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The Amazing Offensiveness of Jesus

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PASTOR: MAX STERNJACOB

SCRIPTURE READING

Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

6 He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief.

And he went about among the villages teaching.

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve Apostles

7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.[a]10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there.11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.


—Mark 6:1-13 ESV

INTRO

Good morning, Emmaus. My name is Max, I am one of the pastors, here, for discipleship and care, and that is something that I love doing. I get to spend a lot of time thinking about what it means for people to actually come to Jesus and also grow in their knowledge of Jesus, and their maturity in Christ. And, today, we’re going to be jumping right back into Mark as we’ve been doing. And, Mark 6 is going to tell us something about Jesus that I think every disciple needs to know, and that is that Jesus is both amazing, and offensive, and that’s okay, because he gets to send the agenda here. 

So, before we jump in, as I was reflecting on this passage, I thought this is the second time Jesus has come to his hometown, at least as recorded in the book of Mark, and now there is this tension that has been ever increasing in the book of Mark, and now there is this awkwardness. And, I was trying to think of the kind of awkwardness that exists here, as Jesus comes into his hometown, and this is the best that I could come up with. How many of you have been to a class reunion? It’s fun, right? See, if you’ve had the pleasure of having a class reunion, and you’ve had the pleasure of going, it’s an interesting dynamic, because you returned back to where you used to be after years have passed, and you take with you an assumption about the people you are going to meet, because when you had left, you had a picture in your mind of what they were like, right? And, now you come back and you’re all thrown in a room together, and you meet, you know, Joe Smith, who is now a neurosurgeon. And, you go … really? Because, we think that the person that they were is the person they will always be, and we can’t fathom them ever actually changing. And, if you’re like me, I went to a reunion, and I tell them … I’m a pastor. And, they say the same thing. They’re like … really? It’s hard for them to get that in their mind because of who I was. They think … that’s not how I remember you.

The difference between, maybe, our experience with class reunions, and this experience with Jesus, is that we know that at least with Jesus, he’s not something radically different than he was. He came back to his hometown, and his integrity, and his character was the same as it was when he was younger. And, we get little glimpses her and there in the other parts of the gospels, that even his own parents, and his siblings, and the religious leaders, even when Jesus was a young man, were astonished or amazed by him, or perplexed by him. And yet, when he comes back to his hometown now, in the height of his ministry, they’re still having that same kind of reunion awkwardness. 

So, we’re going to cover three things today. We’re going to see that Jesus is amazing, and we need to be amazed by him, we’re going to see that Jesus is also offensive, and that we need to be offended by him, and we’re going to learn that it is not good to be amazing to Jesus. If we’re going to be successful in that, we need to pray and ask God for his help, so would you pray with me?

Father,

We thank you for son, Jesus. We thank you for the way that you have orchestrated history, and the author to record for us the amazing person, who he was, and would you help us by your Spirit not to just leave here intrigued, but leave here submitted to your son, Jesus. Would you help me to do that, would you help everything that comes out of my mouth this morning, point us and direct us to, ultimately, submitting to your son. In Jesus’ good name, amen. 

I. WE NEED TO BE AMAZED BY JESUS

So, you need to be amazed by Jesus. If I was to just walk up to you and ask you, hey, do you think Jesus is amazing? Do you think Jesus is someone worth looking at? Most of us, you’re probably here on Sunday because you think, yeah, he’s worth our time, he’s worth carving out an hour and a half on a Sunday to learn a little bit about him, that’s why you’re here. But, let’s just be reminded, at least in the author of Mark, perspective is that we have good reason, up to this point in chapter 6, to be amazed by Jesus, because we have seen and recounted for us all the things that Jesus has said and done. And, I just want to give you a preview of that, but let’s just be reminded. 

I’m using the word amaze, but if you’re following along with us in the ESV, it says this, chapter 6 in Mark, verse 1 … He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished … they were astonished, they were amazed … saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him …

See, up until this point in Mark, we’ve already been shown, I’m just going to give you a quick summary here, that Jesus is amazing. And, how is he amazing? Well, right in chapter 1, Peter’s mother-in-law was healed by Jesus. And then, there right after that, many more in Capernaum, where Peter was from, were healed. And then, in Mark 1 at the end, it says that a leper was healed, and then a paralized man, the man that was lowered through the ceiling in Mark chapter 2. And then, right after that, a man with a deformed hand is healed by Jesus, and then we’re told that many more were healed by Jesus, and then the storm. Jesus calms the storm. The disciples are out on a boat, and this amazing hurricane comes up, and Jesus with a word stops it. And then, right after that storm, they land, and they are met by a demonized man, and he is healed by Jesus. And then, last week we, we saw that the woman who had bled for 12 years is healed by Jesus, and Jairus’s daughter, who was dead, is raised to life again, by Jesus.

So, when we get to this point in Mark, there is no question that Jesus is amazing. And, if you think about all of this that’s happening in a small community, in a small place, that the rumors that must have been spreading around Jesus, it indicates to us - which we’re going to find next week - is that there’s thousands of people who are literally going from place to place, trying to track Jesus down. And, next week we’re going to see that where Jesus feeds the 5,000, that there’s probably somewhere in the realm of 10 or 12,000 people who are held around Jesus, because they want to see him, get a glimpse of him, see more of these kinds of miracles that are happening. 

But, when he comes to his hometown, he’s met with questions. And, I think there’s five questions here, listed for us in chapter 6, and underneath those questions, it reveals some assumptions. And, I thought it would be helpful for us to kind of just unpack these questions real quick, to see, even though Jesus is amazing, the questions that come at him seem to be questioning whether or not Jesus really is amazing, whether or not the rumors that people have heard are congruent with the questions that they’re asking. So, let’s just dive into these questions. You see them there in verse 1-3. 

The first question, what is it? Where did this man get these things? See, behind that question, is a couple of things. One is, you have the cultural assumption that there was favored lines, families, positions, and offices operating in that ancient Greece world. That, if you were going to be special, you had to come from a special place, that you had to have the right office, the right family, the right position, the right influence. So, this question of, where did this man get these things, the question is getting underneath and saying, this man shouldn’t have these things. And, we know that because he’s in his hometown in Nazareth, and we know that that city was never mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament, it wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the Talmud, anywhere. It was a no-name city. It was the sticks, basically. It was a small town, maybe three or four hundred people. In fact, in John’s gospel, we hear from Nathaniel the view of that day about Nazareth was, he says, does anything good come out of Nazareth? It was kind of a running joke, right? That, Nazareth was no good for anything. 

So, there’s this assumption, they go, we know about ourselves, what our city’s like, and you have these things? Well, what things? And, if you catch that, they say, where did this man get these things, not … what are these things this man has? They are focused on the origin, not the content. They are not spending their time in their questions, asking, is what Jesus saying true, they’re asking the question, where did he get it from? Because, the assumption is, is that he must not have gotten it from himself. He had to have gotten it from somewhere else, right? They’re focused on the origin, not the content. 

So, what’s the next question? What is the wisdom given to him? See, we’ve already heard in Mark that the religious leaders and the people were astonished by Jesus’ teaching and authority. They said that they asked themselves, where does this man get this authority? And, even in the previous section with calming of the hurricane, the storm, the disciples say, what kind of human being is this, that he has authority over nature, over the winds the waves. Where does he get his authority from? Where does he get this wisdom from? Well, we’ve already seen that in his parables, even, that Jesus speaks, and he teaches, and people are just perplexed by his wisdom. And, the way that he deals with the religious leaders who are trying to goad him, or who are trying to catch him, who are trying to trap him. He speaks in such a way that he just slips right out of their traps, slips right through their assumptions. He comes to the religious leaders, and talks about forgiveness, and talks about authority in a way that they have no response. 

And, the other thing I want you to see, just culturally speaking, is that wisdom, at that time and place, was associated with divine blessing. So, for them, to see this kind of wisdom is a special anointing by God. Think King Solomon, right? Think that when God came to David’s son, Solomon, he says, I want to bless you. What do you want? And, Solomon says, I want wisdom. And, that divine wisdom is seen as a blessing and an anointing from God. So, they’re asking this question, how does he has this wisdom? He’s a nobody from Nazareth, and yet he has wisdom. And, wisdom, we know, comes from God. So, is God really with him? What’s going on with this guy? He doesn’t deserve to have this wisdom, he doesn’t have the credentials for it. 

And then, the third question, how are these miracles being performed by his hand? Right? He’s a carpenter! There’s an irony here, that he’s a man who works with his hands, and they’re saying, he’s not just a worker with his hands, he’s a miracle worker with his hands. How is he doing this? Well, we’ve already seen in Mark that the religious leaders, at least, are saying that the way that he’s able to do these miracles is not from God’s power, not God’s anointing, but Satan’s power. Underneath this, they’re saying, this person, the only logical conclusion to a person of this credentials, of this background, of this pedigree, is that he’s doing miracles because Satan is at work within him. They can’t even fathom the category that God might actually be using this no-name person from a no-name city to do these things. And, notice one thing, too, that they do not question the veracity of the miracles. They don’t say the miracles didn’t happen, they question the fact that this man does them by another power other than God. 

And then, the next question … isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Again, we’ve already talked, he was a carpenter. This is not a prestigious job. It’s better translated, a laborer. He was just someone who worked with his hands, he was a day laborer. He was the kind of guy you would just hire, like a handyman for the day. He’s not a rabbi. See, he’s not trafficking in the circles that the religious leaders trafficked in. Even though he shows up to his hometown and he’s got disciples in tow like a rabbi would, even though he comes with authority and a deep knowledge of the scriptures, and performing miracles, he’s not seen as a rabbi. They’re saying, he’s just a carpenter. He’s just a laborer. He’s not a rabbi like you or me.

