bible

Kingdom Authority-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

“And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.”

—Mark 1:21–34 ESV

INTRO (v21)

My name is Forrest, I’m one of the pastors here, and it is great to be with you on this Father’s Day. We are in our third week in a series on the book of Mark that we’ll be journeying in throughout the summer. And, last week we looked at the reality of the kingdom, that this kingdom is at hand, but that this kingdom is now, and not yet. That, it is here, it is within reach, and we get glimpses of it and tastes of it, and the reality of the kingdom breaks into our lives in different ways, but it is not yet. We have not yet experienced it in its fullness.

And so, from there, to this text this morning - starting at verse 21 - we see what that kingdom looks like. We see how that kingdom authority comes to bear in our lives, and how it’s fleshed out. So, we want to look first at the setting. This is a 24 hour period, actually from verse 21 through the end of the chapter. This is a 24 hour period, and we’re going to spend the next two weeks looking at this 24 hours, this day in the life of Jesus. But, there are four words in verse 21 that I think will give us our setting for the day, and our setting for our text this morning.

The first word is Capernaum. So, we see there in verse 21 … And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching … So, Capernaum was on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. All of this is taking place in the book of Mark all the way up to chapter 8, in this region of Galilee. And, Capernaum was a city of, it seems like, about 1500 people on the northwest shore of the sea of Galilee. Jesus grew up a few miles southwest of Galilee in a little town called Nazareth. But, Capernaum can be thought of as Jesus’ homebase during his few short years of ministry. In fact, in one point in the book of Mark, it says that Jesus went home there, was most likely the home of Simon Peter. But, it was essentially his base for the few years of public ministry that Jesus was engaged in.

And then, we see sabbath. He comes into Capernaum on the sabbath. Now,  sabbath was the Jewish day for rest and worship, as many of us know, that ran from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. And, this was central to Jewish life, the whole life of the Jewish people, God’s people, revolved around this sabbath day. And, he comes to Cappernaum on the sabbath, and he goes into a synagogue. Synagogue was the hub of Jewish life. During the week, children would be educated in the synagogue and they would learn the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. And, they would study it, and then on the sabbath the village would come together for, essentially, a time of worship and teaching during the first part of Saturday morning.

And, they would do this in four parts. There would be prayer, then there would be the reading of the Torah, then there would be the teaching, and then there would be some kind of blessing of benediction for God’s people. So, Jesus comes into the center of Jewish life, and it says that he comes into it and he is teaching. Now, the synagogue gathering was very teaching-focused. That took up the majority of the time of worship. And, there was a ruler, normally, in towns where there was a synagogue, there was a ruler who oversaw the synagogue, but it was volunteer, he wasn’t paid, and he may or may not be someone who taught in the synagogue. So, he wasn’t necessarily a teacher. So, what would happen, often, is that visiting rabbis would come through, and these visiting rabbis would teach in the synagogue.

So, this is what Jesus is doing. He’s coming to the center of God’s people, the hub of the life of God’s people to begin his public ministry. So, that’s the setting. And, what we’re going to see as it unfolds, as we see what happens in that setting, is authority is the umbrella under which the rest of this chapter unfolds. And, what we’re going to see first, is there is an undeniable authority.

I. AN UNDENIABLE AUTHORITY (vv22-28)

So, it comes into this setting, and in verse 22 it says … And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out … Now, as we look at that, something may pop out to you like it did to me. On one hand, you have teaching that is so powerful, that is so authoritative that they are - it says - astonished at what they’re hearing. They’re astonished at his teaching. On the other hand, we’re not told anything about what he actually teaches. Do you notice that? They don’t unpack the content of his teaching. They don’t tell us anything about how impressive it was, or brilliant, or eloquent, or persuasive. It’s not even mentioned. You would think if the teaching is that authoritative, well tell me what he’s teaching! Cause, I want that content.

Instead, the text moves on immediately to the man with the unclean spirit. Which, is an impressive event - no doubt - but, at first glance, it’s not clear how this has anything to do with his teaching. Please, unpack his teaching for me. But, they’re saying the authority - it’s not that his content was not authoritative - it was - it’s just that the authority was not located in the content itself. Notice it says he … had authority, and not as the scribes … and, this sort of juxtaposition of Christ’s teaching and the scribes, helps bring to the surface a little bit for us what’s going on here.

The scribes were scholars. They were experts in the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. I mean, they had the first five books memorized. They had spent decades studying. And, what they would do often, is their form of teaching would be to quote other rabbis as sort of the basis for their authority. So, in other words, they teach this content, and then they would say … Rabbi so-and-so, I learned this from them … or, quote another rabbi, to give their teaching some authority, some power. Which, to be honest, is usually a means of becoming an impressive teacher, right? If we’re going to be an impressive teacher, you teach from your area of expertise. Perhaps you point others to your years of study, your experience and how you came to expertise in this particular area. You might even point to … I studied under this particular person who was greatly influential and mentored me. Those are all good things. But, that’s the authority that the scribes had, and they’re saying … Jesus’ authority is different. This is not the same kind of authority that we usually hear, even from perhaps the best teachers that come through.

And, the difference is found in this word authority

Authority (exousia) = rule, power, dominion

In Greek, it’s the word exousia, and it’s not authority in an academic sense. It means rule, it means power, it means dominion. Notice the breadth of this authority. And, this is why, rather than expanding on these specifics of Jesus’ teaching, the narrative goes immediately to the man with the unclean spirit. Look at what happens starting in verse 23 … And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? … [again] … A new teaching with authority! [exousia] ... He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

Mark is demonstrating that this is someone with real power. Notice that commanding the demon wasn’t done with hocus-pocus, or, you know, Harry Potter-type stuff, however we think of exorcisms or someone coming and having power over a demon. None of those things are happening here. All that happens is Jesus simply speaks, be silent, and come out of him. And, the man is delivered. The unclean spirit obeys.

What kind of authority is this? This is authority those in the synagogue have never seen. This isn’t, like, the typical authority of the scribes. This is a different kind of authority. And, I think the idea even underneath this power and dominion is that he teaches out of the original. In other words, as an author teaches. Right? We can talk about - speaking of Harry Potter - we can talk about Harry Potter all day, but if you go to the author, they’re going to be able to speak on it with a kind of authority that you and I cannot. That’s what’s happening here. The author of all creation is speaking out of that kind of authority. There is nothing in this world that is not subjecting him. And, while they cannot articulate it, they’re experiencing that kind of authority.

Now, this is the authority of an author, the one who we go all the way back to creation, Christ is creating. So, what are the implications, then, of this new authority? What are the implications, if this is truly an authority? That’s great, that’s powerful, but how does that come to bear in our life? What does that mean for us on a day to day basis?

So, the first thing we see is an undeniable authority, which leads to a healing authority.

