Pastor Matt Dennings

Old News is Good News-Full Sermon Transcript

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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.


Sharing our Riches in Christ-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS

SCRIPTURE READING

“Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

—Philippians 4:14–23 ESV

INTRO

Well, I’m back again. Well, today we get to finish our series in Philippians, and what’s interesting as we hit this last section, it’s easy, sometimes, to read scripture and to go, oh, are these just kind of some historical factoids at the end of a book? Isn’t that nice. But, what we’re going to see, is that Paul actually ends this letter in the same way that he actually began the letter, with the theme of partnership in the gospel, specifically this idea of stewardship. Stewardship. It may be a word you’ve heard before, which means, essentially, how we use our time, talent, and treasure, to bless and glorify God, to bless others.

One of the things that I think will help, a story that I once heard that will help us get, kind of, the thrust of this text, as Paul is ending this letter to the Philippian church. It’s a story I once heard about a boy, and his grandma, and a few other family members. And, the boy and his grandma, they decided to play Monopoly as a family, which - pastorally - I never advise families to play Monopoly together. It always ends up with someone at 1 a.m. calling grandma a cheater, and calling grandpa a liar. But, anyways, as they played the game, the boy was intense. He was intense, and he was lapping everyone around the board, he was gobbling up all the properties that he could get. And, he was kind of haughty about it the entire time, kind of in everyone’s face. And, when he won, he was gloating over his stacks of cash and how well he had done, and the whole family just kind of trickled away. And, when they were done, the grandma leaned in, after the family had trickled away, and she said, now, listen closely, cause I want you to learn the real lesson of the game. The real lesson is this: that now everything goes back in the box. That now, everything goes back in the box.

The point she wanted him to grasp, is that Monopoly, in many ways, is like life in miniature. The game of life, if you want to call it that, is about more than how many times you can pass go. At the end of the day, it’s about more than what you can aquire. It’s about more than the stacks of cash. It’s about more than the property. Life is meant for something more. Life is meant for something that lies beyond the box. Because, one day, it will all go back in the box. We’ll go in a box. Sometimes I feel weird as a pastor, cause I have to, like, talk about these things. Like … by the way, you’re going to die one day. Everyone’s like, why do you have to talk about that? I’m like … facts are stubborn things. We will one day, it will all go back in the box.

And, the question that Paul is surfacing here, which is, did you invest your life in what is most important? Did you invest your life in the things that are beyond that box? What lies beyond it? And, today, we’ll see that the only goal in life that will satisfy you, is a life stewarded for the glory of Jesus Christ. So, let’s pray, and then we’ll jump in.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for this text this morning. Father, we so often think fleeting or small things of your Word, and especially of the endings and beginnings of these letters. But, Father, help us to see, today, that these are more than just historical facts, but these are truths, eternal truths that you have put in the hearts of your people, and that you are using to communicate your Word, your very being, what is true of us as human beings as your creatures, what it means to find life in you. We ask that, for each of us, you would give us wisdom in how to apply this text, and discernment, and where that is needed. And, Father, we ask that you would do this by your Spirit. It is in Jesus’ name that we pray, amen.

  1. WHAT IS STEWARDSHIP? (vv14-16)

What is stewardship? I want to take a little bit more time to get into this before we jump in. What’s interesting, is Paul - as I said - began his letter to the Philippians, calling then partners in the gospel. If you go to chapter 1, verses 3-5, right after the intro, he launches into the main body of his letter with this … I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine, for you all, making my prayer with joy … why? … because of your partnership in the gospel, from the first day until now … They have constantly been partners with Paul in his ministry of the gospel. And, when we get to the end of the letter, Paul comes back to that theme. He says, then, in verse 14 … Yet, it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.

So, Paul now ends with this theme of stewardship, with this theme of partnering. Now, what’s interesting, is that the word that is used there, is a word that, if you’ve been around churches and whatnot, you’ve probably heard this word before. It’s the Greek word koinonia. And, the Greek word koinonia means, like, a rich, by God’s spirit indwelling in his people, kind of fellowship, a fellowship that only happens by God’s spirit bringing people together. And, Paul uses that, both in verse 14 - this is what we can miss in the English translation - in verse 14, when he says … it was kind of you to share my trouble … that word share is a compound word of with, in koinonia. That, you’ve fellowshipped with me in my suffering. Then, he comes back to, you’ve koinonia’d again, in your partnership in the gospel with me.