And then, they say, maybe perhaps the most scandalous thing, is that he says, is this not the son of Mary? Now, for us, it doesn’t strike us immediately when we hear, he’s the son of Mary. Of course he’s the son of Mary, we know that. But, in that culture, to say that you were the son of your mom … when everyone else was always referred to as the son of your father. Why would they say that? They said that, because they knew who his mother was, but there was question about who his father was, right? They’re saying, is this not the illegitimate son of Mary? Yu would never refer to someone as the son of the mother. You always referred to them as the on of the father. It should be Jesus barr Joseph, right? Son of Joseph. I mean, it’s kind of a backhanded slap. And, we know there’s some implications there, because other places in the gospel, say John chapter 8, Jesus is running up against religious leaders again, and the accusation they make against Jesus, they say, we know who our father is! Right? That’s what they say to Jesus. We know who our father is, implying what? You don’t. And, Jesus comes back and says, if you knew who my father was, you would submit to me, you would follow me, because my father … is Yahweh. And, they go to kill him over that. 

And then, the last question, are not his sisters with us? I think it just kind of is a capstone on kind of everything that’s here. It might be a little bit of a reach, but I was thinking about it, and the idea that in that culture, as a woman, you would be married off, right? And, you would go be a part of another man’s family. And so, the fact that Jesus’ sisters are still with us, in their hometown with his family still, means that them, as a family, are not prestigious enough for their daughters to be desirable. There was no benefit for them. Because, marriages, then, were alliances between family. So, I think it’s not too far of a stretch to say that the fact that his sisters are still with his other family members, probably means that they have not been married. And, why wouldn’t they be married in that culture, where marriage was one of the highest institutions? It was because the family of Jesus had nothing to offer. They had no money. There was no benefit to align with that family, to share resources or to build out. Their sisters had been ignored. 

And, underneath all of these questions, is the assumption that the people of Nazareth knew who Jesus was, and more than that, they assumed that they knew how God was going to bring in his kingdom. They knew, in their minds, what the messiah would be like. It had a certain flavor, it had a certain shape, and it would come from a certain place, and it would look a certain way. And, Jesus, you do not fit any of it. His hometown did not deny any of the works and the teachings of Jesus, they don’t deny it, but they cannot bring themselves to change their beliefs or assumptions. See, Nazareth, as I’ve already said, is a small town. It’s probably, honestly, if you include our children, it’s probably about the size of Emmaus. So, you can imagine that out of a town that size, the rumors about Jesus … everyone knew who Jesus was, at some point. The rumors would start to spread quickly. And, just like a family reunion or a class reunion when someone comes back and has a position or a story about what’s taken place over those last 10, 15, 20 years of their life, if you’re like me, we hear it, and we go … yeah … prove it? Right? 

See, and the context here, is not just a conflict with his hometown. It’s not just a conflict with his family. It’s a conflict with the religious leaders, and we’ve already heard earlier on in Mark that the Herodians and the Pharisees who would represent both, kind of, the left and the right, the conservative, and the liberal sides of the religious leaders, both wanted him dead. They didn’t get along about anything. They hated each other, yet both the Herodians and the Pharisees agreed on one thing, and that was that Jesus had to go. So, how can these people be amazed by Jesus, yet still hate him? 

II. WE NEED TO BE OFFENDED BY JESUS

See, we need to be amazed by Jesus, but being amazed by Jesus, being astonished by Jesus, being intrigued by Jesus, being willing to sit down and read Jesus’ new book, is not enough for us. It’s not enough to just be amazed by Jesus. I would say that you have to actually be offended by Jesus. Look at Mark 6, we’re going to read it again, starting at the end of verse 3 … And they took offense at him. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief.

And he went about among the villages teaching … See, both the left and the right, his hometown, his family, they all were offended. They could not bear the claims of Jesus, because to them, Jesus was nothing more than an illegitimate bastard child. So, for him to come saying that the kingdom of God is near, the kingdom of God is at hand, I am the king of the kingdom, I am the messiah, they could not handle it. They were scandalized by it. That word offense, is scandal. It’s a scandal, and they took offense. 

Now, I think it’s important, here, to stop for a second and say, they took offense … does that mean that as followers of Jesus, we should be offensive? Well, I think it’s important to make a distinction, here, between taking offense, verses giving offense, alright? Let’s just stop for a second. It says … they took offense. There is a difference between someone who wants to be offended, who will find a reason to be offended, versus someone who is speaking truth, and using tact. There is a difference between someone who wants to take offense, versus someone purposefully making it hard for someone to hear. And, Jesus does not do that. We’ve seen Jesus’ miracles, and why we should be amazed by Jesus. But, if you go back and you read those accounts over and over again, people are astonished with the compassion of Jesus, with the wisdom of Jesus. He does not go after people and just rile them up for no reason. He does not goad them, he does not shame them. He speaks the truth with grace. And, the testimony, here, is that they hated him. They were offended by him, yet they all want to be around him. 

See, that should be the mark for us. We should not measure, as Christians, as followers of Jesus … our measure of success is not, do we offend people, how much we offend people. That’s not the measure of success. We should not go about our lives and say, well, I offended a lot of people today, I’m doing Jesus’ work. We should approach and come to our measure of success and saying, do I love people the way Jesus loved them? Do I have compassion like Jesus did? Do people not like what we say, but still want to be around us? That’s a good measurement. Do people know where we stand and know what we will say, and know what we will preach, but yet still want to be around us? Still can’t pull themselves away from us? That’s our measurement, is it not? 

 

See, Jesus did not give offense, but people took offense. And, we’re in good company, because Jesus said in John 15, that if the world hates you, know that they hated me first. They took offense, and they could not see that Jesus as actually giving and offering them exactly what they needed. Jesus did not go with the intention of pushing people away, or stirring them to anger. He had tact, he had wisdom, but yet Jesus is constantly evoking this reaction from the people. All of his teaching is met with hostility and offense, and if we claim to be his followers, to some extent, we will also receive that. We cannot control whether people will actually take offense, but we do not have the luxury of changing the message to make it less offensive. 

 

So, why did they take offense? What is it about Jesus’ message, about his gospel, that causes offense? See, I think that the questions that were just laid out there in Mark, indicate that the reason why they were taking offense, is that Jesus is just too ordinary. He’s too ordinary. It’s his ordinariness that trips them up. We know him. We know what the kingdom is supposed to be like. We know what the messiah is supposed to be like. You don’t fit. You’re too ordinary. See, we are in need of a kingdom that’s not out there, but that is a kingdom come near. And, that’s exactly what Jesus’ message is. He’s going around and telling people, the kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God is near, because what we need is not a kingdom out there, we need a kingdom that comes into our ordinariness, to our ordinary life. 

 

We need God to interject into our normal life. And, I think it’s the ordinariness of Jesus that trips those people up, and I think it does it in two ways. I think it’s the goal of salvation, and the cost of salvation that trips people up. I think it’s the ordinariness of Jesus in the goal of salvation - basically, like, the trajectory of salvation that he’s talking about, and the cost of salvation, the freeness of it. Let me tell you what I mean, here. I think it’s the goal, because, again, we often think that when we think about God making things right in the world, it means that the world needs to end, and we need to go there to escape, to make God’s plans come about, to make things right, we need to leave. But, the whole Bible and all of the new testament, and all of Jesus’ teachings, is that we don’t need to go there, God needs to come here. The Bible starts, saying that he will restore the earth, not remove it. He will redeem it.

 

The new heavens and the new earth are coming. The Bible starts with a garden, where God is close with his people, and walks with them, and it ends with a city that comes out from heaven, and makes its place with man on earth. It is not us going to God, it is God coming to us, and that does not land well with the people who hear Jesus teach. And, here’s the thing. If we need to be offended by Jesus, we need to be offended for the right reason. See, if Jesus is real, and if he is actually God incarnate, in the flesh, come from outside of our world, to our world, who actually lived, who actually taught, who actually died, then every single place, every single culture, every single association, mindset, nation, and person will - at some point - be offended by Jesus. Because, he is from outside. He’s coming to the inside, to the ordinary,  and he’s coming, saying, what you have needs to change. What you have, needs to be redeemed. What you have needs to be restored. So, if that’s who he is, if that’s his mission, than every single one of us is going to be offended by Jesus, at some point. 

 

See, for some cultures, Jesus teaching on family is radical. And, to others, its shameful. Right? We’ve already heard in Mark 3, who is my mother?  Who are my brothers? They come to Jesus, and they said, your mother and your brothers are outside! And, he says … who is my mother, who is my brother? It’s the one who does the will of God, that’s my mother, that’s my brother. See, in that culture, to turn your back on your family was shameful. We’ve heard in Mark 2, when Jesus talks about forgiveness with the paralyzed man, to most of those hearers, it was unthinkable to say that this man is going around, granting forgiveness to people. That’s not how you give forgiveness. That’s not what forgiveness is. And then, in other cultures, Jesus teaching on money … it cuts right to your heart. Later on in Mark 12, Jesus has the account of the widow and her penny, you remember? The two mites? And, he says, the woman who gave the little bit, gave way more than the man who gave all. And, in some cultures, that talk, that speech, that teaching of Jesus about money, it doesn’t land well with us. It offends us.