II. A HEALING AUTHORITY (vv29-34)
We see this in verses 29 through 34 … And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John … remember, he’s just called them earlier in the chapter … Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them … The fever left her. He lifted her up. This is healing authority.

So, this is not just a new and different teaching. The authority doesn’t just come because he’s bringing a different aspect of teaching, though he is doing that. This authority expresses itself in healing, and in mending, and in renewing. This is the reality of the kingdom come to bear in our lives, in the lives of those who are his people. It is an authority that brings healing. That is what happens as the kingdom is fleshed out, is that the brokenness, it is the balm for brokenness. And, this is not just spiritual, though it does - a little later, I think it’s in the next chapter where it says he has the same authority, power - exousia - to forgive sins. It also comes to bear in the physical. This is not just spiritual healing, it’s healing that comes into his creation, into what is being created, his good creation. It’s physical, as well.

And, we can find great hope in this. I think one of the ways Christianity distinguishes itself from all other religious systems, is that it says stuff matters. The physical matters, or as people have put it in the past, matter matters. The physical is not just something to be done away with. And, this thinking - which, honestly, the roots of it kind of go back to something called gnosticism, which was really the first real heresy to gain traction in the early church and challenge the doctrine of the early church. It essentially said that material stuff is evil, it’s not good, and so it’s to be done away with. And so, we gain this spiritual sort of gnosis, secret knowledge to overcome and do away with this evil. I’m reducing it quite a bit, but that’s the idea there. It said that physical stuff doesn’t matter.

And, somehow, this has crept its way into the thinking of the church. That, somehow, we believe - I’ve heard it said in the church, I’ve had people tell me - oh, it doesn’t matter, it’s all going to burn in the end. Well, guess what? It’s not. It’s not all going to burn in the end. That’s not what scripture teaches. I mean, the reality is, what we do day to day life in the physical, it matters. That, in some grand, mysterious, beautiful way, that the work we engage in now, to join God, and seeing this healing happen, that as we join him, that there is - in some sense - this carries over, in some way, into the new creation. We don’t have all the lines and boundaries of that, but we do know that God is redeeming all things, and as we join him in his work of doing the physical things, that it matters.

The idea that the world will be done away with, that we’ll somehow, one day, be left floating away into this disembodied spiritual reality, is just not in scripture. It’s just not biblical, which is why Jesus’ authority is not just limited to his teaching, but it comes to bear in the physical realm. It comes to bear in healing.

C.S. Lewis has a good quote on this …

There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: …He likes matter. He invented it.”

—C.S. Lewis

That’s great, isn’t it? He likes matter. He invented it. It’s good, it’s creation, and good. Yes, it’s been marred by the Fall and our sinfulness and the result of sin is brokenness that all of us experience. But, this matter matters. This is why there’s physical healing as he begins his ministry. He goes right to the physical. Matter is so important to God that his kingdom is marked, and his authority is marked by healing sick bodies. The death hear, the blind see, the lame walk, other gospels tell us very explicitly. We’re told in scripture to take care of the widow and the orphan, these very physical, broken realities that we’re to engage.

Sin has broken in to this world, though, and it’s left the world broken, right? And, we’re all touched by this. We know that. Author Zach Eswine includes these physical, broken realities that we experience, in something he calls inconsolable things. And, we all live with the measure, in the now and the not yet, or inconsolable things, and here’s what he says …

““Inconsolable things” are the sins and miseries that will not be eradicated until heaven comes home, the things that only Jesus, and no one of us, can overcome. We cannot expect to change what Jesus has left unfixed for the moment. The presence of inconsolable things does not mean the absence of Jesus’ power, however. Rather, it establishes the context for it. There in the midst of what is inconsolable to us, the true unique nature and quality of Jesus’s power shows itself to be unlike any other power we have seen.”

—Zack Eswine

That’s what they see in the synagogue. This authority, this healing authority. Who does this? We’ve never met anyone like him. And, it is true today. We can say the same thing, that Jesus, in the midst of the inconsolable things of life, has healing power that comes to bear in our lives. And, while not everything will be fixed here and now, it is coming one day. And, he is present with us here and now, in the midst of the inconsolable things.

So, is Jesus’ authority demonstrated in the midst of inconsolable things? We all have them, we can all name those things, can’t we? I’m 47, which for some of you, that’s really old. For my children, apparently, who call me an old man now, that’s like … dad has left, and old man has replaced him. I’m feeling my body do things it's never done. I’ve always been active, so I spent a half day, literally 6 months ago on a chain saw, and my shoulder is now just recovering, from four hours of a chain saw. I’ve run since I was in high school, and I’m having some crazy achilles tendonitis, that I’m limping for, like, three days every time I run. So, I’m not running anymore. So, I started riding a bike, but I kept lifting weights, and then last Friday I’m with my daughter lifting weights, and I’m doing deadlifts, and I went to pick it up, and my back went - pop! And, I went down to my knees and my daughter was like … what’s wrong with you!? I’m like, I can’t stand up, honey. Seriously. So, I walked out of the gym visibly injured, and the lady at the front door, she had the audacity to say ... I hope you had a good workout. Do you see me? No, I didn’t have a good workout. I want my $10 a month back.

This is the reality of inconsolable things. You know, I’ve probably played my last game of touch football in the park, because things start snapping and popping at my age when you try to go do that stuff. These things are true, and they’re not changing. I’m not going to go back to the physical way that I was at 25 years old - that’s not happening. That’s kind of a lighthearted thing, some of us have experienced inconsolable things and ways that, at times, feel unbearable.

So, how is Jesus’ authority demonstrated in the midst of inconsolable things? There’s a lot of debate in the church, oftentimes it’s between different camps. Like, if God’s kingdom is to come to bear now, then it’s God’s desire for everyone to be healed, 100% of the time. And so, it’s faith and sin are the only reasons that people aren’t healed. But, that has issues, because what do you do with … precious in the eyes of the Lord are the death of his saints … right? So, what we’re battling around is this reality of the now and the not yet.So, how does this healing authority come to bear in our lives, in the midst of inconsolable things?

First, there is a time coming - which goes back to the now and the not yet - when all sin will be done away with, and brokenness in every form will be healed. Where, everything that is wrong will be made right, and in some sense, all the wrongs of this world will be undone. I don’t know how, but Jesus in his healing authority will do that. So, it comes to bear in the now and not yet, that one day all things will be made right.

Second, his healing authority comes to bear in this … I think we should ask God for healing. And, I don’t just mean physical, bodily healing, though I do include that. We should ask God for healing, we should look for it. We should be grateful for it when he gives it, because I believe at times, in his authority and his wisdom, he gives it. So, let’s ask for it, and let’s be grateful when he gives it, because in doing so, we’re joining with Jesus and his prayer for the kingdom of God to come to earth, for it to be on earth as it is in heaven. And, we trust his wisdom in the midst of inconsolable things, as we ask for what seems best to us in the midst of it, informed by his word.