So, what is Paul saying here? What Paul is saying, is that when you are stewarding your finances - cause Paul is here, largely, talking about them sending him finances as we’ll see throughout his ministry. As you are sending me finances, you are not just sitting on the bench somewhere as a passive observer in my ministry. That is, as you stewards the resources that God has given you - and we’re going to expand this into your time, your talent, your treasure. As you steward those things, you share with me in this ministry. You share in my trouble. You are a partner with me. There is not, kind of, I’m in the game, and you are on the bench, and you’re over there. No, what stewardship means is that God has gifted his entire body with a diversity of giftings, and everyone’s in the game, and everyone has a part to play. Everyone shares in this ministry.

Now, stewardship is the most powerful means that God uses. Cause, the question, I should just say … why does God have us steward our finances? Why does God have us steward our time? Why does God have us steward our talents, our giftings? Why does he have us invest them into these things of this world? You go, well, pastor, you just talked about how everything goes in a box one day, and it’s gone, or whatever. Why do we invest in these things? Why do we spend time? What does this mean?

Well, stewardship of our lives is the most powerful way to align our hearts with God’s eternal kingdom. In other words, stewardship is the way that God trains us to love the things he loves, to value the things he values, to prioritize the things that he prioritizes. He does it through stewardship. Emmaus put out a Lent devotional, and each week we’ve been looking at a discipline. And, of course, this week is stewardship. And, it says this to kind of sum it up …

“Stewardship is the voluntary and generous offering of God’s gifts of time, talents, and treasure for the benefit and love of God and others. In stewarding our possessions we recognize that nothing really belongs to us. Rather, everything we have we’ve received from our Heavenly Father’s hand for His use through us. As we steward our resources our grip on things loosens and our hearts are freed; our mindset is transformed from one of possession to one of participation in God’s work of redemption.”

—The Emmaus Lent Devotional Guide

Stewardship is more than how we merely use our time, our talent, our treasure. Stewardship is how we learn to invest our very lives in what matters, and what is eternal. Cause, if you think about it, what is time, but the way that we measure our days, our every breath, our every moment? What is it for? If you think about it, our talents reflect the image of God stamped on us, to make an eternal dent in the universe. Our treasure, our resources, and money, and possessions, is meant to point us to a greater, a truer, lasting source of riches. In other words, stewardship is how we learn to invest our whole selves in something bigger, more satisfying and longer lasting than that box.

So, what’s interesting, is Paul - as he goes through here - there are many places that you could go in scripture to look at this theme of stewardship. But, as Paul is talking about stewardship here, he lays down, kind of, some principles that are, kind of, assumed, as he’s going through and talking to the Philippians.

And so, the first principle - I almost wanted to call this Kingdom Economics 101. What are the principles of stewardship that Paul lays down here? And, the first one is this. Stewardship is about practicing generosity vs presuming generosity. Look at verse 14 … Yet it was kind of you to share in my trouble … Notice Paul says it was kind of you. Paul doesn’t say, yeah, you were supposed to do that, right? Yeah, it was your duty to do that. Paul said, it was a kindness that you do this. And, why is that? Because, Paul knows that, ultimately, he doesn’t have to beat around the Philippians with these expectations that are sourced in him, but he knows that, ultimately, everything that’s provided, is provided by God. He, Paul, and we … at the end of the day, we don’t deserve anything. But, we receive grace and mercy, and that doesn’t change with stewardship.

So, out of the gate, like Paul, we need to highlight that stewardship is an act of kindness. In other words, it’s not a paying of dues. It’s not as if God’s grace comes with an invoice, and now this is the way that you pay me back, this is the way that you keep yourself in the kingdom, by investing your time, your talent, and your treasure in this way. But, in fact, it is of generosity, it is of grace.

Now, the second principle is that stewardship is about partnering with people vs purchasing of products. If you read verse 15 … And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with in giving and receiving, except you only … Paul says that, what happens, is you partnered with me. There wasn’t this kind of idea that it’s like, when you partner with me, that you’re actually just getting some kind of a service, or a good, or a product. But, what he’s saying here is that God’s kingdom is about partnering with God and his people, not purchasing a product. Why? Because, the kingdom of God is about people, not about products. When we stewards our finances, it reminds us of that as we partner with one another in what God is doing, that God’s kingdom is about people.