 

See, at every point, Jesus is going to offend us. And, let me stop and I want you to hear this. If you get nothing else this morning, I want you to hear this, that being a disciple of Jesus is about being uncomfortable. It’s about allowing Jesus to offend us. It’s allowing him to command us. The difference between being a disciple of Jesus, and simply a bystander, is that we stick around to obey him. Think about it. You’ve probably all seen it, a man on the corner who’s maybe a little bit, couple screws loose. He’s holding a sign, saying the end is near, you need to repent. Have you seen that ever? What’s the difference between him and Jesus? Their message is the same. The difference between a disciple of Jesus and just being a bystander, is that when we hear Jesus say the same thing, we say, he’s talking about us.  He’s talking about me. See, we can ignore the crazy guy on the corner who has the same message of Jesus, because we do the same thing the people in Nazareth did. They were like, I know what that guy’s about. I’ve seen him before. He doesn’t fit the type of person, he doesn’t have the credentials that I’ll listen to. 

 

We need to stop and realize that when we say that we’re a disciple of Jesus, to be a Christian means that we allow Jesus to offend us, but we don’t run away. See, Jesus says he’s the king, and if he is the king, that means that he has authority. And, if he has authority, it means that we have to surrender. We have to let him say, and do the things that offend us to our core. See, Jesus says that that sense of comfort that you seek with your possessions, you need to find me your ultimate rest. That lust you hide from your friends and your family, you need to see me as beautiful. That anger that you have towards your brother, you need to forgive like I forgive you. That nagging lack of forgiveness that you harbor, it’s because you feel superior, but I am the only righteous one. That hopeless fear of the future, I know the end from the beginning. That secret cutting corners at work, I am the true servant who came to redeem you. That abuse that you suffered from someone who should have protected you, I am the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. The manipulation of the numbers in your finances, I will give you all the resources that you need. The power and the control that you crave, I am your savior king. You cannot add one day to your life by worrying. And, the prominence and the influence that you desire, know that all of the scriptures, and all of creation, point to my goodness, and my preeminence. See, if Jesus is those things, he will offend you.

 

All of these things are offensive, they all strike us deeply. We want to ignore them, we want to justify ourselves, we want to run away. But, the grace of God, the Holy Spirit says, no, I’m going to plant you at the feet of Jesus, and you will listen. And, maybe you’re like me, and you’re like, I don’t know how to obey. Help me. Distil your grace in me, I need it. It reminds me of Lucy in the Chronicles of Narnia, when she first hears about Aslan, right? Do you remember the question she asks? Is Aslan safe? And, what does Mr. Beaver say? No he’s not safe. He’s not safe at all! But, he’s good. See, that’s the posture of a Christian. We don’t expect that when we become a Christian, that all of a sudden everything that Jesus says, somehow we agree with. When we become a Christian, we are set on a trajectory of the ordinary, where Jesus comes and he speaks truth up unto the ordinary places of our life, and points out where we are incongruent with his kingdom. 

 

And, that’s why we gather every week, right? We gather every week, because we believe that it is the ordinary means of grace. That is what we’re talking about, the ordinary means of grace, preaching the word, receiving communion, baptism, all three of those things are constantly pointing us to the ordinariness of Jesus, and how he brings about his gospel into life, and the lives of his people. They all point to it. We preach the word, because in them, we find life. We receive the table, because we say our only hope is to receive from Jesus, not bring something to Jesus, and we do baptism because we say it symbolizes that we are completely dead, and we have been made alive. We have nothing to offer. It is only by his grace that we are made alive, and that’s the ordinary means that Jesus uses, week in, and week out, to shape his people. 

 

So, what does he send his disciples out to do? He sends them out to preach the gospel … nope, actually it doesn’t say that. What does it say that they did? He sent them out to do what? To preach repentance. See, if Jesus is actually the king, then he goes out and sends his people out to preach repentance, which is basically saying, you need to repent in the areas where Jesus is not your king. You’re not living like Jesus is king. You need to turn. That’s what repentance is.

 

See, the second way that Jesus offends us is not just in the trajectory of salvation, the second way is the cost of salvation, and the freeness of it, the grace of it. See, Jesus’ gospel is so counterintuitive to us, because we know somewhere deep in our souls, that we believe that we need to escape this world in order for it to be saved. That, in order for us to be saved, we need to leave it. It’s too far gone. But, Jesus says, no. I’m coming to you, and my kingdom is coming near, and it’s here, and the world will be renewed, you will be renewed, and even if we can catch a glimpse of that reality, if you’re like me, my first reaction is … okay, it’s coming here … what do I need to do? The cost must be too large. There must be something significant I need to do for a salvation that’s fitting of that magnitude. But, Jesus says no, it’s grace. It’s not your work, it’s mine. It’s free. 

 

You know, just this week I was sitting with my youngest son, Elliot, in his bed. We just changed his bed, he’s not sleeping in a crib anymore, now he’s sleeping underneath a bunk bed, so he’s kind of adjusting to that, so we’ve been needing to kind of lay down with him to get him to get used to that. And, we’ve been listening to the Jesus Storybook Bible on CD, it’s great. I highly recommend it. But, it’s interesting because I was laying there with him, listening, and as with most children’s Bibles, they don’t go through the entire Bible. It’s one of the liabilities of children’s Bibles. But, the Jesus Storybook Bible hones in on one story that just struck me this week, that was kind of fitting this topic. It’s the story of Naman. And, why Sally Lloyd-Jones, the author of the Jesus Storybook Bible, decided to include that in the storybook, I don’t know. I would love to find out why she decided to include it. Because, it captures this ordinariness of salvation really well. 

 

If you don’t know the story of Naman, I’ll just try to summarize it for you. Naman, you can find this in 2 Kings 5, Naman is a Syrian Gentile general, and Elisha, one of the prophets of God, has been doing miracles, and preaching and proclaiming repentance to God’s people. And, these stories of miracles, much like Jesus, kind of come through the ear of Naman, and hears that Elisha can do mighty works, but Naman has leprosy, and in that day, leprosy was basically incurable, and he has it, apparently, pretty bad. And, Naman comes to Elisha and he’s met with - not Elisha - but with Elisha’s servant. And, Elisha’s servant says, Elisha’s not going to see you today, but Elisha knew that you were coming because Yahweh had talked to him and told him you were coming, and he’s telling you to go wash in the Jordan river. And, Naman is furious. And, I was listening to that story, again, and it reminded me … why was Naman so furious? Naman was mad about this, because Elisha didn’t come out to meet him. He thought, I’m a big, important guy, and I’m an important general. The least he could do is meet me in person, and now you’re telling me that the thing I have to do is just go wash in the Jordan river? I came expecting to pay you for this miracle, and now you’re telling me I’ve just got to go wash? It offended Naman, because he assumed that something was required of him, in order to receive salvation, in order to receive wholeness. But, Elisha is telling him … no. It’s faith, it’s trust. 

 

See, Naman had an expectation, that because he was important because he was a man of means, because he had status, that he needed to leverage that in order to get God to notice him. And, God says, no. That’s not what’s going to do it. Think about the story from just last week, the woman who was bleeding and Jairus. Jairus was a prominent man, this woman was a nobody, an outcast. And, what does Jesus do? He stops and gives his attention to the woman at the expense of Jairus, right? He sees people on the outside, and he gives attention to people on the outside and the prestigious the same, because it is not based on their excellence or their actions, it’s based on his compassion. See, Jesus offends us, but it’s exactly what we need. And, this is why Jesus sends people out to call them to repentance, because the irony here, is that the people who should have known Jesus the best, his hometown, failed to respond to him, even though they are amazed. And, what we see here is that Jesus is actually amazed by them. 

 

III. IT IS NOT GOOD TO BE AMAZING TO JESUS

It says that he’s astonished by their lack of trust. So, that’s the third thing, is we do not want to be amazing to Jesus. See, how is it possible for someone who knew Jesus that way, who would know him more intimately because they saw him grow up, and had heard of his miracles, and even saw him themselves, yet reject him. It comes down, I think, to the fact that these people had Jesus in their presence, but just as if being amazed is not enough, presence is not enough. And, it’s not just about proximity. It’s about our posture. See, Jesus, here, is known by these people, and it’s that very fact that he’s known that keeps them far from him. It is not the closest in proximity to Jesus, it’s about the posture of our hearts. 

And, I would say that - to play with this passage just a little bit - that Jesus being amazed by their lack of unbelief, is not something that we should aim for. Just like we should not aim to just offend people, to use that as the measure of our success, our fruitfulness, we should probably not use whether or not we’re an amazing church, as a measure of whether or not we are doing Jesus’ mission, right? See, Emmaus does not want to be an amazing church. I don’t know if you know that. We don’t want to be amazing. We want to be faithful, right? We want to be disciples. We want to be people who stay near Jesus, even when we’re challenged deeply, and offended by what he says, because we submit to him, because it’s his work. See, we want to be a faithful church through the ordinary means that Jesus prescribes. And, we’ve already heard in the parables of Jesus that that kingdom growth is slow, it’s often unseen, unnoticed, unremarkable, but steady. And, eventually, has the power to grow large, where all people, all nations find rest in it. 

See, being a faithful church means we do take seriously what Jesus teaches here, and I think he’s teaching something very important that we need to be reminded of, and I’ll just end on this, here, with you. That, unbelief is not simply a matter of a lack of information. What do I mean by that? What I mean, is that sin causes a rebellious heart that’s sick, and refuses to kneel, refuses to see. And, it is not the position of a human being to God that we just need a little bit more knowledge, we just need a couple more miracles, we need a couple more teachings of Jesus, and that’s all we need. We need a new heart. We need Jesus to seek us out. These passages should be familiar to you … Luke 19 … the son of man came to seek and save the lost … John 6:44 … no one can come to me unless the Father draws him … Romans 3 … none is righteous, no not one. Noone seeks after God, they have all turned aside … this passage should remind us that we do not just need more information, we need a new heart.

