father’s throne. And, he would later be ripped from his Father’s presence on the cross. Jesus went down into death for us, so that we could die to ourselves, and come alive to Christ and his kingdom. And, that’s the call to us this morning. Let’s pray.

Jesus,

We are grateful that the King has come, that the kingdom of God is at hand. We are grateful for the truth of your word that we’ve encountered this morning. And God, we confess we are people who tend to operate by enthroning ourselves, thinking of ourselves first. But, God, we are grateful for the call to follow you, that you would make us fishers of men. And Lord, as we come to the table this morning, we respond with a yes. We see the good king, we see his life-giving kingdom, and we repent and we believe as we come to the table. We change our agenda, Lord, to take up yours, under your lordship. We lean fully upon you, trust you fully, and our joy is found in you, and you alone. Lord, may that be true of us as we come to receive the elements. Lord, I pray for those who may not know you, who may not have placed their faith in you. Would you, this morning, draw them by your Spirit. Lord, we all know the reality of living for self and how that erodes us internally, how it leads to deep bitterness and anger and frustration. Lord, may we this morning look up to you. May those who are here that have not placed their faith in you, may they look to the true king this morning. We ask this, Lord, in Jesus’ name, Amen.


Old News is Good News-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS

SCRIPTURE READING

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.”

—Mark 1:1–13 ESV

INTRO

Good morning, my name is Matt, I’m one of the pastors here at Emmaus. And, I am super excited to be getting into the gospel of Mark this morning. My mind has been blown as we have been preparing and studying for this series over last few months, in preparation for it. I am just amazed every time, coming back to the gospel of Mark, the new depths and riches that are found here about who Jesus is, and what God has done on our behalf. And so, I’m excited to be starting. Today, I actually feel like one of those really excited puppies that run up to you in an alleyway. And so, I’m trying to calm myself down as I get started, because there’s so much here in today’s text. And, my prayer is for you as we go through this series, that you will find and discover the same depths and the same riches of what we have in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, in fact, today there’s just so much as we jump into the gospel of Mark, especially here at the beginning, that I know going into it there’s no way we can even begin to unpack everything.


Another thing that will be coming up in the middle of the summer as we are going through the gospel of Mark, you might be saying, hey, I would love to read the gospel of Mark. I’m glad you gave me a journal, this is great, this is beautiful, but when I get into the Bible, I don’t really feel like I have handlebars on how to read it. I feel like I get in, I get a little excited, and then I get into it and I don’t really know what to do. Well, on July 20th and July 27th - the sign ups for this are not live yet, so those will be up in about a week, but you can mark your calendar - we will be doing two Saturdays of Bible Workshops on working through the gospels. And, most likely, we’ll be choosing a passage from Mark like this passage today, that we’ll be digging into during our time together. And so, as we’re starting in a gospel, if you’re saying, I would like to learn how to read the genre of the gospels, then I would encourage you. July 20th and 27th it will be here, on campus.


But, last week, Max did a great job in the sermon of reminding us that scripture, again and again, the main focus is to remember Jesus. Again and again, scripture calls us to remember Jesus. And, this summer, as we go through this gospel of mark, we are going to be focusing on remembering Jesus, and remembering the good news of what God has done through the gospel. And so, one of the ways to jump into the gospel of Mark, I think is to do this … We are 2,000 years removed from the gospel of Mark when it was originally written, and its original audience. And so, it can be difficult as we begin, to really get our minds into the shoes of the original hearers, to receive the gospel as they received it.

And, this is what I mean … When they received the gospels, if you can imagine for a moment, pretend that you haven’t grown up or been around churches, or just - you grew up in America, so you know about these gospels, you know about Christianity, you know about Jesus, you know all these facts. And, we come to the gospel with all these categories, kind of, filled in. And, we bring assumptions we don’t even realize we’re bringing. But, when they received the gospel, they maybe had heard stories of Jesus, they maybe even had originally encountered Jesus in his time on earth. But, when they received the gospel, the only way to explain why this Jesus that’s being unpacked is good news, is by using the story that they were already familiar with.

In other words, most of the gospel of Mark, it begins assuming you don’t know Jesus yet. And, therefore, if we just start saying, hey, here’s Jesus Christ - that’s not his last name, that’s actually a title, and you’re like, woah, okay, I’m filling in all the data here, and we start building from there. The thing is, for them, the concepts and the ways in which they would understand that he’s good news, it wouldn’t connect in the same way it might with us. So, what happens here is Mark starts his gospel by using three themes from the Old Testament to unpack why the arrival of Jesus Christ is such good news. And so, in other words, in order to know the good news, you have to know the old news, and the old news - in fact - will unpack the good news, and just how good it is.

And so, today what we’re going to be looking at, is these three themes. We’re going to walk through the scriptures with these three themes, which are the exile, a new exodus, and then lastly, the wilderness. And so, let’s jump in and pray, and ask the Lord to open our eyes and to help us to grasp his word and the good news of Jesus.

Lord God,

We thank you this morning for an opportunity to gather and hear the gospel proclaimed, to take part in the rehearsing of the gospel throughout this morning. But, Father, as we start the gospel of Mark, I ask that you would help us grasp just how good of news this is, that the Son of God has entered the world to take the sin of the world upon himself so that we might know you and have salvation, be reconciled to you and walk in newness of life. Father, we get so used to just repeating words like that, but Father, today help us understand how if you had not acted, none of those truths would be true, none of those realities would be ours, none of those things would be anything more than sentimental ideas. And so, Father, it’s because of these truths that we cling to these great realities, and these promises. And so, we ask that you would bring them home, Spirit, help us to grasp them. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

I. THE EXILE (vv1-8)

Well, the Exile. Well, I’m from Ohio, and being from Ohio growing up, I learned when I got older and I’d meet people from other parts of the country, that you have a term for Ohio. It’s called flyover country. And so, when I heard that, I learned it was like, you go from LA, and then you land in New York City, and what’s in between, it’s like some carnivals, and beef or something, and corn, and then we fly over it and we get to the next party. And, there’s an idea that there’s kind of, sometimes we come to scripture with this idea that somewhere, kind of in the middle, there are these parts of scripture that are these highlights, and then we come to these passages that we kind of think is “flyover country”. That, you’re not really sure what’s down there, there’s some data, that’s nice, okay, on to the night highlight. And, we get that in verses 2-8 of this passage.

But here’s the thing that’s interesting, is what we’re going to see, is Mark is saying, do not miss what I unpack here in these first few verses. Because, it’s going to set the stage for when Jesus walks onto the stage, so you understand the good news. And, without it, you can’t actually understand the depths of the good news. It says if you have the ESV translation, it says … The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet … One other way the Greek of this could be translated to English, which I think draws out some of the syntax that I think is underneath what Mark is saying here, is done by a scholar named R.T. France, and he translates this first verse like this …

“This is the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It began as the prophet Isaiah had written:”

—R.T. France Translation of v1

Did you catch the dynamic there? Now, this is a little bit more of a dynamic translation of what’s there in the Greek. But, it captures what the syntax does in its structure in the Greek, which is that Mark is saying - catch the significance - if you want to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ, here’s kind of the intro sentence. It began in the prophecy of Isaiah. In other words, you have to know something about Isaiah before you can really know the depths of something about Jesus.

So, why Isaiah? Some of you may be aware, or some of you might not know - who’s this Isaiah? He’s from the Old Testament, and he’s a prophet. And see, in general, prophets in the Old Testament were those who would call God’s people back into right relationship with him. In fact, Sinclair Ferguson, who’s a pastor, he writes this …

“Prophecy is ultimately, the declaration, exposition, and application of God’s covenant word.”

—Sinclair Ferguson, From the Mouth of God

Let me break that down for you. What he’s saying there, is that God - in order to be in relationship with his people - he makes a covenant, and commitment to them, a relationship, like I make a covenant to my wife. There’s certain things that that covenant means about our relationship when we live in accordance with that. And, if we walk away from that covenant and start to deviate from it, then the relationship will fall apart. And, what God says, is I’ve made a covenant with you, I’ve given you terms for what that relationship will look like, and whenever Israel throughout their history started to deviate from that covenant, God would send a prophet. And, the prophet would kind of push them back into that covenant and say, woah, woah, woah, go back, you’re going too far astray. Or, the prophets would just come and help unpack what the covenant means, the implications of it, maybe you’re not really living this out. That’s why a lot of times the prophets will address things like mercy, and justice, or taking care of those who are being overlooked and not taken care of. And so, again and again, they point them back to God’s heart in the covenant, and say, if you want to be in right relationship with God, you need to listen to what I’ve said. And, God gives words to prophets to speak to his people, to drive them back into right relationship with him.

Now, Isaiah specifically as a prophet, came at a very pivotal time in Israel’s history. And, the people of God up until the time of Isaiah, it’s about 750 B.C. The beginning of the time of Abraham is about 200 B.C., so you kind of get this idea from Abraham, to these prophets, there’s this time where Israel is slowly but surely kind of falling apart as a nation and going off the bath, breaking with the relationship with God, and it’s causing all kind of turmoil. And, what happens is Isaiah can be broken down like this. It’s usually called 1 Isaiah, 2 Isaiah. And, it’s the first half of Isaiah that is chapters 1-39. And, in chapters 1-39, it’s a lot of “woe”. It’s a lot of … things are going to get burnt down, things are going to get refined, people are going to get beat up, I’m going to use nations to come in, there’s going to be fishhooks in your mouth, dragging across the floor. It’s going to be ugly. This is judgement because of your sin, because you have broken covenant, this is now going to happen.

This is called an exile. It means that when God’s people are now spiritually dead, they’ve turned away from God, what he says is, I’m now going to physically manifest that and make it clear to you by removing you from my presence, out of the land, into exile, away from my presence. Exile means you are spiritually dead. It is an indictment. Isaiah 1-39 unpacks how God’s going to take his people into exile. In fact, Isaiah 1-39 captures the pinnacle of Israel’s sin, which leads to exile.

Then, in chapters 40-66, the good news comes in. This is the part where you can see why they say there is a first and a second Isaiah. Because, all of a sudden, it pivots and the rest of Isaiah is now looking into the future and it says, there is going to be a way that God is going to remedy that problem, and he’s going to bring one who will save you. And so, it foretells the pinnacle of God’s grace in the coming Messiah. This is why some folks will actually call Isaiah the fifth gospel, because it captures so much of what sets up what the gospel is built on.

Now, this is Isaiah, and he quotes it because it’s capturing the fact that Israel has reached the pinnacle of sin, and in response God foretold the pinnacle of his grace. And, here’s the key. Mark, in verse 3, quotes from Isaiah … The voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” … that comes from the very first few verses of chapter 40. And so, what he’s saying is, you are coming out of a place of exile, you’re in this place of darkness, and you’re wondering where the light will come from, your sin has put you in this place of exile, and you’ve been wondering, how will we ultimately be saved and brought out of this exile? And, God says, remember, I’m sending one who is going to finish this once and for all. And so, Mark quotes specifically from that section to, in some ways, important all of Isaiah 40-66, and say, understand the one who is coming is the one who Isaiah is pointing to. You’re in exile, but he is coming.

Now, Mark does something here that baffles scholars. If you caught, I quoted from verse 3, I didn’t quote from the second half of verse 2, right? I skipped over it. He does something that baffles folks, which is that he quotes, actually, from the prophet Malachi. Malachi’s the last book in your Old Testament, and he quotes from Malachi the part that says … Behold I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way … That’s from Malachi. Now, Malachi comes at 450 B.C.. Isaiah was 750 … it’s like 300 years between the two of them. It’s not kind of like, oh, well, you know, the next year somebody said this, and so let’s put them together. For us, this is like before George Washington was born, just to put it in context. It’s like saying, let’s talk about politics today … or not. And then, you say, let’s start with George Washington. You’re not sure how those go together.

So, why does he cram these two together? Well, Mark is importing the context, as well, from Malachi, when he does this. See, Isaiah, they knew that the savior was coming. There was a promise of that. That was already in the prophecy of Isaiah and the other prophets as well. But, then, Israel continues after they come out of exile, into sin. They fall back into sin. And, what happens at this point in their sin, right before this quote from Malachi - Malachi 3:1 - this is the context that God is saying these words into …

“You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?””

—Malachi 2:17 ESV

So, do you see what he’s saying? The problem is, they have rejected God, the problem is, they have moved away from that covenant and turned from him. And, some said, eh … you’re good. As the prophet Jeremiah says, peace, peace, a false pace. And then, while others, they saw it and they were like … agh … we need justice! Smite them, O Lord! Right? And, they came on the other side … they’re foamating with rage. And this, Mark says, is a timeless problem that needs a solution. And Mark, via Malachi, is quoting from it saying … do you catch how the Lord in the next verse response?

So, what’s it going to be, God? Is it going to be grace, or is it going to be your justice? Which is it going to be? Because, I can’t see how it can be both. And, what he says here is … Behold, I send my messenger before your face, he will prepare your way for the one, the voice of one crying out in the wilderness … In other words, what he’s saying is, I get it. We’ve gone through the cycles. You’ve tried again and again to fix this, and you’re not finding a remedy. And, he says, remember the prophecy, that there is going to be one who is going to come, and he’s going to bring grace and mercy and justice together, and they are going to embrace on a cross.

In other words, it is only in the one who Malachi and Isaiah point to, where you will find the remedy, ultimately, for that sense, deep down, that I can’t just sweep it under the rug and say, everything’s good. And, on the other extreme, I can’t beat myself up or others up enough to get rid of the stain. Because, the Messiah is coming and he is going to address the deepest problem that we all share. And, the question then, is how? How?

This is why Mark goes into this interesting section, then, about John the Baptist. Now, some of you - I know when John the Baptist comes up - you’re like me. I had a friend whose dad was a Nazarene pastor. And, I said to him one day, you know, I think I might be more like a Baptist. And, he looks at me and he goes, you know, Matt, John was a Baptist, but Jesus was a Nazarene, right? And, I was like, oh, that’s so good! And, that’s the only time I’ve ever heard anyone even try to use John the Baptist in any kind of weird, theological way. Like, no one ever knows what to do with this. So, is John just some kind of punchline? Is he just some kind of character who’s here? Why is John here?

Well, first I should say, in Jesus’ day, what they would do, is when a new king would come to power in the ancient near east, what they would do is they would actually send out messengers into all the colonies that they had just taken over. And, they would run ahead of the king and they would say, behold, here is the gospel of the coming king. That’s where the word was used in the original context. So, a new king would be coming, and they would say, this is the king, this is what it means, he’s coming, here are the rules, here’s what it’s going to mean to be a part of his kingdom.

And so, what God is doing here, is he is a messenger going before the coming king. He’s saying, let me tell you what it looks like to live in his kingdom and know him, and be reconciled to him. But see, John wasn’t just any messenger. If you read verse 6, you get this weird kind of Lady Gaga-ish attire that he’s wearing. And, it says … now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a belt of leather around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey … And, you’re like … thanks Marks. I don’t know what to really do with that, right? That’s great. He’s like the original foodie. Why does he include this? Well, because he’s actually comparing him to a previous prophet, another prophet. There are a lot of prophets here in this first chapter.

Elijah. Listen to how Elijah is described in 2 Kings 1:8 … He wore a garment of hair … You ever heard that before? One place. The gospels. John the Baptist … with a belt of leather around his waist. And he said, “It is Elijah, the Tishbite” … So, John - Mark is saying - is like Elijah. Now, listen to how Malachi ends his book. You turn to the end of your Old Testament, this is what you’re going to read. This is the cliffhanger for 400 years until the Messiah comes …

““Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.”

—Malachi 4:5 ESV

See, what Mark is saying here, is that you’ve been waiting for this savior to come. From Isaiah, and then it also carried over into Malachi, wondering how will this actually come about? We’ve tried it all in our own power, from justice to grace, and we can’t solve this. And, he says, it comes with a prophet who originally was sent to proclaim the coming kingdom, and he will come again, one like him. And, when John the Baptist enters the stage, he says, this one is just like him. See, he’s fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy, he’s fulfilling Malachi’s prophecy, by embodying the prophetic ministry of Elijah.

And so, he’s coming to confirm this. And, just like the prophets of old, he is proclaiming how you can be in right relationship with God. Just like the prophets of old, and they said, this is how you get in the covenant relationship with God. He comes in, and he says, listen … this is how you get into right relationship, verse 4 … by repenting for the forgiveness of sins … That’s how. Now, I know immediately you’re again, like me 10 years ago, when I’m going … repentance? It’s kind of like, hey, things are kind of rough, you want to get right with God, things are kind of vanilla, and you’re like, let’s add some spice to that. Right? And, you come in with repentance? How is that going to fix anything?

Well, I used to think that way. But, the turnaround came when I realized this is exactly what repentance is. Repentance is not just the turning away from death, it is turning to life. This is what 6th century church father, John Climacus, says …

“Repentance is the daughter of hope, the refusal to despair.”

—John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent.

That, when there’s hope, and you go, I see that there’s a better outcome here, that I can find better life in Jesus Christ, that as soon as you see that, that give birth to hope and repentance, that hope gives birth to repentance. And then, saying, whatever it takes, I’ll do that. I want to know Christ. And, he says, then turn from anything that is a apart from Christ, and turn to Christ. Repentance. See, the counterintuitive nature of the good news is this … it’s about dying to yourself to find life in Christ. It isn’t just trying to pretend the ugly isn’t there. As Isaiah says, it’s not just grace, grace, peace, peace … God is not here just saying, let’s just call sin cute. Let’s just kind of overlook it, sweep it under the rug.

Listen, sin is not cute. God is not easily dealing with sin. Unicorns and babies and My Little Pony are cute. Sin is not cute. Exile, that sense of spiritual death, that inner anguish, that lack of peace and that tension in your body when you sense this abyss and you can’t overcome it, it’s not cute. God does not call it cute. But, it also isn’t blame shifting and pointing out other’s ugly. It’s not just beating ourselves up. In fact, the Son of God takes upon our sin, takes upon the wrath, takes upon the justice, in order that grace might be extended.

Our exile ends in the one who is coming, the one who is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one who brings you out of exile, and he does so through a new exodus. That’s point number two, a new exodus.


II. A NEW EXODUS (vv9-11)

Next, Mark recounts the baptism of Jesus, starting in verse 9. Often, we see the baptism of Jesus either as one of two things: one, usually it’s like, oh, this is proof that you should be baptised, which, it is, that’s a good argument for the fact that you should be baptised. Or, we then go, well, this is just the start of Jesus’ ministry. It’s kind of, here’s the start line, and we’ve got to tell this story, and then after this the ministry begins. Which, it is that as well. It’s the inauguration of his public ministry. But, we can miss - if we just stop there - the depths and the beauty of what the baptism of Jesus captures. And, this is, throughout scripture, where there is sin, there is water soon after.


So, baptism again, is when they’ve taken Jesus, and they bring him into the river Jordan, and they baptise him, immersing him in the water, and then bring him up. Baptism just means to immerse, in the Greek. So, they immerse him in the water, they bring him up, and what does this have to do with anything in scripture? Well, again, throughout scripture whenever there’s sin, there’s immediately water. And, this is what I mean, because water is used to describe how God cleanses the world of sin throughout scripture. After the world is filled with sin, what does God do in Noah’s day? He has them build an ark, and then he floods the world with waters of judgement that cleanse the world of sin. To free his people from slavery in Egypt, God brings his people through what? Water. If you’re covered with the blood of the lamb you pass through, if not, you’re in Pharaoh’s army, and you come in, now the waters come down on you in judgement, while cleansing the world of sin. When God’s people finally enter the promised land, the river Jordan - hint, which river is Jesus getting baptised in? Just saying, don’t have time to go into that, but just make a note there - they cross the river Jordan into the promised land. God parts the sea again, so his people can enter into his presence. When everything is made new in Revelation, it tells us that the sea will be no more. It’s not because you’re like, oh my gosh, they’re out water, it’s a drought in the new heavens and new earth! No, it’s because it’s saying, there’s no more evil.

Sin, water, sin, water. We need an ark, we need blood, we need a promised land to enter. We need sin to be no more. And, in the baptism of Jesus, we see the one who provides all of these. Instead of like Noah’s flood, the heavens don’t break open to pour down wrath. Instead, the dove - like the one Noah sent out - comes down declaring peace, in verse 10. And, when they came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him, like a dove. In verse 11 … and a voice came from heaven, you are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased … instead of a dove going off to look for a new creation after the flood as he did in Noah’s day, instead, the dove descends on Jesus. The Spirit descends in the form of a dove, and Jesus, in other words, is the promised one, the promised lamb that we’ve been seeking.

This is the one in whom the new creation will be found. This is the one who comes through the judgement, and comes to the other side. He is the ark in which we’ve come through to the other side by faith. It is by his blood that we are covered, and we walk through the waters. This is why when we become believers, we are baptised. Not merely just because Jesus was baptised, but because if we were to be baptised before Jesus is baptised, then we would go under the waters, and we would drown and be judged in our sin. But now, because Jesus Christ - the righteous one - has gone into the judgement waters, and then the heavens open up on in wrath but in peace, and saying, this is the one. Now, if you go into the grave in Christ, you rise like Christ. It is the power of an indestructible life, and if we are one with him, then we rise again. And, the whole Godhead is here, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. It’s like the whole band’s back together doing their song. This is the one! Him! He is your hope. In Jesus, we have the final exodus. We have the new exodus. He is our ark, he is the blood, he is the promised one in whom we have life. This is why the father delights in the son.

In fact, look at the imagery again, with Isaiah, two chapters later in his prophecy …

“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”

—Isaiah 42:1

This is the son in whom he delights. Now, do you see … you can start to see here, some of you are like, I’m trying to track, and we’re all over in scripture here. Do you see what I’m saying? As you dig in here and you start to see how all of scripture, God’s bringing everything together, all of his promises as God says in 2 Corinthians 1:20, find their yes and amen in him, in Jesus. All the threads of scripture come together when Jesus enters the stage. All the imagery, all the locations, all the themes, all the happenings, all the promises. When Jesus enters, they all start to come together.

And now, you can see why I say this will blow your mind as you study it. But, I can also imagine how you might be thinking … that’s nice theology, but why does this matter? Like, okay, I’ve connected all the dots … why does this really matter? It matters, because if you are one with Jesus Christ, this is how the Father looks at you in Jesus, in Christ. If you have repented of your sin, turning from yourself to find life in Christ, to exit that exile, this is how God looks at you. And, this is important because so often we live our lives not knowing how to evaluate ourselves or others rightly.

Think about it. How much of our calling through life is seeking affirmation? Think about how much of our life, and the things, the problems, and the sins that we get into are just kind of calling, oh maybe here, maybe there, maybe that person … seeking affirmation, seeking someone to say, you are my delight. With you I am well pleased. That sense of, yes, I am well pleasing. How many of your most regrettable decisions have been because you were seeking affirmation? It could be in a lover compromising, in a test, cutting corners, social approval, spinning the truth. Let’s take a minute to turn to our neighbors and share, right? Of course not. But, even more, how much of what burdens us is what others think of us? Rightly or wrongly.


And, we know there’s always a little bit of an element of the truth deep down, which is why we try to then respond when somebody says something bad about us, versus being able to just kind of emotionally be able to deal with that. Well, what we have to do is go all nuclear on them. Because, we know there’s a little thread of the truth, so we just … anyways. We’re unable to even deal with interpersonal conflict, because this just overwhelms us so much. We desperately need an evaluation of ourselves that isn’t from ourselves, or from the mistaken evaluation of others. And, you have it in Jesus Christ if you are one with Christ. The Father says, with you I am well pleased.

This is not, again, a flippant … peace, peace. This is not going back to Malachi, where they just say … Oh, they’re your delight, and they are peace, peace. Do you see how this is coming full circle? Malachi said, the problem is that they are all just saying, oh, you’re just his delight, it’s okay. And then, the others are saying, no, no! We need justice! See, this is not just a flippant, you can just go about your life and have peace, and it doesn’t matter, God’s just … you’re his delight. What this is saying, is that Christ died on the cross to secure that. Christianity is not just a better moral code or sentimental sweet nothings. It is a new identity as a beloved child of God. Brothers and sisters, united with Jesus Christ is the very son of God, and now in Him, he views us as he views Christ, as one with Christ. This is important, because you’ll need it for the last theme Mark uses.

Jesus leads you through a new exodus and into … here we have the wilderness.

III. THE WILDERNESS JOURNEY (vv12-13)

Now, what’s interesting, is the Father and Spirit delight in the Son. And, it’s almost as if, then there’s this party like, he’s here! This is the one! This is the one whom I delight! And, your prize behind door number one is … journey in the wilderness! Right? This is kind of one those, like … is he being punished here? What happened here? It’s kind of like, if you’re in sales you might understand this. It’s kind of like when you meet your benchmarks for the quarter, and they’re like … you did such a good job. Next quarter, we’re going to raise your benchmarks, and you’re going to do more. You’re like, wait … was that a prize or am I being disciplined? Like, he’s God’s delight. Why is he now sent into the wilderness?

When we read wilderness and temptation, we tend to think of punishment. We tend to think of abandonment, right? And, how often in our lives when a difficult season, a wilderness season comes, do we immediately assume it is because God is displeased with us. Well, what if it is a sign, instead, that perhaps God is most pleased, and he is at work?

I’ve pondered this for some time, because here is an interesting thing. The gospels, especially as we’ll see in mark, are ordered for a specific reason, how biographies were written, a specific gospel genre in the first century, they’re not concerned about putting things in, like, some linear historical order at all times. And so, the gospels will tell things in different orders for a specific theme. If you want more on that, come to the Bible workshop, we’ll talk about that. But, one of the things that’s interesting in all the gospels that record the three synoptics, Matthew, Mark, and Luke - that record the baptism of Jesus - is immediately the next event afterwards is this. They all connect the baptism of Jesus with then, immediately, going into the wilderness and being tempted.

That has long made me wonder, I immediately assume wilderness is bad. But, Jesus here is the delight. And so, what is going on? Now, most theologians will agree that one of the main things that’s happening when Jesus goes into the wilderness and he’s tempted there, is that it’s actually now saying, see, Israel in the wilderness in the Old Testament grumbled, and complained, and they sinned against God. Whereas now, Jesus has entered the wilderness and unlike disobedient Israel, now Jesus is actually obedient to the father. That’s one major way of understanding it. And, that’s especially - if you read Matthew’s account - which is much longer, that is where Matthew goes in his account, and what he’s trying to draw out.

But, there’s a second thread to theme of wilderness that is in scripture, that I think Mark is choosing to highlight here and emphasize, and that’s this. That, throughout Israel’s history, wilderness was a place of rich intimacy with God. Listen to how Jeremiah  describes it, that Old Testament prophet …

““Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.”

—Jeremiah 2:2 ESV

Then in Hosea, another prophet …

““Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, … [talking about Israel] ... and speak tenderly to her … [This is how God is wooing Israel back to himself] … And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.”

—Hosea 2:14–15 ESV

He will bring her into the wilderness … It’s not normally where I thought, my wife was like, let’s go on a honeymoon, after we got married. I wasn’t like … I’m going to lure you and take you into the wilderness, right? It’s not someone you marry. But, there’s something that God is doing in the wilderness, and what is that? It is a place where God’s people are stripped of their strength, their dependencies, and their idols, turning their hearts to God, where God wins their hearts to himself.