The third principle in this first point … stewardship is about long term vs short term commitment. Verse 16, he says this … Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Now, if you go back to Philippi when it was actually planted - this church that Paul is writing to here - if you go back to Acts 16, you can read the account of when Paul actually planted that church. Then, if you continue on to Acts 17, you’ll read about how after he left Philippi, Paul went on to Thessalonica, and there he planted a church, and as he was there, it was actually - it seems to be - slow going. Imagine that, the book of Acts with a slow growing church. We always think that it’s, like, explosive growth in the book of Acts, but Paul was actually there for quite a while. And he says, while I was there, right after you became Christians, you had no working categories or anything, at this point you joined in with me, and for the long term you invested what God was doing there.

Now, why is that important with stewardship? Because, often, this is actually what genuine gospel transformation looks like. It looks like slow, long term growth. One of the things that i think we miss sometimes is how much in scripture, especially if you look at the parables of Jesus, how does he describe growth? How does he describe the expansion of the kingdom? He uses agrarian examples, right? It’s like fruit growing, it’s like the grass growing. And, whoever thought it was exciting to go out and go, I’m going to go out and watch the grass grow today, right? This is going to be really exciting. The fact, is that growth is slow, and it happens many times over long seasons, and of course, just like when we grow and we have these sudden, kind of overnight, like, your four year old suddenly goes through a new size of shoes of whatnot, and you have these explosive points of growth, overall those are kind of blips, and overall it’s just a slow trajectory of steady growth.

But, often, we lose the value in that. But, stewardship and committing stewarding over time, for the long term, helps us to hold on to that. Stewardship makes us think long term versus short term, cultivating in us a healthy patience and a trust that God is at work. So, what is stewardship? It’s the call to invest our whole lives towards something bigger than ourselves. Stewardship is about practicing generosity versus presuming generosity, partnering with people versus purchasing products, and it’s about long term versus short term commitment. So, that is what stewardship is. But what motivates, or why, do we steward?

II. THE MOTIVATION OF STEWARDSHIP (vv17-18)

The motivation of stewardship. Paul is very careful in how he phrases verse 17. Look at verse 17, it’s actually, at first, if you read it and you think about what does he mean here, it’s a little bit confusing on the surface … Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit … So, Paul says, I don’t seek the gift, I don’t seek these finances from you, but I’m seeking fruit that increases to your credit. Why does he say this? Well, in the ancient world, the way that gifts would work … we tend to think of gifts as something that’s more, kind of, altruistic, right? Like, I give you a gift, and there’s no strings attached. If there’s strings attached, it’s not really a gift, right?

Well, in the ancient world, that’s not how gifts worked. And so, what Paul’s saying, is right after saying that when you first became a believer, I gave you the gift of the gospel - in Acts 16 - then, in Acts 17, when I continued on, and you started financially giving to what I was doing, and from that day until now, you’ve been doing that. Paul says, I want you to understand that you’re not doing it because you have some obligation to repay my original gift to you. Because, he saying I give you a gift, you give me a gift, and I’ve got to give you a gift, and then … it just never ends, right? We know how that works. We know Christmas.

And so, here’s something that’s helpful …

“In antiquity it was taken for granted that gifts are accompanied by obligations and should elicit some form of return… they did not share the modern idealization of the unilateral gift, which has such a powerful hold on contemporary notions of ‘altruism’.”

—John Barclay, Paul & the Gift

So, again, today a gift is defined as no strings attached, but in that day, that wasn’t how a gift was defined. And so, if the cultural expectations were different in Paul’s day, he’s saying he doesn’t want their motivation to give financially to be because of an obligation to him. He doesn’t want it to be one of obligation. He doesn’t way to say I gave you a gift, and it’s only proper, you know, that you give me a gift of equal or greater in return, right? But, instead, he wants their financial giving to be a fruit of a life overflowing from their life in Christ. And so, this is the first principle under the motivation of stewardship. Stewardship is about overflowing fruitfulness vs obligatory gifts. Because, we receive righteousness, we don’t achieve it. We can never pay it back.

Think about that. If God said, here’s the gift of salvation. Now, when you get around to it, we’ll take out a 30 year mortgage and you can pay be back. That’s not how it works. There’s no way we could ever pay God back for the gift of salvation. And so, we are not under an obligation to pay it back. This is why, by the way, you may have wondered this. When we do our - it’s called a liturgy - the order of our service, when we get to our offering every week, we say something along the lines of … we give as an expression of our thankfulness for grace, rather than to purchase grace. You guys heard us say that a lot, and you probably hear some kind of a theme consistent with that, or similar to that, repeated every single week. And, you might be going, why do we say that every single week? And, we say it every single week because we want to, by the repetition, work that truth down into our hearts. Because, it is so hard when we live in a world of everything is … you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours … and obligations to return things. We have a free gift of grace from God.