And, if Jesus is the king, then what is it we’re supposed to do? Well, this is where having gospel communities is helpful. Cause, this is where we go to do and think hard about this. What’s our job, then? Well, there’s two things I’ll just say here about the rest of this passage in chapter 6, and that is this. That, Jesus sends out his disciples to do the very same ministry, and have the very same message as Jesus. He sends them out, and he says, I want you to go preach repentance, he doesn’t tell you to preach something else, he says preach repentance, and they go, and they do the same miracles that we’ve already seen in chapters 1-5. The disciples go out, and they do the very works, and say the very message of Jesus, and that’s what we need to do as a church. We need to do nothing else besides that.

The other thing, is that I don’t know if you were reading this passage, if you didn’t read it in the scripture this morning, but in chapter 14, all of a sudden we’re talking about Jesus, and Nazareth, and all of these things, and all of a sudden it cuts to Jerusalem and we’re talking about John the Baptist. Why does it do that? It seems so out of place, it’s like a jump scene change. Isn’t it intriguing? Why is that what happens? Because, I think John the Baptist is an object lesson for what that looks like, because John the Baptist was a follower of Jesus, and he was uncompromising in his message, and what happened to him? He was killed. And, like Jesus, it said Herod enjoyed hearing John the Baptist preach, and yet he killed him. Why? See, Jesus says if you’re going to be sent out with my message, and do my works, this is how you’re going to be received. You’re going to be received the same way I am, where people might like you, but they don’t want anything to do with you. 

See, and here’s the thing I want to encourage you, lastly, with, is that John the Baptist - who Jesus says is the greatest man born of a woman, he’s one of us, because in Luke 7, we have an account of John the Baptist in prison, and John the Baptist sends some of his disciples to Jesus and says this … the disciples of John reported all of these things that Jesus was doing to him, and John called his disciples to him, and sent them to the Lord, saying, are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? When the men had come to him, they said, John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, are you the one who has come, or shall we look for another? … See, John the Baptist was like you and me. He was striving to be faithful to Jesus, but when he got put in prison, he started meeting resistance, and he started to become persecuted, he said, is Jesus really the one? He had doubts. Is Jesus really the king? Is he really the one who’s going to come, or should we wait for another? 

We’re in good company with John, because we know that this is what Jesus’ kingdom is like. We need to be offended by it. We need to be sent out with the same message of Jesus, and we know we’re going to both encounter resistance in our own souls, and we’re going to encounter resistance out there. And, as such, we’re about to come to the king’s table, and we come to the king’s table without cost to ourselves, but with infinite cost to him. We come to a small, ordinary meal to remind us that we need to allow Jesus to reign, and to speak deeply into our lives, even if it offends us, and even if it makes us what to run away, because as Peter rightly said to Jesus, to whom else will we go? Where else will we go? You have the words of eternal life. 

Let’s pray,

Father, 

We thank you for your kingdom, that it comes in an unassuming way, but that it comes with power. That it comes into the ordinary, and that you come with both grace, and truth, that you come with both love and offense. Thank you that that offense is exactly what we need. We need to hear that our only hope is you. So, as we come and prepare our hearts, to come to recieve your table, would you help us to have that in our minds, and we come to you offended. We come to you at war with ourselves, and you are our only hope, to make us whole, to make us citizens of your kingdom. We love you, we ask that you would be honored as we come as your family to share this meal. In Jesus’ good name, amen. 


The Essence of Faith-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

MARK 5:21 - 5:43

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

Jesus Heals a Woman and Jairus’s Daughter 

And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” And he went with him.

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

—Mark 5:21-43 ESV

INTRO

Well, good morning. How is everyone? Good. Mark’s great, anyway. Good to see you guys. My name’s Forrest, I’m one of the pastors here at Emmaus. And, this morning we’re going to be looking at this text, and we’re going to be basically answering the question, what does it mean, or what does it look like, to live a life of faith? 

There’s a lot of ambiguity around the idea of faith. There’s a lot, honestly, of really bad teaching around what faith actually is. You may have experienced some of that, that faith is somehow opposed to the mind, that it’s somehow opposed to logical thinking, or that somehow if you have enough faith, you can get whatever you want from God. Sometimes known as, “name it, claim it”, or, “blab it and grab it.” We’ve heard these teachings, that if we just have enough faith, we can have whatever we want, or that if we truly believe Christ, if we truly have faith in him, then we don’t need to plan, we don’t need to think about the future, we just trust him day by day. And, it’s a very reductionistic, and quite honestly, oftentimes just a flat out wrong understanding of biblical faith. 

So, what does it look like to have a life of faith? This morning, we’re looking at the essence of faith. What is the essence of faith, or the life of faith? We’re going to walk through three aspects of faith that I think flesh out for us what the essence of faith is. First, we see desperation. Next, we see delay. Now, you might wonder, what does that have to do with faith? It actually has a lot to do with faith. And, finally, dependency. What does it look like to live dependent upon Christ? So, let’s pray and then we’re going to go right into the text. It’s rich and it’s full this morning, so I’m excited to jump in. 

Lord, thank you for your goodness. Thank you that even faith is a gift from you, because every good and perfect gift comes from the father, the father of lights, in whom there is no shadow of change, no turning. Lord, we are grateful this morning that your spirit is at work in and through your people, in and through your Word. We ask that your Spirit would open our eyes to the beauty, to the truth of this scripture, and that your Spirit would drop these truths deeply into our hearts, and into our minds that they may bear fruit. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen. 

I. DESPERATE FOR JESUS (How we come to Him)

So, first we see a desperation for Jesus. That’s our first point. A life of faith looks like being desperate for Jesus. Or, desperate for Jesus, how we come to him. So, what we see in our story is that Jesus is approached by a man named Jairus, who was one of the rulers of the synagogue, it says in verse 22, which means that he would have been responsible for the general oversight of the synagogue. He was a layperson, he wasn’t a full time person that was paid, per se, but he would decide who would do the readings on the Sabbath, what readings there would be, the particulars of the readings, and he would decide who would teach and explain the Torah. So, general oversight. This means, also, because this synagogue was the hub of Jewish culture, this means that he would have been a prominent public figure, highly respected, normally upright, most likely very wealthy. 

But, it’s interesting, here, that culturally, the behavior that we see in the text does not demonstrate his standing. In fact, he does something in this text he probably has never done in his life. In verse 22, he comes to Jesus, and he falls at his feet. This man of wealth, this man of power, this man of prominence and position, in the midst of a crowd of people, he comes and falls at the feed of Jesus. He’s desperate. And, he’s desperate for a good reason. He’s desperate because, unless Jesus heals his daughter, her death is certain. Jesus is the hope for one of the people he loves most in the world. It’s not hard for us to understand where he’s coming from. All of us, to some degree or another, have experienced death. We’ve experienced people that we know, and people that we’ve loved, dying. And so, we get this desperation.

Now, it’s interesting here, as well, that Jesus hasn’t had the best relationships with the synagogues. Jesus tended to get into some trouble at times in the synagogue, because he was a threat to the religious status quo. He came in with these incredible claims of being the fulfillment of scripture, and on a practical level, what this meant for Jairus, is that it would have been best for his position, it would have been wise for him to stay out of entanglements with Jesus, at the very least, to remain neutral. Because, this meant that his position would have been scrutinized. He was coming to Jesus and falling at his feet, this man that caused so much chaos in the synagogues. 

So, he doesn’t stay out of this entanglement, though. His desperation overrides his personal concerns for position, and his personal concerns for safety. And, that’s what desperation does. Let’s look at verses 23 and 24. So, he comes, he sees Jesus, he falls at his feet, and it says … and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her so that she may be made well and live,” and he went with him … Jesus, notice, responds to this desperate plea. Jesus responds. See, there’s no questioning, there’s simply … and he goes with him. Jesus responds and the crowd follows at it continues in verse 24 … and a great crowd followed him and thronged about him … They wanted to see this miracle. They knew that he was a miracle worker, so they were following, because they wanted to see another one. 

Now, imagine for a moment the mix of emotions Jairus must have had at this point. Imagine the mix of nervousness and excitement. The mix of anxiety, and hope. This may actually happen, he said yes, he’s coming with me! Maybe there is hope for my daughter. And, you can picture Jairus sort of leading Jesus, or at least I can picture myself leading Jesus with these fast paced steps on the way to get to his daughter, and then occasionally looking back over his shoulder to see if Jesus was still coming, if the hope was still there, and picture that. This mix of anxiety and hope. 

And, in one moment, he looks back over his shoulder, and Jesus isn’t there. Jairus looks over his shoulder, and Jesus has stopped, and he’s scanning the crowd. It seems to be he’s looking for something. He stopped. Look at verses 25-30 … And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” … This is why he stopped. This is why, in the march to the deathbed, he stops, and he turns, and he scans the crowd. A woman has touched the hem of his garment, and this woman, here, is inserted into this story because she is the antithesis of Jairus. 