Therefore, one way the Spirit refines us is by dragging us into the wilderness as he does with Jesus. And, we often mistake these seasons if life as signs of God’s disapproval of us, as if God is motivated by spite towards us, perhaps even punishing us. But, surely God was not displeased with Jesus. He just proclaimed that he is pleased with Jesus. The same is often true in our wilderness seasons. Now, I obviously have to add a caveat here. There are wildernesses that we can create in our own sin. If you rob a bank, you will go into a wilderness that they call prison. Okay? That’s your fault, that’s on you.

What I’m talking about here, is on the whole, when we go through season of life or health, we wonder, will we make it? When we launch out of our parent’s home will we finally find that job or get that degree, or we will get that … how seasons of life, wondering about our grown children, wondering about our health, our things, our finances, all these things, seasons of difficulty, difficult relationships. We should not immediately interpret these times as a sign of God’s displease. But, rather, God’s refining us so we would come to find our pleasure in him. In the wilderness, God’s Spirit is freeing us as he did with Israel.

And, it’s different because God’s presence doesn’t just go before us anymore, but God’s presence is burning within us, and present with us. This is why, now that we are seen as one with Jesus, and we are like the son that he is delighting in, this is why Hebrews says in chapter 12, it says that earthly fathers will discipline you and you respect them, but they don’t do it perfectly. But, do you see that your Heavenly Father …

“he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.”

—Hebrews 12:10 ESV

That we might know him, that we might have life in him. As Christians, therefore, we are always in one of three phases. Just capture this. You are either entering a season of wilderness, you are either in a season of wilderness, or you are exiting a season of wilderness. Those are the three phases that we’ll find ourselves in. But, take heart. Be encouraged. Because, what it means is that your Heavenly Father is refining you and making you a child who is ready and worthy to spend eternity in his presence in his kingdom, serving this king, and knowing him well.

See, the wilderness isn’t a downer. The wilderness is a reminder that this world is not our home, and this world is the wilderness that we journey through. It’s lots of good things, lots of enjoyable things, exciting things. But, this world is meant to point our hearts back to God. This world teams with God’s glory. All the goodness is not saying, wilderness, so don’t be … as H.L. Menken once said about the Puritans, you know, the Puritans are those who walk around wondering, anxious, that somebody somewhere is having fun. You know, it’s like, we’re not saying that this is a way you go about your life. What this is saying, is that the world is not everything. That, this is a wilderness.

Yes, you’re going to be in the wilderness, and they’re going to be, I don’t know … I didn’t think through this before I said this, but berries and good things in the wilderness that fill your life with joy. But, as C.S. Lewis said, when the world is reflecting God’s glory, filled with God’s glory, learn to read back up the sunbeam back up to the Son. Learn with everything around you that reflects God’s glory, learn to see it as something that points back up to God, not just go to it for that affirmation, not just go to it as the thing that’s going to finally satisfy you and save you, but go to it and say, what is beautiful here just points me to the fact that I have a God who is infinitely more glorious and good than this. This is just a foretaste. Don’t give your heart to it. Let it point your heart to the Lord, and then life is full of beauty. It teems with meaning and purpose and everything is put there for a reason. It comes alive.

Together, in Christ,  we are journeying through the wilderness, out of exile, and into a promised land. And, what Mark is telling us, is this is the one who is coming to lead us there, in Jesus Christ. Do you see what an immense privilege this is to have a place where you can fight temptation? Brothers and sisters … I should just say for a second, if you’re wondering if the church is a place where all of the things that we talk about today, all of the sins that we think are things that you just can’t talk about that in church, it’s not safe in church, the things that deep down you’re wondering, is there anywhere where I can really find healing? If this is not the place where you can find it, then nowhere is.

I’m not saying that the gospel and God’s presence is just going to be safe, because it isn’t safe in the way we think of it, but it is good. And, it will transform us, and it will save us. And so, whatever it is, don’t think to yourself that this is the last place where you can bring that out, and have brothers and sisters around you - in the midst of that wilderness - walking with you. This is the place, and I encourage you to open up and walk with one another. But, do you see what an immense privilege it also is to learn how to remind one another of what is true of us in Jesus Christ? To learn the aspects of what is going on here, when God is looking at us, what does it mean to be one with Jesus? How is it that God can say these things, looking at us as he looks at Christ? Those are all riches to plumb and learn to say to one another, so, you don’t feel like on one hand, am I just doing this grace, grace thing, and on the other hand am I just kind of doing this whalloping people all the time? The balance comes in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and together we learn how to articulate that and give that good news. And then, also, what an immense responsibility we have to go before our King, proclaiming he is coming. This is the one. This is the good news.

That is what God will work into us through Mark’s gospel, if we allow it this summer. I would encourage you to read Mark. One thing, too, with reading through the journals, we also have a devotional that you can download electronically. We also have printed versions of that devotional at the connect cart out there. You can pick those up as well, but I encourage you to be reading Mark. I also encourage you to, maybe, do it together. Mark is one of the best books in the Bible to open up to if you have friends, family, coworkers who are saying … the Jesus thing, I don’t know about that. You know what is the best thing to do? Put aside all of the side debates. Don’t get into all the, well, right now, this and that in politics and, you know, and then people think this, and people do that in the past, and all these things. It’s like, okay, let’s put those things aside, not because they’re not important, but because we can’t really come to common ground on thinking about it if Jesus isn’t king.

But, if he’s the kind of king who is worthy, who laid down his life, just make sure that Jesus is seen clearly. The best way to do that is let God’s word speak. If you have a non-believer or somebody in your life, I invite you, grab an extra journal and say, I will give you this as a gift, let’s sit down together, let’s mark it up, let’s go through it together, and let’s look at who Jesus is. I invite you to do that, and sit down with someone this summer. Listen. Jesus is with you in the wilderness. He’s brought you out of exile and is leading you into the promised land. Look to him. Walk with him. Because, in him, you are the Father’s delight. Let’s pray

O Lord God,

You have been at work since before the foundations of the world, to bring about our redemption in Jesus. Open our eyes to how profound the life offered us in Jesus truly is. Jesus, you are the way, you are the truth, you are the life. And, because of you, we are no longer in exile. Because of you, we have been given the new, and the final exodus out of enslavement to sin. And, because of you, we walk through this wilderness in hope of a better land. Spirit, guide us in the way of righteousness, so we might walk in fullness of life offered us in Christ. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Gospel Renewal-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS

SCRIPTURE READING

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

—Romans 3:21–26 ESV

INTRO

We are continuing our series today, Vital: Gospel Distinctives for Our Day, in which we are taking five weeks to walk through distinctives of the gospel that we believe are vital for us to hold on to and grasp as the church, if we are to continue to grow and be healthy as a church, and be fruitful, and to multiply, and to honor God in this next season in our life together. And so, we hope that this series as a whole will help better equip you with the gospel so that you will be able to better navigate our times with the gospel. And so, if this is the first week that you’re jumping in, this is a perfect time to be jumping in, because we hope that this will even define and highlight some of the core distinctives of what it means to be a part of Emmaus.

Last week, we looked at the distinctive of conversion, which is a word that means that we have to be born again, that there is a supernatural reality that God does in us to allow us to have eyes that are opened to see him, to have this new life within us that is this supernatural reality. And so, we hold to that distinctive. And then, today, what we’re looking at is renewal. The question comes after we are born again, after we have this new life, what does that new life look like? And, we see that is a life of continuous renewal.

Here is the definition for renewal, just a basic definition …

re·new·al: the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run down, or broken.

And, we were run down, worn out, and broken in our sin. Some of us, today, feel like when we walked in here we were worn down, run down, and broken. And, we again, and again, just as we came to Christ in need of Christ, so we continue in Christ, and are renewed in the same way in Jesus Christ, and through his gospel. But, quickly, before moving on with this idea of renewal, just to give us some biblical texts that give us the idea of renewal, first there’s Colossians 3:10 …

“put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

—Colossians 3:10 ESV

And then, 2 Corinthians 4:16 …

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”

—2 Corinthians 4:16 ESV

“he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit”

—Titus 3:5 ESV

You see, gospel renewal means that the work of God continues after we are saved. In other words, God is not done with us. God is not done with you, God is not done with me, God is not done with us.

You know, when I came to Christ … this kind of hits on a personal note for me. I guess you could say my conversion happened when I was in junior high, when my eye were opened and I repented of my sins, and I came to Christ for the forgiveness of my sins. I was in 7th grade, and I was just in a place where the church that I was at, at the time that I found [Christ], really didn’t know what to do with the gospel, to put it frankly. And, I languished for years, until college, actually. And, during that time I wondered, is this really all there is for the Christian faith? Which, is really just looking back again and again to that conversion experience.

And so, I wondered if there was anything more to this walk with Christ, to this spiritual life, to this Christianity that was anything more than maybe that night that I had a deep, emotional response to God. Is there anything more than that moment? And, I began to think that that’s all that there was. And, I became bored. I looked around at school, I looked around to my classmates who didn’t know Christ, and I began to realize that, in fact, actually I was more bored than them because I couldn’t do what they do, but at the same time I wasn’t experiencing this life that was promised. I wasn’t experiencing renewal. That’s what I was missing. That was the vital distinction of the gospel that I was missing.

And so, today we’re going to look at renewal, and what we’re going to do is take a little bit of a tour, a 35 minute tour through Romans, somewhat. And, we’re going to launch into renewal in Romans 3, which we just looked at. And, here’s what we’re going to look at. First, that renewal means that we are saved from the penalty of sin. We have been saved from the penalty of sin, that we are being saved from the power of sin, and that we will be saved from the presence of sin.

So, let’s pray before we dive in.

Heavenly Father,

We thank you that our salvation is not merely just a moment in time, and now we are just in this inbetween time treading water. But, in fact, we are now every day called to renewal, that we are called to new life, we are called to life in Christ, we are called to walk in freedom from sin, that we are called to walk by your Spirit, walk in your presence, to experience new life. And so, Father, this morning we ask that you would open our eyes, help us to grasp this truth, and to take hold of it. We ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.

I. GOSPEL RENEWAL MEANS WE’VE BEEN SAVED FROM THE PENALTY OF SIN (Romans 3:21-26)

Well, gospel renewal means we’ve been saved from the penalty of sin. We’re starting, again, in Romans 3, which we read in the scripture reading. And, Romans 3 gives us a solution to a problem. At this point in Paul’s letter to the Romans, the Christians who were in Rome - modern day, what we think of as Rome, the city of Rome, the Christians who are there, Paul has written them a letter - and, he’s at this point in the letter giving them a solution, which means that there’s a problem that comes before.

Now, just to give you an idea, you may be familiar with this passage, because this passage is a very well known passage. In fact, Martin Luther, the reformer, actually says that the center of - not just the argument of Romans - but the center of all of Christianity, and all of scripture, is summed up in this passage. Leon Morris, who is a scholar and commentator, wrote about this paragraph in Romans. He said this is perhaps the most important paragraph that has ever been written. And, the reason is because it defines the solution to the problem that Paul lays out, starting in Romans 1.

And so, we can’t really get an idea of this good, the good news of the solution, until we look at Romans 1. And so, I want to just go back briefly, Romans 1, Paul says that God has created a world that is made to reflect his glory. Now, you might be thinking, what is glory? Well, it may be helpful, first, to define that God is holy. And, what we mean by Holy is that God is perfectly beautiful, true, good, righteous, morally pure, he’s grand, he’s strong … every perfection you can imagine, it leads you up, as C.S. Lewis says, back up a sunbeam, up to the sun, who is God.

In fact, God, in his holiness, though, the question is, what happens when that holiness goes public? Well, when that holiness goes public, you could say, when that holiness goes outward, it is glorious. And so, when scripture defines God’s glory, when it talks about God’s glory, what it’s talking about, is that like the sun, imagine God and his holy being the ball of gas that we call the sun, and then you imagine that, we stand in the sunlight. That’s his glory, that we bask in his glory, that we stand in his glory.

And, God has made a world that is filled with his glory, that is emanating with the truth of who he is, and his holiness, and that goodness, and that truth, and that beauty, and that purity, and it is made and hardwired into this creation. And, the good news is that God created that world. The bad news is, then, as it says in verse 20 of chapter 1 of Romans … for his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made … And again, what he’s saying there, just like Psalm 19:1, when it says that the heavens declare the glory of God, that all of creation, when we look at it we can see something true about God, that he is glorious, that he is good, that he is beautiful. So, when you see the mountains, when you see that new picture, now, of the black hole, right? That should blow your mind, and it should make you think thoughts of God, of how huge he is, how powerful he is, and even the mysteries of God.

And, its says this right here, that we can perceive this, but then if you go down, jump down to verse 23 to get a clear statement, it says in response, we have God’s glory …  but we exchange the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, and birds, and animals, and creeping things … That’s language that goes back to Genesis 1. That’s language that goes back to say that we were made for this glorious creation, for this relationship with God, to know his glory, and instead we have rejected it, and we’ve turned everything on its head, whereas before, it was God, and then man was placed in creation, and creation was used, then, by man for the raw materials to glorify God, and said, now, everything is flipped on its head.

And so, now it’s creation rules over man, and then God is like this add-on. And so, man now takes worship of what’s meant for God, and he uses it to worship creation, and now man serves creation. And so, now our jobs are a place where we find our identity, our lives are the place where we find significance, and we find that over, and over again, we try to find satisfaction in things that actually can’t satisfy us. That’s why we sings songs after confession about expressing that we want to turn constantly, again and again, to lesser loves, cause we were made for a greater love. And so, God’s revealed in his glory, but we rejected his glory. And this is why, then, in chapter 3 as we read in the liturgy, starting in verse 10, it goes on to say … none is righteous, no not one, no one does good, not even one … And so, now our hearts are turned to find glory in ourselves and creation, rather than in God. We’ve rejected his glory.

And so, at this point … you may have thought that when we read that passage in the confession, you may have been like, man … not one? Really? Is it really that bad? What Paul is saying is, yes. It really is that bad in our sin, and Paul says if you understand the bitterness of how bad your sin is, then now you are ready to hear the sweetness of Jesus Christ. And then, he transitions into our passage. In verse 21, then he says … but now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law … you see, what Paul does here, is he transitions from using language like glory, which is good and beautiful and true and pure, and what Paul says is that now, that has been tarnished by man, and that is called unrighteousness. Unrighteousness, to reject what is true, what is beautiful, what is pure, what is glorious. And, he says, how though, there is one who has entered the world, and he lives delighting in what is good, and what is true, and what is beautiful, and he not only does that, but he also is going to bring you back to what is glorious. He’s going to restore you to it. He’s going to renew you.

And so, in verses 21 and 22, we see that Jesus is the one who is righteous, and he says he is a remedy for us, in verse 23, for we have … all sinned … and we ... fall short of the glory of God. He juxtaposes Jesus to our failure. Jesus’ righteousness to our own righteousness, Jesus’ obedience to our disobedience, Jesus’ desire for glory and for goodness and what is true. And we may say, what does it mean? Why is it so bad that we fall short of the glory of God? Why is this such a horrible thing? Well, what this is saying here is if God made a creation that reflects who he is, and is meant to just embody and be hardwired with who he is, it is the most satisfying reality we could ever imagine. The best thing that could ever be created is the world God created for us to live in, to delight in him and know him. And so, anything that tarnishes it, hatred instead of love, lust instead of fidelity, abuse instead of care and peace, these things tarnish. They corrupt. They pollute God’s glory.

And so, God says, I don’t just want to give you some half-baked remedy. I want to give you my glory. I want to give you my goodness, and I want you to see my beauty. I want you to experience my presence. And so, God says that takes a massive remedy. And so, specifically, Jesus Christ - who is the righteousness of God - then, it says in verse 24 and 25, especially, that God put him forward ... as a propitiation by his blood … And so, what God does here, is he says there is a reality, a pollution, a tarnishing of what is good, and he pours out. Propitiation means that God satisfies his wrath. Christ says, I will take their sin upon myself, and I will receive your wrath, so that it falls upon me and not upon them.

Now, I know - for a second here I have to say something - because, I know in our modern world, we tend to hear that idea of a sacrifice being made for sins, of God’s wrath being poured out … you see, God becomes both the propitiated, he’s the one who’s satisfied, and he becomes the propitiation in the Son, he becomes the one who is the propitiated, the one who actually satisfies the wrath of God, the propitiation, the object of that wrath. And, I know in the modern world, we think, oh this is just some kind of archaic, religious idea of wrath. But, I actually think it’s a very modern idea. Because, today, I think of it as simply - and I get it, why we tend to recoil at this - but then, I just turn on the news. Then, I go onto social media, and I realize that we, as human beings, is we’ve lost this idea that there is this actual standard of glory, and of goodness, and of holiness, and now we’ve kind of made it a catch-all for whatever you think it might be, then we all are, at the same time, pouring out and expecting propitiation for our wrath, for the injustices and the brokenness as we define it, all around us. And, just go on to social media to see it just fulminating and being poured out. The wrath is constantly coming.


You can read books like Jon Ronson’s book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, and you can read of the accounts that began happening five years ago, that are of individuals being torn apart, their reputations being shredded, their lives being ruined. See, here’s what I’m saying. We may say, as modern people, that we don’t believe in wrath, that we don’t believe in hell. But, we will very quickly pour out our wrath on individuals who do not agree with us, and do not measure up, and then we will banish them and socially ostracize them to a hell of our own making. See, there, the bad news is there’s no redemption. But, the good news here is God says there is a wrath, there is a standard of justice, it must be poured out, it must be cleansed, it must be gotten rid of, but your bad news is, you would be under that wrath. And, we all feel it. That’s why social media, when you go on it, you’re depressed, right? Because, you walk away going, oh, that’s me, I’m just going to back up now, pretend I didn’t go in there. Right?

And, he says, but the good news is now, that that you can look straight into your sin, you can look straight into your brokenness, you can look straight into your dependencies, and you can say yes, that is me, and he says, I have a solution. It is my grace, found in the son of God. And so, God pours out his wrath in Jesus, and the gospel gives us a better news. It’s called the great exchange, saying that Jesus exchanges his righteousness for our sin. It’s put like this by John Stott, who is a scholar who just passed away a few years ago, in his commentary in Romans he sums it up like this, this is great …

““The righteousness of God” is God’s just justification of the unjust, his righteous way of pronouncing the unrighteous righteous, in which he both demonstrates his righteousness and gives righteousness to us. He has done it through Christ, the righteous one, who died for the unrighteous. And he does it by faith when we put our trust in him, and cry to him for mercy… The gospel reveals “God’s righteous way of ‘righteoussing’ the unrighteous.”

—John Stott, Romans


See, God doesn’t just pass over things, he doesn’t just flippantly say, we’ll just sweep that under the rug. But, he actually deals with it. He takes on the penalty of our sin, and now the decision for us is … do we want the renewal that comes when God covers the penalty of our sin? See, let me just be clear. Either Jesus Christ will bear the the wrath for your sin, or you will bear the wrath for your sin. And, God says, let me renew you. Let me forgive you. Let me wash away your sins so that you might live - not trying constantly to overcome your shame and overcome your guilt, and overcome all of the things that are rattling in your mind and trying to run from them -  to stop living running from something, and start living running to something. Run to Christ.

And so, gospel renewal means that in Jesus Christ, God has saved us, by faith, from the penalty of sin, to live a new life. And, it is in that new life that we also are being saved from the power of sin. So, the second point, the first that gospel renewal means that we have been saved from the penalty of sin, but then the second, gospel renewal means that we are being saved from the power of sin.

II. GOSPEL RENEWAL MEANS WE’RE BEING SAVED FROM THE POWER OF SIN (Romans 8:1-14)

If we follow Paul’s argument, it’ll eventually bring us to chapter 6. So, if you have a Bible, turn to chapter 6 of Romans. And, verse 1, verses 1-4, it says this … What shall way say, then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? … So, now you have this issue that, okay, the penalty of sin has been done away with and now you’re living life, and he says, people keep saying, well, if it all grace and it’s covering you, then now what’s going to happen is, people are just going to start sinning and going ...ah, there’s grace. I’m good. And he says, so are we supposed to just go on sinning so that grace may abound? … By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? … Catch that? How can we? … Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life …

So, what’s Paul saying here? We saw this demonstrated, actually, two weeks ago, here at the 11:00 service, we had nine baptisms on Easter. And, baptism provides a picture of what happens when we place our faith in Jesus Christ. When we place our faith in him, when we look - and by faith, I mean that we trust that God’s remedy for our problem - God’s solution in Romans 3:21-26 is the solution that I need for my problem, which is defined in the first two and a half chapters of Romans. Paul says, if you see, then you place your faith in Christ, that his sacrifice for your sins is what you need. And he says that when that happens, just as Christ died, going under judgement … see, when it says that he was baptised - this is why Paul uses this imagery of baptism - he’s saying something very specifically. Because, here’s what happens in baptism …

In baptism, we might just think, oh, it’s water. And so, sometimes one aspect of baptism is that it means, like, a cleansing for sin, like a bath. If you don’t know what I’m talking about with a cleansing in water and a bath, then perhaps you have some other things you need to work on. But, when we go down for cleansing, but also it’s actually hitting on an imagery that’s all throughout scripture. It’s very precise, and it’s this … throughout scripture, water is a symbol of judgement. Specifically, if you think about what happens with Noah, God’s first major response to sin after the Fall, with Noah. What does he do? He floods the world. And, Noah, who is righteous, builds a boat - it’s an ark - and he passes through the flood, through the judgement waters, that cleansed the world of sin, and he passes through the judgement waters through the ark, and he comes to the other side.

And then, also, you come to the Israelites in Egypt, during the Exodus, when they come out, it says, before they have the passover, the say, if you’re going to be covered by the blood of the Lamb, then put blood over your doorpost, and those who do it are now covered by the blood of this lamb, the sacrifice for sins, which Paul is pointing back to and using that imagery in the sacrifice for Jesus. And, he says, then, what they do is they head out into the wilderness, and Pharaoh and his army start catching up to them to kill them. And, what does God do? He parts the Red Sea, and those who are covered by the blood of the lamb walk through the waters. Those who are not, then the waters come down in judgement upon them, and they die. Then, when we get to Revelation - just so we can go through more - but you go to Revelation and fast forward, it says at the time, when the city of God fully comes to the new Jerusalem, that the sea was no more, that the sea was no more. And, the reason why it says that the sea is no more is because it’s saying that evil no longer exists. Now, there’s a river running through, but there’s no longer this chaotic sea, where sin abounds.

And so, the judgement waters, at that point it says if you, a Christ goes under in death, he then goes under judgement of God, but then he’s the one who’s raised in newness of life. And, Paul says, if you have been baptized in Christ, you also have gone under the waters of judgement - I always joke that when I do baptism I like to hold people there for a second, just to make them wonder … am I really going to be resurrected with Christ? You are! Born in newness of life! Right? Just to make sure they get it, hammer it home - but then, we’re raised to this newness of life. And, he says, if that has happened, that means you died already, and now the resurrection is yours. In the same power, here, he says the glory of God that raised Jesus from the grave. Later on in chapter 8, he’s going to say, the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the grave, that now the glory of God, and the Spirit of God has come to dwell within you, and raise you to newness of life.

And so, it’s not saying just some act of baptism, it’s saying that now your life is fundamentally different. It’s fundamentally different. We walk in newness of life. And then, Paul sums this up, then, in verses 10 and 11, saying … for the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God, so you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus … You are freed from sin. You have been freed from guilt, you have been freed from sin. The grave no longer has any power over you. Because, the one who walked in the judgement and then walked back out of the grave, you have become one with him. And, if you are one with him, then not only have you died with him, but you are risen with him, and that power dwells within you.

See, renewal in the gospel is not just about one moment when you’re forgiven of your sins, and your guilt is erased. It also means that now you walk, and you live with a new power that says you are a new being, you are a new creation, you have new life within you as well. Now, I know as I start to say this, because I’m starting to talk about now, that we have the power, we are being freed from the power of sin. And, I know as I start talking about this, you’re like, man, Pastor, you’re starting to make this sound really, kind of, too easy, right? And, I think one of the things is that when we think about sin and overcoming sin, what we tend to do, is we tend to turn to introspection, we tend to become overwhelmed and just thinking about the ways in which we’ve failed. But, here’s they that I want you to hear. Gospel renewal comes not from our feeling more guilty, not from our beating ourselves up more, not from ourselves demanding more of ourselves and saying I just need to do better. Gospel renewal comes by God’s means, and God’s means that he has given are two-fold here in what Paul says. And, these are the two ways that you overcome and are freed and find renewal and freedom from the power from sin.

The first is identity in Christ. See, one of the things in our sin, and just - I guess I should say a side note - I’m not talking about … it’s a different approach we need to take a little bit if you’re saying, I’m continuing in sin, and I just don’t care what God thinks, and I desire sin, and I’m just going to continue down that road. That is a dangerous place to be. So, if you’re thinking, okay, I’m a serial killer, I’m about 20 people in now, and I’m just going to continue, so I’m going to apply grace here, this isn’t the way you apply grace, okay? This is talking about those sins that are ongoing, those attitudes of the heart, those words that keep coming out, the attitudes and the emotions, and the thoughts. And, this is what the first thing is, identity in Christ.

Here’s the thing about your baptism. Paul goes here because he has a paradigm, which is in the baptism of Jesus. And, he says, if you’re one with Jesus, then you can look at the baptism of Jesus, to see how the Father looks at you. See, often in our sin when we have these attitudes and we have these things that come out, what do we do immediately? We start beating ourselves up, and in fact we tell ourselves, oh God … we just think God is, like, maybe a parent who shamed us too much, or a friend, or someone in our life who has just poured scorn and shame on us, and we immediately think … God thinks about me that way.

And, what he says is that the baptism of Jesus Christ, what you see is that Jesus is baptized, and then he comes up out of the waters and what happens? The Father speaks from heaven, saying ... this is my son, in whom I am well pleased. And, why is that important for you? Because, if you are in Jesus Christ, the Father sees you as the other side of that baptism. He sees you as one with his Son. He looks at you, he delights in you. He looks at you as his child, and he says, this is one in whom I am well pleased. You see, so often we only look in the mirror of our sin, and that just beats us down again, and again, and again. And, what God says, is allow me to be your mirror. Allow me to tell you how I see you. Allow my grace to overcome your sin.

But, it’s not only the identity, it’s also that there is a power that we have in the Spirit of God. The good news of the gospel is more than just a legal declaration. Again, it’s also new life within you. At Jesus’ baptism, as well, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus. And, in Christ, you also now are sealed as Ephesians 1 says … with the Holy Spirit. That means God cultivates within you a renewed desire. This is the reason why he’s called the Holy Spirit. Because, that holy character of God that now is all this glory around us in creation, now God puts his Holy Spirit in you, cause it doesn’t just sit in the holy of holies in a temple somewhere in Jerusalem, but now it is in his redeemed people, and we are the temple, and how his Spirit is within you. And, it cultivates within you a desire for God’s holiness, and to please him, and to be obedient, and to find life in him, and we become a slave of the Spirit. We become a slave of Christ, we become a servant for God’s desires.

And, here’s the thing. I know as soon as I say that, some of you … I’m not a slave of anyone. But, catch what Paul says in verse 12. He says, you can’t just say I’m not a slave of anyone. In fact, in verse 12, it says … let not sin, therefore, reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions ... See, what Paul says is, you will either be a slave of the spirit of this age, and of the fleshly desires that are within you, or you will be a slave of the Spirit of God. As Bob Dylan said, everybody’s got to serve somebody, right? And, you will either serve the flesh of the world and the devil, of you will serve the Spirit of God.