And, third, in the midst of inconsolable things, his healing power comes to bear in that the broken aspects of our lives are not defeats. Now, how do I turn to that? What do I turn to for the proof of that? Romans 8:35-39, and it’s all throughout scripture, but I think it really focuses on where our hope lines in the midst of things that feel like defeats …

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? … [listen to these inconsolable things] … Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

—Romans 8:35-39 ESV

That’s how his healing authority comes to bear. There is no power, no ruler that is greater, that can undermine his authority, and his healing power that comes to bear in your life, his love for you is unshakeable. And so, in the midst of inconsolable things, where we can’t fix them, the physical brokenness of this world is coming to bear, the sinfulness of our own hearts is coming to bear in our lives, and is having ripple effects that we cannot seem to fix. We’re reminded that even in these things, we are more than conquerors. That, his love for us in these things is unshakeable, and it is bringing about our good, whether we can see it, or not. See, there are things in life that we can neither change nor soothe, but Jesus can, and Jesus does. And, we can trust him because of his healing authority.

So, his healing authority comes to bear in our life, but also we see - I think - another aspect. There’s much overlap here, but we also see his resurrecting authority.

III. A RESURRECTING AUTHORITY (vv30-31)

Inverses 30 and 31 …  Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them … Now, we don’t know what happens to the demon-oppressed man, but we do know what happens to Simon’s mother-in-law. We see that she had this fever, and that Jesus literally lifted her up. Literally translated, he raised her. It means that he raised her. Everywhere in the book of Mark where someone is healed, this same word is used. In the next chapter, chapter 2, the paralytic is raised. In Mark chapter 5, Jairus’ daughter is raised. A boy with an unclean spirit is raised in Mark 9. Blind Bartimaeus, the beggar, in Mark 10. The same word is used in all of these instances, that they are raised. It’s the idea that they are going from death to life. The same word is used to describe Jesus being raised, his resurrection.

See, when Jesus demonstrates his undeniable authority of the kingdom, it doesn’t subjugate as our kingdoms of this world do. It doesn’t destroy as the kings of this world tend to do. It resurrects, it revives, it brings life. And, that’s what we see in Simon’s mother-in-law. Fever at that time was life threatening. It wasn’t like today, where you pop a couple pills and monitor it a little bit, and put a rag on your head. It was life threatening, it was no small thing. Notice what she does, though, what this resurrection looks like in the life of his people. When she is raised, when she is lifted up, it says at the end of verse 31 … and she began to serve them … Does that strike you?

We don’t know how sick she was, but it was bad enough that they told Jesus about it. She’s in bed, with fever, potentially deathbed. She goes from that, to immediately serving. Do you see the holistic reality of Jesus’ healing and resurrection life? It’s holistic. She didn’t just go about her own business. She didn’t just do what she wanted to do. She didn’t just think like I do when my back is out, about all the things that I could be doing, but I can’t because I can’t stand up straight. She didn’t go do those things. She immediately began to serve. She began to show hospitality, generosity. She began to serve the one with resurrecting authority in her midst, and in a sense, build this life-giving community right where she was.

When Jesus’ authority comes to bear in our lives, it gives us a new set of priorities. We’re drawn to hospitality, generosity, to meeting the needs of others before ourselves. These things are so unnatural to us, right? We, in life, tend to think life is about dominating. I use the example, oftentimes, of pro-sports. Our high school football coach used to say, when you score a touchdown, act like you’ve been there before. I think we’ve kind of lost that, right? Now we score a touchdown, and we’re flexing … I mean, I don’t score any touchdowns. They score a touchdown. They dunk on people - I still do that - not really, I don’t. They dunk on people, and what do they do? They stand over them and flex, right? They dominate. They want you to know that I have subjected you, that this life of Jesus, this rule of the kingdom is very different.

We get a new set of priorities, as Jesus raises us from death to life. We’re drawn to these things, and not because the resurrection has to be paid back. How do you pay back death to life? You can’t, you don’t. It’s not to pay anything back, it’s because it’s what we desire to do, because we have before us what our Savior has done for us. We begin to serve in the midst of inconsolable things because Christ has served us in the midst of our inconsolable things. And, that overflows into the life of one another, and the life of Emmaus church should be overflowing to the life of those that are outside of us. That’s the authority of the kingdom, and the resurrection of the kingdom.

But, here’s what’s crucial: In the midst of the inconsolable things of life, where Jesus has resurrected us, and we turn and we look, and we recognize the unbelievable amount of inconsolable things, we can begin to serve in ways that are less than God-honoring, and perhaps even less than effective. In the midst of the inconsolable things of life, we have to distinguish between busyness, and service. Because, busyness often masquerades as service. We can look like servants, we can look really busy, and actually not be serving the way we’re called to. I think immediately, of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 …

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

—Luke 10:38-42 ESV

So, here is Martha, probably looking to all appearances, a gracious servant. But, Jesus discerned differently, and gives her a gentle rebuke in the midst of it. He saw that Martha’s apparent service was actually anxious busyness. Anyone else ever feel that? Man, how often do I trade true, Christ honoring service for anxious busyness. I’m guilty.

I recently read a description of a busy pastor, but I think it can be applied to busy Christians, in general. It said that, actually, those terms should not go with one another. Because, she said, a busy Christian is a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him. This anxious busyness is a blasphemous desire to do God’s work for him. And, to kind of dig down on this, we go about our busyness rather than service, I think, for a couple reasons.


Now, I have to give a nod, too. Sometimes we look around at the inconsolable things in the world, and we become apathetic, because there’s just so much, we don’t even know what to do. And, that undermines our service. But, to busyness, specifically, which I think - culturally - the more we grow in the ability to office wherever we are, and to have access to anything and everything all the time, I think we’re more prone to anxious busyness, rather than just apathy, though I think both of them come to bear.

We go about busyness rather than service, I think, because of two main reasons. One, we become busy in our vanity. And, it may be hidden from us. Unless we’re asking the Lord to search us, we just begin operating in this way. We live in a culture where overflowing schedules and frantic pacing communicates significance, right? We say, oh look at that person. Man, they’re so busy. They’re just overwhelmed, they just can’t get it done. And, what’s underneath that a lot of times is just a little bit of, kind of, admiration and awe, right? Man, they just work so hard. And, hard work is biblical. Don’t get me wrong, we should be hard workers, and if we’re going to serve well, it’s going to mean hard work. So, busyness and hard work are not synonyms, right? Busyness is this anxious busyness that does not honor the Lord.