She was a complete and total outcast, socially. Leviticus 15 gives us details about what this woman would have been enduring. Because, it tells us that a woman during her menstrual flow is unclean for seven days, but that if it’s an ongoing blood flow, that she was unclean as long as the blood flowed. Do you remember how long the blood flowed for this woman? 12 years. 12 years of being unclean. Now, clean versus unclean is alien to us today. We’ve touched on it, some, in the book of Mark. But, we need to understand that she was untouchable. We need to understand that when she went into public, even though she was not supposed to go in the midst of crowds, if she did meander into the midst of a crowd, there would be cries of “unclean!” that would go before her, so that the sea of people would part and give her a wide space. She was untouchable. Could you imagine going, today, to Citrus Plaza, and as you walk into Citrus Plaza, people begin to cry out, “unclean!”? Could you imagine what that would do to your soul, to your mind, to your sense of worth? Could you imagine how that would shrivel you inwardly?

She was cut off from society, and she was cut off from the temple. She was cut off from worship. She had suffered much, it says, under physicians, and had spent everything she has. And, it says that she was actually worse off for it. Now, physicians during that time were - as you read about their specific practices - they were more like magicians, than anything. The Talmud, which is a Jewish commentary on the law and the prophets, gives us some of the cures for this type of ailment. And, undoubtedly, some of the cures that this woman would have tried. I’ll give you a few of them, here. One of them is to take a kind of resin - which you get from a tree, a kind of gum - and, you mix it with wine, and you drink it. Another, is to boil some onions, and mix it with wine, and as they drink it, say, “Arise from thy flux.” It sounds like Harry Potter stuff, right? Another one is you go to an intersection of roads, where you have to decide to go one way or another, and, again with a cup of wine in your right hand - obviously, wine was the go-to medicine of the day - with a cup of wine in your right hand, have someone come up behind the person and scare them, and again, you say, “Arise from thy flux.” It’s a miracle she wasn’t healed, right? 

This is the kind of stuff that, apparently, she spent all her money on, in a desperate attempt to go from unclean to clean. And, she is left worse off than she was. It says that she suffered. The word, suffered, there, really is most akin to the word torment. This woman has been tormented. She is suffering as much from the cures as she is from the disease. And, so, she is desperate. She is desperate, and she throws herself at his feet, as well. So, we get in this two people, in desperate situations, coming to Jesus. 

What does a life of faith look like? It looks like being desperate for Jesus. Thomas Watson, who was a 17th century pastor, he said … Faith can make use of the waters of affliction, to swim faster to Christ … Do you find yourself in the midst of affliction this morning? In the midst of sin, in the midst of suffering? The imagine of Psalm 130, is of drowning in the depths of suffering and sinfulness, and I want to read that this morning … 

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!

 O Lord, hear my voice!

Let your ears be attentive

    to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,

    O Lord, who could stand?

But with you there is forgiveness,

    that you may be feared.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,

    and in his word I hope;

my soul waits for the Lord

    more than watchmen for the morning,

    more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!

    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,

    and with him is plentiful redemption.

And he will redeem Israel

    from all his iniquities.

  • Psalm 130, ESV

 

In the midst of drowning in our sin and our suffering, the Psalmist says, we don’t look in, we look up. We look up desperately, cause there’s only one who rescues us in the midst of that. This morning, do we see our need for him? And, it’s not just sin and suffering that drive us to Christ. It is meant that, even in the good times, that we should be driven to Christ. If we’re honest, if the testimony that we see from scripture is true, that it often takes affliction to help us see our desperate need for Christ. It’s in the midst of that, that we recognize that we can’t fix it ourselves, that our hope must be in another. We don’t look in, we look up. But, you may find yourself, not in the midst of this deep kind of affliction. Even in the midst of that, our prayer should be, Lord, make me desperate for you.

It’s one of the great challenges, I think, of the church in the west, is, in the midst of our prosperity, in the midst of how much we have to thank God for it, it can lull us to sleep. It can make us less than desperate for God. So, a life of faith means a life of desperation for God. We don’t look in, we look up. Are you desperate this morning? If not, ask the Lord, Lord, make me desperate for you. Help me to see my need for you, whether I’m in the midst of good times or difficult affliction. Lord, help me to see my need for you. This is how we come to Christ.

 

II. DELAYED BY JESUS (How we grow to trust Him)

See, without desperation, we never come to him. And, we’re called to come to him again, and again, and again. Are we desperate for him? And from there, as we come to him desperately, what can be difficult is in the midst of our desperation, Lord, we come to you, we experience delay. Any of you guys ever experienced that with the Lord? You go to him, you’re praying, you’re wondering, how long is this going to take? What is the deal with this delay, I don’t understand it. We see that, deeply, in our text. Delayed by Jesus. Delay is how we grow to trust him. So, we come to him desperately, and as we come to him, no doubt in the midst of it, his timeline will be different than ours.

So, as we come, what we see is that there is a problem here from the lady that she’s bringing to Jesus, that is chronic. The issue of blood has been going on for 12 years, and then there’s a problem that is acute. There is this young girl, 12 years old, who has a fever and she is on the verge of death. So, we have this chronic problem, and we have this acute problem that could lead to death. And, notice what Jesus does. Jesus chooses to stop and deal with what seems to be the less urgent of the two problems. Think about it in this way. Think about a doctor’s office. If two people show up at the same time, and they go see the doctor, and one has a chronic issue that’s been going on for a number of years, and one has an acute issue that could result in death, there’s no question about which one you go see first, right? I heard one person say that Jesus would have had a malpractice lawsuit, right? You don’t do that. It doesn’t make sense to us. What’s he doing here? What is this delay about?

The great physician, here, chooses to give his attention to the chronic issue, the one that doesn’t seem pressing. Now, again, can you imagine Jairus at this point? Quickly walking, Jesus is following, looking over his shoulder, he’s stopped, and he sees exactly what he’s dealing with, what Jesus has stopped for. Not a woman who seems to be on the verge of death, but a woman who is unclean, a woman who is not welcome in his synagogue, a woman he would never be around. Jesus has stopped for her. Can you imagine the frustration and angst? Doesn't Jesus know that this is urgent? Doesn’t Jesus know that time is of the essence? What is he doing? He’s clearly not thinking well. Does he recognize what’s happening?

And then, it intensifies. Jairus’ worst fear is realized. Look at verse 35 … While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” … We’ve just gone to a whole other level. Now this delay has resulted in the death of my daughter, the very reason I desperately came to you. It’s easy, very easy to get Jairus’ perspective on this. Because, it’s easy for us to believe we know what the best move is in a given situation, don’t we? We think we know Jesus well enough to be able to discern what his next move is going to be. Certainly, he’s going to do this, because it’s obvious. Obviously, this is the right move, Jesus, just listen to me. I’ll point you in the right direction, Jesus, just listen to me.

And then, in the midst of that, in the midst of our desperation, in the midst of praying, in the midst of going to Christ, he does something that makes no sense at all. He does something that frustrates us, that angers us. Some of us are dealing with that this morning. We’re in the midst of that. We’ve prayed, we’ve asked, we’ve gone to Christ desperately, yet it doesn’t seem to be going the way we think it should. Some of us are struggling with the synecism in the face of that reality.

I think one thing that’s important for us to grasp as we, in the midst of our desperation, seek to live a life of faith, and for our faith to grow, our trust to grow in Christ, is that the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, the opposite of faith is control. The opposite of faith is, “I know what needs to be done,” and that whether we give voice to it or not, whether we articulate it or not, we expect God to somehow be subservient to that. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s control. And, precisely because in the delay Jesus is bringing about our good, precisely for that reason, he will not be controlled by what we think he should do. He loves us too much. He cares for us too much.

And so, what we see in this, is that with Jesus, delayed does not mean denied. Delayed, for your situation, does not mean denied. It may not becoming like you expect or as quickly as you expect, but because of who Jesus is, remember last week we looked at Jesus was both good and powerful, and we have to believe both of those. If we don’t, we will live a very angsty Christian life. He is good and powerful, he is both of those things. And, if we believe that, we have to trust that if we are experiencing a delay, it’s because there’s something at play in the situation that God knows, and we don’t. And, man, that’s hard for us. Isn’t it? It’s hard for us. It’s hard for us, people who love calendars and scheduling and planning, and we love to be able to look at everything and go, that fits there, and that fits there, and then we look at our week, and we go, oh, yes. I’m in control. And then, we go to God and he blows it all up. Yes. it’s because, if he is good and powerful, there’s something at play in the delay that God knows, and we don’t. 

I know when I look back at the frustrating delays of my life, and I’m just speaking of me, I’m sure this isn’t you, I see a level of arrogance and control, that I know better than God knows. Listen, if God would have let me and my wife leave the church we were at, plant Emmaus Church, all this awesome stuff that’s happening now wouldn’t have happened in 11 years, it would have happened the first year. Right? If it was up to me, it all would have been happening like this, but that’s not the way God works, and in the midst of Emmaus Church being planted, the gospel was being planted in me, and it was being planted in you, and it was not my timeline. I mean, if I could go back and show you the initial timeline of, this is what Emmaus Church was going to be in three years, it would be hilarious. You’d go, wow, I don’t know if it was faith or if you were just a naive knucklehead.

And, it’s true. I was. One of the things, the older I get, as I look back on my life, it becomes more and more clear that there is one God, and I am not him. He knows better than me. The stuff he worked in me over this long period, and my wife, and my family, I’m so grateful for it, which brings us to the good news about delays. We saw last week that his grace, and his love are compatible with storms, with the anti-kingdom that comes against us, and in this week’s text we see that his grace and his love are compatible with delays.