And so, Paul says, like in Galatians 5, to walk, keep in step with the Spirit, to cultivate the presence of the Spirit. Paul struggled with the power of sin as well. That’s why in the next chapter, in chapter 7, he says, for I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. So, just so you know, the Apostle Paul is right there with you. Right after this, when he says you must walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, you must walk in light of your identity in Christ, he goes straight into the fact that he’s like, I get it. I’m a human being, too. I don’t do what I want to do, and I do what I don’t want to do. But, does Paul give up? Does Paul just beat himself up? Does Paul just say, I’m done with this, or it’s not for me? What Paul says, then in chapter 8, he reminds himself of his identity in Christ, and he points himself, he turns to the power of God’s Spirit, and he says this in verse 1, he says … there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of Life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

You see, Paul said in chapter 6 that you must consider yourselves dead, that you might walk in newness of life. And, what Paul says here is, you must consider yourselves alive by God’s Spirit. You must walk in God’s Spirit. God is setting you free from the power of sin, if you will walk in his Spirit. God is giving you new life, desire for his goodness, his beauty, his truth, and to know it, to walk in light of it, if you will turn to his Spirit. If you will stop just trying to force, bury yourself in the grave, to say God, I’ll punish myself for this one. He says, I’ve already punished my son. You’re one with him. It’s over. Look to him, confess your sin.

This is why every week we confess our sin, because we confess our sin knowing assurance is coming, which is just another form of confession. I confess what I’ve done, and then I confess what God has done. And, I turn to him, and I walk in newness of life, and Paul says, the promise is sure if we do this, in verse 11 of chapter 8, he says … if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you … He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through the Spirit who dwells in you. God will do this work. God will empower you by his Spirit, and he’ll do it without just beating you up, and making you this cantankerous, bitter person, who’s like, I’ve got my good works, but nobody likes being around me.

This is what 18th century preacher, Robert Murray McCheyne, he sums this up so incredibly well in a letter. He says …

““The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9) Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in his almighty arms… Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart, and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.”

—Robert Murray McCheyne

He says, look to Christ, be filled with his Spirit. Walk in newness of life. God is renewing you. He’s freeing you from the power of sin. Delight in your savior, walk in the Spirit. And, we do this in the present, and it’s a fight worthwhile, because of the future promise that we have.

Last point, gospel renewal means we will be saved from the presence of sin.

III. GOSPEL RENEWAL MEANS WE WILL BE SAVED FROM THE PRESENCE OF SIN (Romans 8:18-25)

Paul, then, continues in Romans 8 with this promise. In 8:18, he says this … for I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us … the present sufferings. Paul is not just saying, you know, the, you know, my elbow’s been hurting lately, and so, like, maybe I have, like, an arthritic elbow now. Just add that to the list of the things I’m discovering. And so, now I have this pain. There is that suffering. But, he’s saying, also the suffering of Christ being formed in you, the suffering of the power of sin being put to death in your life, that suffering, that pleading before God for life, he says, none of this is … worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. What is that glory? Go back to chapter 1! He’s saying, I’m bringing back in Christ the glory that was lost in the Fall, and I’m bringing it in IMAX form, right? There’s going to be no diminishment of it. I’m bringing it back in full.

One day, all will be made new, completely renewed to a perfect display of God’s glory, and that is what we are pilgrimaging toward. Do you realize that’s what we’re journeying towards? That is the sure promise, that one day we will close our eyes in death, and in the twinkling of an eye, we will open them and we will see this in fullness. Everyone who’s gone before us that we know and love, in Christ, that is their reality. One day we’ll be completely renewed. And, the promise that we will be saved from the presence of sin guarantees complete renewal. And, it is exactly the hope that we need in our day.

Two future guarantees of gospel renewal. The first, a city with sure foundations guarantees redemptive progress. Here’s what I mean. I don’t know how else to say this. Modern, secularism’s confidence in unlimited progress is misplaced. I love the quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., you probably have heard it …

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

—Martin Luther King, Jr.


That is a true statement. Now, right now it’s being used a lot because we take this, and we say, listen, justice will flow down like rivers … but, here’s the thing, all this is rooted in a biblical worldview. All of these statements are rooted, in fact, MLK did not come up with this quote. It comes from a 19th century sermon by Theodore Parker, in the middle of a sermon. And, Luther takes it, and he uses it, MLK uses that in the middle of a sermon himself. And, then we take it, we unhinge it from the fact that this is rooted in the fact that we have a holy God who made a glorious world, to reflect his glory, and then was rejected by his creation. He’s renewing his creation through his glorious ones, so that we might desire glory, and he’s bringing back that fullness of glory one day. It is a sure thing, it will happen, so the ark is true, it will occur.

But, you remove that, and you start going in all different directions and demanding different outcomes, it can not be a sure thing. We don’t know. History has ebbed and flowed. It’s been ups and downs, where civilizations step backwards, they step forward. How do we know we’ll always progress? The way we know, is the guarantee is found that God is bringing renewal, and he has promised us a city with sure foundations, and that guarantees redemptive progress. It says this in Revelation …

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more … [There you go, no more evil. Now you know why it’s there. God’s not against oceans, okay?] ... And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” …  [He is renewing all things] … Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

—Revelation 21:1–5 ESV

We have the confidence that all things, as Paul will say later in chapter 8 … will come together for the good of those who are in Christ Jesus … because, this progress, this end, this outcome, this city, the New Jerusalem, is sure, because God will do it. He has secured it already in Christ, and Christ is coming again. And, when he comes again, he will bring his glorious kingdom. And, the end of pain, and sorry, injustice, illness, loss, depression … it’s coming. It’s coming. It is sure, and it is coming with Christ. He will restore all things in the presence of a holy God. All things will be as they should be, and every chapter will be better than the last.

The second thing, glorified bodies guarantee the end of sinful tension in our lives. This is the last one. The modern world tells us that we’ll always be the way we are. The reason I was reading Robert Greene, I really like Robert Greene’s work - some of you know who I’m talking about - but he has a new book on human nature. And, he says multiple times throughout, you cannot change human nature. However someone is, you cannot change their character, you cannot change them. And, in fact, most social sciences, most behavioral therapists, they’ll actually tell you, you know what, on the whole, that will that is at the center of a person, you really can’t change it. You really can’t change it. The problem is that that’s not rooted in a Christian worldview. See, what happens when we believe that we cannot change, that there is no renewal, that we are just what we are, so whatever we desire, even if we’re embarrassed by it, if we’re ashamed by it, that we just might as well give in to ourselves so we can feel better about it.

And the problem is, again, that means there are a thousand standards, a million infinite standards out there of what it means to be a human being, what it means to grasp true beauty, to grasp true purpose, to grasp true knowledge and truth. And, as we live, just grasping at any way of life, and all the choices that are out there, and finding again and again that it’s not satisfying. Because, here’s the only way that you can live without the tension, is to just give in, to tell yourselves, well, whatever conscience or whatever I have inside of me that’s telling me to slow down, or this isn’t really satisfying, I just have to bury that, cause that’s some repressive thought that was given to me by some institution, and burrowed down into me, and I have to release that.

But, here’s the problem, is that this is not freeing. As we’ve been living this out, it’s not freeing the modern person to experience any more fullness. In fact, there’s a book quote by Kent Dunnington, in Addiction & Virtue, he’s a counselor, a psychologist. He says this …

“The absence of a shared or ultimately justifiable telos makes modern persons uniquely bored. Because one can do anything, there is nothing to do. It is not only, as in the case of standard boredom, that a particular way of life seems pointless. Rather, the search itself seems pointless, and therefore boring: “Hyperboredom” names the paralysis brought on by modernity’s inability to justify one commitment over the others.”

—Kent Dunnington, Addiction & Virtue

You see, when we live without a standard, just pursuing whatever we can find, we actually find ourselves to be quite bored. We actually find that everything tastes quite bland after a while. Then, on the other hand, then we say, well if I’m going to live in this body, and I have this tension with sin within me, and I’m under knowing God’s truth, what am I to do with that? Well, one, point to … to continue to go back to what God … God knows this. God knows this, and he’s remedied it. He’s addressed it in Jesus Christ, and has sacrificed for sins once and forever. And, his grace is continuously coming to you and covering. And so, now that means that you can continue to live your life even with that tension, and you don’t have to live as a hypocrite as you go before God, you go before others, and you confess and say, here’s my sin. I want to grow. And, you ask God’s Spirit to do a work in you.

That is not hypocritical. That’s just … that’s life. That’s life in Christ. Hypocritical is pretending as if it’s not even happening. But, here’s the thing, here’s the thing that pulls you through, is hope. As it says, then, in verse 25, Paul says after verse 18, it says … but if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience … we endure, we have patience. Because, we know this truth, that he will end the tension. It says this in 1 John 3:2, this is the best simple summary of the fact that one day we will have glorified bodies and be done with the presence of sin. It says …

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

—1 John 3:2 ESV

Do you realize that? You will one day be like him. You will one day fully desire, you will not have these desires in you that are fighting and causing this tension within you, and these doubts within you, and this toiling within you, but one day you will be freed from this fleshly cage, with all of its desires, and you will be in a renewed body - so your body’s not all bad … fleshly cage makes it sound like matter is all bad - matter is not bad. God is redeeming all things. You’ll be in this glorified state where your desires will be renewed, and that tension will be gone. The tension is not just something to be forgotten or pretend it’s not there. What God is calling us to is to look right to his redemption and the promises of how he’s going to remove it, and there you will find joy, and there you will find hope, in actually dealing with the sin that is in your life.

We have the privilege of living as a hopeful people, living before the world, lives anticipating complete renewal. Do you realize that? We, as a church, live lives patiently enduring, realizing that there is renewal that God has done, he is doing, and he will do. And, as we see the witness to one another when we see God renewing one another, we know that it’s just a downpayment of the reality that is to come. And so, when the presence of sin will soon be no more, then the gospel has, is, and will renew you. Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father,


Lord God, you alone have saved us from the penalty of sin. You, alone, are freeing us from the power of sin, and you alone are our sure hope that one day we will be completely removed from the presence of sin. Renewal is yours. Renewal is part of the good news of the gospel, Father, don’t let us miss this distinctive. Father, don’t let us think that in the weightiness of being human and being new creations in Christ in this world, yet, that we don’t just give up on renewal. That, Father, we don’t just look around the world around us and just thumb our noses at it. But, Father, we would see the work of renewal you are doing around us and through us, as well, and Father, the renewal that starts with us would go outward, would glorify you and the world around us. Give us a willing Spirit to live in light of these truths, fill our imaginations with your glory, compel our will by your Spirit, fill us with hope that in Christ all things are being renewed. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Gospel Conversion-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS

SCRIPTURE READING


“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.””

—Matthew 28:16–20 ESV

INTRO

Well, good morning. My name is Matt, I’m one of the pastors here at Emmaus. And, this morning we are beginning a new series, called Vital: Gospel Distinctives for Our Day. And, in this series over the next five weeks, what we will be looking at are five distinctives that we believe are important in our day and age, if we are to be a church that is centered around the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, we’re doing this because we, as a church, are in a unique season. We’re at this unique intersection of past and future. We’ve just come out of a successful merger, we’ve just come through years of consistent growth as a church, and we are also are coming out of this season where we’re realizing what a healthy and firm foundation that we have in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so, now the question is, what’s next? Where is the Lord guiding us next?

And so, as we look ahead, what we want to do as a church, is we want to orient ourselves, we want to align around these basic distinctives, because what we’ll see is that the same basic distinctives of the gospel, if we keep the main things the main things, and the playing things the playing things, then God will continue to be faithful and grow us in a healthy way as a church. So, I want to say if you’re new here, this is a perfect time to be diving in, this is a perfect first week. I want to give you what sometimes we call the sermon series challenge, which is, over the next five weeks, during the course of this series, I invite you to be here every week, to hear some of these distinctives, and to be thinking about, what does it mean to be living out the gospel? I promise, if nothing else, you’re going to find yourself better equipped with the gospel, a better understanding of the gospel, and ready to navigate our times with the theological, gospel fidelity.

So, today, the first distinctive that we’re going to be looking at is conversion. Conversion. Now, conversion, I just want to throw up the basic definition, if you google search conversion, because, why not crowdsource a sermon? If you google conversion, this is what you get …

con·ver·sion: the process of changing or causing something to change from one form to another.

See, conversion means a complete transformation. It means to become something that you weren’t before. It means, well, let’s hear how scripture defines it. 1 Peter 1:3 says this …

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”

—1 Peter 1:3 ESV

The next, in 2 Corinthians 5:17 …

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

—2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

And lastly, and probably most famously, John 3:3, when Jesus says …


“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

—John 3:3 ESV

See, what the distinctive of conversion says, is that there is not a spectrum in humanity on its way to God. There is not this spectrum where we are maybe bad, and then if we do a little bit of work, then we’ll become good, and then if we do a little bit more religious work, then we’ll become better. But, in fact, what scripture says is there are two states that of humanity, they are in one or the other. And, that is either dead in sin, or alive in Jesus Christ. Conversion means new birth, blind eyes opened, complete and utter transformation to become something that we were not before, a new creation in Jesus Christ. And, we are all called to take part in calling the dead alive in Christ, by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, you may be thinking - I’m sure some of you are - I mean, conversion? I’m sure when I said conversion at first, you kind of chaffed, you were like … what was that? Cause, conversion is not a word that we normally just culturally go, yeah, a conversion, let’s talk about, right? You might have even been thinking to yourself … conversion? Are you serious? Like, who is this fool? Don’t you know that our society is trending secular? Don’t you understand this is something that we just don’t even talk about anymore? Yes. I do. And, in fact, if you’re actually thinking that what you’re talking about - this conversion idea - sounds like it’s completely impossible, then I would say you’re absolutely right. That is exactly what scripture represents.

A few months ago, I shared this illustration, and it’ll be helpful throughout this morning. I can’t think of a better time in my life that this has hit me, which is that this is what conversion looks like. Back when I was in school, I would go to this cemetery, and I would walk around. It was a beautiful cemetery, and it hit me one day that what we do when we call others to life in Christ, when we share the gospel, what we are doing is like if I were to walk up to one of those gravestones and say, rise! Walk in newness of life! Rise from the grave, find newness of life in Christ! I could shout that throughout the graveyard, in response there was silence. And, I would do that sometimes. I would just walk up, and I would walk up to a whole hillside filled with tombstones, I would say, rise! (Hoping no one was around to hear me.) Just to drive it into my heart just how impossible it is.

See, left to our own, that is a picture of how impossible new birth, new life, and new creation conversion is. That is where we were at one time, dead in our sins. And, it is impossible for us to change our hearts, unless God works. This is what Jesus says a few chapters before the Great Commission, which we’ll be looking at. He says, with man, this is impossible, when the disciples come back. They say, well, how can we do this? We’re going out there, and the demons are running over people, and people are persecuting us and turning away from us. And, he says this to them … with man, this is impossible. Your eyes are finally opened, you’re finally now seeing that this is impossible, but with God … but with God, all things are possible. But with God, this is possible.

And, see, this is why it is an important distinctive for our day, because our world is changing. Our world is changing, and we tend to think because of the new, secular, and pluralistic defaults, we think that because it is changing, we forget that the one who is reigning, who is standing over it all, has never changed, will not change, never will change. And, if we are still here, it is because he is still bringing redemption. And so, what is impossible with us, is possible with God. And so, today we’ll look at the Great Commission, which fittingly comes immediately - we didn’t think about this when we set it up - but it comes immediately after the Easter passage. And so, right after the Easter passage, it’s significant because these are the last words of Jesus before he ascends.

Sometimes we forget about the ascension of Jesus, that right now he is on the throne in heaven. If you look at the stained glass, he is born, and then Jesus has is baptism, and then Jesus on the cross, and then Jesus resurrected, and then we usually forget there’s another scene, which is that then, Jesus is ascended to the Father’s right hand, and right now, since that time, he has been on the throne, above all earthly powers, all heavenly powers, and he reigns.

And so, what we see in the Great Commission, the last words to earth that he’s giving here to his disciples, he’s telling them, this is what my reign is about. This is why you, as the church, are here in the world. To see hearts awakened so that those who are dead would find new life in me. And so, we’ll see why. The first point is just going to be boldly asking the question, why would we want anyone to be converted? Let’s answer that question. Why would we want anyone to be converted? And then, next, we’ll look at three distorted approaches to making disciples, and then lastly we’ll look at the key to true conversion in our day. So, let’s pray before we dive in.

Heavenly Father,

We thank you that we, right now, are the people of Jesus Christ gathered under a risen, enthroned king. Father, we ask that this morning you would lift our eyes to see Christ reigning today, that you would banish our small thoughts, you would banish our thoughts of an impotent Christ, you would ban our thoughts of a distant Christ, you would enlarge our Jesus, you would increase our understanding of his power, the work that he has called us into in this world. Father, help us to see the impossibility of conversion, but also, Father, to find complete hope and joy in the fact that you are the God that changes hearts, and that you place us in the front row to see that happen. Do this work by your Spirit in Jesus’ name, amen.

I. WHY WOULD WE WANT ANYONE TO BE CONVERTED? (vv18-20)

So, why would we want anyone to be converted? This commissioning to invite, Jesus to his followers, again, has been called The Great Commision. In verses 18-20, we get the thrust of it, and I’ll just read it so that we’re all on the same page again … All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me … this is Jesus speaking … All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even until the end of the age.”

And so, what Jesus is saying here, is he’s saying, church, as long as I am on the throne and you are still in the world, this is your commissioning. This is priority number one. This is my calling upon you. This is where my power will be at work through you. And, see, we often, we forget the context of this passage. Because, many times, when I was in college, I was involved in Campus Crusade for Christ, and we used to come to this passage again, and again, and again. And, it was very, very helpful, because I just have it internalized now. In fact, I probably was quoting a different version, I just realized, than what was right here in front of me. Sorry for that. But, I just internalized it, and we constantly were living that out and thinking about what does it mean to make disciples, and share the gospel? It was very healthy.

At the same time, sometimes I forgot what the context was that Jesus gave the Great Commission. And, he gave the Great Commission right after he walked out of the grave. He gave the Great Commission, imagine this, it says that some of them were worshiping him, and some of them were doubting. If you can imagine the guy who’s your leader, he dies a horrible death publicly, you think he’s gone, and then suddenly he says, rendezvous with me somewhere, and you arrive, and he’s there. What they’re seeing here, is this is one who has accomplished everything he would accomplish, and now he is powerful enough to go into the grave, and apparently to come out of the grave.

And so, when Jesus says all authorityall authority on heaven and earth has been given to me … Jesus isn’t just saying, hey, I’ve got the title, I’ve got the power, here, I’m Jesus, my last name is Christ, so therefore follow me. What Jesus is saying there, is I have the ability to bridge heaven and earth, because I am the one who entered into the grave, and I am the one who came out of the grave, and conquered death, and therefore I am the one who ascends to heaven. I reign over all of this, I know what I’m doing. Follow me. And so, the whole point, see the whole point of Matthew’s gospel from the very beginning of Matthew’s gospel …

If you remember from our advent series, we went through the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, and the very first chapter of Matthew’s gospel begins with a genealogy, and that genealogy points back and says, this is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, it goes back to this entire history, from the beginning of time, God has been at work to bring about this redemption. And, all throughout history, mankind has been wondering, how will God remove very tear? How will God deal with my sin? How will God deal with this murderous intent that’s within me of this hatred, and how everything is broken, and illness, and disease, and evil, and backstabbing, and death, and separation, and isolation? How will God fix this? He says, there is one who will come.

There’s one who will be a true prophet, unlike the prophets who died. There will be a true king who will reign, unlike the kings who failed you and abused you. And, there will be one who is true incarnate, who is God incarnate, who is Immanuel, God with you. And, his name is Jesus Christ, and he has come. You see, as Paul says, 2 Corinthians 1:20 … For all the promises of God have found their yes and amen in him, in Jesus Christ … every human longing, every want, every human desire that has ever existed … was desiring Jesus Christ. And, now he has come. He has come.

And so, why would we want to convert anyone? Why would we want anyone to experience this new birth, eyes opened to see Jesus? It’s because it’s everything they have ever desired, whether they realize it or not. Everything else will pass away. Everyone else will drop the ball. But, Jesus’ promises are true, and he will never, ever fail us. He says, I will be with you, even until the end of the age. Do you see that parallel? From the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, when they’re wondering, how will God make a presence with us, and they name Immanuel, God with us, and then it ends at the end of his time on earth, and what does he say? I will be with you.

This is the life you have always wanted, it has come in Jesus Christ. But, the question is, we know this, but do we really believe it? Do we really believe it? Because, consider verse 17. I think sometimes when we come to the Great Commission, sometimes we forget verse 17. It says that … when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. Some doubted. How do you doubt when a guy who you just saw get crucified, now standing there with, it seems like holes in his hands, and nothing else, there do you doubt him and go … I don’t, I don’t know if he’s really there. Right? It really happened. But, in fact, they doubt, and in fact, we can look at them and say, how could you doubt him? But, how can we doubt him?

Experiencing this resurrection life, experiencing this new life, experiencing the weight of our sin being removed, experiencing the fact that perhaps we can live forever in joy, and then we still can doubt the very power that saved us. And, that’s an important question, because the way Jesus describes what it looks like to become a follower of him is so total, that it’s actually impossible. Look at verse 18 …

… And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …

You see, you the impossibility of bringing someone to newness of life in baptism. You see, Jesus isn’t just saying here that I want you to just go around and forcibly baptize people. What we saw last Sunday at Easter, when we saw folks going into the water and coming out of the water, Jesus isn’t just talking about only a sacrament. Jesus is saying, there is an act, a sacrament that follows a reality that has, in fact, happened in that person. And, the reality that is happening in that person is impossible without me at work. And, that reality that has happened in their heart, is that now they have said, I will die to the pleasures and life in this world, and hope in this world, and I will go into the judgement waters, and I will enter death before my physical death, knowing that there is one who has gone before me into the grave, and he will bring me, through judgement, into newness of life.

And, what it’s saying there, is there is a power that is true, because I raise the dead from the grave. And, the question is, can we raise or open up anybody’s eyes to see the glory of Jesus Christ? Can we raise anybody from the grave? We cannot. It’s impossible for us to do it in our own power. And then, next, he says in verse 20 … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you … Now, you might be thinking, wait a minute, I thought Jesus was anti-legalistic, right? That Jesus wasn’t about, you know, obeying rules and whatnot. What it actually says in Matthew 5:17, again, in Matthew’s gospel, it says, Jesus says, I did not come to abolish the law and all the prophets, but, in fact, I fulfilled them.

And so, what Jesus says here, is then, that means to obey - by the way, Matthew 5:17, that’s right at the beginning of the beatitudes, and going in to the sermon on the mount. And so, now Jesus gives them a new way of living in his kingdom, and he says, in fact, now you will live out this new way that’s not just by the letter of the law, but it will actually be because you will be filled with my Spirit, and you will have the Spirit dwelling in you that will cause you to want to live in obedience, and you will walk in freedom from sin.

Who of us can fill anyone with God’s Spirit? Who of us can cause anyone to desire to walk in newness of life? Who of us can fill anyone with eternal joy? It’s actually impossible, what Jesus is pointing to, here. It’s impossible. So, if I say, go and make those things happen, it starts to feel a little bit like in that graveyard. It starts to feel like when you walk out into your job, into your neighborhood, into the grocery store, into the gym, wherever it may be, the playground … it seems impossible because it is.

So, before we discuss what Jesus would have you do, let’s dig in a bit there. Because, when we’re sharing our faith, it feels as hopeless as a graveyard, and because of that, we often resort to approaches to making disciples in the appearance of life, but our are actually falling short of the kind of life that Jesus is promising. So, three distorted approaches to making disciples.

II. THREE DISTORTED APPROACHES TO MAKING DISCIPLES (vv18-20)

When we realize how impossible it is - and you may be thinking right now, yeah, I feel this. If I were to just get up here and say, let’s talk about evangelism, and let’s go do it and tell you some stories, and then go do it. As soon as you walk out those doors, you would immediately feel this crushing weight, which is … I feel there’s something here I can’t do. And, that’s actually healthy. Now, want to also bring another healthy element, which is what God is going to do through us.

But, one of the things, is that means usually what happens - at least in my life - is I have two responses, one of two. The first is that I just give up. Now, here’s the problem … the thing that drives me to give up is that I believe that it is impossible to just, for me, to raise someone from the dead. When I give up, I preach to myself the fact that that is something that God is no longer doing. And, the problem is, if God is no longer doing that in others, than it’s only a matter of time before I begin to believe that he’s not going to do it in me. And, that everything I’m doing and saying is a super natural reality of God working in my heart, is actually something that I, in my own power, am doing. And, that’s a crushing reality.

But, the second one is to attempt to convert in my own power. Because, even though I know in the graveyard example, I know that if I say rise, and no one raises, I go - Oh, I know what will make them rise - if I get more eloquent. But, eloquence isn’t going to change it. If I say, let’s get a band in here and have a big party, and I get all my friends and we have a cookout, and I’m like, it’s going to be such a good time, the dead are just going to be crawling out of their graves. Like, can I join? Can I have a hotdog, guys? This is amazing, right? It’s not going to change anything.

But, often, we fall into the belief that those kinds of approaches will do it. And so, here are three distorted approaches, and I think this is important to consider. Because, Jesus says this right before one of the last times he speaks to his disciples, before he’s betrayed, prior to the Great Commission. He says … For many will come in my name saying I am the Christ, and they will lead many astray … This is a sobering statement from Christ. Because, we may not claim to be the Christ but we can offer a false idea of life in Christ when we make disciples in our own power. So, here are three distorted approaches.

Parrot Approach (Convincing the Mind)

The first is what we are going to call the parrot approach, like parrot on your shoulder, convincing the mind. Jesus said to teach them all that I [Jesus] have commanded … Here’s the key, not just our way of thinking. In other words, conversion isn’t just limited to getting people to think and talk like us, to parrot us. But, here’s the thing. We do this, cause often it can look like life to us, if we can just get someone to parrot how we talk, how we think, to use our tribal or theological language. Because, if they are saying the right things, repeating what we say, then they must be born again, right? Not necessarily. They could still be dead.

I know this is going to seem completely goofy, but I can’t help but the picture in my head, just to drive this home, what this is like. Do you guys remember the movie Ace Ventura? It made my childhood. I’m dating myself a little bit, I know for some of you that’s way before your time. But, in Ace Ventura there was this time when he goes up and he punches the Monopoly guy. There was, like, this old monopoly guy and he punches him - and he actually ends up killing him - but he picks up the guy to pretend like he’s not dead, and he puts him on his shoulders, and he dances him around, and he’s talking for him. That’s, many times, what the way that we pursue discipleship looks like.

What we do, is we take people who are dead, and we tell them, just say and repeat after me, and say these words, as if that is enough. And then, we say, do you see this disciple here? They’re dead. It doesn’t matter if they’re parroting what you’re saying, they’re still dead on the inside. Following Christ is about more than mere information, it’s about complete transformation.