And, God says, you are under no obligation to return that, to repay that. And so, we have to again, and again, say that to ourselves so that it works down from our heads into our hearts. And, we have a free and a great salvation. That inner motivation takes a lifetime of repeated training, until eventually our hearts say … I don’t have to give, but I get to give. I don’t have to, but I get to. And, Paul continues in verse 18. What’s interesting in here, is he says, describing their offering, he describes it then, using language from Leviticus. So, read verse 18 … I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God … Did you catch that? A fragrant offering? A sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God?

Paul says he uses this Levitical language, language from the Old Testament law, when they would have to offer a sacrifice for their sins, and Paul says that, now though, instead of offering because you are under an obligation to deal and pay for your sins, instead, now, you are under the banner of grace, cause Jesus Christ has fulfilled that offering system, and that sacrificial system. And so, now you are offering to express the grace that you have received. And so, now you are offering to God. And so, the next principle. Stewardship is about pleasing God vs placating God. The Spirit of God has given us a desire to preach the gospel with our wallets, our schedule, our energy, our skills, and our talents. And, when we stewards our resources, we fan that into flame. And so, we spend our life offering the beautiful and unique offering that only we, with our giftings, can present to the God of the universe, and that preaches the gospel to our souls of how beautiful the grace is we’ve been given in Jesus. And, stewardship is a way to channel that light to God, and express that delight to God.

God has not rejected us, but has accepted us through the perfect offering of Jesus Christ. Seeing us in our sin and brokenness, God overflows with grace and love towards us, because that is who he is. And so, stewardship isn’t motivated by an overwhelming sense of guilt, but an overflow of grace. So, why steward? Because, it is an expression of the gospel, that God has fully paid the price of our redemption, and therefore we give not to placate God, but to please God.

So, we’ve covered what stewardship is and why we steward, but what happens when we stewards? What happens when we invest our lives in the things that God values?

III. THE RICHES OF STEWARDSHIP (vv19-23)

Lastly, the riches of stewardship. So, here’s the question for us. If we’re honest, I know that sometimes when we heard these things like stewardship, investing our finances, offering our finances, offering our time, offering our talents for the uses that God has called them to … I know that in church we’re just supposed to nod our heads and say amen, right? We’re supposed to go … yeah, yeah Pastor. But, why is it so hard to do it? Why is it so hard to actually begin doing it?

Well, it’s interesting because Paul goes right there. In verse 19, he says … And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus … See, Paul rushes right in and says, I need to address something that I know you’re assuming. If I give of my supply, then what supply will I have left? If I give of my money, what money will I have left? If I give of my time, what time will I have left? If I give of my talents, what talent, what time for my talents and investment will I have left?

One of the main reasons that we don’t steward, is that we fear that we are losing our riches. We fear that in stewarding our resources, that we are losing our riches. But, do you see what Paul says here? He says that it’s in stewarding that we actually gain and discover true riches, that we actually discover true riches. It’s like playing Monopoly, when everything is focused on the board. It’s easy to forget that everything will actually, at the end of the day, go back in the box. So, we go around and around, year after year, pursuing riches that will not last. Things that will not last. But stewardship, Paul says, frees us from false riches to discover true riches, to what lasts beyond the box.

Now, what are these true riches? I had to think about this for a while, because I could obviously say, well, and my God will supply you every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. There you go, your riches are in glory, in Christ Jesus. You go, yeah, that sounds good, okay. But, tangibly, what does that mean? What does that tangibly look like? And, I had to think about this for actually quite a while, because I was looking at it going, what is Paul really talking about here?

And, I realized it goes back to how Paul began this section in chapter 4, this last section. And, it’s a them we see again, and again, in Paul’s letters. He says this in 4:1 … Therefore my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved … So, Paul comes back and he says, the way that you know true riches … See, Paul, again and again, when he says I’m investing, I’m laying down my life, I’m pouring myself out as a sacrifice, all these different ways he explains it and describes it in all of his different letters. He never says I’ve done this so that then you’ll pay me. He never says I do this so that then maybe you will supply me with a nice little carriage or a car, you know, or that you will supply me with a house. He always says, again and again, my riches are you. My riches are that I get to be on the front lines of seeing you know Christ. You are my joy, you are my crown. Again and again, Paul highlights that. True riches, in other words, tangibly, is most found when we see others see Jesus. When we see others grow and know Christ.