See, the delays of God are bringing about our good. I don’t tell you that based upon my own experience, I tell you that based upon the powerful and good God that is revealed in scripture, and the purposes that he has for his people. The delays of God are bringing about our good. In fact, listen to this, the delays of God mean that we will sacrifice more than we thought, and we will gain more than we hoped. This is clear in the next. The woman with the issue of blood comes to Jesus in faith, at great risk to herself, she’s not supposed to be in the midst of this crowd of people, she pushes through the crowd, touches the hem of Jesus’ garment, a woman who is unclean touching a rabbi, major no-no. And, immediately receives the healing. And, when she receives it, she goes right back into the crowd. She wants this healing, she is desperate for Jesus, but she wants it incognito. She wants it without anyone knowing. 

But, notice what Jesus does. He calls her out in front of the crowd. Again, you might question his wisdom, hey, who knows, they could stone this lady, they could beat her, no telling what they could do. It doesn’t seem wise to us, but Jesus has her good in mind. He calls her out in front of the crowd, he forces her to go public. See, the desperate faith that brought her to Jesus is now requiring more of her than she thought. But, look at what happens in verse 33 … But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth … Jesus, it was me that touched you, she’s saying. I know I shouldn’t have, it was me, she’s fearful. And, he said to her … “Daughter, … this term of endearment … your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” …

Go in peace. We’ve talked about that word before, that word shalom, it’s this idea of perfect harmony with God. It’s not just physical healing, this is a deep restoration of harmony with God, which results in restoration of relationship with self, and with creation, and with others. This is this holistic, beautiful healing. She comes to Jesus to do a touch and run, and Jesus doesn’t let her. He says, not so fast. We’re going to make this thing public, and you’re going to get a far greater healing than you came for. That’s the redemption of Christ. She comes to Jesus to touch and run, and Jesus asks more of her than she thought, and he gives her more than she came for. That is at work in the delays. That is at work, but we have to trust that that is at work, and we have to have faith, believe, because he is powerful and good, that that is at work.

See, what Jairus can’t see in the delay, what he cannot see, is that Jesus takes a woman with an almost superstitious faith, it seems, who came for a bodily healing, and makes her a transformed disciple for all eternity, and he says, Jesus is saying, that has to be acted upon now. I have to do that now. The opportunity is now. So, your delay is this woman’s eternal security, this woman’s holistic healing. It’s the same for Jairus, though. He comes to Jesus, and Jesus asks more of him. He comes to Jesus to cure a fever, and when it’s over with, he gets a resurrection. Jesus asks him to believe. Look at what Jairus upon the news that his daughter has died, in verse 36 … While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” … 

Now, Jairus comes to Jesus trusting only that Jesus would come with him so that his daughter might be healed. And now, he’s being asked to trust Jesus in the midst of his daughter’s death. It’s more than he asked for. But, what we see is that he also gets more than he hoped. He comes to Jesus to cure a fever, and he gets a resurrection. See, Jesus tells him in the midst of that news, he says, believe in me, trust me. And, when Jesus asks Jairus to trust him, I sort of get this picture of him looking around Jairus, straight at me, and telling me the same thing. Believe me. Trust me. In the midst of affliction, in the midst of your desperation, in the midst of the delay, trust me. 

See, the delays force us with our weak faith, to trust in a great Christ. We’re asked to believe based upon the character of Christ, and that’s what it means to be dependent. A life of faith means that we come to him desperately, that in the midst of the delay, our faith grows, we continue to believe in him, even though his timeline is not the same as ours, even though he’s working in a way that we don’t believe is perhaps the best, we believe, we trust, our faith grows in the midst of that, so that we become people we are dependent upon him, in every season of life.

III. DEPENDENT UPON JESUS (How we remain in Him)

The final point, how we remain in him. So, a life of faith means we see our need for Jesus, we come to him desperately, but we also must see something of his character, right? We only depend upon that which we find dependable. And so, if we are not consistently depending upon Christ, then it means there’s something we’re not seeing about the character and nature of Christ, who he truly is. And so, there are three things, real quick, I want to hit that we see. 

One, what we need to see to live dependent upon him is that his grace is for you. His grace is for you, unqualified you … whoever would come to me … his grace is for you. We see this in the juxtaposition, which we mention, of Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood. Jairus is a male. In that culture, with all the power. She’s a female with no power. He’s a synagogue ruler, she’s ceremonially unclean, can’t enter the synagogue. He’s wealthy, she spent all of her money to try to get well. He’s at the top of the social hierarchy, she’s at the bottom. Yet, in the midst of that, Jesus turns to the woman and gives her his full attention, treating her as if there is nothing else in the world happening here, but you. In the midst of this crowd of people, when he asks, who touched me? Remember the disciples? What did they say? What do you mean who touched you? Everybody’s touching you! This is a crazy scene, but in the midst of that, he looks at her as if she is the only person in the world, his grace is for you. He turns to a woman with zero status and power, and makes a religious leader wait in the moment of his greatest need. His grace is for you.

This isn’t unusual for Jesus to do. We see it over and over in the gospels. You have an insider and an outsider, and Jesus turns quickly to the outsider. Right? You have someone who’s really messed up, you have someone who is an outcast, and they’re drawn in by Jesus again and again. See, the kingdom of God reverses the values of the world. Jesus doesn’t come to people on the basis of pedigree, on the basis of status, on the basis of anything else. He comes to them because of his grace. And, he comes to us because of his grace.

Listen, this morning it doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done. Jesus’ grace is for you. Paul tells us he’s chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, so that no one could boast in his presence. We have nothing to bring before him to boast of, and that’s how we can know his grace is for us. So, we have this juxtaposition, this interweaving of these two stories from two radically different places. It’s meant to tell us the greatest to the least and everything in between, his grace is for you. 

Secondly, his power is for you. Again, we saw that last week. But, at this point, the plot has thickened. The report is that the girl is dead, but Jesus says he’s going anyway. And, Jesus shows up, and everybody’s wailing, and actually during that time, at funerals they would hire professional mourners, and they would come, and there would be loud weeping, and there would be dirt on head, and there would be torn clothes, and it would have been a very chaotic scene that Jesus would have walked into. And so, what we’ve seen leading up to this, last week, we’ve seen Jesus’ power over creation, in the storm. We’ve seen Jesus’ power over the anti-kingdom, and the daemoniac. Now, we see his kingdom over our greatest enemy, death. 

When we talk about sin, sin and death are bed fellows, right? And, they have a lot of friends, and we experience all of those. We all experience some aspect of the fallenness of this world, the sin and death of this world. And so, what we’re seeing is that Jesus, in his power that is for us, that it conquers our greatest enemy, death. It’s confusing, though, that Jesus says, she’s just sleeping. Did you catch that? What does he mean there? Many people have questioned, so is this a resuscitation or a resurrection? Was she just sleeping? But, when we look at the other accounts, Luke 8:22, which treats this narrative, he says her spirit returned to her. She was dead. That’s biblical language for she had died. Everyone knew she was dead. So why does he say this? I think, in one sense, in light of Christ’s power, it’s because death, for the believer, is like waking up after a good sleep. And, you might go, what? What are you talking about? But, look at the language. I think it unpacks it a little more.

He goes in to see this little girl, 12 years old, and it says he takes her by the hand, and he says … talitha … meaning, little girl, or perhaps, a deeper meaning might be little lady, or one translator said it could mean, today, it would have been an expression like honey. This is a deep term of endearment for this little girl, and it’s a name a parent would use for their little girl. And he says, talitha koum, koum means wake up, honey, daughter, wake up. See, Jesus, here, is facing a greater foe than a hurricane or demons that we’ve looked at in previous weeks. He’s facing death, a most feared enemy of the human race. And, Jesus, the creator, the same hands that scattered the stars and formed the mountains, grabs this little girl by the hand, and he raises her up through death as if it’s nothing to him. That’s the power of Christ, and that power is for you. 

Jesus says, essentially, if i have you by the hand, death is nothing more than a good night’s sleep. It’s like a good night’s sleep when you’re a kid, and you wake up and you realize you’re going to Disneyland. That’s what death is. Do you remember feelings like that? Maybe it was something else, maybe Disneyland wasn’t your thing. But, when your mom or your dad would wake you up, and you’d realize, oh, today’s the day. That’s death for the believer. Wake up, today’s the day. I get to be with him. He gently lifts her through it. That is his power. And, how does that power come to bear in our life? 

Finally, he became weak for you. It’s interesting that he notices power goes out from him when the woman with the issue of blood touches the hem of his garment. Because, that doesn’t happen, you notice, when he speaks to the hurricane on the sea. He speaks as if it’s a little child. There’s no sense of power going out from him, that’s not mentioned. But, here, it’s almost in his humanity, we see a weakness. We see this power goes out from him, so she might receive shalom true peace. And, I think it’s foreshadowing the cross of Christ. 

How can he hold us by hand, despite our weakness, despite our evil? The answer is, because he became weak for us. 2 Corinthians 13:4 speaks about this … For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For, we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you, we will live with him by the power of God … Crucified in weakness, that we could live in God’s power. Crucified in weakness, that we could live a life of faith. 

See, Jesus, in a sense, lost his Father’s hand on the cross, so that we could take hold of his hand, and went into the tomb so that we could be raised out of it, and he went and was crucified, cast out, outside the camp he became unclean so that we could be brought in and made clean. This is the Christ that we desperately long for. This is the Christ, because of his power and goodness, because his grace is for you and his power is for you, and he became weak for you, no matter your station in life, you can live a life of faith knowing that though it will cost you more than you imagine, you will receive more than you hoped. Let’s pray. 