So, when we go by a restaurant and we see a line outside, and we see the waiters and waitresses and chefs running around like chickens with their heads cut off, we go, man, that’s probably a good place to eat. Look at the line, right? When you go by Caroline’s Cafe, and everyone’ sitting outside at noon waiting for that gigantic cinnamon bun or whatever it is … coffee cake? Sorry. Man, I can’t be in Redlands and not know that. Coffee cake! Right? That’s, like, twice the size of my head. Everyone’s waiting for that. We assume, immediately, that’s a place of significance, because there’s activity. But, activity - props to the coffee cake - it doesn’t necessarily mean that what’s happening there is significant.


So, what we do if frantic pacing and overflowing schedules communicate importance, in my vanity, I’m tempted to follow suit, because it communicates, somehow, my significance. Our lives should be full, they should not be full of anxious busyness. They should be full of service. Or, secondly, we go about busyness rather than service because of two reasons. We become busy in our laziness. Eugene Peterson says this …

“By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us; then we find ourselves frantically, at the last minute, trying to satisfy a half dozen different demands on our time, none of which is essential to our vocation, to stave off the disaster of disappointing someone”

—Eugene Peterson


What he’s saying here, is that if we do not have a focus for our service in the midst of inconsolable things, if we are not planned out, if we do not have a goal and then work back from there on how we are going to hem in our service so that we can reach that, he’s saying, if you don’t plan your life, everyone else will plan it for you, and you will end up being an anxiously busy person rather than a servant-hearted person. See, true service is doing the right things for the right reasons, right? It’s this overflow of heart out of what Christ has done for us, out of his healing and resurrection, out of that we serve, and we work.

So, perhaps this morning, you hear that and you think … man, anxiously busy describes me. I would encourage you to dig down on what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it, and maybe ask yourself some questions. What do I desire to do? What do I really desire to do in the midst of life’s inconsolable things? What do I desire to do? What am I good at? What do I have an opportunity to do, and what do I have the character to do? That, I go in the midst of it, and it doesn’t destroy me, it doesn’t wreck me. Think about those things, and then we begin to get some banks for the river that is our life of service and response to what the Lord has done.

So, this word here for serve … it’s the word used for deacon. And, it’s used in the New Testament to describe a broad range of acts and service. It’s one of the marks of the family of God, that we are to be deaconing one another, we are to be serving one another, and this is a telltale sign of the authority of God’s kingdom coming to bear in the life of his people. That, each member serves one another cheerfully and sacrificially.

So, it’s a service that is sourced in, and an overflow of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. So, in that sense, we’re all called to be deacons. There’s the office that’s distinguished in scripture, but there is the reality of us being deacons in the midst of a world full of inconsolable things. It’s a service that’s sourced in and an overflow of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. In Matthew 20:28, Jesus said he came to serve, not to be served. Man, doesn’t that - the Jesus, the one with this authority, the author, he came to serve. He came to deacon us, to serve, not to be served.

There’s something that comes to the surface, the language of verse 26, as we bring this home … And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him … If you think about where else you’ve heard that, your mind would immediately go to the cross. Mark 15 describes the moment of the death of Jesus in almost the same words. In 15 verse 37, it says … and Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last … Literally means, there, breathed his last means his spirit was expelled. The only way Jesus would ever silence the demons and the inconsolable things of life was to be silenced, himself, for us. The way Jesus’ authority is experienced for us, is that Jesus gave up his authority. And, the authority of Christ means that those who are his can resist adding to the broken list of inconsolable things and resist hastily trying to do what only Jesus can, and instead join God in his work of healing and resurrection.

That’s the invitation for us, from this text this morning. Will we join God in this service, this deaconing of one another, overflowing to Redlands and the surrounding communities? That’s the invitation for us today, and so, we respond at Emmaus every week by coming to the table, to this very physical reality that the Lord has given us in his wisdom and his grace and his goodness, so that we can taste and touch and smell and experience this reality of the kingdom that comes to bear in the midst of matter, in the midst of this physical world.

And so, we come and as we receive it together, we experience grace. God meets us in this meal, and we once again - I would challenge us this morning - let’s come to the table, as we come once again, let’s coming saying, we gladly and willfully submit ourselves to your authority, that brings healing and resurrection. Let’s pray …

Jesus,

We are thankful for the body and blood of Christ. Lord, you came to serve. That is a mind boggling thing, that the one who created all would humble himself and take on flesh, come in the midst of this physical reality to bring healing and resurrection. Lord, to weave redemption throughout our work, God, what a beautiful thing that is. I prayed this morning for all of us who may be in the midst of anxious busyness rather than true service, centered upon you. Lord, would you remind us that there are things in this life that we cannot fix, that we cannot soothe. But, Lord, there is nothing like that in this world that you cannot fix, or you cannot sooth. Lord, I pray this morning we would once again come to you, and willfully and gladly submit ourselves to your authority, that you might raise us, again, to life so that the world may know that Christ has come, as we serve one another and serve the world around us. We thank you, in Jesus’ name, amen.


The Call to Follow-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

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

—Mark 1:14–20 ESV

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

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

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

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

Jesus,

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

I. KINGDOM CONTRAST (vv14-15)


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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronos = Chronological or sequential time

Kairos = Opportune time for action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church, pg. 11

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

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

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

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

KINGDOM ENTRANCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Martin Luther, Thesis 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KINGDOM LIFE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Mark GC Guide, Emmaus Church

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

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

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

Jesus,

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


Gospel Community-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: MAX STERNJACOB

SCRIPTURE READING

“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

—Ephesians 2:11-22, ESV

INTRO

Good morning, Emmaus. I’m Max, I’m one of the pastors here at Emmaus, and it is good to be with you this morning. Just one thing I want to clarify, is that those Mark guides, they’re for everybody. You don’t have to be in a gospel community. Get one, I know Forrest wants everyone to be in a gospel community, I want you to be in a gospel community, but these are for everyone. So, go get one, get yours today, it’s going to be helpful as we jump into Mark next week.

So, we’re in our fifth week of our Vital series, where we’ve been talking about, what are the vital things, the gospel distinctives that make the church unique? We’ve gone through several things already over the last four weeks, and we’ve gone over, basically, the who, the what, the when, the why, the how, and now we’re on week five, the where. So, where we’ve come from is we’ve talked about conversion, the why the gospel is proclaimed - that we should be not just convinced that the gospel is true, but we’re converted into believing the gospel is true. We have come from renewal, what the gospel does, it makes us new, we’re being brought back into God’s intention. We’ve talked about identity, about who the gospel makes us, that our identity is being transformed into the identity that Christ gives us. And, we’ve talked about rhythms of how the gospel transforms us where we put the gospel into practice through the rhythms of study, serve, share, and seeking sabbath, seeking after God and his rest.