Now, why is that? In some ways, it’s so simple it’s obvious. Because, the one thing that won’t perish is people. Eternal souls. Now, Jesus didn’t come for things, he came for people. Now i know theologically, you know, things are redeemed and the physical world is, like, you know, refined and everything. But, what I mean is, that, like, today at lunch I’m not concerned about the redemption of my sandwich, right? Like, Jesus didn’t come to save my sandwich. Jesus came to save eternal souls, he came to save people. True riches, then, are discovered when we invest our lives in the eternal life of others, in others seeing Christ for the first time. And, I think one of the things that I realized while doing this, is sometimes we forget how beautiful that is. Sometimes we forget how beautiful it is when we’re in someone’s life. You remember that first time when you first saw Christ for who he is. When you first realized the grace that you had been given. Have you ever been in someone’s life where you had a front row seat to see their eyes opened for the first time to seeing the beauty of Christ? It’s riches.

This hit me recently. I was actually at a presentation, and Larry Thomas - Larry’s here - he was doing a presentation on a ministry that they do internationally. It’s a medical mission, and one of the things that they do, is they do these cataract surgeries. And, what they have, is they go into these villages, and there are many individuals who have never really been able to see a day in their life. And, there’s a video that they showed of this one gal named Lalise. And, it starts the video where Lalise’s eyes are bandaged, and her whole life she’s been blind. And, it was a simple cataract surgery that actually allowed her to see, but she couldn’t get it. And, they captured it on video. At that time, she had a baby. She had never seen the baby. And, this captures the moment when she opened her eyes, and for the first time, she saw her child. The first time that she saw this child that she had never seen. And, in that moment, when I saw that, I said … that’s a picture. We forget so often how beautiful it is when we open our eyes for the first time, and we can see Christ for who he is. That look, that freedom, that removal of guilt that comes with that.

And, here’s the thing … when you see that, just like when I saw that, I wanted to be like, Larry … here’s my wallet. Take whatever you need, right? More of that. More of that. In the same way, that when we see others see Christ for the first time, we don’t anymore hoard, we aren’t sitting there with our stacks of cash on the board, and we’re not thinking about how many times we can go around the board. We just push it all to the center, and we say … take it. Take it, because I want to see more of this. I want to see eyes opened. And, what Paul is saying, is this is true riches. These are the faces that will be on the streets of the new Jerusalem. The grace cannot hold it. And, Paul says, your life can be given to this. The effect of living as a people, as a church, as people who steward everything, who say there is something beyond this world that is worth my all, verses in this world. It’s something that stands out.

In fact, you see it here in verse 22. Paul closes by saying … All the saints greet you, especially … Paul wants to highlight this. Paul is in a Roman prison, in the palace of Caesar, at the most decadent, established, powerful city in the world, and he says, by the way … especially those … who are in … Caesar’s household. He’s seeing people come to Christ while he’s starving in prison, while he’s in chains, he’s in tatters … but, what they see, is they see this partnership going back and forth, and they see that him and the people who he’s speaking to, they have something that’s worth more than anything in this world can provide. And, their eyes are opened.

If you read, there’s a letter about 70 years after this letter that Paul wrote to the Philippians. Another letter is written to the church at Philippi. It’s by an early church father about 120 AD named Polycarp. And, Polycarp writes them a letter, and in the letter he goes on and on in the first chapter, where he says … again, this is 70 years later, where he says, you’ve been known for your sacrificial giving, since the beginning, since Acts 16, what Paul’s talking about here. He says, you’re known for overflowing with this joy in Christ, and that’s still here, today. Do you see what happened? Their children in the church in Philippi saw this in their parent’s lives. The community saw this in their lives, and they saw that this isn’t just a game. Jesus isn’t just for Sundays. He’s more than a weekend thing. His kingdom is coming, and it’s worth everything we have, and we are all in.

And so, they saw that one generation after another generation after another generation, and their legacy was not whatever went in the box. Their legacy was something that could not be extinguished by the grave. But, by eyes that were opened. Can you imagine, Emmaus, if it’s 70 years from now? Imagine this, 70 years from now, if you were able to come here, maybe some of you who are in this room who right now are babbling, will still be alive and be in this room. But, most of us will be gone. Can you imagine coming in here and you see that all that has happened is that there is still just a love for Jesus? A love for Jesus, because they say, what I learned here is that the most valuable thing I can give my time, my talent, and my treasure to, is something that lies beyond this world. It preaches the gospel.