Be doers of the word, James says, not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. The outcome of parroting and making disciples by a parroting approach is not disciples of Christ, it’s disciples of us, followers of us, who parrot us, rather than passionately following Christ. Jesus says this, he gives many woes in the last chapter, and he says this … woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. For, you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice a much a child of hell as yourselves. You have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faithfulness. Listen, you can’t intellectually convince someone into new life. They’ll have facts in their head, but no life in the heart.

The next distorted approach is the puppet approach.

Puppet Approach (Colonizing the Will)

Puppet, like puppet on a string, colonizing the will. So, the first is going for the mind, this is going for the will. Jesus says disciples will com from every nation, every tribe, every tongue, every nation, Revelation tells us. Because, God will take every human form of worship, and he will transform it by his Spirit, as he renews the dead and brings them to life where they are in their culture, he will take their cultural expressions and their form of life, and he will turn it to worship him, and bring him glory. And, that means there is no one monolithic way to worship, no one right Christian subculture, but instead of allowing Christ to enter into lives and express himself by his grace, how often do we make conversion about becoming and acting like us?

So, we may not expect them to parrot our thinking, but we do expect them to be a puppet that follows us, to act like us. But, like a puppet can live, move, and have its being only if the puppeteer is pulling the strings, so also can a disciple who is living off the expectations that we have for them for their behavior, they don’t live in the power of the Holy Spirit, they live in the power of our expectations.

And, we do this because it is more expedient to colonize lives with our behavioral expectations than to colonize growth by God’s Spirit. The point of conversion is not to make others like us, it’s to free them so that they’d worship Christ in their own way. Do we shut the door with our expectations of what a follower of Jesus should look like?

The last approach, the party approach.

The Party Approach (Cathartic Emotional Moments)

Conversion is, to new life, not a momentary high. Jesus says, behold, I will be with you until the end of the age. That’s not a moment, that’s not even a season. That’s forever. Jesus says, I will be with you forever. We often, though, think that conversion can come just through a series of emotional highs, just cathartic moments, just moments of a kind of high, and we think if we can just make them feel this high, if we can just make them feel something they haven’t felt before, then they’ll give their lives to Jesus.

It’s like bringing a band into the graveyard, or trying to just have a party. In and of itself, it won’t bring life. Now, listen to me, I am all for parties, okay? I don’t want to be the party pooper - man, Pastor doesn’t like parties. No, I love parties. I’m just saying, you can’t bring dead people to life with a party. We, and that, can’t alone bring the dead to life. Jesus says, woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you clean the outside of the cup and the plates, but inside they are full of greed and self indulgence. Jesus wants to transform the inside, and come make his presence in us, by his Spirit, not leave us endlessly searching for another high.

We are commissioned to go after more than right thinking, right actions, or right feeling. Jesus wants the whole person. And, the only way to see someone truly come alive in Christ is to allow God to do what only God can do.

And so, lastly, the key to true conversion in our day.

III. THE KEY TO TRUE CONVERSION IN OUR DAY (vv18-20)

Here’s the key. We are commissioned, God converts. We do not want to attempt, in our own power, to change a heart. We do not want to attempt, in our own power, to manipulate minds or coerce wills, or just try to manipulate emotions. God is the one who changes hearts, and it leads - when that happens - to true, gospel conversion. Conversion that is rooted in the power of Jesus Christ, rooted in the power of Jesus’ Spirit at work in this world, not rooted in our own power, our own personality, our own persuasion, but rooted in Christ. God opens eyes, God causes new birth, God causes the dead to rise. We can’t do that.

Go back to the graveyard. So, what do I do? If I’m in the graveyard and I realize that they are dead in a grave. Now, of course, the illustration begins to break down here because they’re dead, right? We’re talking about spiritually dead. But, what does it look like at that point? I don’t try to get more eloquent, I don’t try to manipulate, I don’t try to bring in, you know, all the fun gimmicks to try to bring people to newness of life, but what do I do there as I begin falling on my knees and I cry out and say, God, help my unbelief. But, bring life here. I cry out to God, because he is the one, and his power is the power that raises them from the grave, the same power that raised Christ from the grave.

See, while we can affect, we can affect someone’s thinking, we can affect someone’s will, we can affect someone’s emotion, but we cannot effectively change a heart to love Jesus Christ. And, if God gets the heart, the rest will follow. Here’s a helpful way of putting it. Tim Keller, a pastor in New York City, says this …

“What the heart most wants, the mind finds reasonable, the will finds doable, and the emotions find desirable.”

—Tim Keller

You see what he’s saying there? He’s saying, we go for all the other three, but in fact what you want in the Bible, the heart is the seat of the whole person. Think of, like, the steering wheel, the entire person. If you actually allow God to get the heart, all the rest will follow. All the rest will follow. So, how do we point those God has placed in our life to Christ so that their hearts come alive in Christ?

Proclamation & Prayer Approach (Conversion of the Heart)

In scripture, we are given two primary tasks: to proclaim the gospel, and then to pray. To proclaim the gospel, and to pray. And so, let’s look at proclamation for a second. And, I know as soon as I say proclamation, what you start to think is … are you going to give me, kind of, a model for how to share the gospel? Are you going to give me kind of a 1, 2, 3, 4?

And, not that I’m against any of those approaches, I found them very helpful just to start with, hey, there is a God, and he has a plan for your life, he is over your life, and you are sinful, and you are separated from that God, and there’s newness of life and forgiveness found in Jesus Christ, and so respond and come to him. And so, just going through those things, here’s the thing … you want to know the best and most powerful way to learn to share the gospel? It’s to allow God to do a work through the gospel in your life. Let God change you with the gospel. Because, people don’t need us to just share our truth from on high. They need to see that there is one who is true, who is actually on high in our lives.

You can say yes, I know you think that pursuing more, more money, more sex, more achievement, more stuff, more peace in this world will satisfy you. But, trust me, I know, I’ve experienced in this, in that way that Jesus has forgiven me of my sins, that Jesus has fulfilled me, that Jesus has given me newness of life, just sharing how the ways that Jesus has actually changed, how God is at work in your life. Cause, you and I were dead, you and I were lost, in darkness, blind. But, thanks be to God in Jesus Christ. That’s the message of the gospel. Thanks be to God. In spite of our sin, Jesus has saved us and given us newness of life in himself. Not a message that puts us on high, but points to the one who is on high, Jesus.

Think about it. Jesus calls redeemed sinners, like you and me. Think about it. Why doesn’t Jesus just write it in the heavens? Why doesn’t God just make it kind of like a cosmic plane that is flying around? When the sun rises, it’s got one of those banners, like on the back of a plane, you know? And, it just says, Jesus is Lord. And, you’re like, well, I don’t know how to explain that one … must be true. Right? Why does he have us do this? Because, we are as much proof as it gets. That, in fact, that he could take our prideful arrogant selves, broken people like us, and he could turn us into a new creation, and now we have this message to share.

We are the proof, as Peter says, be ready to give a defense, be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within you. The work that God has done in you. To share that. If he could save me from myself, he can surely save you. If he could give me hope, then he can give you hope. If could give a curmudgeon like me joy, then he can give you joy, as well. Don’t make the gospel an abstract series of ideas. But, share how God has forgiven you, how he’s freed you, how he’s given you joy, how he’s at work in your life.


And, second, pray, and ask God to reveal what to say. Because, here’s the thing. So, I said proclamation, second one is prayer.  Because, here’s the thing. Everyone around you is actually seeking to know the Lord. This is how Paul puts it in Acts 17 …

“he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us”

—Acts 17:26–27 ESV

Paul, at this point, is actually talking to a pretty pagan audience. And, he says, do you know that in what’s happening in your life, there’s this cosmic drama that’s playing out in your mundane neighborhood? In your mundane office place, in your ordinary gym, in all these places that we think are just normal, material, mundane passing by moments? What’s happening, is God is at work, and he is causing there to be desires, and men, and women all around us that are reaching, and they are pining, and they’re yearning, and they’re grasping at everything around them, hoping that this next thing will be the thing that will satisfy them. And, they’re just hoping it will be that thing, and they don’t know that it’s Jesus, that it’s God’s glory that they’re searching for. And so, they’re grabbing everything that has a little bit of the taste. It’s as if they’re lapping up cinnamon in the dirt, because there’s just a little bit of the taste in it.

And, God says, do you realize that’s the cosmic drama that’s playing out around you. As Julian Barnes, an english novelist says, he says this, I love it. He’s not a believer. He starts Nothing to Be Frightened of with this …

“I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him.”

—Julian Barnes, Nothing to Be Frightened of

That’s honesty. I don’t believe in God, but I miss him. That’s what’s all around you. Don’t disqualify someone because they live a messy lifestyle. Don’t hold back because it seems like someone has it all together. Listen, all they’re doing is trying whatever it is, is they’re just trying to find Jesus. And, if we’re willing to step into their lives, and we’re willing to say, listen, when you’re grasping for this, and you’re grasping for achievement, and you’re grasping for pleasure, and you’re grasping for security, and comfort, and stuff … I know what you’re looking for, and I guarantee if you sit down and you get to know them, what they’re going to say is yes, because deep down, I’m just dying inside.

This is the drama that’s playing out all around us. We don’t have to give intellectual arguments alone. We pray God would give them the heart to see Christ as reasonable and true. If they throw their lifestyle choices in our face, ask God to make them see the goodness of Christ, his way is fulfilling. Ask God to do that by his Spirit. We don’t have to do that. Sometimes we take on the weight of doing all this. Well, the whole point is, it’s not in our power. In fact, everything Jesus describes here of making disciples is what comes after they have a conversion experience and newness of life. He says, just proclaim the gospel, and then when I do the work of changing their heart, then you follow up, and you baptize them, and you teach them.

We never should have had this idea that somehow we kind of persuade people, and kind of nudge and kind of contort people into the kingdom of God. Jesus changes hearts. We can pray, we can ask the one who is on the throne. And, listen, I know that witnessing, that sharing our faith, all these things, this is the kind of thing that’s nerve wracking, that causes trembling, that causes just this anxiety. And, here’s … perhaps, perhaps that’s a good thing. Perhaps that’s a healthy thing. Because, what we’re doing in that moment, is we’re coming to the end of ourselves, and we’re realizing, God, this is a work that only you can do. And, we’re leaving the power in his hands.

It’s okay to be nervous, because we know at the end of the day it’s God who does the work, not us.

CLOSING

In closing, Jesus said to his disciples ... the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest … See, we live in a day, again, when the defaults and the beliefs are that we are in a secular time, that the harvest is not plentiful. But, that is not what Jesus says. Jesus didn’t say, well, at one point in the future, I get it, there’s going to be the Scientific Revolution and all these things are going to happen, there’s going to be the enlightenment, and kind of the subjective turn to the self, and I know it’s going to get real messy, but, oh man, it’s just going to be a graveyard, not a harvest at that point.

Jesus says it is a harvest, until I come again. It is a harvest, even in a society trending post-Christian. It is trending post-Christian, but I like more the phrase that is gospel haunted. All around us, there is the desire … I miss God. I miss the fact that there is one who is bigger than me, one who can save me. Jesus says, there is a harvest. The problem is not the harvest, but the lack of laborers. While our world does change, the one who can change it does not. And, if we are still here, it is because God is still working, a redemption that we have a part to play in. We are commissioned, and he converts hearts.

The harvest, the graveyard if you want to say, is plentiful. And, we must ask the Lord to give us a laborer’s heart, and a laborer’s mindset so we would see it. Listen, there are six million people. Six million people in the Inland Empire. And, most of them are searching for what we have in Jesus Christ. Right now, they are straining, they are pulling, they are reaching, they are feeling along, just hoping, hoping that the next season, the next thing, the next whatever it is would give them what they have been longing for. And, there are our neighbors. They’re our follow classmates. They’re our coworkers, they’re our family members. They’re the people God has placed all around us.

By Jesus’ authority, you are commissioned, because he is the way, he is the truth, he is eternal life. And, he is going to open eyes, he is going to change hearts. Because, that is what he has always done. He has always, since the moment he walked out of the grave, he has caused the dead to walk out of the grave, from the very moment he first walked out. Don’t miss out, Emmaus. Don’t miss out. Witness the impossible, as God brings the dead to life. He is with you. Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father,

Lord God, give us a laborer’s mindset. Lord, the harvest is plentiful. Lord, help us to see with the eyes of your Spirit. Father, give us eyes to see that all around us the fields are ripe for the harvest. Father, don’t let us sit on our hands and just bemoan that around us it seems like the devil is having his way. But, Father, help us to see where you are at work. Give us a laborer’s heart to see, to want and desire to see the blind see for the first time, to see the lame walk, to see the dead rise. Spirit, empower our witness, and give us boldness, knowing we serve the one who is truly on the throne above all thrones, the king above all kings. It is in the name of our ascended King that we pray, Jesus Christ, amen.


The Wonder of Resurrection-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to blog.

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.”

—Luke 24:1–12 ESV


INTRO
Well, good morning again. My name is Forrest, and I’m one of the pastors, and it is good to be with you on this Easter Sunday. If you’re a guest with us, we want to give you a special welcome this morning. We’re grateful you’ve chosen to be with us, and I believe you’ve landed at a really good place. God is at work in the midst of Emmaus. There are a lot of good churches throughout the Inland Empire and in Redlands. We are by no means the only one. But, you have landed at a good place. God is at work, he’s doing some really good things in the life of this body. And, we just want you to know we don’t want anything from you this morning, we only want something for you, that you would know the resurrection life of Jesus Christ.

So, I recently read a scene from a book that captured my attention. The scene was from a memoir called H is for Hawk, by an author named Helen Macdonald. And, it’s her story, essentially, of loss and grief and a kind of resurrection that comes out of that loss and grief. It details the account of her father’s death, and oddly enough, her attempt to deal with that grief to some degree by purchasing a hawk, and teaching this hawk to fly and hunt. She just thought … this will be a good way to channel my energy in this season of grief.

The scene that caught my attention is of her and a friend in a field in an English countryside, attempting to teach this hawk to fly by command, and to return by command. And, it doesn’t go well. It doesn’t go well at all. I’ve never tried it, by I assume teaching a hawk to fly and return is probably pretty difficult. I just have two really disobedient dogs. So, I’m imagine trying to do that with a hawk would go even worse. So, that’s what happens. It doesn’t go well in the midst of this field, and after much time and effort, they can’t get the hawk to fly at all. So, with much frustration and disappointment, they begin to walk back through the field to the car, and as they’re walking, the weight of her circumstances begin to weigh upon her. She begins to, sort of, inwardly cave under the weight of the loss of her father, the attempt to deal with this grief by putting her energy and her thoughts into this hawk, and that’s not working either. It’s all going terribly, nothing is working, and it seems to her as if death and its effects are winning.

In the midst of this walk back to the car where all of this is happening internally, her friend suddenly stops dead in his tracks and with amazement in his voice, he tells her to look down, and this is what she writes …

“Then I see it. The bare field we’d flown the hawk upon his covered in gossamer, millions of shining threads combed downwind across every inch of soil, lit by the sinking sun, the quivering silk runs like light on the water, all the way to my feet. It is a think of unearthly beauty, the work of a million tiny spiders, searching for new homes, each had spun a charged, silken thread out into the air to pull it from its hatch place, ascending like an intrepid hot air balloonist, to drift and disperse and fall. I stare at the field for a long time.”

See, in that moment, her eyes are opened to a reality that she has been living unaware of. While standing in the field in the midst of grief and the futility of trying to will this hawk to fly, her world felt cold and it felt hostile. But, with a few words, she was reoriented to the beauty of the world around her. How easy it is in the midst of life and a fallen world, and a broken world, to believe that death and disappointment, and frustration will win out in the end. But, this morning, we gather around a word of life. This morning we gather around a word of resurrection, a word that tells us to stop, to look, to see the beauty of the resurrection life. It tells us to look and see death and all its effects may be real, but they are not final. God is at work, bringing life from death, and this life is meant for you, and it’s meant for me. This is the word of resurrection life we have before us this morning.

And so, we’re going to look at our text that I believe the story I just told illustrates well, in three movements. A counterintuitive word we see in verses 1-7, and then we see a contrary belief that comes to the surface in light of this counterintuitive word in verse 11, and then we see this beauty of a concrete hope, the concrete hope of the resurrected life that the empty tomb ensures for all his people. So, before we jump in, let’s pray.

Jesus, we are grateful this morning that you are risen. Lord, that we do not have to seek the living among the dead. You are not there, you are risen. Jesus, we ask this morning that the resurrection life, this word of of resurrection that is an offer to us, your people. Lord, we pray that it would fall upon the good soil of hearts this morning, hearts that are prepared by your Spirit to receive this word of life. Lord, we’re grateful for this truth, and Lord may our eyes be opened to the beauty of resurrection life all around us through the work of Christ. We ask in Jesus’ name, amen.

  1. A COUNTERINTUITIVE WORD (vv.1-7)

So, first, a counterintuitive word. We saw in the first several verses there, verses 1-7, that the story begins where we expect it to. The story begins with Jesus of Nazareth, who is much beloved by his followers. All their hopes, all their dreams are in the person of Jesus Christ. They have walked with him and followed him for three years, and here he is now, crucified, lying in a tomb, or so they think. The women, then, come to the tomb where they saw the body of Jesus being laid earlier - we are told that in the previous verses - so, they go to this tomb, and naturally they come assuming that he remains dead. They come assuming to find the body. And, as was customary, they bring spices to anoint the body, in that time, they would bring spices to honor the body, and put it around and upon the body.

And, as they come bringing these spices as a sign of honor and respect, they get to the tomb and they find the stone rolled away, and no body of Jesus. He isn’t present. Now, notice, their immediate response is not rejoicing. Jesus, we’re told there, has already told them this is going to happen. But, even at the sight of the empty tomb, their first response is not rejoice, it’s not dance, it’s not look, he’s done what he said he would do … in verse 3, it says that they were perplexed. And, if we’re honest, rightly so, right? We understanding that. Dead people don’t become undead, unless you believe in zombies, which I think some of you guys do. Dead people do not become undead. Dead is a permanent state, or so we think.

The best you can do, in the face of death, then, is honor those who have succumbed to it. So, as we read this account this morning, perhaps we might feel the same thing. Death is death, which means from this point, we can honor the life of Jesus, it means we can honor his great teaching and his compassionate healing, and his moral fiber, but he’s dead. The best we can do is hallow his memory by speaking well of his legacy, just as the women imagined themselves called to honor his dead body. In the face of death, that is the most we can do, perhaps we would say this morning, and that’s enough. But, that belief is arrested by a question.

We see this started at verse 4-6 … While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel … It’s fitting for Easter, right? Some of you guys in your dazzling apparel this morning … actually, Matt dropped that joke off to me earlier, I stole it … And, as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”  

Do we get how this question arrests them and us? Everything we think we know about death is challenged in this question. All other explanations for the absent body of Jesus that would fit what we believe about death, his body stolen, Jesus swooned on the cross, didn’t actually die … all of those potential beliefs are taken off the table with this question. All other explanations for the absent body of Jesus that would fit what we believe about death are no longer value in light of this question. Everything we think we know about death.

The explanation for the missing body is simply this … Jesus has risen. He has risen. But, they do not see the risen Jesus in front of them, right? What they have is a word of resurrection. Now, this brings the reality of Easter, perhaps, uncomfortably close to us this morning. Because, what do we have in front of us? We have only a word of resurrection. We would think God might work differently here, right? We would think that perhaps it would just be much easier of Jesus would have walked out into the light of the new day right in front of these women, in all of his glory, it would be fixed. And, we might think this morning it would be much easier if Jesus would appear in dazzling glory right before us this Easter morning, all of these questions could just be settled. But, what scripture tells us is that actually, even for some if he were to appear before them, they would not believe.

What I think we’ll see, is that the resurrection isn’t forcefully obvious, but resurrection and resurrection life is clearly visible. And, I believe it’s clearly visible, at work in the midst of his people, in this particular body, which is why I say you’ve arrived at a good place on Easter morning, because the resurrection life is at work in this body in ways that no man can take credit for, only God can. In the second gathering today, we’re baptizing nine people, from death to life in Christ. Nobody can resurrect people, other than the resurrected Christ. And, he is doing that work in the midst of this body.

Our situation is precisely the situation of the women on that Easter morning. We are given a word of resurrection that seems to counter everything we know to be true about death. Nevertheless, we are given the word, which brings us to the next aspect we see in the text, a contrary belief.

  1. A CONTRARY BELIEF (v11)

So, let’s keep reading here, up through verse 11, starting at verse 8 … And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles … Look at verse 11 ... but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them …

A contrary belief … but these words seemed to be an idle tale, and they did not believe them … Now, again, this seems a logical response, right? It seems logical. The Easter message is that Jesus lives, but our experience teaches us that death is final. It’s the end of the story, and when these contradictory truths collide, it is no surprise that they and we respond as thinking people, and regularly respond with unbelief. Now, here’s the thing about unbelief. Contrary to what we might think, unbelief does not mean we believe nothing, it means that we believe something else more fervently. It doesn’t mean that we believe nothing, all of us, we are believing creatures. We all deeply believe in some narrative of life that gets us up in the morning, and brings us from one day to the next. We all believe something deeply.

So, it means that when we are met with this word of resurrection that counters everything we know to be true about death, it’s not that we just don’t believe that he is resurrected, it is that we believe more fervently in the reality of death and all its effects. And, life teaches us that death is so powerful that even the strongest will be overcome by it.

Many years ago, my grandmother - who was a big influence in my life - my grandmother died. And, I was in California, and she was in Louisiana, and we got news that she was coming into the last few days of her life, and we flew out there to be with her, and be with our family. And, we went to visit her at the nursing home that she was in, and we surrounded her for a couple days, and she wasn’t able to speak, but she was able to hear and understand and she could give facial expressions and smiles and blinks to let us know she was listening. And, what we started to do the second day was, we had different family members, and we’d just clear the room and we’d have time with her one on one, just to speak to her.

And, I knew it would be the last time I would see her, and I knew that these were the last moments I had to express what I wanted to express to her. And, what I felt in that moment was a desperation rising up inside of me, a desperation welling up in me to express to her how valuable her life was. And, that’s a good thing, right? I mean, my grandmother was a character. She loved the Cincinnati Reds, she loved driving really fast in this 1969 Nova that she had. I mean, all the way in to her 80’s, she was cruising in that thing. She loved Days of Our Lives, the soap opera, and she loved cheesecake. That was, like, her world … oh, I forgot, the fifth one was beer. She loved Michelob Light. So, I partook, as a kid, in all of that - except for the Michelob Light.

But, she was a huge impact in my life, a strong believer in Christ. And, I began to tell her what a great grandmother she had been, and I began to recount specific instances and memories I had with her, and I began to tell her about how she did a great job with her family, and how greatly she’ll be missed, but what an impact and a legacy she left. And, that’s a good thing, to just let someone know the impact they had in life. What, as I contemplated after I left - and I knew it was the last time I would see her, I knew she would go to be with Christ - what struck me was this desperation that was welling up inside of me to somehow get across to her that her life mattered. And, I realized that there was something that I was believing about death that was not entirely true, that somehow that this death was going to snatch any meaning from her life, that it was the end of it.

What was underneath it, was this welling up of this desire to help her know that her life mattered, was a belief that death was about to win. And, the reality is for those in Christ, we’re going to see here in a bit, that death has lost its sting. And, she was about to be absent from the body, and present with the Lord in the face of her savior and know joy she had never known in her life. But, I wasn’t living in light of that, and I think many of us, we have to ask that question. Do we believe more fervently that death wins than we do that resurrection life has taken the sting out of death? Do we live and operate with that?

Now, this may be helpful as well. It’s important for us to understand that we have to broaden our view death, then, to more than just the physical loss of life. It is that, but what we see, biblically, is that death has a thousand faces. Vandalism, broken relationships, sickness, abuse, stealing, mental illness, the list could go on and on. These are all faces of death, these are all ripple effects and aspects of death coming into the world. And, no one in this room this morning sits untouched by that reality. None of us. And, as life continues, it becomes easy for death and the thousand faces of death to begin to weigh heavily on us, doesn’t it? As life goes on, it is sure that we will experience the reality of death, and the effects of death in myriad ways.

Some of you, this morning, have experienced it in very deep, and honestly brutal ways, in your life. Some of you have experienced it very recently in the loss of loved ones, and the grief that accompanies that. But, see, when we believe more deeply in death than in resurrection, we begin to inhabit the world differently. We begin to move about and think about and see the world differently when we believe that death wins. See, there begins to be a resistance to anything that feels transcendent or supernatural or resurrection-like. Perhaps when we hear that, it’s just met with cynicism.

Author Charles Taylor had a word for this way of inhabiting the world. He called it disenchantment. And, if you think about it, enchanted is to be filled with delight. And, what Charles Taylor says is, when we begin to inhabit the world in this way, is that we lose the delight of the world. For Taylor, a disenchanted world is a world that has been drained of its awe and wonder, a world where supernatural working and transcendence, and the idea of God are met with skepticism or indifference. And, it’s not in this disenchanted world that there is no room at all for God, or no room at all for the miraculous in this world, it’s just that it ultimately doesn't matter. Believe what you want, but trust what you can see and objectively verify. That is the real world, that is how when we begin to believe that death and its effects are the realest thing in this world, and will ultimately slowly overtake everything, we begin to inhabit the world in this way.

G.K. Chesterton said, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not want of wonders.” This is life in a disenchanted world. It’s a world without wonder, it’s a world without an eye for resurrection life. And, in a world without resurrection, it can feel cold and hostile at times, it can leave us numb and believing that life is a slow surrender to death. We go to work and we’re numb to the reality that God is actually at work in the midst of our doing. We assume it’s for nothing, but this is Easter, so we’re coming out of the grave, right? And, the final point is a concrete hope.

  1. A CONCRETE HOPE (v12)

In verse 12, let’s read 11 and 12 … but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened …

He went home marveling. The Easter message calls us, then, from our old belief, fervent belief in death, to a new belief in resurrection life. It says, open your eyes and see the tomb is empty. And, even though the apostles were convinced that this message was nothing more than an idle tale that death was surely death, for one of the apostles there was a nagging question in the midst of their grief. What if? What if it really is true? What if what he said he was going to do he actually did? What if, in the midst of our grief, in the midst of our loss, in the midst of the reality of death, in all its effects, what if it’s true?

It would be Peter, right? Peter’s always the guy, whether for good or for bad. What if it’s true? If it’s true, it changes everything. That is true for us this morning. If it’s true, it changes everything. See, here we are again, another Easter, grateful for it, again, joining with millions of people around the globe who celebrate the reality of the resurrection. See, we can’t get away from it. With all of the things we talk about with Christianity, with all the things that are thrown at Christianity and its failings, and you can talk about, you know, crusades and Spanish Inquisitions, and you can talk about financial impropriety and scandals in the church, here we are again. I think it’s because we have that same question. What if? What if it’s true?

Those of us who gather here on Easter Sunday follow in the footsteps of Peter. We’ve heard the word that Jesus is alive, and we come to hear and see if it’s really true. And, what if maybe death is real, but not final? What if Jesus is not just past, but present, here in our midst? What if Jesus were to meet us here? So, the question, then, is, how do we experience this resurrection life? If this is true, how do we experience it? How do we step into the reality of the beauty of this resurrection life that this word of resurrection says, stop and look. In the midst of cold, and hostile, broken, fallen world, stop and look and see. There’s an invitation in the gospel. How do we marvel with Peter?