And so, now we’re on week five, and the question that comes to us is community. See, when we talk about being a gospel centered church, and the vital distinctives that make the church unique, the thing we have to understand is that all of those things can kind of be done alone, right? Conversion is about you, renewal is about you, identity is about you, rhythms and what you put your hands to. But, God does not leave us alone. When he brings us under his son, he gives us a community, and the community is where the gospel shapes us. It’s the where of the gospel.

This all takes place, here, in many ways. In the book of Ephesians, where we’re going to be camping out this morning, the structure of this book is really primarily concerned with two things. Paul wants to make sure that he understands that the Christians he’s writing to understand that the vertical dimension of who they are has been dealt with. And, therefore we’ve been made right with God, we can be made right with other people, and now he’s basically saying that if God has converted you and renewed you and given you a new identity, and has set you free to practice the healthy rhythms consistent with his character, now in Ephesians here, Paul is going to answer a question of, where does this take place?

Now, I am not a sports guy. I have never really been into competitive sports, following sports, watching sports. But, there is one thing that I have learned in my rigorous study of sports, and that is this … the most important thing about sports is not what happens in the locker room, right? It’s not what happens in the huddle that’s the most important. It’s what happens out on the field or on the court that matters. And, what Paul wants us to remember as we get into where does the gospel shape us, is that it does no good for the church to just be good at doing church. It does no good for the church to just be good at the hour and a half time that we huddle together in here, and to say, you know, I’m really good in the huddle. But, out in the field, out where it matters, I have no idea what I’m doing.

And, Paul is concerned with that, and he wants us to know that this new gospel community that we are called into, is something that, we’re in it whether we realize it or not. You’re in the game whether you realize it or not. The question is, are you going to be prepared to actually do what’s necessary to see success in God’s definition of success? And, I will tell you that that task is all of life. And, because it’s all of life, it’s huge, it’s big, it’s bigger than I can go into in the time this morning. So, we need God’s help to help direct us this morning. So, let’s go to him and ask him for help this morning as we dive in here.

Father,

We do realize that the church is your bride. It belongs to you, and we, out of our gratitude and our faithfulness, and our desire to be obedient, the desire that you’ve given us to be obedient, we want to be a church that’s healthy. But, God, more than that we don’t want to just be a healthy church for an hour a week. We want to be a healthy church out in the world where you’ve placed us. So, would you help us this morning to see your word, to see you, and to see how the gospel shapes us, and how it shapes our community. We ask these things in your Son’s good name, amen.

THE COMMAND TO REMEMBER

So, if the gospel is concerned with where we actually go out and practice it, if you’re like me, you start to think immediately … okay, the gospel matters, I want to know the gospel, I want to live out the gospel, so what do I need to do? Give me a list. Are you like that? Do you like lists? [Congregation member: No.] No? Good. Good. Because, what Paul gives us here is not a cosmic chore list to do. I don’t know if you caught it, but this whole section, there’s not one thing that we’re told to do. Did you catch that?

There kind of is a command to do it, but it’s not something that you can actually just, you know, pick up and manipulate. The command that we’re given, here, is to remember. That’s the only thing we’re told to do in this passage. The whole rest of this paragraph is just talking about Jesus. It’s just talking about who he is, and what he’s done, and who we are. So, the command we’re given is not this chore list of, like, you’ve been brought in by the gospel, now get busy. He says, you’ve been brought in to the gospel, so remember.

So, the gauge by which we should be measuring ourselves is, are we good at remembering? And, I would submit to you that everything we do in this huddle, when we gather as a church on Sunday, the whole thing is about remembering. That’s what we’re doing. That’s what’s behind everything. It’s behind the liturgy, it’s behind the songs, it’s behind our prayers, it’s behind the preaching of the word. We’re called to remember. We’re actually commanded to remember, in Ephesians 2:11-12. Did you catch it? … Therefore remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh … and then in verse 12 … remember that you were at one time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world … He says, you want to know what it means to live out the gospel in community, where he’s placed you? It starts with remembering. Not forgetting.

Now, this passage in chapter 2, verses 11-22 here, it starts with … Therefore. And, it’s always a good rule - you’ve heard it many times here if you’ve been with us at Emmaus, whenever you see the word therefore, what should you do? You’ve got to look at the section that came before, right? And, what came before it? Well, it was actually in our liturgy this morning. Look at Ephesians 2:4-10 the passage right before it. It says …

… But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them …

—Ephesians 2:4-10, ESV


So, when he says therefore, he’s saying, I want you to keep in mind what just came before. This reality, that we just read, is the thing that’s supposed to inform what we’re remembering, right? That’s what we need to remember. It is by grace you have been saved. See, often times we think that Christianity is about what we do. And, while there is good things that we should put our hands to, and good practices that we should have, and fruitful things of obedience that we should have parked out in our lives, the mature Christian is someone who is able to quickly and deeply remember who we were, and where we’re going, and who Christ is, and what he’s doing.

When we counsel people in community, when people come to you with their problems, the mature Christian is one that is quick to point them to remembering who Christ is. And, if you do that, many of the things on the peripheral, the things that seem huge or insurmountable, or the fires that seem they are going to consume you in the moment, they get put in their right perspective. It doesn’t look as bad. So, this morning we’re going to talk about three things that Paul here in Ephesians 2:11-22 tells us to remember. And, it’s these … remember that we’re designed for community, remember that there is distortions to community, and remember that we are redeemed to a new community.

I. REMEMBER: We are designed for community (Eph. 2:12,19)

So, I want you to recall and understand here that the way that he starts to illustrate this with us here is that he uses the conflict between Jews and Gentiles to illustrate here what the gospel in community looks like. And, I want you to remember, if you have studied your Bible for a while - and if you haven’t, let me bring you up to speed. The Jews and the Gentiles did not get along. Basically, if you were a Jewish person, you had two categories of people: Jews, and everyone else.

And so, this conflict that existed between the Jewish people and everyone else, is deeper, has gone on longer, and is more acute than any of those conflicts that we frequently see in our world, in our day. It’s bigger than North Korea vs South Korea, it’s bigger than Democrat vs Republican, it’s bigger than Easter vs West, Socialism vs Capitalism, it’s bigger than Black Lives Matter vs KKK. The conflicts that Paul is using to describe what it means when the gospel comes into a people and the community that comes out of the gospel, that conflict that’s been resolved is bigger than anything that we can understand today. It’s hard for us, because we’re not in that day. Most of us here don’t have that Jewish heritage that helps us fuel and understand what Paul is saying when he uses this as an example. But, I want you to see that this conflict is big.

So, how can Paul say that? If that conflict is as big as I’m claiming it is to you, how can he say, as he has earlier in this book of Ephesians, say that the church is a place where family relationships and gender relationships and economic and business, and all of the relationships we have, have actually been reoriented and recreated? How can he say that? How can God possibly bring together people who are that diverse?