It says that Jesus is everything. And, it starts with how we steward our time, our talent, and our treasure today. One of the things, obviously as I’m talking about this, I always feel weird talking about stewardship, because obviously at some point it’s like … okay, as the pastor, when is he going to ask me to volunteer for something, right? And, I want you to be able to invest your time, talent, and treasure here confidently, I do. I want you to be able to invest your time, talent, and treasure here as well as everywhere else where the Lord has placed you with influence. One of the things, though, is when we do it in the local church, is that we learn to do it. And, what happens is we actually take steps that commit us to doing it, and then as we commit to it, we start to do it in all other areas of our life as well. It’s almost like if you don’t do it at home, you probably aren’t actually doing it elsewhere. There’s probably a lot of talking, not a lot of doing.

And so, one of the things that I want to say, is that Emmaus, this is why again, and again, we come back to that Emmaus is about more than just building some kind of a platform. Emmaus is about more than just one person, or persona. If there’s one persona, it’s Jesus. One of the things we ask ourselves again, and again, and again as elders, as the three of us pastors, we’re asking ourselves this. If 100 years from now Emmaus is still here, who gets the applause? Is it Jesus, or one of us? Who gets the applaus? Who’s this really for, what is this really about? And, we constantly challenge ourselves.

In fact, one of the mottos I’ve tried to grab onto, lately, is from a guy named Count Zinzendorf. I don’t know if I want to steal more his motto, or his name. But, it’s this … he says …

“Preach Christ. Die. Be forgotten.”

—Count Nikolaus Ludwig, Reichsgraf von Zinzendorf (1700-1760)

Preach Christ. Die. Be forgotten. Don’t you love that name? Count Nikolaus Ludwig, Reichsgraf von Zinzendorf. It can be my new title. But, think of it … preach Christ. Steward Christ. Give yourself to Christ. I know I used to think … and then be forgotten? Like, die and be forgotten? What does that mean? Well, it’s all going to be lost anyways. In fact, if you want to have a legacy and something that lasts, I mean, I think about, like, when baseball’s gone, the legacy of Babe Ruth is gone. There are countless rulers who were mighty, who had a legacy and a country, and when that country was gone, their legacy was gone. Your legacy can only be as big as what it is in, and if your legacy is in Jesus Christ, it never diminishes. And so, invest your life in Jesus. Invest your life in what he is doing. Invest your life in souls.

But, for that to happen, for Emmaus to remain a church that is about Jesus and Jesus alone, one of the things that we have to all put our arms around and understand, is it means everyone has to lean in with their giftings. Everyone has to lean in with their time, everyone has to lean in with their resources. We all have to lean in. One of the things in 1 Peter, I should have had it here … but, 1 Peter that we come to again and again with the volunteers on Sunday mornings, is that it says that some of you are gifted with hospitality, some of you serve in other ways, some of you speak, some of you pray, some of you heal, some of you … all of these giftings, Peter says, and he says if that’s happening, if that’s happening in the local church, what will happen is it will bring glory to Jesus Christ.

Why is that? Because we know to … we’re alive in 2019, just watch a couple TED talks and you can figure out how to put something together and make it work. But, it is a supernatural grace and a movement of God when his people, with all these diverse gifts, all these different people who have no reason to be together, come together with all the parts working in unison, and you say, there must be something else there that motivates it. Something beyond the box, something beyond this world. Or else, it just has to be done in the flesh, and then continued in the flesh.

One day everything will go back in the box. What riches will remain? What will remain? Each of us is called and equipped for this time. Don’t miss out on true riches. What gifts has God given you by his spirit? What time has God given you to invest in others? What resources has he given you to be invested? So that we would see eyes opened to what lies beyond the box.

I have to read the words of Jesus. He says …

““Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

—Matthew 6:19–20 ESV

Emmaus, don’t live for the box. Steward the riches you have in Jesus Christ, sharing them with others, and find a richer life in him. Let’s pray.

Lord God, we thank you for the riches we have in Christ. Father, open our eyes to where we are living not just for the box. Spirit, grant us wisdom, each individually, for what this means for us, and motivate our hearts to action, not through an oppressive guilt, but through an overflow of gospel grace. We ask this 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.