Paul gives us some insight. In 1 Corinthians 15:55-57, which is a long chapter on resurrection, it’s a beautiful, deep, rich chapter on resurrection. Towards the end of it, he says this - and many of us will know this …

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

—1 Corinthians 15:55-57 ESV

See, throughout scripture, sin and death are bed fellows. They’re close. Sin and death, you don’t have one without the other. And, what we see - notice he says specifically - the sting of death is sin, which means, it’s like a bee. When you take the stinger out of a bee, it’s dead. How is this sting taken out? We’re going to see, as one person said, the death of death, in the death of Christ, that takes care, that deals fully with our sin.

See, sin is not a word that we use in everyday language, I get that. But, it is a deeply biblical word. We might, at best, in our normal language, perhaps look at a dessert menu and call one of the decadent desserts sinful. But, other than that, we don’t really use that language in our culture, right? So, it means that often times, if someone uses that word seriously … they’re looked at as sort of a religious fanatic, right? Oh … you’re using sin, not mistake, or whatever word we would want to substitute. But, it’s important that we use this word, because this word has meaning, and it comes with some weight that’s important for us to understand if we’re going to step into and live out resurrection life from day to day.

See, in truth, sin is the oldest and deepest human problem. It’s all of our problems. It’s our deepest problem. So, how are we to understand sin? One theologian says, sin is the vandalism of shalom. Now, I know, you’re going … that does not help, Pastor. I don’t even know what that means. Let’s unpack it really quick.

The English word for shalom is peace, but it’s a deeper, richer, fuller - and the Jewish understanding was this beautiful picture of peace that goes far beyond just sort of the absence of difficulty in life. Cornelius Plantinga Jr. - if your named that, you have to be a theologian, and he is - here’s what he says about shalom …

“In the Bible shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as the creator and savior opens doors and speaks welcome to the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things are supposed to be.”

—Cornelius Plantinga Jr.

This is resurrection life. See, this was life in the garden, and then the fall comes, sin enters in, the wages of sin is death, death enters in, and sin and death become bedfellows throughout our lives. But, the resurrection says that through Christ, we are going to restore what has been lost in the fall. Shalom is coming again in this new heaven, in this new earth, in this new Jerusalem. That’s where we’re headed. That is, truly, resurrection life. So, to say that sin is the vandalism of shalom, it means that sin is anything that breaks peace, that violates peace, that interferes with the way things are supposed to be.

See, the reality is, death is foreign to us. There is a reason why Hebrews essentially says, we live life in fear of death. It’s because it’s this thing that was not meant for us. Yet, when the reality comes, it disrupts shalom, death and all of its thousand faces that we death with. See, the sting of death is sin, which means we have to get to sin to enter into resurrection life. So, here’s what scripture says. We are all sinned against. Everyone in this room has been sinned against, some of you in terrible ways that cause you to believe more fervently in death than you do in resurrection life. In light of the way you’ve been sinned against, you cannot imagine there is another way to live, that there is resurrection life for you. And, I’m here to tell you that there is. There is resurrection life for you.

But, the hard truth is that even though we have all been sinned against, we are all, also, sinful. We have all, also, contributed to the vandalism of shalom. None of us are victims only. We have also contributed to the violation of this peace, and this beauty, and this resurrection life, which is ultimately sin against the creator God.

So, here’s what this means. We cannot enter into resurrection life apart from humility. We cannot enter into resurrection life apart from the bold and courageous recognition, and admitting that we are fully sinners. We have contributed to the violation of shalom. See, here’s the truth, resurrection life begins at the end of ourselves. This is good news this morning. Humility is the best thing for God’s people, because it brings us into this reality. Resurrection life begins at the end of ourselves, because it is there that we trust Christ, who took our sin upon himself. Where does our victory come? … But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ …

And, let me tell you why this should bring so much life and peace to us. Aren’t you tired? Aren’t you tired of trying to resurrect yourself? Aren’t you tired of trying to put yourself out there in a way that makes everyone think that you’re living in the midst of resurrection life? Aren’t you tired of that? It’s exhausting. And, resurrection life says, rest. Resurrection life says, you can’t do it. See, resurrection goes through the grave. We cannot live before we die to ourselves. When we die to ourselves, we come alive to Christ. This is resurrection life.

I come from generations of brokenness in my family. You can trace it all the way back, my grandfather did this work, and it’s, like, divorce, divorce, divorce, even divorce, remarry, divorce, remarry the same people … that’s in my family, too. At this point in my life, I’ve been married 26 years, my kids know Christ, I’m in the midst of a body that God is at work in. How does that happen? I’m a numskull. How does that happen? It happens because of grace, because of the resurrection life of Christ. And, I’m telling you from experience that that resurrection life can be yours. So, the question for us this morning, is will we humble ourselves and transfer our trust from ourselves to Christ? Because, it is here that you will experience the marvel and the wonder of resurrection life. It can be yours. Let’s pray.

Jesus, we are grateful, Lord, so grateful for the life we have in you. God, we do not deserve any of it, but Lord you are good, and you are gracious. And, Lord, while death and all of its effects feels so real to us in this world, and they are, Lord, they do not have the final word. Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, He has risen. Jesus, we are grateful for the beauty and the life we find in our Savior, who conquered sin and death so that we can boldly say death is swallowed up in victory, oh death, where is your victory, o death, where is your sting?

This morning, I pray for those who may be laboring under a fervent belief in death. Lord, may you open our eyes to the beauty of the resurrection, may you open our eyes to the need to humble ourselves in light of our own sin, and our own disruption of shalom, our own sin against you. Lord, may we stop striving and earning. This morning on this Easter Sunday, and in light of this good resurrection word, may we transfer trust from ourselves to you, the resurrected savior. We are grateful that you have offered us resurrection life, that whosoever would come to you, would find it. May we find life in you again this morning. We ask in Jesus’ name, amen.


Content in Christ-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

Philippians 4:10-13, ESV

(10) I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. (11) Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (12) I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (13) I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

INTRO

Well, that was amazing. With all of those kids, no crying, no runners, no one threw up. They were up there a long time. So, these parents are killing it. They are doing a great job. It’s one of the great joys, and it’s really a joyful responsibility we have as a body, that we have so many little ones in the midst of our body. They bring a lot of life to us, and we also recognize, as we just fleshed out, that we have a responsibility to raise them to know and love the Lord. And, this is part of all of our call, if we are a part of the body of Christ. So, we are grateful for that joyful responsibility that we have.

I don’t know about you, but I remember, as a kid, dreaming about the future with utmost optimism. Any of you guys do that as a little one? All the possibilities that were before you were all amazing. Every career was a win. I had a few careers in mind. I’ve shared with you guys before, garbage man was a big one for me as a little kid. I really wanted to be a garbage man. Yeah, I had none of the smells in mind, it was just all good. I got to ride on the back of the truck, cause that’s the way they did it in the old days, and it was - in my mind - was going to be the best career ever. Later, the garbage man dream gave way to being a professional football player. I knew nothing about CTE, nor did I have the skills or body type for a professional football player. But, forget all that, that was a real possibility for me. Or, becoming the bass guitar player for Ozzy Osbourne. Playing Crazy Train on a stage in a stadium full of people, that was a real possibility for me, when I was a little kid … or so I thought.

All of those possibilities were “can’t lose” options. See, there’s a lot of hope attached to an open future. When we believe our future is open, when we believe our possibilities are limitless, there’s a lot of hope in that. So, as a child, thinking about your future is really an exercise in imagination, isn’t it? We have imaginary vacations, we have imaginary jobs, we have imaginary spouses, and imaginary kids, and imaginary salaries, and imaginary lifestyles. All of these things are dreamed up for us when we are children, and the world seems open to this. And, as long as the possibilities are distant and ambiguous, the options are endless.

But, as life progresses, something happens, and the imagination meets reality. So, we choose a mate, and we realize that two people becoming one isn’t just as miraculous as it sounds. It’s not easy. It meets reality. We have these children that we’ve dreamed of, and, well, they’re real children, with all of the things that come along with real children. We land a job, and we discover our career, and we discover why it’s called work. It’s not easy. You commit to a church, and you find out that all these people really do need Jesus … badly. You move into a home, and you discover that Chip and Joanna Gaines have been hiding some things from you. That, behind all that white shiplap, there are rusted pipes, and old electrical wiring. See, our imagination meets reality. And, as life progresses, contentment is truly tested. Eventually, the possibilities that we dreamt about give way to the realities of a fallen world.

In the face of these realities, then, the question becomes for us - the question for us in light of our text, is really this: In the face of these realities, will we look on our life as gracious blessing, or will we look on it as undeserved privation? As if something is lacking in the lot I have in life. Our text this morning brings this question to the forefront for us all, and it brings something all of us long for. We should perk up when we hear, in our text, that Paul says, I have found the secret to contentment. Anybody want that? I do! He says, I’ve found it. I’ve discovered how to abound in little, and in much. And, this morning, the text is going to illumine that for us. So, we’re going to look first at the universal chase for contentment. And then, we’re going to look at the unusual contours of contentment. Contentment may look a little different than we think. And then, finally, we’re going to look at the secret, our union with Christ.

But, before we jump in, let’s pray. Jesus, we are grateful this morning, Lord, that in the midst of the realities of life, in the midst of the fallenness of this world, where we often go about life with deep discontent, Lord, that we have here in your Word, your life giving Word what Paul says is a secret of contentment. Lord, this morning, would you give us ears to hear. Lord, would you help us to lay aside the weights that so easily entangle us - specifically, the weight of discontentment, that we might live into, this morning, our union with Christ. We are grateful for this truth, Lord, that you have given us all we need in this world, to live blessed and content, regardless of circumstance. Lord, we thank you for that truth, in Jesus’ name, amen.

1. THE UNIVERSAL CHASE FOR CONTENTMENT

So, first the universal chase for contentment. There is no human out of the billions of people on the face of the earth, we are all chasing contentment. It is a universal desire that we all have. I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that every person in this room deeply desires contentment in this world. But, contentment is not the natural default setting for us as humans. Not at all.

In fact, we see this in Genesis. Back in Genesis, if you’re familiar with the story, this is a story of God’s creation, and he brings Adam and Eve, he creates them, brings them into being, and they are walking with God in this garden of delight, in perfect fellowship with God. And, this is a … we don’t know specific details, but we know it as absolutely gorgeous, and it had everything they needed for life. And, they could eat of any tree in the garden, except for one. And, that’s what they did. They looked at the one tree they couldn’t have, and they said, yeah, we’re going to have that one. In a garden full of yes’s, the want the one thing they cannot have. Isn’t this all of us, in our universal chase for contentment, that we want those things that we don’t have. We are no different. In a world full of God’s good gifts and abounding generosity, we want the things that are just out of our reach, believing that contentment is found there.

I think if we were honest with ourselves, and we searched our heart in that, we would find that reality at work in us, that though we live in the midst of a country that is full of blessing, we still long for that which is just outside of our reach. The simple phrase, I think the simple phrase, if only, captures the universal chase for contentment. If only … if only I could get X … I would get content. If only I could find a spouse, if only - once we find the spouse - then if only we could have children. And then, once we have children, we realize we need money, a lot of it. And, if only I could get the better job, with the better pay. If only … if only I had more power, if only my circumstances were a little bit different … if only …

But, how often in life do we get the if only’s? How often do we actually take hold of the, and it’s like cotton candy in our mouths? We get ahold of it, and we go … yes, this is what I thought it would be. It’s gone, like that, right? It melts away as soon as we get ahold of it. There’s a book by a Puritan named Jeremiah Burroughs, called The Rare Jewel of Contentment, and I think he captures the reality of this longing, this chase for contentment, and the reason why the things that we long for … if only we had that, when we get it, it melts away … I think he captures why that is. Let’s look at this quote. The language is a little old, but you’ll get the heart of it here.

“My brethren, the reason why you have not got contentment in the things of the world is not because you have not got enough of them. That is not the reason. But the reason is because they are not things proportionable to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God himself. Many men think that when they are troubled and have not got contentment, it is because they have but a little in the world, and if they had more then they would be content. That is just as if a man were hungry, and to satisfy his craving stomach he should gape and hold open his mouth to take in the wind, and then should think that the reason why he is not satisfied is because he has not got enough of the wind. No, the reason is because the thing is not suitable to a craving stomach.”

—Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

See, this chase for contentment, the reason why we lay ahold of the things that are just outside of our reach, and before we know it they’re gone, is because you and I were made for something much more grand. That contentment will only be satisfied in the person and work of Jesus. Now, we’re going to get there in just a moment, but I want to transition, then, to the unusual contours of contentment that we see in our text.

2. THE UNUSUAL CONTOURS OF CONTENTMENT (vv. 10-12)

The unusual contours. I use that word, because this isn’t the way we typically think of contentment, but we see in our text, let’s look at verses 10 and 11, we see in our text four things I want to highlight ...

… (10) I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. (11 ) Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content …

So, four things. First …

Contentment is free from prideful comparison and expectation of others. We cannot be content people, if we are people who go about life with prideful comparison, and prideful expectation of others. Now, reminder here, that Paul is in a Roman prison, writing this letter. He’s in a Roman prison, at the mercy of family and friends, for food. Remember, in the Roman prison, they didn’t provide your needs, you had to depend on those outside to provide your basic needs. So, he’s at the mercy of family and friends, of the church, for clothing and provisions. He’s probably cold and hungry when Epaphroditus shows up.

On the other hand, the Philippians, though they’re not without difficulty, they are in a very different place. They have access to the resources, and some of the luxuries of the Roman Empire, which was expanding at that time. And, we saw a couple of weeks ago that Philippi was a Roman colony. So, they had a lot of what would have been the conveniences and comforts of the day. See, by comparison, those that Paul is writing to, the Philippian church, are living in the lap of luxury, while he is most likely cold and hungry in a prison. And, Paul says of that … I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at length you have revived your concern for me … Rejoiced.

There is a celebration. It could be translated, I’m having a great celebration in the Lord. So, get the contrast here … Paul has planted this church at Philippi. He is now, because of his proclamation of the gospel - which has undermined the rule of Caesar, he finds himself in a prison suffering, and he finds those who have formed this community of faith in Philippi, in a very different place. But, if you notice, he’s not saying, why didn’t you come sooner? You failed me. Why did it take you so long to get here? You hear none of that. No pointing out there failure, but celebrating, not one hint of prideful comparison or expectation.

Now, I use prideful, specifically, because comparison is not an inherently bad thing, right? Paul says, follow me as I follow Christ, or imitate me as I imitate Christ. And, that takes some level of comparison to do that, right? If we’re walking with one another and growing and learning from one another, there is a place where we go, oh, they’re doing that really well, and I don’t seem to be, so I’m going to grow in that. That’s humble comparison. But, prideful comparison is very different. If we’re not careful, pride hijacks comparison. And, rather than seeing others as crucial members of the body with unique callings to live out, they become threats to self glory, or they become failures because they do not contribute more to our glory.

James 3:16 tells us that this type of prideful comparison leads to jealousy and selfish ambition. And, we know this is happening in us when we look at others and we don’t see the grace of God at work in and through them, but we see reflections of ourselves. So, as we look at others, and we look at their place in life, we look at their lot in life, we look at their place in the midst of the body, we immediately don’t see how God is at work in and through them, but we see ourselves in comparison to them. We see our inferiority, our superiority, what we deserve, what they don’t deserve, that they’re getting. So, I think the question in here is … are people mirrors that we see ourselves in, or windows into which we see God’s grace? Because, This is not one of the contours of contentment that Paul highlights here.

So, first, contentment is free from prideful comparison and expectation of others. Secondly, contentment is not dependent on circumstance. Again, we see this in Paul’s letter …

… (11) Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (12) I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance …

Nothing about Paul’s circumstances tell us that he should be content. Nothing about Paul’s particular season of life tells us that he should be content. He’s poor, he’s infamous, he’s probably not healthy, he’s definitely not looking his best. He’s sitting in a prison. Nothing about him says contentment. Yet, he says … not that I am speaking of being in need … and you go, what? Not … if you’re not in need, who is? But, Paul says, I have no need, even in this situation. This is a guy I want to learn contentment from, right? This is a guy who has something to teach us.

See, the reality of our culture, is the American dream is a carrot on a stick. It’s held out in front of us, and we chase it with everything we have, believing that if somehow we can lay hold of it, that we will finally be content. But, in the words of Ecclesiastes, it’s chasing after the wind.

See, the truth is, the hard truth is, if we are not content now, we never will be. If we’re not content single, we will not be content married. If we’re not content in school, we won’t be content in our career. Now, why? Because, all of our hopes and dreams are placed in something that is fleeting, that ultimately cannot handle the weight. It is some aspect of creation that cannot live up to the expectations.

See, here’s the truth that I think we get to with Paul. Contentment is not a destination. Contentment is a mode of travel. It is a way of moving throughout the world. It is a way of moving from one season of life to the next, from one circumstance to the next. This is an unusual contour of contentment, that it is not a destination. And, we tend to treat contentment in the West as if it is a place that we arrive, and it is not. It is an attitude of the heart, it is a mode of travel in the midst of a fallen world, a fallen world that God is redeeming.

Third, contentment is a battle in both the highs and lows of life, in both of those, facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. One paraphrase says, I have learned now to cope with having too much. We don’t tend to associate being discontent with having too much, right? We associate a discontent with having too little. But, here, Paul is saying … I’ve learned how to be content, even when I have too much. The truth is, the basic truth is, the more we have, you can probably finish this sentence … the more we want. The more we have, the more we want. That’s what the discontented heart says. This is a basic truth of economics, right? That, employers know that when you give pay raises, the requests are coming for more time off, because as we get more, we want more. This is a discontent heart.

John D. Rockefeller, the oil tycoon, widely regarded as the richest man in American history … people don’t know how much he was worth. I read anywhere from 200 billion in today’s standards, to 24 billion. It doesn’t matter. Once you get into the B-billions, you’re just in another world, right? Anyway, the man had a lot of money, a lot of money. And, he was asked the question, famously, how much money is enough? And, his answer was, just a little bit more.

See, this is the lie of the discontent heart. It’s always just a little bit more. I need just a little bit more. There’s a prayer in Proverbs that I think captures the contented heart. Proverbs 30:8-9 …

… Remove far from me falsehood and lying;

   give me neither poverty nor riches;

   feed me with the food that is needful for me,

(9) lest I be full and deny you

   and say, “Who is the Lord?”

or lest I be poor and steal

   and profane the name of my God …

How many of us have prayed that prayer? See, that’s a prayer of contentment. That’s a prayer that only could be prayed with a contented heart. So, we need to remember, as people who live, perhaps, in the wealthiest country the world has ever known, people who have, if we’re just absolutely honest on a worldwide scale, the very top percent of wealth in the world. If we’re sitting in this room, most likely, that is true of us. Can we pray that prayer? Lord, give me neither poverty nor riches. That’s the prayer of a contented heart. So, another contour of contentment is, it’s a battle in both the highs and lows of life.

And the, finally - and this will lead us into the final point - contentment is learned over time. For those of us that are impatient, that’s hard, right? I want contentment now. I think we can have a measure of it now. I think, though, what Paul is saying, cause he specifically uses that language, in verse 11 …

not that I am speaking of being need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, I know how to abound in any and every circumstance. I’ve learned the secret of facing plenty, and hunger …

Learned, there, in the original Greek, is a word that tells us that it was not an epiphany. It wasn’t a moment, but it was a growth over time. It was something Paul learned over a long period. Now, this is going to bring us to our final point. So, how do we learn contentment? Paul said, I learned the secret to contentment.

3. OUR UNION WITH CHRIST (v13)

And, our final point is this, and we’ll unpack what it means to learn about this contentment. The secret is union with Christ. Verse 13 is the secret, so … I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need … and, here comes the secret … I can do all things through him who strengthens me …

Now, you may hear this as one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, right? We hear it with professional players after they won the game … I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me … we hear it in positive thinking land, when we’re going after … whatever we’re going after. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. And, in some sense, when the, you know, Christian football player says … yeah, I just did it because I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, he’s not wrong in that. I don’t want to just bash that. There’s some dependency there. But, it’s not the context, right? The context of … I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me … is contentment. It’s all about contentment. The all things points back to any and every season. So, in any and every season, I can be content through Christ.

Sam Storms, a theologian, unpacks this, I think, in a helpful way. He says …

“When he says it is ’through’ Christ he doesn’t mean merely that Christ is the instrumental cause. Paul is referring to his life ‘in’ Christ, his daily existence in loving and trusting intimacy with Jesus who enables him.”

—Sam Storms

So, he’s speaking of this beautiful doctrine of union with Christ, that brings much life to the believer. So, Paul’s language here, though, it’s written over against near eastern philosophy, and, particularly, stoicism. There is a very strong stream of stoic thought in Philippi at this time. See, to the ancient Greeks, Greeks’ contentment was the ultimate virtue. It’s what they sought. It’s what they desired. Socrates was asked, who is the wealthiest? And, he said, “He is richest, who is content with the least. For, content is the wealth of nature.” For content is the wealth of nature.

Seneca, a stoic philosopher right around the time of Paul, writes probably about a decade before the Philippians, but this thought carried into Paul’s time. He writes, “The happy man is content with his present lot, no matter what it is, and is reconciled to his circumstances.” So, the point, is that this language that Paul is using of contentment is well known to all the Philippians. It is on the front lines of philosophical thought in his time. And, part of that, it was bolstered because there was a movement by the stoics in reaction against, sort of, the opulence of the Roman empire, which many people would say America would be the modern day Roman empire. It said that contentment is found in self sufficiency. In other words, they said, contentment is found in and of myself.

So, Paul picks up on this language, but he turns it on his head. He says, I can do all things - not in and of myself - but I can do all things through him. He says, contentment, this contentment, this universal chase for contentment, is found not through self sufficiency, but through dependency, right?

If we take ourselves back to the garden, that we talked about in the beginning. If you remember, there was a warning that came along with being disobedient to God, in the garden. And, what was that warning? That death would come. Right? So, it might be said of humanity, in light of this overarching biblical truth, that we, all humans, are deserving of death. I know that’s hard, in our culture, but this is the reality of what scripture teaches. But, listen to the good news of it … what do we then deserve? Nothing. In light of what scripture teaches about anthropology, about who humans are, and how we’re wired, and how we function, we don’t deserve anything. Therefore, everything we have is mercy. It’s grace.

So, Paul gets this. Paul, who calls himself the chief of sinners. We were joking about that this morning. We all could rival Paul in that, right? We all could take that title. Paul, who saw himself as the chief of sinners. How is he so content as he sits in prison? Because, he realizes that anything he has, his next breath is a gift. It’s mercy. It’s grace. It’s not deserved, it’s not merited, it is God’s goodness.

Then, we begin to dig into the reality of how we arrive at contentment. See, stoicism … I should say this, before I go on. Perhaps the key to contentment, one of the keys to contentment, is having a right view of self. A view of self that says … though we are created in the image of God, and therefore have worth and value and dignity, we have all of that … everyone in this room has that … that, though we have those things, we are not deserving of anything we have in this life. See, that foundational understanding gives us a posture of moving about in the world that we talked about earlier, that understands contentment is not a destination, but it’s a way of living. It’s a way of moving about, because we understand that all that we encounter, every smile, every handshake you had this morning in the passing of the peace, was a gift of grace. Underserved. The lunch you’re going to have when you leave here, gift of grace, undeserved.

When we begin to move through life in that way, we can’t help but for the reality of contentment to take ahold of us. See, stoicism said, let go of your desires - kind of similar to Buddhism today. Just, the way you kind of reach that place you’re longing for, is to get rid of all desires. But, here’s what we see. Paul says, no, you were created with desires to reshape the world, and those desires are good. Right? That’s joining with God, and making all things new. These desire to reshape the world, to bring justice, to see people come to this place of contentment in Christ, those a good desires. Don’t lay those aside. But, use them in service to Christ. Put them in King Jesus.

So, it might be said, that I can do, or translated … I can do all things in him who strengthens me. That would be a valid translation, as well. In him who gives me strength … a living union with the creator of all things. Paul says, this is the secret to contentment, that when we live into that union, into that reality, you will be a contented person.

So, speaking of this truth of being united to Christ … but what is that? What does it mean to be united with Christ? Now, there have been hundreds of thousands, millions of pages written about this. So, there’s no way we’re going to be able to fully unpack it. But, I want to kind of, maybe get to the crux of it. So, I’m going to give us four quick things. What does it mean to be united with Christ? There are scriptures there next to them, I’d encourage you to write them down, look them up. They’re also in the app, in the notes on the app.

So, what does it mean to be united with Christ? First, it means that everything we need and lack is found in Christ. You can see Ephesians 1:3-14, where it says … we have every spiritual blessing in Christ … Secondly, it means that Christ is always with us, and he will never forsake us. Hebrews 13:5-6 tells us, specifically, connects that. It says … Be content with what you have, for [or because] he will never leave you, and he will never forsake you … There’s a direct connection between union with Christ and our contentment. And, specifically, this aspect, that Christ will never leave us or forsake us. Third, we are in Christ, who is all sufficient. Colossians 2:9-10 says that … we have been filled in him … We are filled, satisfied, completed in him, content in him. And then, finally, the all sufficient Christ is in us. Galatians 2:20, where it says … it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

This is the crux of union with Christ. There are many more aspects to it. But, how, then, do we move from mental ascent, to these truths, to having these truths work down into our bones so that we can be content people? How do we do that? Because, here’s what I find we do with this truth. We tend to intellectually stiff arm it. So, in other words, we hear these truths, and some of you are very theologically minded. You’re already kind of picking it apart, like, are these really the four aspects of union with Christ? Right? You’re already trying to break it down.

But, here’s the reality … when we’re theologically driven, we’re really comfortable with stiff arming the experience away from us intellectually, right? Where we just go, oh, this is what I understand, I get it, I know this .. Berkhof’s systematic says this about it .. And, again, that’s great. I’m being a little cynical, I apologize. But, this is why we don’t experience the reality of union with Christ as a way of being in the world.

So, how do we work this down into our bones? Well, we know that it’s through Word and through prayer, right? We immediately, like … well, pray and read the Bible. But, how do we - absolutely, I amen that - but, how do we really work it down into us? This week, in our Lent guide, the spiritual discipline is contemplation. It’s to think upon these beautiful truths that scripture illuminates to us. See, for us to work these truths down into our bones so that we are people who go about life contented, we have to be people who contemplate these truths.

Here’s what the Lent guide says this week about contemplation. “Contemplation is about waking up and becoming fully present in the now, inviting ourselves into the moment, with hearts alive to what is happening. It is not just thinking about or analyzing a person or event, but rather to see life with the gospel lens of faith, hope, and love. Contemplation slows us down, so that we seek God and the meaning he’s woven into our days and years, so that our experience of his sovereign hand in our lives deepens and grows until we awaken to his presence in every moment.”

Does that describe you? Does it describe me? Are we people who go about life in this world, in that way, deeply believing, contemplating, considering, praying these beautiful truths of scripture that root us and ground us in contentment in every season of life? I’ve shared with you guys, recently, probably more than I should - or more than you want to hear - about our house flooding, my son’s place flooding outside, about a month ago. He lives in a refinished garage, and we went in during that crazy rain we had on Valentines day, and everything was soaked. The carpets, we had to rip it all out, rip out all the sheetrock. And, when we were outside during the day, it was leaking really badly, and we couldn’t get it to stop. We literally tried everything. I’m almost embarrassed to tell you everything we tried. But, we were afraid it was just going to flood the entire thing, and we were going to have to rip it all apart. We were trying to keep it contained to one specific room.