Well, I think if I was to ask Paul that question, he would say this … that when we experience Christ, radical grace through repentance and through faith that he gives us, it becomes the foundational event in our lives. Now, all of those categories that I mentioned before about the conflicts we see in our day, they’re all stemming out of events that shape us, right? Conflicts that have existed in the past that shape the communities in the present. But, what happens is, I think Paul would say that when we come to Christ, that becomes the foundational event. Our history, our heritage, our language, our race is no longer the thing that identifies us. Now, when we meet someone from a different culture, a different class, a different race, who’s received that same grace from Jesus, we see someone who has experienced the same life and death event that we have experienced. And, therefore, we’re one. We have immediate commonality with them.

So, let’s get into this. Remember that you were designed for community. Look at verse 12 in chapter 2, and look at verse 19 with me … Remember that you were at one time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world … verse 19 … so then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

Now, if you just let that wash into your mind for a second, you realize that if he’s saying that you were separated from Christ and you were alienated, and now you longer are strangers, and no longer alienated, but are now members, what he’s implying here is that we’ve been alienated from someone, right? So, he’s implying here that you had a relationship, you were designed for a certain relationship, but something has happened that now you’re alienated. So, what’s happened? Paul has already answered this in the section before, right? That’s why we always to back when see the word therefore, in chapter 2 in the beginning. We did it in our liturgy. Remember that you are dead in your trespasses and sins. That’s what’s happened. You are actually dead.

You were, at one time, all humanity was connected with God, and because of sin, you are now alienated from God. And, it’s not that you’re just separated by distance, you are separated in the kind of category that’s the difference between life and death. See, human beings were created to be in community, specifically in the relationship between God who made them. And, if we go back to Genesis, we recognize that God - who himself is a community - a three in one community, made human beings to be like him and be made for community like he is in a community. And, we were made to be in relationship with him, but when we rebelled, we were alienated from that source of life.

But, the good news of the gospel that we preach is that the gospel we actually preach is God-shaped. To put it another way, the gospel is trinitarian shaped. What I mean by that, is the gospel we preach is shaped like the trinity, because it is all persons of the trinity at work in us, and for us. See, did you catch the trinitarian language in Ephesians 2:11-22? I want to read it again. We’re going to be reading a lot of Ephesians, but I want you to read it with me again, cause it’s just so good. It’s, like, woven in there like an intricate tapestry, and I want you to hear it. Read it again with me and I want you to listen for that trinitarian language. Listen for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit language in here …

… Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit …

—Ephesians 2:11-22, ESV

See, what Paul is getting at in this passage, is that the results of what he’s describing here, results in a human community that’s new, that’s trinitarian shaped. If the gospel comes from God who’s a trinity, and the gospel itself is the trinity at work, then the results of that would be a community that’s trinitarian shaped. It should look, and feel, and operate as the godhead does, that we are united but different, that we defer to one another, but there’s no hierarchy, that we love without fear of being rejected, that we serve people's needs without being motivated to be made sure that our needs our met.

If the gospel is trinitarian shaped, then what happens - just like what we do with the trinity - is we try to kind of reduce it down, to make it understandable. Right? I’ve served with the kids for a while, the tension when you come to things like the Trinity and try to explain that to kids, you’re like, well, I’ve got to make this make sense, so I’ve got to reduce it down. But, inevitably when they start to reduce it down, it gets distorted, right? So, what that means is that if we’re designed for community and the gospel is coming into that community, and he’s making a new community, and it’s coming from the trinitarian God, and it’s shaped like the trinity, and the community it makes is like the trinity, that’s a big idea.

And so, what we do sometimes in church, or in our lives, is we say … that’s too big to bite off. It’s too big to explain, so what I need to do is I need to reduce it down. And, what ends up happening is we end up distorting it.

II. REMEMBER: There are distortions in community (Eph 2:14-16)

So, the second thing we need to remember is that there are distortions to community. See, remember the conflict that Paul uses to illustrate this is the conflict between the Jews and the Gentiles. But, what the gospel comes to do in the world is not just to reconcile those two warring factions, the gospel comes into the world, and the cross comes to put away and to get rid of all of the warring factions in the world. Look at verse 14 with me … For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing the law and commands expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body, through the cross, thereby killing hostility …

See, we are designed for community, but the Bible calls that reconciling, that peace that he keeps talking about here in Ephesians 2, the Bible’s category for that is shalom. It’s a peace where all the broken bits are put back together, where alienation no longer exists. But, we all know - if you’re like me, we can say, yeah, that’s the reality, but I still fall back into my sinful habits. Do you? Just Mark, I guess. [Mark from congregation: every day.] Do you? I do. Why does that happen? Why does God’s peace, why does God’s shalom, that the gospel has been proclaimed to actually bring about, why is it not here yet? Why is not all fixed?

See, we continue to vandalize God’s shalom with our sin, and Christians do this. Christians fall right back into their distorted views. And, see, here’s the thing … it’s not always these overt warring factions like Jews and Gentiles that could distort community. It’s subtle things. It’s subtle substitutions, subtle emphases that take over, which is why we need to remember that distortions exist in community. If you remember that that’s a possibility, you can be a little bit on guard against it. So, let me share with you a couple distortions that come up.

And, an example of this from the Bible - just to help you feel a little bit better about yourself - is Peter. Peter’s the good friend of Jesus, right? Peter, in Galatians 2, is called out by Paul for a specific thing that he’s doing. Peter - who was a Jewish Christian himself - began to back away and remove himself from eating and meeting with Gentile Christians. And, Paul calls him out. And, Paul calls it out not just like, hey, that’s a bad idea. He says, it’s sin. And, the way that he describes it is this … He says, Peter was not instep with the gospel. See, Peter had good theology, right? We would all agree with that. He knew this stuff, but it did not prevent him from falling into a distorted community. It did not prevent him from falling back into his old ways. And so, if it happened to Peter, you can be darn sure it’s going to happen to us.

So, we need to be on guard for these things. There’s a great quote in Dietrich Bonhoffer’s book Life Together, which I highly recommend if you haven’t read it. It talks a lot about Christian community. He says this beautifully …

“Christian community is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate…He who loves his dream of community more than the community itself becomes the destroyer of the later, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

—Dietrich Bonhoffer in Life Together

Why is this distinction important? What does it look like when a community of Christ followers fall back into distorted views? See, at Emmaus, we believe gospel community is unique, and it’s important. It is grounded in theology, and it is worked out in our lives. But, we know that just like Peter, we can get our theology right, but we easily can bring in our assumptions about community to it. And, when we do, we distort community because it misses God’s fullest intention for his people. So, let me share with you just a couple things that might help bring this to the forefront for us.