Jesus, 

We are grateful this morning for this truth, for this beautiful reality that because of the work of Jesus Christ, because of the incarnation of Christ, because of the gift of Christ becoming weak for us, we can live lives of faith. People that are desperate for Christ, that recognize we have no hope apart from him, and yet at the same time, Lord, we are people who in the midst of delay, recognize that God’s good is at work in our lives, even if we can’t understand it. And, Lord, that leads us to being a dependent people, because God, you are dependable. Lord, as we come to the table this morning, may we come as people who are transferring trust from ourselves, to you. Lord, I know there are people here in the midst of serious sin and suffering and difficulty and the fallenness of this world. God, I pray that in the midst of the delay they may be experiencing, that you would bring to their heart and mind in this meal your goodness, that your grace is for them, your power is for them, that you became weak for them, that they might live in the resurrection power. God, may we live into that reality this morning. We ask in Jesus’ name, amen. 


The Power and Goodness of Christ-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

Jesus Calms a Storm 

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Jesus Heals a Man with a Demon 

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

—Mark 4:35 - 5:20 ESV

INTRO

Good morning, I’m Forrest, I’m one of the pastors here, and as always, it is good to be with you. Do we have any Chronicles of Narnia fans out there? Alright, a lot. Yeah, at this point it’s kind of become a part of our pop culture with the movies popularizing it, and I think one of the most well known lines from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe encapsulates well what our text is bringing to us this morning.

If you remember in the story, we’ll kind of geek out for a second here, Mr. Beaver tells Susan that Aslan, the ruler of Narnia,is a lion. Do you remember this? And, Susan is surprised because she assumes that Aslan is a man, certainly a ruler is a man. She then tells Mr. Beaver, I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion. She asks Mr. Beaver then, subsequently, if Aslan is safe, to which Mr. Beaver replies … 

“Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King.”

—The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

This line encapsulates our two narratives this morning. Nothing with unmanageable power is safe. And, at the same time, not everything with unmanageable power is good. I wonder if this morning, we think of Jesus in that way. I wonder, do we believe him to be powerful, and good. See, we must believe him to be both, or we will end up living anemic Christian lives at best. In every season of life, do we believe that he is both powerful and good. And so, I think in our text, in the first narrative, we have a story of Christ’s power laced with his goodness. And, I think in the second story, of the Gerasene demoniac, we have a story of Christ’s goodness, laced with his power. So, this morning, the track we’re going to walk, there’s a lot of ground to cover here, there are many layers.

So, I’d encourage you to try to track with me this morning. We’re actually going to start in apocalyptic literature. That would be the point at which you may feel like hitting the eject button. Don’t do it, track with me, otherwise you may wake up in the middle of the sermon wondering where we are, feeling like maybe I just told you you were possessed with a demon, and I promise you, that’s not the point of the sermon this morning. So, track with me, I think there’s big payoff, a lot of layers. This week in studying God’s word, I was reminded of the richness of it, that it’s so rich, that we can spend our lives plumbing its depths and never exhaust it, yet at the same time it’s so simple that a kid can grasp it and respond to it with faith in Jesus Christ.

So, the task before us this morning, then, is to see, how do we see in our text that Jesus is both good, and powerful? So, let’s pray before we jump in.

Jesus,

we are thankful for this great truth. Lord, it is easy for one of those aspects of who you are to become undermined in our own hearts, and in our own minds. Lord, as we come to your text, we are thankful that it is powerful, and it is sharp as a two-edged sword, and it cuts deeply, and we are grateful for that. Lord, reveal to us our desperate need for you this morning, in whatever season of life we find ourselves. And, we thank you in Jesus’ name, amen. 

So, the book of Daniel is an apocalyptic, hyper-political book. You may actually, what you probably know of Daniel, is - at the very least - you know the story of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, which tends to be sort of the Sunday school story. But, the reality is, there’s a lot going on in the book of Daniel. It’s very apocalyptic, and it’s very political, and in the midst of it, Daniel sees a vision of four beasts coming up out of the sea, that were - it says later in verse 17 of chapter 7 of Daniel, they are identified as kings. These were kings, these were powers. And, I want to read that in Daniel … 

Daniel declared, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it. And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. It was raised up on one side. It had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh.’ After this I looked, and behold, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back. And the beast had four heads, and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.

—Daniel 7:2-7 ESV

So, this vision comes. It’s identified, again, in verse 17, that these are powers, kings, these are nations that Daniel is foreseeing through this vision, that are going to come to power, and devour the world. The first one, most scholars agree, is Babylon, the Babylonian Empire a few hundred years before Jesus. The second would be the Medo Persian Empire, the third would be the Greeks and Alexander the Great, and then the fourth was the Roman Empire, which was the final climax of these world powers. The book of Mark is written some 30 odd years after the life of Jesus. And, it’s written, it’s audience is citizens of Rome, who were facing persecution and death under the brutal rule of Caesar Nero.

Mark wants his readers to make this connection, a connection between these narratives of calming the storm, and the Gerasene demoniac being delivered, he wants them to make a connection between these narratives, and their current persecuted reality under the reign of the powerful Roman empire. He wants them to see his power and goodness in the midst of the powerful evil they find themselves in, and he wants us to see the same thing this morning. No matter where we are in life, he wants us to see his power, and his goodness, and that’s what we see in the first narrative, a great power. 

I. A GREAT POWER 


So, Jesus has been teaching in parables, and on the power of the kingdom of God. I should say, remember that sea motif, that these beasts rose up out of the sea, because that’s going to come up in both narratives. There’s some connections there. Jesus has been teaching in parables. If you remember last week, Max, the last two weeks, Max has walked us through those. He’s been teaching in parables on the power of the kingdom of God, how the kingdom of God continues, that it’s this unstoppable force, it begins as a seed, a small seed, but nothing can stop it.

And, when he’s finished with this teaching, he’s teaching from the boat, kind of using the water and the embankment as an amphitheater, we’re told in verses 35 and 36, that they essentially take up the anchor, and begin to cross the sea of Galilee to the other side. And, it tells us that other boats accompany them, so they’re not by themselves, and as they’re crossing the Sea of Galilee - which was a lake on the north side of the region of Galilee, it was a lake that was seven miles wide, it was 13 miles long, so it was a large lake, it was even on the border of a sea, this lake, this sea, was also 700 feet below sea level, with mountains on both sides - not small mountains, big mountains on both sides. You can see them even today. Particularly, the eastern mountains are exceedingly tall. The tallest one is Mount Hermon, and it’s 9,200 feet above sea level. So, this means that that reality, the lake 700 feet below sea level, the mountains around it max out at around 9,200 feet, so what you get, all of you meteorologists out there like me, is the warm air rises, right, the cold air descends, and when those two meet, crazy stuff can happen. Storms can whip up really quick, and that is exactly what happens as Jesus and the disciples cross the sea of Galilee.

It should be noted, too, that the Jewish people were not seafaring people, naturally. It wasn’t in their history to be seafaring people. Now, we know they’ve adapted to some degree, because as Mark begins, Jesus is calling fishermen, people who are fishing on the sea of Galilee. So, they’ve made some adjustments, but historically, they are not vikings by any stretch of the imagination. They were 12 tribes from the desert that God brought into a home in the mediteranean.

Now, in the ancient near east, the sea had a dark symbolism, and you see this, actually, throughout scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. It had this dark symbolism, it was one of evil and chaos and demonic powers that were raging against  the creator. We see this in a few spots, some scriptures that point this out … 

“And darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters”

—Genesis 1:2 ESV

So, you get darkness and waters put together there in that text … 

Psalm 93 says, “The floods were lifted up …” We know floods are not a good thing … “Oh Lord, the Floods had lifted up their voice, the floods lift up their roaring, mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the ways of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty …” 

And, what we just read …

“And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.”

—Daniel 7:3 ESV

And then finally, even at the end, even though this would not have been in view for the readers, then … 

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”

—Revelation 21:1 ESV

So, we get this picture throughout scripture. There are many, many more scriptures that if you were to just do kind of a biblical study of the word sea, you would see that it is fraught with chaos, and darkness. Suffice it to say, that when the Jewish people thought of the sea, they did not think of vacations, and drinks with umbrellas in them. What came to mind, was a clash of order and chaos, a place where God and evil rage against one another. Additionally, they were going to the other side, it says. They are heading into a Gentile region called Decapolis, which was basically a federation of 10 cities that was under Roman rule, and this means that they were leaving this place of covenant, this land of covenant, and coming into this - in the Jewish mind, what would have been this dark, evil place of Roman rule. 

So, you get the picture that this would have been a journey for the disciples of Jesus. And, as they’re crossing, the scripture there tells us … a  great windstorm arises … Now, we don’t know the exact boat they were in, but one of the most popular boats at the time was a 20 foot long boat, 7 feet wide, may or may not have had a sail, had oars. It could fit about 15 people. Most likely, they were traveling in something similar to that. What we need to get, is that it was not a ship, it was a boat, two very different things, especially when you’re in the midst of a hurricane. 

So, verse 37, we see that the waves begin crashing into the boat, and the boat begins to fill with water. Now, you can imagine at this moment, all of their fears are coming to be realized. The dark, ominous chaos of the water, the trip over not to the land of covenant, but the land of Roman rule, this dark place, and the darkness and the chaos comes to bear on them. And, in that moment, as their boat is filling with water and they are undoubtedly about to sink into the sea, into the chaos, in that moment they look to their teacher. They look for some comfort, for some assurance, because he’s the reason they’re out there.