So, we go outside in the midst of the rain, and we start digging up the foundation, digging around the foundation, excavating the foundation by hand. It’s raining, it’s cold, I’m in a bad mood, and in the midst of it - and let me tell you, I’m not doing this to set myself up as the hero, because this is, unfortunately, not enough of the norm in my life. But, in the midst of it, I found myself - we found the issue, or one of the issues. This root had grown into the foundation, cracked the foundation, we found where the water was coming through, we ripped up the root, we started to fix it, and I found myself in the midst of it saying, Lord, thank you that we have abled bodies to do this. Lord, thank you that we needed some concrete - and I didn’t have any concrete - and I went to my neighbor and he had concrete, and he gladly gave it to us. And, I found myself saying, Lord, thank you that we have a generous neighbor. Thank you that you’ve given us the wisdom and resources to deal with this problem, now. We don’t deserve any of it.

Now, that’s mundane - and I’m purposefully using something that feels mundane - but, in the midst of a moment where I wanted to do everything opposite that a pastor should do, I had to dig in and remind myself of what I have in Christ. Lord, thank you for your wisdom. Thank you for the grace that is the ability to grab these shovels and do this work, and still be able to move tomorrow … thank you, for that - though, not very well, the next day … we didn't move very well. But, thank you, we don’t deserve any of it.

See, this is the secret to contentment. I can do all things through Christ, in Christ, who strengthens me. I began the sermon by saying that, as children, early in life we experience the blissful hope of an open future that often gives way to discontentment in the face of reality. The greater truth, in light of Paul’s words here, the greater truth is that those who belong to Christ, we experience a sure hope, both now and in the future, that leads to deep contentment in every season. See, contentment is yours this morning, if you desire it, because you are in Christ, and he is in you. Let’s pray.

Jesus, we are thankful for this truth, that we are united to Christ, that we are in you, and you are in us. Lord, our minds cannot fully even fathom it. But, Lord, would you make us people - not just who analyze these truths intellectually - to keep them at a distance. But, Lord, would you make us people of contemplation. Lord, would you make us people who lean in, in every season, to the truth that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Lord, I pray for those, this morning, in particularly difficult circumstances. Lord, we are grateful that contentment is not based upon circumstances alone. It’s not an arrival, but it’s a way of being. Lord, would you give all of those, this morning, who need that grace, would you point them to the finished work of Jesus on their behalf, again. Lord, because, it is in you, the very thing that we desire, Lord, is contentment, and it is in you that we are found fully at peace, and fully content. Lord, as we come to the table this morning as your people, bring us to this truth again, we ask in Jesus’ name, amen.


Guarded in Christ-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to blog

EMMAUS REDLANDS SERMON TRANSCRIPTION

PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS

SCRIPTURE READING

PHILIPPIANS 4:2-9

2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

INTRO

Well, good morning. It’s good to be with you. My name is Matt, and I am the pastor for Equipping here at Emmaus, and we are continuing our series in Philippians, and we are in this final section of Philippians, where we are looking at, what does it look like to experience life in Jesus Christ? And, if you were here last week, we were looking at the previous section here in Philippians, especially verses 20-21 of chapter 3, and we saw that part of finding this life in Christ, is living as citizens of heaven, and being transformed into the image of Christ. And, we went and we actually read straight through Revelation 4-5, and we looked at this future picture that is already ours in Christ. And, we celebrated these things, and we looked at how Paul is bringing the Philippian church to this kind of mountaintop reality, and experience of what they already possess in Jesus Christ. And, the fact that one day heaven will descend to earth, and all things will be made new.

And now, today, he brings us back down to earth. And, he goes immediately into this conflict, as he comes back down to earth in verse 2. And, you may be wondering as you read it, man, why is Paul such a downer, man? Like, he gets up there, and then he brings us right back to this conflict. What is going on? Well, one way we can put this, is that Paul has been focusing the Philippians on this … what… this reality that is true because of what Jesus Christ has accomplished. This transformation, this reality that Jesus is making all things new, this what… he says, focus your eyes there.

But then, he says, the number one that that will thwart experiencing that what… the number one thing that will cripple the church, and take their eyes off of that reality, is our conflicts over the how. The how of how we live out that reign of Jesus, the how of our different ideas, of what it looks like to follow Jesus, instead of focusing and uniting over what is true, because Jesus reigns, we often divide over how to live out Jesus’ reign. And, Paul says, Satan loves to use that diversion of our focus to steal our hope, and to completely zap us of all of our passion for the gospel. Channeling it, instead, into seething anger at one another, and a life riddled with anxiety.

So, today, we’re going to look at that. We’re going to look at how we keep our focus on what Jesus has done in order to guard us from simply just beginning to fight over the how’s, forgetting the messiah, and focusing, instead, on – you could say – the methodology. And so, we’ll look at why the how so often takes over the what.And then, we’ll look at two habits that will guard us from going that way. Before we do, let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the realities that are in this text that Paul is pointing us to. The fact is, that what Jesus has accomplished on our behalf is really beyond our full comprehension. And, so often, instead of turning to you and looking to Christ, we turn, instead, making him an idea, and turning instead to just the practical ways that we can try to live that out. And so, Father, we ask today that you would help us to see Jesus clearly, and what you have accomplished in Christ, and so that, Father, we would cherish him. And that, from that, the how’s would take care of themselves. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

I. WHY THE HOW TAKES OVER THE WHAT (vv2-3)

Well, why the how takes over the what.Now, what’s interesting in this, in verse 2, Paul addresses these two women in the church. And, he’s telling them to agree in the Lord, because there’s some kind of conflict that has arisen between them. Now, at the same time, what’s interesting is, Paul doesn’t tell us exactly what these leaders – these women were leaders in the church, influential in the church – what exactly they were fighting over. But, we do know that, in some ways, we could say the issue we know isn’t some, like, horrible moral issue. Because, Paul tells them to agree in the Lord. In other words, one of them is probably not having an affair with the other one’s husband, right? We can probably rule that out, because Paul probably wouldn’t just say … agree in the Lord, right? We also know it probably isn’t because of how Paul has addressed wrong thinking, bad theology, heresy in the church. Paul will directly address that. And so, most likely, this isn’t some issue of heresy in the church either, because Paul, again, would not just say … agree in the Lord, because they wouldn’t understand who the Lord is.

And so, this is something else. And, what it seems like – because, the details here seem to be about their previous ministry together – it seems that these two leaders are fighting over how the church should go about being the church. Different ideas, different methodology, different approaches. This is why, again, the only detail we have is that they’ve labored side by side in the gospel. So, while in the past the what that Jesus has accomplished bonded them, they had their eyes on Jesus, they saw, as Paul says, that their names are written in the book of life, they saw that Revelation 4-5 vision. And, that’s what bonded them, that’s what gave them passion, that’s what united them in mission, and in ministry together. But, now they are fighting between themselves over the how, over the methodology, over where they put their energy and focus. And, Paul knows soon, the problem is that it will not only divide them, but it will divide the church, and it will ruin the church’s witness to the gospel.

Now, these women, again, were important leaders in the church. Their example mattered to those in the church. As the African proverb says, “When elephants fight, it is the grass the suffers.” It’s helpful, huh? And so, you can imagine as they’re fighting, it’s only trampling those around them, and Paul knows it. And so, their actions are beginning to take the church’s focus off of what Christ has accomplished. The gift of salvation that is theirs, what unites them as sisters in Christ, and they’re quibbling over how, and of different opinions on how to proceed.

And, I think it goes without saying that this wasn’t just a problem in Paul’s day. It is a threat in our day, as well. Throughout church history, this has been an issue. And, one of the things, is that it’s kind of counter intuitive, because I think this happens, actually, in a way that we don’t expect it. We assume this only happens – if you think about it, if I said, a church is going to end up quibbling and dividing over, kind of, the methodology and the how’s, you would probably immediately assume that, I don’t know, it’s an unhealthy church, you know, they have bad theology, they have poor structure in their church, they have all kinds of those problems.

But, actually, this tends to happen in churches with very strong theology, very high biblical convictions, just like the church at Philippi. It goes something like this … God raises up a group of people, who take hold of what Jesus has done, who live as citizens of heaven with strong convictions about the word of God, strong convictions about what it means to follow Christ, and that our lives should be given to God, we should be walking in obedience to Christ. These are all good things. In churches like this, things go well, very well, especially for a season, until a subtle shift begins to happen. And, this is a shift that’s seen throughout church history, this dynamic. As solely God’s way, we have these high convictions, this is God’s way, I see it here, some principles here in scripture. And then, we kind of figure out a way to live that out practically.

But then, God’s way becomes our way. And then, our way slowly becomes the way, and the only way. Our modes of worship, our methodology, our way of doing ministry, our way, becomes the way to worship. Our methodology becomes the methodology. Our approach, becomes the approach. Instead of it being a way, it becomes the way, and we begin to judge when this takes hold, all other groups with an air of spiritual pride, and begin to look down on others.

And see, the problem is, when that happens – and, again, this only can happen where there’s a high conviction – it’s a counterintuitive reality, which is, then, if you think about it, this is how Satan can make an inroad. You get all your thinking lined up, and you get it straight. And, it’s at that point that it has to filter through your heart, and move into your hands, that Satan seizes that opportunity, and he makes sure that he just takes it a little bit off course, in the trajectory, and spiritual pride enters in. And, what happens, is – see, in a healthy church, what happens is, discipleship happens, and discipleship is just a term that comes out of the Bible, that means that you’re going to be formed as you follow a specific way. You’re going to be changed, and you’re going to become like who you follow.

And, in healthy churches, what happens is as we have someone we follow, who disciples us – we follow Jesus, ultimately – and, eventually, we become more and more like Jesus. We become more, and more mature, like those mature disciplers that we’re following. But, in a church like this, what happens is this poison is discipled into us. And, what happens is, Paul knows this, that slowly, it makes its way, not just our way, but it becomes my way. And, my way, becomes the way, over and against your way. And, what Paul knows, is that Philippi starts with a high conviction around the gospel. And, in these two leaders, as time as gone on, what has happened, is it has become our way, which is the way. And, somewhere along the way, it became my way against your way, and it’s tearing the church apart.

It threatens to tear the church apart. Over and over throughout church history, this is why great tragedy of church history is that rival is almost always followed by schism, and by divisions. The church at Philippi had experienced renewal, because they took hold of what Jesus had done for them. But, as so often happens in at least these two leaders, it was leading to a schism, to division. Why? It’s simple, but it’s profound. Because, they lost their focus on the what and they began focusing on the how.

And, this could easily happen to us as well. Our hearts become cold towards what Jesus has done, and while burning with white hot intensity over opinions over what we should be doing. And, there’s nothing wrong with having a white hot intensity, just to hear me clearly, with about what it means to follow Jesus, how we should follow Jesus. The problem is, is when that takes the place of a love for Jesus, and a passion for Christ.

Now, I want to spend – because I think Paul jumps in right here – to two practical habits that help guard us as a people, each of us individually, and as a church from ever going down this road. But, first, I just want to make two quick clarifications, and the first one is this: this isn’t just a problem for leaders. This is not just a problem for leaders. This is a heart issue for everyone in the church to guard against, because we are all called to lead, to lead and serve the church forward with the gifts that God has given us. And so, this applies to all of us. Because, all of us are going to be called to take the what that Jesus has done, and work that out, in some way, in a local body of Christ.

And so, this applies to all of us. This is why, right after addressing Euodia and Syntyche – say that 10 times fast, right? Paul says, in verse 3, essentially, church, help them to focus on Jesus. He says, my true companions, help them to focus on Jesus. In the Greek, sometimes they translate yolk fellows. He’s saying, those of you who are bound together, who are yolked together in Christ, understand that this applies to you as well. You are one with them. And so, I’m not just saying this to publicly humiliate them, to kind of brow beat them so that they’ll just stop their bad behavior. But, I’m saying this because I want you to see it, and I want you all to see that this is something that lurks right under the surface in all of our hearts. Because, there is a lion who prowls around looking for someone to devour.

So, this applies to every single one of us. He’s saying, you know this when you see it. You know it’s ugly, you know it’s graceless, and it doesn’t look like Jesus, does it? We all know this, yet he’s saying, before you only look across the aisle or you look across the lobby, and you think about that person, I hope they’re listening right now, take a moment to look in the mirror. Take a moment to look in the mirror and ask yourself, are there places where now, I am more passionate about my opinion about how the initiatives the church should take, how the church should operate, more so than Jesus?

So, the first clarification, again, is that this applies to all of us, not just leaders. The second, is this: that Paul is not saying, how we live, how we do ministry, our methodology as a church, isn’t important. I just need to pause and say that. It is very, very important. In fact, I should actually say here, my title is Pastor for Equipping, and largely what I do, my role at Emmaus, is thinking how we navigate our changing cultural times with theological fidelity and whatnot. A lot of the strategy and the practical thinking is something I do every single day. And, I love doing it. It is vastly important that we think about this. The issue becomes when it becomes the main thing.

You see, as a church, we must keep in focus what Jesus has done. That should be our main focus, that should be our driving passion, that should be what draws us together, and what unites us, not just some kind of methodology or practical way of going about things, but the fact that we are all brothers and sisters, as Paul says, who have our name written in the eternal book of life. And, that’s not a threat. All of our names are in there, and that’s not a threat to us, because one day we will be united forever in God’s presence, and that is the source of our joy. And, none of us, when we get to heaven, are going to go … this isn’t how I would do it, right? So, you don’t want to be that guy. You don’t want to be the guy who gets there and goes … I have a suggestion … that I think you’re wrong.

And so, the issue is – and in fact, think about it – if we lose focus, if we leave Jesus behind, what is the point of being a church? What is all of this? What are these buildings? What are the things that we’re doing? What are the songs that we’re singing? What are the things that we’re tithing towards, that we’re investing in, we’re giving our time and our talent and our treasure to, if it is not Jesus? If it is not the gospel? And so, Paul says, always keep that front and center, or else, if it happens that you just orient around just methodology, then what happens is the church has nothing to witness to, except a bunch of strong willed, opinionated people. And, the church … well, I’m not going to say it … the church doesn’t need any more of that, okay? I said it. I said it, I said it, to he who has ears let him hear. And, if that’s the case, then the issue is, that what we began in the flesh, we will have to continue in the flesh. Because, the growth that will happen, will only be around what man is able to do, and it won’t be rooted in the beauty, the eternal reality, the divine power, entering into this world, in Jesus Christ.

And so, again, Paul is not saying that how we do things is not important, it is. But, Paul has summed this up elsewhere, very well. He says this – you probably know this passage from 1 Corinthians 13. He says …

… If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing …

The things he lists there, that is a very robust ministry resume, very robust. Prophetic gifting, good teachings, strong faith, sacrificial living. All good things, but he says they’re nothing, nothing if it’s not filled with the love of Christ, if what is more important is not what Jesus … the what that Jesus has accomplished on our behalf. Because, Jesus is more of our ideas about him, Jesus is more than a methodology. Jesus is the messiah who lives and breathes in us, and among us. And, if I want to know him, if we want to know him, we have to be a people with habits that soak our hearts in what Christ has accomplished on our behalf.

And so, Paul is going to give us two habits. Now, I wanted to say something. These two habits are going to sound simple, and they are simple. Yet, at the same time, the results, if we have these habits in our life, are profound. Profound. And, if we fail to do them, the results will be profoundly disastrous. If we practice them, the results will be profoundly redemptive.

I remember, just as a way to give a little bit more of a push on this, I remember when I started seminary – so that’s, like, where they send pastors to become really arrogant … No, I’m just kidding, sorry. No, where they train pastors to learn, you know. Anyways, when I want to seminary – that’s the problem seminary can become. When I first entered seminary, there was a first class that I had, and I just got married a month earlier. And, it was a class called family and ministry, and the professor walked in that day, and he said, listen. This is a class about how to practically be thriving parents, and having a thriving marriage in ministry, and how your family kind of joins you in ministry. And he said, listen, if you can get into grad school, you should have no problem getting an A in this class. It’s going to be really simple. He said, but if you don’t take what we learn here and actually apply it to your life, he said, you’ll be calling me in 10 years, asking me, where did my family go?

Sometimes, the most simple truths are the most important and profound, yet so hard to apply. And so, again, these are going to sound simple, but at the same time, they are profoundly redemptive when they are at work in our life.

II. HABIT #1 | THANKSGIVING BEFORE THE FATHER (vv.4-7)

So, here’s habit #1: thanksgiving before the Father. Paul says … rejoice in the Lord, always, I say, rejoice …in verse 4. Now, in all the complexity, Paul says, in all the pressures and all the concerns and all the conflicts of life, Paul says, rejoice. Now, you might be wondering to yourself, how can Paul say that? I mean, if you think about it, life throws a lot of stuff at us that doesn’t exactly prompt rejoicing, right? But, Paul says, in everything and always– later he’s going to say everything, here he says always rejoice, later he’s going to say, in everything, be thankful.

And so, you may be asking, really? In everything? When I get into an argument with my spouse or my boss, really? And, Paul would say, is that, does that fall under the banner of always and everything? And you would say … yeah. And, he’d say, yeah, yeah, rejoice. Right? He said, always to rejoice.

Now, the question is, how can Paul say that? In all seriousness, how can Paul say that, as a blanket statement, to always rejoice? Paul can say rejoice always, because of what Jesus has done. Paul can say rejoice always, because of what Jesus has done. He has reconciled us to our Heavenly Father. This is why, if you read, then, in verse 6, this is why he says …

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be known to God …

See, Paul doesn’t just say, you know, kind of, when you have a problem, kind of let it be known to the universe, or just kind of think happy thoughts, or just maybe go and kind of have a cathartic moment on social media and rant about it, or just kind of talk about it, talk it out amongst yourselves. This isn’t just, kind of, sentimental, kind of flippant advice. But, Paul is rooting this in Jesus, what he’s just said is true in Jesus. And what he’s saying is, no, no matter what it is, we can go to someone. You can always rejoice, because you can always go to someone who is there, and someone who is able to do something about whatever it is in your life. And, as Paul says in verse 7, there is no greater peace in the universe than that. There’s no greater peace than to know that the God of the universe is there, and because of what Christ has accomplished, we now can enter into his presence.

Before this morning, we were praying for those of us who are in the band and whatnot up here, and we were praying, and just the reality was weighing down on me, and I think on the room, that we are about ready to walk into the presence of a holy God, and how dare we. We can, and we rejoice because Jesus has granted us access, and he’s gone before us. And, that is always true. Nothing can take that away.

At the same time, let me illustrate this, cause I think this is kind of hard for us to live. My daughter, she’s 5 now, she does something that I used to do as a child. Do you ever have that, if you have children, and you’re like … oh, jeeze, there I am, right? And, when I was a kid, I was very intense, and any time I would try to do something, I would be like … grrrr … and I would just, like, break things. Like, I can’t blow up this basketball so I’ll just, you know … stab a sharp stick into it. That should solve my problems.

My daughter has the same intensity, and so she’ll especially be, like, let’s say building a Lego castle or something. And, she’ll try to actually build these really elaborate designs. I’m like, that’s pretty impressive, honey, I can’t do that and I’m 34 .. But, she’ll get so far into it, and she gets stuck, and you’ll just hear from the other room … aarrrghh ... and she gets really frustrated. And so, we’ve trained her, my wife will kind of give me that, like … this is where you understand her, and I don’t understand what’s going on, right? Cause, it’s you. She’s your child. And so, I go in there, and say, honey, we’ve tried to teach her, you know, you can call out to us and ask for help. Like, when you hit these roadblocks, like, come to us, we love you. We want to help you, we want to help you get to that next level. I want to help you figure out the Lego thing, and go to the next level up ones. But, we love you, we’re here to help you, you can call out to us. And of course, with some coaching, when she hits a wall, now she comes to us. So we’ll hear the … aaarrghhh … and then you’ll hear … Papa? Mama? And, we come in … I love you, I want to help, I’m here.

And, of course, over time, as we’ve seen this, there’s just this peace, more and more as she hits these walls, we see this more and more, just this peace, because she knows she’s not alone. She knows that we’re disposed to help her, we’re predisposed to that, that we love her. In fact, the other day, I had, like, this plumbing thing. It was, like, a weak or so ago, and I was grumbling about it. And she goes by, and she goes, Papa, you should ask Mama for help. I was like … thank you, child. She’s become the teacher.

Yet, while it’s simple, how often do we live lives riddled with anxiety? How often does that look like us? Whatever area of life it might be, that instead, we’re alone, we think that we’re just alone in a room, alone in the car, alone in whatever situation it is, and we catch ourselves, it looks just like that … aaarrghh … right? Just, crying out to the universe as if no one is there, or grumbling to others, because they seem more tangible than our Heavenly Father. But, in our crying out, here’s the thing to consider … in our crying out, what do we really want? What do we really want in our crying out? What do we really want in the midst of our anxiety, in the midst of our worry? We want our Father’s presence. It’s not always that we just want a solution, it’s not always that we just want a quick fix, but often, it’s just that we want our Heavenly Father to draw near. You know, often, when I go in to my daughter, by the time we get done making the Lego castle or whatever, she almost doesn’t even care about the Lego castle. She cares that I’m near. She cares that I’m with her. And, how often do we miss our Father’s presence, and enjoy his nearness. In everything, we can cry out with thanksgiving, because one thing is certain: because of what Jesus has done in everything, our Heavenly Father draws near to us as his beloved children. And, in that, we can always be thankful, Paul says. He is always near. You can cry out to him.

Now, we should consider why Paul is saying this. Because, if we make it a habit of not going to our Father, and enjoying what Christ has given us, then our lives will be full of anxiety. They’ll be full of fear, they’ll be full of worry. And, here’s the thing: we’ll begin running to one another, we’ll begin expecting the church, we’ll expect the things that should point us to Christ, that should point us to our Heavenly Father, we’ll expect them to figure out the how’s. How to solve those things, how to remedy life, in other words, to do what only God can do, and to subtly and slowly replace him. And, the expectations for one another skyrocket, and all of our energy will flow to fighting over who has the better, the slicker how, rather than simply enjoying what Jesus has given us: reconciliation to a Father who is present, and listening.

So, Paul says, make thanksgiving a habit. Make thanksgiving, of going before your Heavenly Father, a habit. Again, simple, yet profound. You know, one of the ways you might be thinking, how do I really get going with this? Well, here’s a little tip I learned in undergrad. I did a lot of writing, that was what my undergrad degree was in, Creative Writing. And, I had a professor who told me when I would get stuck, he’d say, here’s how you break it: just start writing about what makes you angry, and try it, okay? If you’re stuck, you’re like, God what do I … I’m trying to think … just think, talk to God about what makes you angry, and write. And, you’ll become Hemingway, or Stephen King, like, within seconds, okay?

So, it just starts flowing, because you’re like, wow, I’ve become verbose. I have ideas. And so, when you go before the Lord, bring the things that are right there in front of you. As you go throughout your day, it’s like you see life through this windshield that is all these worries and anxieties and complexities. Well, just, right away when you get up, take those before your Heavenly Father, and say, Father, this is what I see. This is what’s in front of me, and bring it before him, and then just pause every now and then and insert – but Father, I am thankful for ____ . I am thankful that you brought me into this life, because I know even though I don’t know the way out of it, I know you’re sovereign, and you’re going to show me a way through, and you’re going to be with me. Or, I just, I know you’ll be with me.

But, bring them before the Father, and then bring your strife with one another – because it happens – bring the relationships before God, and then remind yourself of this reality Paul’s reminding them of, which is Father, I’m struggling, my heart is cold towards them. Warm it by reminding me that both of our lives are in the book of life. And, just start there. But, ask God to change your view of them.

Thanksgiving, a habit. If you make it a habit, God will guard your hearts and your minds with the peace of Christ, and what he has provided.

III. HABIT #2 | HOSPITALITY TOWARD OTHERS (vv8-9)

The second simple yet profound habit, is hospitality towards others. Finally, Paul says in verse 9, practice the what. Literally, you have to train, Paul says. Literally, you have to practice, literally, you have to rehearse the what of Jesus’ kingdom. Did you catch that? We are called here by Paul, and in several of his other letters – you can look in 1 and 2 Timothy he does this, he says, you need to train yourself for these realities. Why does Paul say that? Because, here’s the thing, all day long, whether you realize it or not, you are training and equipping yourself, going through the motions and going through the exercises of what the world says is true, just, pure, noble. We spend every day of our lives going through the motions of what the world does. And, in fact, we are strengthening those muscles. And, what Paul says you need to do, is focus on what Christ has done, and strengthen those muscles. And, you need habits in your lives to do that.

Now, Paul says, in verse 8, to think about what Christ has done. But then, in verse 9, he says, and practice what Christ has done. Now, as I was looking at this, I was like, are those two separate things? Do I think something, or do I practice something? How do I … do I think it, do I practice … and I think they’re the same thing, two aspects of it. And, there’s actually a quote from Aristotle, that I think actually captures the dynamic that Paul is going for here, which says this, “The soul never thinks without a picture.” Paul is saying, in order to be a people who keep our eyes on what Jesus has done, to think right things with our minds eye, and to see Jesus correctly, we need practices, that picture for us, what is true in Christ. And, to think right thoughts, we need practices in our lives that picture the truth of Jesus, to take it from our head down to our hearts. It’s serious business that that happens.

Probably a quote that stuck with me the most, it’s one of those youth pastor things someone threw out there, but I can never get it out of my mind. They said, you know what the distance from heaven to hell is? It’s the distance from your head to your heart. He says, we need practices that take it from our head, and just assenting intellectually, down into our hearts so that we live it. Practices that help us think with a picture of what is true … of whatever is honorable… Paul says … of whatever is just, of whatever is pure, of whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable … we need practices in our lives that help us, and there is no greater practice that helps us picture these things, than the practice of hospitality.

Hospitality, simply put, is welcoming others, having practice, a habit in our lives of welcoming others, as Christ has welcomed us. This is from the Lent devotional, which, by the way, is available on the app, you’ve probably seen some slides for it today. But, you can get it on the app, you can get it through our email, you can find it online on the website. But, every week we’ve been walking through a different discipline, and this week the discipline is hospitality. And, this is how it’s defined: Hospitality creates a space, a grace filled space, where a friend or stranger can enter and experience the welcoming Spirit of Christ in another.

Hospitality is a way of expressing love for others as God has shown us love in Jesus Christ, while we were yet sinners. Biblical hospitality, when rightly practiced, challenges our assumptions of others, and surfaces unhealthy biases towards others, reminding us of the welcoming grace we’ve received in Christ. Hospitality is welcoming others into our lives, our personal space, our bio-families, our bachelor pads, our bachelorette pads, meeting someone at a coffee shop, making space in our lives for others as God has welcomed us into his family through the work of Christ.