Distortion #1: Christian Community as Connection

One of the distortions is that community is just connection. See, one of the things we can believe is that Christian community is just about connection. And, when we make it about connection, is that basically it becomes about networking, it becomes about social gatherings. It’s about being casual, offering lightweight assistance to one another when it’s appropriate, but it’s really about convenience. But, when things get difficult, what happens? What happens is, the difficulty becomes the sinner of why we’re gathering, why we’re a community. And, we forget, what is it that we’re actually surrounding ourselves around? What do we belong to? What actually unites us?

See, if our goal is just to have connection, that when any conflict comes up, then our whole foundation falls apart. And, the goal of good Christian community is transformation, and therefore we can’t have it if we’re only connected around something that connects us, say, like, a hobby, or homeschooling, or our job, or we’re all retired. Right? As soon as the thing that connects us, that thing that maybe we have in common with one another breaks down or comes under attack, then all the community is fractured.

Distortion #2: Christian Community as Therapy

The other distortion that can happen is community as therapy. Now, what happens here is that groups pursue, you know, being vulnerable and being honest, and actually calling out sin and attempting to help one another with the things we struggle with. And, that’s important, that should be something we pursue in community, but what happens is we become so focused on talking through and helping the issues we’re struggling with, that that becomes the thing that taints and flavors everything that we’re doing. We get together and all we do is talk about our problems, when we should be talking about Jesus.

Remember, what’s the command here? To remember our problems? To remember Christ. Right? Remember, remember, remember.

Distortion #3: Christian Community as Bible Study

One of the other distortions is that Christian community can become just a Bible study. Should we know our Bibles, should we study our Bibles? Obviously, right? But, what happens in these groups is that the distortion comes in when it becomes all about just transferring information, rather than being transformed ourselves. When we get together and all we talk about what the Bible says, or what the pastor says, verses letting the scriptures actually dive in and pierce our lives, and if we fail to connect God’s word to our lives, then what we’ve done is we’ve basically set aside that goal of transformation, the goal of this community that Paul’s talking about, for the sake of just gaining knowledge and facts.

Distortion #4: Christian Community as Clique

The last one I want to share with you is that Christian community can be distorted into community as a clique. And, this one I think is probably the most nefarious. And, I say that because we all desire to have deep relationships with people, do we not? Nobody’s really satisfied with just the casual, cursory pleasantness with one another. So, we desire deep relationships, but what we end up doing is, because we desire deep relationships, we start to exclude people who we don’t know yet. Right? When you’ve known someone for five, 10, 15, 25 years, someone new coming into that dynamic, there’s no place for them, right? Because, ti’s like, how can I catch you up to speed on 25 years of a friendship? So, we don’t do it overtly, we just slowly kind of … you know? We just … it’s not overt, it’s not a punch in the face and, you know, be on your way, it’s just, we turn away. Because, we gravitate towards the people who are like us. We gravitate to the people who we know, who know us.

But, what we just heard in Ephesians 2 here, is that he has removed alienation. He says, we are no longer strangers. So, if we are no longer strangers, what right do we have to make strangers of other people? We don’t. I would go so far to say, like Paul said to Peter, that you are in sin if you do that. You are out of step with the gospel.

See, all of these aspects of gospel community are important, right? We need to be connected, we need to study, we need to work through trauma, we need to work through sin, we need to go deep and be safe, right? You can’t have good Christian community without those things, but when those things overtake and substitute the radical unity that Paul’s talking about here, that comes from true access to the Father via the Son, by the work of the Holy Spirit, we fail to let God transform his people into the new man that he’s talking about here.


See, we are so desperately afraid of being on the outside, of not having access, that we will gladly substitute one of these things because it’s something. Because, it makes us feel good. Because, they seem better, or because it comes naturally to us. But, that is a substitute that God says, no. No. He says, you have been seated in the heavenly places. Why would you substitute a clique for that? Why? Because, it’s in front of us. See, he says, that reality is coming, and it’s hard sometimes to see that as the reality because it’s not right in front of us. That’s why he says, I’m commanding you to remember.

You fall into these distortions and substitutions when you forget. Dietrich Bonhoffer says this in that same book, Life Together …

“without Christ we…would not know our brother, nor could we come to know him. The way is blocked by our own ego.”

—Dietrich Bonhoffer in Life Together

See, apart from Christ, I’m not saying you can’t have relationships. I’m not even saying you can’t have good relationships. But, I think what Paul would say to us is that you can’t have those relationships that you are actually designed for. So, that leads us to the third thing we need to remember.

III. REMEMBER: We are redeemed to a new community (Eph. 2:14-22)

A new one. See, it’s not just a subsection of an old one. It’s a new one. Paul uses the language here of a new man out of the two. See, it’s important to remember that if it’s new, it means it’s not just the best parts of old ones cobbled together in a way that is peaceful. He’s saying, it’s actually a whole brand new thing that God is doing. I don’t know if you heard it, we’ve read it several times now, but Paul uses specific language. He uses specific language of dividing wall of hostility, and far off, and near, and strangers, and aliens, and the dwelling place of God, and, like, why is he using all of this language? He’s using it because he, Paul, as a Jewish Christian himself, has the whole Old Testament in his mind when he’s writing this letter to the Ephesians. And, he has that in mind because he’s using this as an example to bring and illustrate what he’s talking about.

We already mentioned shalom is peace, right? Shalom = peace. But what is this peace that he’s talking about? Well, this idea of dividing wall of hostility, I have a picture I want you to see. It’s a picture of the temple. You see those big walls? That was there to basically cordon of and section off, this is God’s temple, God’s dwelling place, and that was sacred, it was special. And, you had to get access into that space. But, there’s something that was actually inscribed on the outside of that temple and I want to show it to you. They actually found it. It’s the next picture.

How many of you guys read Greek? Let me translate it for you. Basically, it says that if you’re a gentile and you cross this wall, this boundary, you could be killed. It’s basically a warning. It’s an inscription saying that if you’re a Gentile and you cross over that wall into God’s house, God’s dwelling place, you’re putting your life in your own hands. Paul is referring here to the dividing wall of hostility as that wall that separated the Jews and the Gentiles. He’s saying, before Christ, if you tried to get access to him - to God, you would be killed. But, now Gentiles were not allowed in, but now they are. He has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. He has brought peace between those factions.

See, but the biggest problem that Paul is getting at here - and it’s subtle, but it’s important. He is highlighting something that he wants us to remember. It is not enough to just be brought near. We need to be brought in. I have another picture I want to just show you to just help illustrate this. You have God, and you have Israel, and you have the nations. And, Israel and the nations are separate, right? And, the language Paul uses here, is he says, he went and preached to those who were near, and those who were far.

Now, let me ask you. Why did he have to go preach to those who were near? Cause, they weren’t in! They were near, but not in. The nations and Israel are both in the same place, ultimately. They’re both not in. He came to preach to those who are near, and those who are far.

See, sin separates us from God, and it doesn’t matter how near you may be to God. If you’re not made right with God, you’re still out. And, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been near to God your whole life. This is especially true if you’ve had kids, right? My kids come with me to church every Sunday. They’re near to God. They’re near his people. Are they in? See, now you see my posture is different with them, isn’t it? The way I relate to my kids, the way I relate to others when I see that we’re all in this predicament changes. I don’t assume anything. I don’t assume that just because you might have been in church for 40 years, that you’re in. You could be near for 40 years and not in.

Do you see the distinction? See, sin separates us, but what we need is we need access. We need access. Where do we get access from? Well, the prophets in the Old Testament talked about this reality, talked about this dividing wall of hostility being torn down, talked about the day that God would bring all things to be made right. And, I want to read this text to you from Isaiah. We’re going to read Isaiah 57:14-21. This is the context that Paul has in his mind, the day that it’s being talked about, the day of Christ. I want to read it to you, listen for it …

… And it shall be said,

“Build up, build up, prepare the way,

   remove every obstruction from my people's way.”

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,

   who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:

“I dwell in the high and holy place,

   and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,

to revive the spirit of the lowly,

   and to revive the heart of the contrite.

For I will not contend forever,

   nor will I always be angry;

for the spirit would grow faint before me,

   and the breath of life that I made.

Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry,

   I struck him; I hid my face and was angry,

   but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart.

I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;

   I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners,

   creating the fruit of the lips.

Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the Lord,

   “and I will heal him.

But the wicked are like the tossing sea;

   for it cannot be quiet,

   and its waters toss up mire and dirt.

There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” …


—Isaiah 57:14-21, ESV

See, there is no peace for those outside. And, Paul has this in his mind when he’s reading Ephesians. Peace, peace to the far and to the near. I want to read a quote to you, it sums it up very artfully, about the vision that the Old Testament prophets in Isaiah had in their mind …

“Isaiah and the other prophets in the Old Testament, “dreamed of a new age which human crookedness would be straightened out, rough places made smooth. The foolish would be made wise, where the powerful would be made humble. They dreamed of a time when the deserts would flower, the mountains would run deep with new wine, all weeping and grieving and striving would cease, and people would not go to sleep with weapons under their pillow. They called out and proclaimed to the world that God was bringing about a time where all injustice would be made right, abuses of power corrected, where people could work in peace and be fruitful in their labor. Where lambs lay down with lions. They told of a time when men and women from all nations would come to worship God rightly.”

—Cornelius Plantinga in Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be

See, Isaiah saw this coming time, and what I’m telling you this morning is that time has come. It’s come in Christ. Paul is describing here is that if we are in Christ, we get actual access to God. We are not just brought close, we are brought in. And, when you are brought in, you must be radically and utterly destroyed. However, we have an advocate. We have the one that Paul is telling us to remember, right?

How can we have that access? It says, through him, by one Spirit. Ephesians 2:18-19 … For through him we have access in one Spirit to the Father, so we are no longer strangers and aliens … How do we have access? It has to be through him, through Jesus. He has to introduce us. I will tell you, what would happen if the president came to town, and you decided … I want to meet that guy. And, you decided, I’m going to jump this barricade, and I’m going to run as fast as I can toward him, and I’m going to introduce myself. What would happen? You’d be tackled at best, maybe worse … right?

Paul says we need access. We need to stop and to remember that Jesus is our access into the happy land of the trinity. If we try to go by ourselves, we will be destroyed. Now, one last thing. How does this apply to us? Because, we could stop right now and say, yeah, we did a good job remembering. Now what? And, some of you - maybe one of two of you - might be thinking, we’re starting the book of Mark next week, summer is starting, and actually most of our gospel communities are taking a break. So, where do we put this into practice? How are we supposed to do this, Max?

Well, I will say, as Matt talked about last week. We have rhythms at Emmaus, right? We strive to have rhythms. And, one of those rhythms is sabbath. One of those rhythms is seeking after God. To take this remembering practice and put it into our lives. And, that’s what summer is for. So, I will encourage you, you heard a whole litany of things that are happening at the church. We don’t expect you to be a part of all of those. It would be impossible to do that. But, we do ask you to take this summer, get a Mark journal, start reading the book of Mark. Find people who are in a gospel community and get connected if you’re not. Enjoy your gospel community, have BBQ’s, go to the beach, go bowling, play miniature golf, go to the men’s retreat, go to the marriage conference, right?

Maybe God’s telling you you need to be a catalyst for this kind of gospel community. Maybe you’ve never been in a gospel community, maybe you need to lead a gospel community. Maybe you need to host a gospel community. Maybe God wants you to actually be the catalyst that brings this kind of community that Paul’s talking about, into reality. Whatever it is, whatever it is, use this season that’s coming upon us to engage deeply so that you can commit in the Fall to live out this kind of picture that God has for us in community.

And, I will say this. In the spirit of not being strangers and aliens anymore, I know that as we have grown as a church, you tell me if this is true of you, you see people you don’t recognize, and you’re afraid because you’re like, if I go introduce myself to them, and they’ve been a member for 8 years, I’m going to look like an idiot. But, if the dividing wall of hostility has been torn down, then you’ve got nothing to be afraid of. There is no offense there. If you don’t know somebody, walk across the room and introduce yourself. If we, through Christ, have been introduced to the actual life of the trinity, then you can walk across the room because we have the same experience, and start this pattern, start this reality of gospel community, where there is nothing that divides us. There is no stranger here. There is no alienation here. Engage deeply this summer, so that we might see a new fresh season of this gospel community this fall. Let’s pray.

Father,

We recognize that this community that you talk about is so big and so vast and so deep. We would do well to spend a majority of our time remembering and reflecting on it. But, we recognize that as finite human beings, we forget. We’re quick to forget, and we’re quick to substitute. So, would you help us today? Would you help us as a church. Would you help Emmaus be the kind of place that actually recognizes the access we have to you, and because of that can be radically hospitable, and radically connected and unified, not in a way that diminishes or distorts the differences between us, but that celebrates them and sees them all used for your glory, and for the preaching of the gospel of your son. We need your help. We cannot do this without you. Amen.


Content in Christ-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

Philippians 4:10-13, ESV

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

INTRO

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. THE UNIVERSAL CHASE FOR CONTENTMENT

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

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

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

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

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

—Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

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

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

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

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

So, four things. First …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… Remove far from me falsehood and lying;

   give me neither poverty nor riches;

   feed me with the food that is needful for me,

(9) lest I be full and deny you

   and say, “Who is the Lord?”

or lest I be poor and steal

   and profane the name of my God …

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

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

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

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

3. OUR UNION WITH CHRIST (v13)

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

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

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

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

—Sam Storms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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