Here’s the thing, so often we live busy, disconnected, isolated lives, amen? Busy, disconnected, isolated lives, and our lives seem more driven by the chaotic swirl that we call life, right? But, that’s not what life is made out of. Life is not made out of the swirly, chaotic cocktail of our daily schedules, of our coming and going, of all of our actions and our getting two things and doing things because we are human beings, not human doings. We are created for deep relationship with God, and with others. And, nothing pulls us out of the chaos of our daily lives, and slows us down to focus on what we have in Christ like a habit of hospitality. Of making room in our schedules, of literally carving out space with time, and space with space, space with our meal plan, space for others to come into our life, just to merely say, I want to welcome you in, because I’ve been welcomed in to something really great. And, that’s just overflowing out of me, and I want you to know it.

This helps us to rightly think about our welcome in Christ, by picturing it so well. One of the things, as a pastor, as I, I do get to think a lot about the Bible. Think about it, I get to fill my head with a lot of thoughts, a lot of thinking, a lot of theology. But nothing, I don’t think, over the years, has helped me actually grasp some of the more profound theological concepts that we throw out there, like candy a Memorial Day, like reconciliation. Like having my home open in a habit of hospitality. Nothing helps me grasp that, like seeing someone else welcomed into my life, life sacrificing time for others, making room for others.

This, especially, hit home for me, and I just want to paint a picture for how having a habit of hospitality in your life will profoundly change your heart. It’ll profoundly change especially how understand and relate to God, and how you relate to others. So, this really hit me in a way it hadn’t before this last Friday, just, what, two days ago? When, many of you know we’ve been in the process to adopt … I’m going to get emotional, man …

… We’ve been in a process for two and a half years of adopting Calvin into our home. And, finally, Friday, it was finalized before a judge. And, it was a pretty crazy moment, cause the judge, I was like, either she’s going to hit that gavel and be like, surprise! You’re going to jail for 30 years. Or, she was going to do what she did, which was, she declared from now on, his name is Calvin Michael Dennings, and he’s in your family. It’s a beautiful picture. And, at that point, there was a stack of paperwork in front of her that had his previous identity, kind of like the stack of paperwork we’ve been working through for two and a half years, and they took that, and they’re going to seal that, and it goes somewhere in a basement. And, there was a new stack of paperwork that says, this is now his identity, and they took that stack of paperwork, and right now it’s being processed, and becoming new birth certificates, and this new identity, and this new reality.

And, it took everything in me not to start weeping in that courtroom. So, I’ll just do it now, right? Not to week in that courtroom, because I realized, I fully realized what I hadn’t before, as he sat in my lap, that you’re now my son. And, this is now your forever home. You’re now my son, and this is now your forever home. Now, yesterday, that hit me and I was able to hold back the tears, but yesterday as I sat in my little writing shed in my backyard, it just hit me. It hit me like a ton of bricks, and, I mean, I ugly cried, as this hit me. But, it wasn’t just that it hit me … that beautiful moment of realizing this with Calvin, and realizing that now he’s our son and that we no longer have to worry about someone showing up and just removing him.

But, it hit me because there’s a beautiful reality that is underneath that beautiful moment. And, it’s that it’s true of me. That I have a Heavenly Father, who says, you are my son, and this is your forever home.

Now, I won’t pretend for a moment that I’ve never struggled with the adoption process. If anyone gets the credit, it’s my wife. She helped me process a lot at the beginning. This means I have to sacrifice my time, my schedule, my space, the last waffle french fry in the Chick Fil A meal … he always gets it. I had to wrestle with those realities. But, as we put into practice the simple act of hospitality, of making room for Cal, my heart changed. Because, it unlocked a deeper reality, by painting a picture of what it means to be adopted as a son of our Heavenly Father, in a way that I can never think myself there, in a way that I could never read myself there. My soul couldn’t really grasp, or think of the beauty of adoption, until I had a picture in that courtroom.

Now, while most likely you won’t be called to something like adoption. Some of you will, some of you won’t. But, we are all called to sacrificially welcome others into our lives as Christ as welcomed us into his. Because, when we make room for others through the practice of hospitality, God gives us a picture that helps us think with full hearts of the forever home that we have with him, that we are adopted into his family, and that keeps us focused on the whatand the how’s begin to just take care of themselves.

So, I encourage you to begin the practice of hospitality. You can begin, one, by downloading the Lent guide. There’s instructions, there’s scriptural readings, there’s questions to help you reflect. And then, also, on the sermon notes on the Emmaus app, you can download it, the Emmaus app through the app store, is out there, and the sermon notes that are in there. There is also a link to a great article on hospitality that has more biblical unpacking, or explanation of it, and then also some practical tips on how to get started.

But, either way, I would encourage you to develop creative ways with your family, with your roommates, with whoever it is in your life, develop creative ways to welcome others into your life as Christ as welcomed you, and to his. It will help your heart cherish Christ in a way unlike any other habit God has gifted us, by providing a living picture of what Christ as done.

So, let’s recap. We must guard against, one, the timeless problem of the how overtaking the what. Jesus is more than methodology, he is our Messiah. To guard against this, Paul gives us two simple, yet profoundly impactful habits to begin practicing today. Habit #1, thanksgiving before the Father. Because, it is God’s means of guarding our hearts and minds with peace through what Christ has provided. Habit #2, hospitality. Because, it provides a refreshing picture of the welcome, the what, that we’ve received in Jesus Christ.

So, Emmaus, as Paul says, practice these things. Practice the what that Jesus has provided. And, I promise, if we are saturated with the what, as a church,the how’s will take care of themselves, because we’ll be able to agree in the Lord that the God of peace is with us. Let’s pray.

Lord God, we thank you for what we have in Christ. Father, guard our hearts from forgetting the basics, and turning our life with you into an endless list of how’s. Keep us focused on our first love, and keep us at peace with one another. Spirit of Christ, give us wisdom in beginning the habits of thanksgiving and hospitality, so we live saturated in what Christ has provided together. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.


The Importance of Confession-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to blog

PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS

SCRIPTURE READING

Philippians 3:12-16

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

INTRO

Well, good morning. My name is Matt, I’m the Pastor for Equipping here at Emmaus, and this morning we are continuing our series in Philippians. And, last week, if you didn’t catch it, we turned a corner, kind of heading into the final part of Philippians. And, we saw that in this final part of Philippians, Paul is turning his attention to how we experience and know life in Jesus Christ.

And, so, last week in verses 1-11 of chapter 3, we saw Paul’s desire to what he says, he describes as gaining Christ, to be found in Christ, to know Christ. It’s Paul’s way of saying, I want to tangibly experience life in Christ. And, of course, as good church people, last week, we should say amen when we hear that, right? Yet, today, in verses 12-16, Paul says, before I go any further, let me clarify something. He says in verse 12, and I’m paraphrasing here, he says, listen, I haven’t obtained this life fully. The it, in verse 12, is pointing back to verses 8-11, when Paul describes as being found in Christ, in knowing Christ, in living in Christ, and Paul is saying, before I go any further, listen, I haven’t obtained this life fully. I’m not a finished product, I am not perfect.

In other words, Paul says, left to myself, even though I desire to live in Christ, I find over and over again, I fall short of that. And yet, Paul says, the reason why he keeps fighting, pressing, training, is because Jesus Christ has made him his own. And so, therefore, he has this hope that as he presses forward, he will find this life.

Now, as I’ve meditated on this text, I’ve thought, often, why does Paul say this? Why does he go here? Because, this is a bit of an aside from his main argument here. And, part of why I wonder this, is because it’s somewhat repetitive in the language of what he’s just said, one, and two, as I think of that, I think, why do I need to hear this? Why do I need to hear these words from Paul? And, I realize, because even though Paul says that he lives and fights past this reality that day to day, he falls short of the glory of God, that day to day he sins, day to day he fails, the hope that he has in the midst of that is the fact that he belongs to Jesus Christ.

And, I realize when thinking through that phrase, that practically I often live, not as if I belong to Christ, but as if I belong to my failure, as if I belong to my sin, as if I belong to my shortcoming. Like Paul, I desire to live out verses 1-11, to be found in Christ, to have this life in Christ, to know Christ. Yet, like Paul, I also know what it’s like to fall short of that desire. And so, instead of living with this sense that I belong to Christ, I feel more and more like I belong to my sin. Anyone else know what that’s like?  I’m not sure if I’m just alone here, doing a monologue.

Today, we’ll call this tension, the human tension, the human tension that we live with. The universally experienced tension between who we long to be, and we really are, if we’re honest. Like Paul, if we are to know Christ, we have to deal with this tension that we all have deep down. Because, often, it seems like, as Christians, the only way that we can grow, the only way that we can progress, the only way that we can kind of ascend, however you want to describe it, that we can go on deeper into our faith when we live with this nagging reality that, do I really belong to Christ, or do I really belong to my sin?

It seems that the only options on the table, are to either live hypocritically and to pretend that I have it all together, or on the other hand to live hopelessly, and to just give up altogether. But, what Paul says in these five verses unlocks a third way, a better way, a gospel way, a way of hope found in Jesus Christ, that we can live with confidence that we belong not to our sin, but belong to Jesus Christ, wholly.

So, what we’ll look at first is the human tension, we’ll unpack it a little bit further, then the mistaken ways of resolving that tension that we often turn to, and then, lastly, the gospel key to resolving that tension, between who we desire to be, and who we find ourselves to be. But first, let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the truths found in this text. We thank you that here, we see Paul saying things like us, when we’re honest with ourselves, that we have not obtained, fully, this life that we desire. That, we cannot, in and of ourselves, perfect ourselves, but underneath all of this, we belong to Jesus. Lord, we thank you for this truth. Help us to grasp this and the importance of it, and to bring it home to our hearts, so this isn’t just a mere intellectual exercise, but that we would walk away from here knowing that we are your beloved children, if we are in Christ Jesus. And, it is in his name that we pray, amen.

THE HUMAN TENSION

Well, the human tension. Paul puts his finger, again on a tension that is at the center of the Christian life, and human experience. But, there is a gap between who we long to be, and who we are. And, I think in some ways, we know this already. If I just bring up, hey, January 1st until now, how are you doing on that new diet, right? How are you doing on that new exercise routine, how are you doing on your finances? Right? We could go on and on, we know that this is a human reality. That, there are all these areas that, who we long to be, we desire to be, and honestly, we know we should be. But, then, we keep falling short of it. It could be ways that we parent, it could be ways that we interact with others. But, how often do we slow down to think about that dynamic in relation to our spiritual life and our growth?

We sense we should want to know God and live accordingly, and yet, while I feel I want it, I fail to obtain it, Paul says. I’m not already perfect, Paul says. It probably sounds like your journal entry, doesn’t it? God, I want to be patient with others, but they keep … being people. Right? God, I want to stop giving into temptation, but I give in. Here I go again. I’ve given in again. God, I want to start investing my time and energy into blank, whatever initiative, whatever good thing. But, but, but … And, there it is.

While we have these desires, then there is this, I desire this, but … And, if you go long enough in trying to live out this tension, what seems more true of us, is what comes after the but. But, I failed again, I’m a failure. But, I’ve fallen short again, I fall short. But, I blow up again. Yet, Paul says, the way we address the tension, is not by looking to something within ourselves. Rather, to the work of Jesus Christ. He says, Jesus has made me his own. Right after saying, I’ve not lived up to this, I have not perfected myself. And, remember, this is after verses 1-11, where he says, isn’t this great? We have this salvation in Jesus, and we can grab onto this, and we can live this way. And then, he comes to verse 12, and says, let’s just be honest for a moment. And, I want to clarify, this is not something that you are going to, in this life, 100% perfectly attain.

It reminds me of an old story of, there’s a Victorian age preacher in London named Charles Spurgeon, many of you may have heard of him, he’s called the Prince of Preachers. Isn’t that an amazing title? What, me? But, Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, and he was at this conference, and this man came up to him, and he said, Charles Spurgeon was preaching on this fact that, of what it means to grow in holiness. And, this man said, no, no, no, we should reach perfection. And, it was this thing called the perfectionist movement. And, Spurgeon kind of debated with him for a minute, and he saw it wasn’t going anywhere.

And so, it was at this conference, and so, the next day, all the individuals are in this conference center, and they’re eating their breakfast. And, Spurgeon sneaks up behind the man, and he takes a cup of milk and just pours it over his head. And, the man jumps out of his seat, and all these expletives come out, and he starts yelling at Spurgeon. And, Spurgeon goes, there’s the old man! Right? And, what he’s drawing out there, is he’s saying, we have this reality that Christ has made us his own. And, we are not going to reach perfection this side of being fully perfected in Christ, and the new kingdom.

It’s God’s grace, given to us by Jesus Christ, that we receive by faith, and trust in that grace, that allows us to grow in holiness, that allows us to grow in Christ’s likeness. We relate to God as sinners who have been made holy, not by our work, but by his.

You know, it looks something like this. I like visuals, and so this is a chart we’ve used before in sermons, but it looks something like this, that the gospel tells us that no matter the depth of our sin, and the gap it creates between us and God, Jesus has bridged the gap in his life, death, and resurrection. And so, after we come to Christ at this time of conversion, what begins to happen, is God’s spirit works within us, he’s made us a new man, he’s made us a new creation. And so, now he’s doing this work. And, as we grow in our awareness of God’s holiness, and we grow in our awareness of our flesh and our sinfulness, our dependency on the cross enlarges, and Jesus gets bigger, Jesus gets better, Jesus gets more and more beautiful. We depend on the grace of God more and more, and we breathe it in, and we breathe it out like oxygen.

So, yes, we sin, we fail, we fall short of the glory of God. But, the gospel says something else about me comes after the but now. What is most true of us in Jesus Christ. Yes, I have done shameful things, yes, I have sinned. But, because of Jesus Christ, I am now a beloved child of God. What comes after the but now? I am a beloved child of God. The gospel gives us hope to press on, because there’s no sin we might commit, or become aware of, that God’s grace cannot cover. Neither height nor depth, Paul says. No matter how far down that arrow goes, the cross goes, and bridges us right back up to God’s holiness. By God’s grace, Christ makes us his own. We belong to him.

Now, this all sounds good, right? The question is, how do we live this? Okay, this sounds great theoretically. Pastor, how do I begin to enter into this, take hold of it, to live it? We’re going to go there. What I want to do first is – cause I think we know this better – which is, the mistaken ways that we attempt to resolve this very tension, this very gap between us and God. This very tension between who we desire to be, and who we find ourselves to be. So, the second point is looking at the mistaken ways of resolving the tension.

THE MISTAKEN WAYS OF RESOLVING THE TENSION

Paul ends this section, verses 12-16, with a very revealing statement. He says this, after saying all these things, he says …

Only let us hold true to what we have attained ...

So, he says all these things, that we are going to grow into Christ’s likeness, and after, he says, but only let us hold onto what we have attained. Hold those things true. Now, why does he have to say this? Well, I think if we’ve lived a little, we know exactly why he has to say this. He has to say it because we’re constantly trying to claim that we are where we are not yet. We’re constantly trying to claim that something is true of us, that frankly is not true of us yet. Rather than resolving the tension of our sin, that process of seeing the cross get bigger day by day in our life, we try to microwave it. Instead of God’s transformative grace, we try to do it quickly, and we resolve the tension of our sin by what comes naturally to us.

Let me illustrate this, because I think this will be helpful, before unpacking this further. In college, I made the regrettable decision of living in one house with 10 guys. And, one night … I’m a little bit of a neat freak, and 10 guys in a house is not a healthy place for a neat freak to live. And so, one night, though, I come down in the middle of the night, and I turn on the lights to the kitchen as I go in to get something, and there are cockroaches everywhere, everywhere. They’re having a little fiesta, right on my kitchen floors. The counter, everything, they’re everywhere.

So, I turn on the light, and what do they do? They … you know, they go and hide. So, I did what any sensible person does when they see that kind of infestation. I turned off the lights, and I tried to forget I ever saw it, right? And, I tried to go back to bed and had nightmares. In fact, even though I knew there was a hidden infestation, when people came over, I would actually … Because, I was actually insecure about it, when I cleaned the house, I would actually be standing in the kitchen talking, and I would actually bring up, like, isn’t it crazy how clean this house is with 10 guys? And they’d be like, yeah, this is amazing. Look at these countertops, right? And, this went on for about a year, until one morning somebody poured out a bowl of cereal and they got, you know, like, a special little prize in their cereal. And, I said, yeah, that’s been going on for a while.

Now, this illustrates more than probably why the CDC should not allow 10 20-year-old men to live together in one place, without supervision. But, it illustrates what we tend to do with our sin. At some point, you see, the light’s going to be turned on. And, I don’t know if you know that moment, but you see the infestation for what it is. And, of course, as soon as the light goes on, everything in you just kind of recoils and hides, right?

The light could come through a relationship. This is why it’s so tough that first year of marriage, right? Cause, you’ve been able to just kind of avoid it, and all of a sudden, now someone’s right there with you, and they’re like … did you know you have a massive infestation? Right? The light could come on through a circumstance that stirs up ungodly attitudes, just kind of, like, speak that comes out of you, that you’re like, where did that come from?

An illustration that we’ve use before, is that it’s like you have water that’s kind of all dirty. Like you have all this stuff polluting you, clouding you, this sin that’s in you. And, when life is kind of nice and stable, the water, if it sits there long enough, and it’s not disruptive, just kind of settles to the bottom. And, if you look at that water from the side, you go, wow … look how pure that person is, right? But, what happen when something comes along and bumps that table? All of a sudden, it stirs it all up. Something stirs your life, and it just makes a mess, and you go, where did this all come from?

Relationships, situations, or it could just be, simply, that God’s spirit turns the lights on in your heart, and you see for the first time. And, when that happens, we feel the tension of our sin. We feel this human tension. We feel this tension between, this is not who I want to be, but yet, this is coming out of me, this is who I am. And, it’s a tension we want to escape, it’s a tension we want to avoid, it’s a tension that we desperately want to silence. Because, we are seeing what we are really like. And, frankly, we’re seeing what the Bible has already told us we are, that we’re sinners in need of grace.

But, seeing our sin, we tend to resolve the tension the way I solved my infestation problem. And, these are the two mistaken ways we tend to resolve sin. The first is pretending, and the other is by performing. And, they both cut us off from experiencing the power of God’s grace. And these, by the way, this is another chart – like the last one. These charts, by the way, come from a book called The Gospel Centered Life, it’s linked in the sermon notes. I’d highly recommend it, if you’d like, about an 8-week study, kind of going deeper into the gospel, again, the gospel centered life.

But, by pretending, here’s what I mean. When I turned off the lights and pretended my sin wasn’t there, and I pretended like it would go away, we also tend to hide our sin from God and others, by pretending everything is okay, by just pretending it’s all okay. It may look like lying, it probably means that there are habits of, kind of, avoiding and withdrawing, especially from other people who might hold you accountable, or who know you best … isolating yourself. Honestly, a sign, often, of pretending, is actually exhaustion. And, the reason for that is because, if you’re pretending, what we tend to have, is we tend to start living, almost, two lives.

There’s kind of, like, your good church life, I’m around Christian life. And then, there’s this other life, which you may actually, in your heart of hearts, feel like, here’s my real life. Here’s when I really am who I am. And, we tend to split those, because we’re pretending, and we’re dealing with that tension by separating them, and it’s exhausting. Because, what happens, is after a while, you’re constantly trying to remember, was I there, or was there … I’m trying to tell this story, where was I, what was I doing? And, it’s exhausting because you can never really remember, how was I acting, how should I act now, where was I, what was I doing? What was the story? Do I have it straight?

There’s a line that captures this by Mark Twain, that’s really well said. He says, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Man, there’s no exhaustion in that. It just comes out. If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything. But, when we pretend, the result is that we think by pressing on, and catch this, we often think that by pressing on, what Paul actually means here, is to pretend. Functionally, what we think, is Paul means to pretend. We could call this fake it until you make it spirituality. And, it leads to burnout. It leads to hopelessness, as if life in Christ is only available to the spiritual elite.

But, pretending we do not have sin will not solve our tension. It will not clear out the infestation, but rather it makes us feel more hopelessly like we belong to our sin. Now, the second way, we have pretending, and we also have performing.

And, by performing, I mean, like when I cleaned the counters, without cleaning the infestation. It’s performing for everyone. Everyone expects a clean house, and no bugs, and no filth, and so I’m trying to perform to live up to that expectation. And so, I constantly scrub the house, and do everything but deal with the actual cockroaches, because that was just nasty.

But, we tend to bury our sin in busyness, to impress God and others, as if by pressing on, again, Paul means to perform, to put on our best moral performance. If perform well enough, and busy enough, and if we meet everyone’s expectations, then we expect that that tension that we feel deep down, will go away. But, it doesn’t. And, often, we end up living as hypocrites and perpetuating a culture of hypocrisy. It starts a cycle. What happens, is, we feel like a hypocrite because we’re living one way, when we, in fact, know that we don’t actually measure up to this.

And, as we feel like a hypocrite, then we feel like we belong to our sin. And, because we feel like we belong to our sin, and we don’t belong to Christ, then that just furthers us into this constant habit of performing, because that’s all we know. And then, as we perform, we feel further like a hypocrite. And, on and on, the cycle goes. Dietrich Bonhoeffer captured this dynamic well, when happens in a community. He says, “Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So, we remain alone in our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. He who is alone with his sins is utterly alone.”

Some of you this morning are in this place of just performing. Some of you, also, may be in the place of pretending. And, either way, what you sense right now is that there’s a me that feels like it needs to be acting in some certain way. And then, there’s the real me. And, you’re on the cusp of burn out, you’re on the cusp of hopelessness. If you’re performing as if everything’s okay, it will not solve the tension. It will not make the infestation go away. Rather, it will lead you deeper into hypocrisy, and deepen that sense that you belong to your sin.

Both pretending and performing fail to deal with the tension of our sin, and both, in the end, only make us feel like we belong to our sin. Because, both cut us off from the work of the cross. So, how do we resolve this tension? We’ve seen what it is, we’ve looked at the mistaken ways that we deal with it. So, what is the way that we deal with this tension? So, the third point, the gospel key to resolving the tension.

THE GOSPEL KEY TO RESOLVING THE TENSION

How do we resolve it? Honestly, sincerely. We see right under our noses, in verses 13-14, Paul says, brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But, one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ. Paul says, I’m not going to pretend, I’m not going to perform, and act like I’ve perfected myself in some way.

And, think about that. This is a guy who’s an apostle. If anyone had the weight on his shoulders to try to live up to expectations, and to try to perform for other people, or try to just go through the motions and pretend, it would be Paul. People were constantly slandering him, saying, look, he’s not really an apostle, he’s just an imposter. Can you imagine if Paul had any little bit of a sense in himself that he was leaning into being an imposter, and not really living out the things that he was proclaiming?

Paul says, I’m not going there, and I’m not going back to the old ways of relating to God. For Paul, that was actually going back to the old system, the old covenant, the old way of relating to God. For us, that may be saying, I’m not going back to the old way of pretending and performing anymore. Instead, in verse 14, I’m going to press on toward the goal. What does that look like? Well, that first chart again. Pressing on, Paul is saying, saying, I’m going to do whatever it takes, in Jesus Christ, to know Christ.

Back in verse 11, he actually says, by any means, I will use anything that will help me, any means in any way, so that I may know Christ, and I may grow in this reality. And, that happens by doing whatever it takes to see the cross get bigger. Now, that, for Paul – and here’s the thing, don’t miss this – when he says, in verse 14, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ, doesn’t that almost, at first, seem a little vague? That’s kind of a weird English sentence, first, and second, what does this goal mean?

And, what he’s talking about, is like that first chart, that as he progresses in the Christian faith, if you mature, you are going to realize more and more and more the depth of your sin. You’re going to, then, as you realize the depth of your sin, realize how much holier than you ever knew before, God is. And so, what Paul is saying, when I’m pressing on, is I’m going to truly mature, which is, I’m going to see more and more and more how big and wide and deep is the cross, and how good God’s grace is. This is God’s will for you. This is the goal of Paul, that he would more and more and more see the beauty of what Christ as accomplished on his behalf, and live into that.

See, the ironic thing about being a mature Christian, is that it’s not about perfection. The ironic thing about becoming a mature Christian, that is coupled with an increased awareness that you are not fully mature, that there’s always more growth. For Paul, that straining forward to what lies ahead, is more and more of a sense that he belongs to Christ by grace. That, as he becomes more and more aware of how sinful he is, he simultaneously becomes more and more aware of how much love and grace he’s been given in the cross.

This is summed up well by a pastor in New York City named Tim Keller. He says, “The gospel is this, we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dare believe. Yet, at the very same time, we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” Do you believe that? That’s what pressing on looks like. Putting aside pretending and performing, and looking straight at our sin, and then straight to Christ. So, how do we do that? We talked about what it is, how do we do that?

Well, the key that gospel provides for doing this, for pressing forward, is the discipline of confession, or the habit of confession. It’s something that we went over this morning in our liturgy. And, when we got the point of confession. If some of this is sounding familiar, it’s because it was right there in a nugget form during confession. Notice Paul confesses two things in this passage. First, Paul confesses that he is unable to save himself, or perfect himself. The gospel frees him to be honest. The second thing that he confesses, though, is Christ has made me his own. The gospel provides a way forward, a hope.

See, the discipline, the habit of confession, is simply going before God and confessing both of these truths. And, when I say a discipline or a habit, I mean, for me, this looks like early in the morning, I’m an early riser. For you, it might not be beginning of the day. Although, I think there is something about the beginning of the day that’s helpful. But, rising early and opening up God’s word, but taking out a piece of paper and writing down, and thinking before God, of what are … literally, I get specific … and, write down the specific things, the sins that, over the last day, have come out of me. And, I go before God and bring these before him, and I ask for his forgiveness. And, as I do so, I confess two things. I confess that I have sinned, and I also confess that I belong to Jesus Christ, that God has closed that gap.

Now, I should say this. You may think that such a habit, one, is maybe unhelpful or weird, I’ll just say it. Or, that it’s legalistic. And, one thing that I want to say in response to that, is I would like us to consider for a moment how often, throughout our day, we tell ourselves, or we confess to ourselves, things about ourselves, and things about God, without training ourselves to do that in a healthy way.

And so, when we sin, what do we do? Man, I remember, so often I would be like like, oh, stupid, stupid, when I did something. And, this comes out. And, the thing is, when I go [to confess], it’s like, yes, I can look at this. This is what I’ve done. But then, simultaneously, this is not who I’m called to be in Jesus Christ. And, there’s grace here, and I can begin to grow out of this sin, versus just beating ourselves up. And so, what I would ask you, is if you don’t have any kind of a habit of training your heart, and training your mind to point yourself to Jesus Christ in the midst of your sin, then plan some kind of a habit, plan some kind of a habit.

Let me ask you, though, do you slow down regularly, to specifically confess both your sin, and who you are in Christ, before God? Do you have a habit of simply doing those two things together? I guarantee it will transform your life. It will transform your walk with Christ. It’s an important question, because I think we live our lives so on the go, go, go, go, to the next thing, constantly downloading information in a digital world, that we forget what is actually true of us. That, we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared hope, Keller says. Yet, at the very same time, we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.

I encourage you, this week, to pick up the Lent devotional or download it, if you have not already. In it, you will find, for this week, instructions for how to begin a habit of confession. There are scriptural passages you can go to there, Psalm 51, Psalm 139, that will help guide you in forming a habit of confession. And, I guarantee, knowing Christ has made you his own, despite knowing – and think of this, Christ made you his own full well knowing, Christ knows from age 34 right now, on March 17th, 2019, until whenever my life ends – Jesus is well aware of the sin that I will accrue to my account, put it that way. And yet, even in the midst of knowing those thing, he makes me his own. Knowing that truth will lead to a life that increasingly looks like Christ, because you will grow in your appreciation, your love, your longing, your dependence upon Jesus.

CONCLUSION

Let me recap. Every human being first lives with a tension, that because of sin, there’s a gap between who we long to be, and who we really are. Second, don’t fall into the trap of trying to resolve that tension by pretending and performing. It will only lead to hopelessness or hypocrisy. And then, finally, instead, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, press on by developing a discipline of confession, confessing your needs before God for his grace in Jesus Christ.

Emmaus, bring your sin into the light, and don’t pretend like it isn’t there, or try, by performance, to fix it. But, let the cross do its work. Let the cross, and the resurrection, and the indwelling power of God’s spirit, do its work. Something I haven’t unpacked, and I probably should have, is the power that God’s Spirit works in when we go before God’s Word. We acknowledge our sin and humility before the very presence of a holy God, especially when we’re going through scriptures, seeing these descriptions of a holy God. And, we’re just realizing, this is not me when I’m honest with myself, God’s spirit uses that to radically change us, to break free from living as if we belong to sin. We can begin living with confidence that mind, body, and soul, we belong wholly to Jesus Christ. Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the life that we have in Christ. Father, reveal to us where we are missing out on all we have in Jesus. Show us what we have gained in him, that we might belong to him as your beloved. Spirit of Christ, help us, help us, Spirit, to turn from ourselves through confession, to die to ourselves so we might turn to Christ, and live in light of the hope we have in him. It is in Christ’s name we pray, amen.


Fulfillment in Christ Alone-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to blog

PASTOR FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

PHILIPPIANS 3:1-11

“Finally, my brothers,[a] rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Well, good morning. My name’s Forrest, I’m one of the pastors here. And, welcome on time change Sunday. Aren’t you excited about time change Sunday? I’m super thankful, I know it’s very helpful to all of the farms that we have, so I’m, I’m grateful for time change Sunday. Not really, I know, I am grateful for it, but I know it’s hard getting up, so I’m glad you guys are here. Why don’t we pray, and then we’ll jump right into it.

Lord, thank you this morning for your word, thank you for your goodness to us. Lord, thank you that we have an invitation this morning in this text, to respond to the very thing we were created for. Lord, that we might know you. Lord, that we might count everything as loss, because of the surpassing worth of knowing you. Lord, I pray this morning, as we come to this familiar text, that it wouldn’t be a text that just feels rote, feels like we’ve heard this maybe one too many times, but, Lord, by your Spirit, would you open our eyes, and our ears to hear and to see the good news in your Word, and respond to the invitation you’ve given us in it. We ask in Jesus’ name, amen.

Well, one of the things that is true of humans that I think we’d all agree with, is that humans are fundamentally searching creatures. From the time we are born, we are searching for fulfillment, for joy, for satisfaction. Think about, perhaps, if you have kids, or you were a kid and you remember this, the first time that you give a kid a piece of candy, or ice cream, or some type of sweet. It’s like they come to life in that moment, right? When you give them that, their eyes get big, I’ve never tasted anything like this. Almost the expression of, this, this is what I was created for, this right here.

Or, you think about movies or cartoons that kids are known to watch over and over and over again, right? They want to see the same movie over and over again, because there’s something there that they’re connecting with. There’s something there that is satisfying, at least, temporarily. We are fundamentally searching creatures. And, left unchecked, that desire in us continues, and we naturally try to stuff our lives with things, to satisfy that longing, that desire. So, we try to stuff our lives full of things that break, and full of things that get lost, and full of things that get old, and rusty. And, we try to fill our lives with people, people that we hope will complete our longings and desires. And, as time progresses, we’re continually, and perpetually left wanting. It doesn’t quite do it. We attain it, and then we realize it doesn’t quite do it. That might be you, this morning. It’s certainly me, in areas in my life.

So, why do these things not satisfy? Why do they not fulfill in the way we hope, in the way we desire? Proverbs 4:23, says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” So, the heart that is spoken of here, this is talking about something more than the blood pumping organ that’s in our chest. We know, intuitively, that there is more to us than just flesh and bones. We know that the heart, essentially, we use language like, “that’s the real us,” “that’s really who we are.” And, I think we’re touching on something that’s biblical. This is what Proverbs 4:23 is saying. It’s saying, guard your heart, or keep your heart, for form it flows the springs of life. All of life flow from the heart, the seat of the will and emotions.

We know that the heart is the real us. Or, we would not talk about things like justice, and love, and longing. These things wouldn’t just naturally flow out of us, when we come into a romantic relationship, right? When we’re in those relationships, one of the things that we express, is that we feel known. We express our longing, we express our heart. But, the heart is complex, it’s deep, it’s intricate. So intricate, and so deep, and so complex, that fading, rusty things, or imperfect people cannot meet the perpetual longing of our hearts. This is why Ephesians 1:18 says, “We must have the eyes of our hearts enlightened, that you may know.” And then, it goes to essentially say, the hope of Christ.

It’s funny language there, isn’t it? The eyes of our heart need to be opened. This is what has to happen in us for us to find what it is we’re longing for, form the time we are born. Augustine, the church father, put it this way, famously. “Because you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in thee.” We sang it this morning, right? “Lord, let me hide myself in thee.” This is the longing of the believer to know Christ, to hide in Christ.

And, there are two short parables that point us to what we were made for. In our text this morning, they set our text up. They’re in Matthew 13:44-46. Just three verses, two parables, and three verses, and they’re both bringing about the same reality, bringing the same thing to the service …

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then, in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys the field.”

So, there’s a man who’s wandering in a field, it’s not his field, he finds this incredible treasure, and then he goes and he covers it back up, and then he goes and sells everything he has to buy that field. And then, the parable of the pearl of great value ...

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”

He’s searching, he is a dealer of pearls, and he finds the one, and he sells everything for it. This is meant to bring about the reality of the kingdom, and kingship that we are searching for, from the time we are born. And, when we find it, when the eyes of our heart are opened to it, we gladly sell everything, that we might attain it. We realize that the candy we had as kids, and the cartoon movies, and the relationships, that those things are not bad in and of themselves, but those things are meant to point us to what we were really created for. And, when we truly find that, we sell all we have to gain it.

So, this morning, this sets up our text. This is what Paul says. The crux of this verse, or, excuse me, of these verses, is verse 8 ...

“Indeed, I count everything as loss, because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. For his sake, I’ve suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, in order that I might gain Christ.”

This is the heart of our text this morning. Now, this is a rich, I would love to take two months just to unpack this text. So, there’s no way we’re going to be able to touch all of this. But, this is the heart of what we’re going to unpack this morning. And, the first thing we see in the text, is the wrong kind of confidence, the wrong kind of confidence. And then, we’re going to look at the right kind of loss. And, finally, we’re going to look at the best kind of knowing.

THE WRONG KIND OF CONFIDENCE

So, first, the wrong kind of confidence. Look at verses 1-3.

“Finally, my brothers,[a] rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— ...“

We put no confidence in the flesh. This is heavy, visceral language that Paul’s using here. And, in the broad scheme of Philippians, it almost feels out of step with his language. He seems out of step with his language of joy and rejoicing. And, the language of affection that Paul’s been using for the Philippians. So, why such strong language? Why does he use these mutilators, and dogs, and evildoers?

Because, there is a confidence, that is the wrong kind of confidence. It is actually a confidence in something that will not lead to your joy, as is Paul’s desire for the Philippians, in verse 1, and throughout the book of Philippians, that they would experience this joy. And, this joy is only experienced, this lasting, deep, unshakable, is only experienced through Christ. Have no confidence in the flesh, because that is not where you will find what you were created for.

So, what is this misplaced confidence, and what does it have to do with us today? Let’s look at this real quick. So, during this time, there were gentiles. A gentle is simply a non-Jew, who were coming to faith in Christ, and they didn’t have a Jewish background. During the same time, simultaneously, there were those known as Judaizers, who taught a particular aspect of Christianity, that it was necessary to adopt Jewish practices, the Jewish practices of the mosaic law, to truly be a believer, to truly find faith in Christ. So, these Judaizers were going to the gentiles, coming to faith, and demanding of them circumcision, demanding of them that they keep dietary laws, that they keep the Sabbath. And, if you do this, you will be truly righteous. So, they were essentially creating two tiers of Christians.

Now, what does this have to do with us today? A quick background, I think a little further background will help answer this question. In this series, several times we’ve gone back to Genesis, and we do this, and no matter where we are in scripture, you will hear us often go back to the book of Genesis, to unpack the foundations. And, we do this, because scripture is an unfolding narrative, a cohesive narrative: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation. And so, sometimes in the midst of the details and nuances of scripture, it’s helpful to zoom out, and get the big picture of where we are, and how it comes to bear in this particular text. It would be like walking in the middle of a movie, and not knowing what has come before. You would be lost in the midst of the movie. So, we do that, at times, just to make sure we’re tracking with the overall grand narrative, the biblical narrative of scripture.

So, as we go back to Genesis, again, remember we’ve covered that creation was this canvas for God’s glory, that God in his goodness, and in his creativity, and out of overflow of all that he is, all of his beauty, all of his goodness, he creates. And, creation is good. We read about this in Genesis 1 and 2. It’s beautiful, we’re walking with God in the garden. Genesis 3 comes, and death enters in, the fall, through the fall of humanity, who rebels against God. And then, there’s this continuing unfolding narrative from the time of the fall, where things are getting worse and worse.

In Genesis 6 [BREAK] … continues, God looks at the world, and he grieves at the condition of the world. In Genesis chapter 8, he sends a flood. This flood comes, and in the midst of the flood, it wipes out most of humanity, but God keeps for himself a people, that this plan of redemption might continue on. And then, in Chapter 11, someone invents a brick, which seems insignificant, but this was a massive architectural leap. And so, what they did immediately with this brick, is they said, we will build a city for ourselves. We will build a tower to heaven. In other words, the rebellion continues. It’s not for God, but for themselves, this beginning of architecture and city structure. So, it fills people with pride, and arrogance.

So, at this point, humanity’s barely holding on in the story, and we’ve got … if we didn’t know God is good, sovereign, and has a plan of redemption, we would think, this probably isn’t going to end well. But, God is good, God is sovereign, and so we ask how will God respond? Well, in Genesis 12:1, God calls a man to himself named Abraham. And, Abraham, God announced to Abraham that he will bless the world through his lineage. He will bless the world, all of this mess and brokenness and fallen-ness, that it’s being redeemed through your lineage, Abraham. There will be a new family, and a new humanity that will come from your line.

And, these people, this new humanity in the midst of this fallen world, they will not be about themselves. They will not be about building a city for themselves. They will be about my glory. They won’t be filled with pride and arrogance, they will exist for me, and for the good of the world. And then, in Genesis 17:9, to mark off these people from the rest of the world, a distinct people, a holy people, God tells them to keep my commandments, and then he gives them this sign of circumcision. If you’re not sure what that is, ask Pastor Matt afterwards, he’ll explain that to you.

On the 8th day, you are to circumcise the children, the male children. And, this is a, this is to mark you off from the rest of the world. These are a people made for me. But, it’s interesting, as you read on, the language starts to change. In Deuteronomy 30:6, it says, “The Lord,” it’s speaking of this coming promise ...

“The Lord will circumcise your hearts.”

The Lord will circumcise your hearts. And then, in Ezekiel, 36:26-17 ...

“Your hearts of stone will be exchanged for hearts of flesh.”

Now, the Old Testament saints didn’t have all the light that we did. They knew something good was coming, they didn’t know what that would look like, exactly, but they knew it was coming. So, to the readers, flesh carried the idea of circumcision, with it. So, the Lord is going to circumcise our hearts, he is going to do something new. The day is coming, where the Lord will do something new.

Fast forward a couple thousand years to Philippians 3. A couple thousand years after Abraham, Jesus comes through Abraham’s descendants, and the first words out of his mouth in the sermon on the mount, are what? Blessed are you, right? The continuation of the promise through Abraham, that I will make for myself a people, they will be for me, they will not live for me, but they will live for what they were created for, and their hearts will be hearts of flesh, they will be soft towards me, they will hear my words, and they will be obedient, and they will love me with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. I am doing a new thing, I’ve come to fulfill the law for all people.

So, this is where we are, in the grand narrative of scripture. Now, do you see why the Judaizers have confidence in the wrong thing? We are to have no confidence in the flesh. Jesus has come to fulfill the law, it’s not through outward signs, it’s not through circumcision, but through circumcision of the hearts. So, when the Judaizers come along and start preaching circumcision and law keeping as the means of salvation, they’re going backwards, against the grain of what God is doing.

They were not made for that. This is not the treasure your heart is searching for. And, this is why he uses such strong language. They are dogs, they are evildoers, they are mutilators. But, the true people of God worship God by his Spirit. The new mark of the believer is not circumcision, but the spirit of God, at work in us. We put no confidence in the flesh.

Now, how does this play out for us, what does that look like today? Cause, we’re saying, you know, we’re not running around telling people to follow the Old Testament dietary laws, and circumcision. What’s the overlap here, for us? Well, there’s a lot that can be said about that, but I want to kind of pinpoint it to a couple of things.

One, is we, and I believe they’ll be up on the screen, we put our trust in religious behavior, we put our trust in religious behavior, and our means of attaining salvation, our means of attaining salvation. So, we put our trust in religious behaviors. Pretty straight forward, right? If we check off the boxes, then, somehow, we are earning our salvation, it’s very easy for us to fall into this, right? So, there was one preacher that said, when I asked someone if they were a believer, and they responded with, “I’m doing my best,” I knew that they did not understand Christianity at all, right? Because, they did not understand that this was something that was not about their religious behavior. Their salvation was not in their religious behavior, but it was in the work of Christ.

And, our means of attaining salvation, now, this can play out a lot of different ways. If you remember Genesis, and they made the bricks, and we’re going to build a city for ourselves. So, they had this knowledge, they had this gifting, and they thought, now we can build our salvation. We do the same thing, don’t we? Through our gifting, the thing that I desire most, I can have for myself through my gifting. It is my means of attaining salvation.

And then, there’s, kind of, beneath that, is a way this plays out in daily life, which I think is really important for us as a body, if we’re going to continue to see people come to know Christ, to see people turn from themselves and turn to faith in Christ. That is, we create unnecessary barriers to Christ. Specifically, we become watch dogs rather than shepherds.

So, particularly in churches, we, some of the feedback we get as a church about all of you, is that, man, you guys really love scripture, you know, teaching is a strongpoint for you all. And, that’s beautiful, we celebrate that. You’ve got a lot of really smart people who know theology, and we’re super thankful for that. But, we have to guard against, as a body, is that we don’t become more watch dogs than shepherds. Because, the more we dig in, the more we come to deep convictions about doctrine and scripture, which we should, Paul tells Timothy, watch your doctrine closely, so we’re not saying give it a pass. We’re saying, as people come to Christ, we cannot expect them to articulate it the way we understand it.

I can tell you, when I came to faith in Christ, I literally, when I tell you I knew nothing, I knew nothing. I was surprised that the Old and the New Testament were in the same book. I thought they were two different things. That’s how much I knew about the Bible. I knew nothing of it, I wasn’t raised in a Christian home. I couldn’t articulate an order of salvation to save my life, I didn’t even know what that was, right? But, we have these deep convictions about it, and if we expect people to come up giving us the correct order of salvation, we are creating barriers to Christ. We grow in that throughout our lives, but if we expect people to have that when they come in, we will see many people walk right out the back door or Emmaus.

We cannot be watch dogs, we must be shepherds. We cannot create two levels of Christians, we must point people graciously to Christ. Let’s be honest, we’re probably not as smart as we think we are. If I was to say, talk about the trinity for a minute, one minute straight, go. There would probably be, like, 30 seconds of heresy in it. Right? Because, this deep, nuanced stuff that you dig into and study your entire life. When you’re in a gospel community and a new believer, an unbeliever speaks up and they posit something that they believe is true, and it’s decidedly not, how do we respond? Are we watch dogs in that moment, or are we shepherds?

We have a great desire to see people come to know Christ, people go from darkness to light. And, if we have a culture of being watch dogs, that will not happen here. Do you know what we’ll get? We’ll get more smart people. I love all you smart people, I love you all. I’m saying we need people who desperately desire Christ, and we need to shepherd them to Christ. And then, let’s do a lifetime of learning together, right? You guys with me? Alright.

THE RIGHT KIND OF LOSS

Now, let’s watch Paul shepherd people to Christ. Verses 4-8, so, he says, put no confidence in the flesh, in verse 3 …

“... 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless …”

Paul says, if I play your game, I’m going to win. You’re playing backyard football, and I played in the NFL. And, if I play, I’m going to smoke you guys. And, I’m telling you, don’t have confidence in that. Don’t have confidence. And then, he lays out his Jewish pedigree. Circumcised on the eighth day … we’ve been over that, it’s a Jewish practice. Of the people of Israel … people, there, is genos, the Greek word genos, genealogy. Remember, he was named after Israel’s first king, Saul, before he met Christ on the road to Damascus, and his name was changed to Paul. Of the tribe of Benjamin ... by the first century, there were only two tribes that could trace their genealogy back to Abraham, the tribe of Judah, the bribe of Benjamin. So, he’s saying, I’m one of the very few left who can actually trace their lineage back to Abraham.

A Hebrew of Hebrews … in other words, a Hebrew speaking, born to Hebrew speaking parents. At this point, Hellenization, which is the spread of Greek culture, had infiltrated the Jewish people, and they were seen as impure, compromised. And, he says, that’s not me, I’m a Hebrew of Hebrews. As to the law, a Pharisee ... this was a first century religious sect that took the Torah, the law of God, extremely seriously, and they believed that they could just have one day where they were completely obedient, that Christ would return, and Christ would save them from their oppressors. So, as to the law, a Pharisee. As to zeal, a persecutor of the church … the zeal is like a religious fervor, or even a religious anger, a passion for Torah and Israel. It was a militant nationalism. There was another sect called the Zealots, who believed in waging war in the name of God to overthrow their oppressors. Now, Paul wasn’t a Zealot, but he was zealous enough that he persecuted the church. As to righteousness under the law, blameless … so, before you made sacrifices, you were guilty. After you made sacrifices, you were blameless, and Paul says, on the rare occasion that I transgressed the law, I go to the temple and I go through all the purification rites, I’m blameless.

This was an unbeatable resume. If anyone could have confidence in this flesh, it was me. No one is more Jewish than me. But, notice what he says in verse 7 ...

7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”

The right kind of loss. This is an accounting metaphor of profits and losses. And, what he’s saying is, I used to put that list in the assets column, that resume I just gave you. But, now that Christ has revealed himself to me, now, compared to Christ, they are losses. Now, let’s don’t get this wrong. Paul is not saying, all of these things are bad things, or that achievement is bad. He’s saying, comparatively, it’s loss, compared to knowing Christ. It is the pearl, it is that treasure in the field. There is nothing more valuable.

In verse 8, he says, in fact …

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish …”

Rubbish. The word there for rubbish is skubalon, it’s a great word. Skubalon. And, it means excrement … I can’t actually say the best English translation for that word. He wants you to go to that depth. That’s what it is, comparatively, to Christ. Every city in that time had a dung gate, it was this, essentially this ditch that flowed out of the city, and it was full of all the … stuff, from the city. And, immediately, this word skubalon, would have brought that to mind, that that’s what this is, this whole resume, I don’t put my confidence in that. It’s, it’s skubalon, compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. So, again Paul is not saying all human achievement is worthless. He’s saying that, compared to Christ, and without Christ, it is.

So, how do we do this? I’m going to give us just three, to kind of flesh this out. What does it look like, because we’re, like, man, do I have to leave here and sell everything? Like, should we just sell this whole facility and go give everything to the poor? How do we do this, what does it look like to live this out? How do we count it all as loss?I’m going to give us three, quick ways.

First, is this, we will engage everything, so, to count it all as loss, means that we will engage everything that comes our way in life, as an opportunity to gain more of Christ. Everything that comes our way is an opportunity to gain for life. So, in everything that is pleasant, we will give thanks to Christ. In everything that is difficult, will lean on him for strength. And, everything in between, it will be a mishmash of thanks and dependency. This is counting all things as loss.

The second way, is we will interact with the things of this world in ways that demonstrate that they are not our ultimate treasure, but Christ is. They are not our ultimate treasure, but Christ is. All things in our life, then, will be given value, in relation to Christ. Meaning, we will hold our things loosely, and we will share our things generously. It’s a natural outflow of counting all things, loss. We are generous people, people that don’t hold tightly to things that rust and corrupt.

And then, finally, in losing the things of this world, we will not lose our joy, because our joy is Christ. We will experience loss in this world, we all have. We will experience it. But, in the midst of that, we will not grumble at the loss of all things, like Paul said in Philippians 2:14, as we looked at a couple weeks ago. And, in losing weightier things, we will grieve, but not as those with no hope, as 1 Thessalonians 4:13, says.

This is the right kind of loss. This is the kind of loss that leads to life, that leads you to what you were created for, which brings us to the last point.

THE BEST KIND OF KNOWING

Verses 8-11 …


8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Indeed, I count everything as loss, because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord … This is not just knowing biblical history, this is the kind of knowing that makes him say, Jesus, my Lord. My Lord, my savior. It’s personal. So, what does it mean to know Christ? Because, this seems to be the fountainhead from which the rest of these aspects flow. Knowing Christ is absolutely essential, and Paul says, again, this is what you were created for. This is what makes everything else, in comparison, skubalon.

So, how do we know Christ? Well, we know him biblically. This is how we know the grand story of redemption, which I recovered earlier. This is how we know the reality of Christ Jesus. It’s how Christ is revealed to his people. Christians are Bible people. We are scriptural people. We are tethered to scripture, and it is something that is our very life. It’s why we do Bible workshops, to dig into scripture, even deeper. It’s why every aspect of our gathering is an overflow, and built upon the foundation of scripture. So, we know Christ by knowing him biblically.

We know Christ by knowing him theologically. This is, essentially, being acquainted with the fundamental theological truths of the Christian faith, and then building from there, right? In our membership, we cover some of those, we cover our understanding of Christ, it’s called Christology. We understand salvation, soteriology, the trinity, humanity, scripture. We cover these basic theological truths, because apart from them, we cannot truly know Christ.

And then, finally, we know him personally. We know him personally. See, if we just know him theologically and doctrinally, knowing Christ is reduced to not falling into error. So, we say, if knowing Christ is just having good theology and doctrine, and nothing else, then as long as we are within orthodoxy and we can articulate our theology and our doctrine, then we’re safe, then we know Christ. Is that true? We know better than that, right? If we just know him biblically, knowing Christ is reduced to a cerebral exercise of one exegetical discovery after another. These are beautiful, these are good.

But, in that world, the Bible just becomes a textbook, just becomes a way of learning more. But, what brings it all together, is that we know him personally. See, if we know him personally, we commune with him as we learn of him. It means, our love for him grows, and we think of him, and we talk of him, and it overflows from us, and we have prayer just below the surface as we go throughout our day, that’s always breaking out. Scriptures coming to mind, we’re praying scripture as it comes to mind, we’re fellowshipping with the one who we were made for. It means our love for him grows, we think of him, we talk of him, and in knowing him, we live into the unshakeable joy that Paul points us to.

And, that’s what he says in verse 8, in verse 9, in knowing Christ, I gain Christ. I am in him, and he is in me. In knowing Christ, I am found in Christ. There is my home. That searching, that longing that has been happening in me since I was born, I’m found in him, as I know him. And, my heart is truly at rest, not dependent upon circumstances. And, my righteousness, it comes through faith in him. Righteousness is right standing before God. We can’t have confidence in the flesh and gain right standing before God. We have right standing before God, because he has found us, right? That’s Paul’s conversion story. On the way to persecute Christians, on the road to Damascus, a blinding light knocks him off his mule. And there, he comes to faith in Christ. He comes to know Christ.

So, I want to ask us this, as we wrap up. Does Christ look so good to us that everything else, by comparison, seems expendable? Does Christ look so good to us, that everything else, by comparison - we’re not saying everything we do is expendable - but by comparison, it seems expendable. Diamonds look like coal, power looks weak, flame looks fleeting. Does Christ’s worth have such an unshakeable grasp on our hearts that we are willing to let go of it all, if Christ were to call us?

Now, you might hear this and it might be terrifying to you. You might hear it and go, man, that’s … everything loss, in comparison to Christ? But, here’s a reality. Whether the cost seems terrifyingly high, or joyfully low, has everything to do with the worth of what you are receiving. And, if we grasp the full worth of Christ, it’s not a terrifying truth, but a joyful one, a freeing one.

In our Lent guide, you’ll notice this year, and I’ll encourage you to go through that Lent guide, it’s really good. And, this week, it’s connected every week to a specific spiritual discipline. And, this week it’s connected to fasting. It’s calling us to fast. And, Jesus said, when you fast - the expectation is that we would fast. And, this week I would encourage you to take this truth, this scripture, in the midst of your fasting, and meditate on it. Because, what does fasting say? It says, man does not live by bread alone, but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. It says, essentially, I could all things as loss for the sake of knowing you. I set it all aside, that I may know you.

And so, you begin to experience this reality. This may be something that you amen, but you’ve never experienced, or you don’t know how to experience. You’re not sure how to make this tangible and real in your life. I would encourage you, this week, to fast and make that your prayer. Make that your desire. Lord, I desire to know you deeply, and the way that I hear, Paul says that he knows you, so, Lord, I lay aside these other things, that I might look to you, and that I might come to know you as you truly are. See, that knowing leads to joy, deep, and abiding joy, the joy that Paul talks about in the first verse. That’s how he sets this whole thing up. He’s saying, essentially, if you live this out, it will lead to your joy. And, I know in my life, that when I am not, by comparison, counting all things as loss, my joy is sapped really quick.

I had, the past couple weeks, I was sure Genesis 8 was happening again, that the flood was going to consume us, and I wasn’t sure I was going to be one of the remnant, right? My son’s house flooded, this all at one time, the windows started leaking, my son’s car moonroof started leaking, the washer flooded, and the washing machine, all in one week. In the midst of that, my joy was sapped. I was done. I was done with water, I was done with snow, I was going to move into Young Hall up here, and that was it, right? I was there. But, it was revealing to me, it reveals to me, that, in comparison to Christ, I do not, truly, count all things as loss, right? So, rather than engaging, and God by his grace has given us wisdom, and grace, and people to help. If you want to help, let me know, still got to redo my son’s place. But, in the midst of all that, God had given many resources, but my meditation wasn’t upon that. It was upon the great loss that I was experiencing.

Christ is everything. It’s not just a Christian platitude. It truly is what we were created for. Let’s pray.

Jesus, we are grateful for this truth. Lord, you are our life. Everything pales in comparison to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, our Lord. Lord, would you make us people who don’t put confidence in the wrong thing. Make us people who go about life with the right kind of loss, and the best kind of knowing. Lord, may you be our all in all. And, Lord, we know that in that, that in every difficulty in life, our joy is not sapped. We gain more of Christ. And, every beauty in life, and every goodness we experience, it does not lead to our arrogance and pride, but it humbles us and leads us to gratitude and thanksgiving for our savior, who has given us all things. Lord, as we come to this table this morning, may we be reminded, again, again, of the infinite worth of Jesus Christ. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.