Remember, they’re not  in the midst of the storm because they were disobedient. There are a lot of, actually, parallels, here, in the opposite direction, though, between Jonah and what’s happening here. A lot of scholars make that connection. But, what’s happening here is that they have followed Jesus. They haven’t run from him, they’ve followed Jesus, yet they find themselves in the midst of the storm. And, as they look to their great leader for comfort and assurance, they find him asleep on a cushion. Can you imagine that moment? Asleep on a cushion, because that’s what you do in the midst of a hurricane, when you’re in the sea. You just catch a little cat nap.

You can imagine that moment. And, often times, when we see the disciples’ interaction with Jesus, it’s easy for us in our arrogance to look at it and simply say, wow, they were really ignorant. Right? Sometimes - like an example - the sons of Zebedee go to Jesus and they’re like, Jesus, who’s going to be greatest in your kingdom? And, you’re reading it going, agh, really? You are such a knucklehead. Yet, we do it all the time, right? We do it in ways that we don’t even recognize. But, this is not one of those moments, where even in our arrogance we can look at it and go, why did they do that? 

I think this a perfectly reasonable question. Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? Jesus is asleep in the midst of the storm, he’s gotten them into this trouble, and yet he doesn’t even seem to be concerned. Verse 39 tells us what happens … And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm … Jesus wakes up and he immediately rebukes the wind. He speaks to it as if it were a child, and where there once was a great storm, there is now a great calm. And, the sense is that even the water is calm, which you see Jesus’ power in that reality, if you think about a bunch of kids in a swimming pool, and they’re playing around, and then all of a sudden they get out, the water doesn’t immediately go calm, right? It says chopping. But, Jesus in his power calms the wind and he calms the waves. 

This story, in many ways, is very straight forward. We know the reality of storms, don’t we? It takes one phone call, one e-mail, one text message, one moment, and a sudden storm hits. Life can be like that, right? Evil, chaos, hits us out of nowhere. And, if you’re like the rest of us, or, I should say, if you’re like me, the disciples, the pattern of the disciples here looks very familiar. What’s the first thing we do when the storm hits? We freak out. Right? That’s the only rational thing to do, is freak out when the storm hits. What’s happening? And then, we question whether God really cares for us. I’m following you, how can you put me in the midst of this storm?

But, the story climaxes in a question. And, it climaxes in a question that feels like a cliffhanger, but it’s not because the answer is embedded in the story. It’s what Mark wants us to walk away with. As they continue, verse 40, he said to them … Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” …


The opening line of Mark’s gospel reads … The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God … scholars call this a messianic secret motif. All it means, is you’re in on something from the very beginning, that the rest of the players other than Christ, in the story, are not in on. You know from the get-go that this is the son of God, the one that was prophesied about in the Old Testament, that has, specifically in Isaiah, that has now come in the flesh. And, we know that, but at this point, the disciples were unaware of this reality. See, they think he’s just a rabbi, a really good teacher with an extra measure of God’s power. But, now, this is starting to look a little peculiar. They know that in the Hebrew scriptures, that only God has power over the sea. They know Psalm 107, which says … some went out into the sea in ships, and when the storm hits they cry out to Yahweh, and by his power, and his power alone, the waves are hushed … They know this. 

And, it’s also peculiar that Jesus doesn’t conjure. In other words, Jesus doesn’t call on a higher power. Like every other legend of antiquity, when they’re faced with this unmanageable, uncontrollable power, they conjure a higher power, Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus speaks directly to the storm. See, he’s not calling on a higher power, because Mark wants us to see that he is the higher power. Remember, in the beginning in Genesis when darkness was over the face of the deep, and the spirit of God hovered over it, Jesus is saying, that was me, in the beginning, the creator. So, who then, is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him. And, the answer is, the creator of all things, with unmatched and unmanageable power, and the chaos of the sea is at my command. 

Point one … the great power. 

II. A GREAT COMPASSION

Next, we see, as we move to the next story - and then we’re going to bring these two together - is great compassion, or it might be said, a great good. Now, this next story, the Gerasene demoniac, takes place in decapolis, on the southeastern side of the sea. Again, it was a federation of 10 cities, first colonized by Alexander the Great, and during this particular time was conquered by the Roman empire. And, Jesus is unleashing the kingdom of God not just in Israel, but throughout the world. And, if you follow the trajectory of scripture, that is always the plan, that the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, which means that this gospel, this good news, this kingdom must go outside of Israel, it must go to the world, it must go to the Gentile nations. 

So, Jesus pushes through to bring his kingdom to the world, but there’s an anti-kingdom, there’s a dominion of darkness, and Jesus faces resistance from the moment he starts to go to the other side. First in the sea, and in the storm, and then in the demoniac. And, underneath this there’s a root of evil, a dark power that is at the source of this resistance. As Jesus enters into the Gentile territory, a man with an unclean spirit comes from the graveyard to meet him. Look at verses 2-6 … 

And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” …

It’s a pretty bleak picture of this man’s existence, isn’t it? Now, I feel like we have to take a moment to do a little bit of work, because it would be very easy for us in this western culture, in this particular time, to keep this story at distance, to keep this story at arm’s length, to simply say it’s a superstitious sort of phenomenon that belongs in antiquity, that belongs in another time. When, culturally, we function as if what is real is only what can be tested and poked and prodded in a laboratory. If we say we believe in a supernatural and personal, good God, then it is no leap at all to say we believe in a personal and supernatural evil. In fact, it follows.

In the biblical worldview, the fact is, the universe is teeming with activity that cannot necessarily be tested. Listen to what Paul says here in Ephesians, and I want you to remember, Paul has been talking in this letter about how to walk in love, how wives and husbands are to love one another and lay down their lives. He’s been talking about the new life in Christ, unity in the body, some very practical things here, loving one another. And then, as he gets to the end of this letter, he brings us to what might be a strange place to us. Look here at Ephesians 6:10-16 …

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances … [does that include your circumstance? Yes.] … take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”

—Ephesians 6:10-16 ESV

In all circumstances. Do you hear what Paul is saying? In the midst of a letter where he has been very practical, husbands, love your wives, church, you are one body, live into that reality. He’s saying, do not lose sight that there is a world, here, teeming with spiritual forces that have schemes that are seeking to disrupt. See, what scripture tells us is that inbetween the creator God, a being with no equal and the seven billion plus people on the earth, there is an invisible world filled with spiritual beings, with angels, with demons. Some of these are in league with the creator, working to usher in God’s kingdom, but others are at war with the creator, and wreaking havoc wherever they can. 

The biblical understanding of demons, though, is not a simple one or a superstitious one, or a naive one. Rather, it’s complex, and it’s multidimensional. I know we’ve seen Poltergeist and people’s head spinning, and we have things that come to mind when we hear this stuff, but if you look at the totality of scripture and how it reveals to us the reality of sin and our struggle, it is not reductionary at all. Certain worldviews tend to be reductionary, we tend to reduce our problems to one aspect, maybe it’s physical, you’re probably is just physical. I heard the phrase this week, I guess it’s a new thing, I need to do a geographical … and what that means is, like, where I live is not working out for me, so I need to move somewhere, right? So i’m going to do a geographical. The problem is, as one really wise person said, everywhere you go, there you are. So, you can do the geographical, but you’re still there. 

But, we tend to reduce things in that way. Physical, or mental, or moralistic, your problem is just guilt and shame, you need to deal with that, or spiritual, it’s only spiritual, and we see demons everywhere. True story, when my mother first came to Christ, neither one of us were believers, later in life she was trying to find churches, and she was in deep south Louisiana, and she went to a church, and they told her she had a chocolate demon, and they tried to cast it out of her. So, talk about reductionary. I’m like … I think i have one of those, if that’s a thing … I’m going to come see you guys … 

So, we tend to be reductionistic in our worldviews, but scripture is not this way. Scripture gives weight to each one of these realities, mental, moral, physical, spiritual, all of the above, they’re all interlocking. And, therefore, there’s no one template. But, I think in our culture, what we’re the quickest to dismiss, is this particular world, this world of principalities and powers, where Paul says, you’re not wrestling against what you think you’re wrestling against. 

See, if we reject personal spiritual evil, we will be blind to a significant power at work that stirs up our struggle, and stirs up our sin, and creates chaos. See, we see demon possessed, and we go, oh, I’m good. I’m cool. There is none of me in this guy. I mean, he’s … and, when you read the description, it’s easy to put distance between us and him. What’s interesting, is that the Greek words that describe this state never actually use the word possession. It’s essentially the word for demonize, over and over and over again. So, I know there’s been a lot of debate around categories and oppression and possession, but as I dig into the text, into scripture, and there’s definitely a place for those conversations, but what I see is there’s more this influence at work that we need to be awake to.

Don’t forget, though, what Paul is saying. Essentially, he gets to … so, if we’re proud, if we’re self centered, if we’re angry, and these things are taking root in us, and there’s bitterness in us, make no mistake that there is some aspect of influence going on there. See, our struggles - this will really unsettle us - our struggles are not so much different from the demoniac in kind, but in degree. His patterns even are probably familiar. I know they are for me.

When I tend to go in a difficult place, a dark place, what do we see in the demoniac’s life, the way he was living? We see isolation. Don’t we tend to want to be left alone? We don’t want anyone talking to us, I don’t want to hear your Jesus stuff, just leave me alone, let me binge on Netflix, or put my head under the covers, right? Just leave me alone. Or, we’re in bondage, right? Perhaps there’s sin that we’ve been struggling with for years, and we find ourselves not able to see that bondage broken. Even harming himself. Now, there is a very overt way, he’s cutting himself with stones. That happens in different ways today, but there are other ways we tend to do that, right? We tend to harm ourselves through things like binge eating, or things that we run to, that we know are not good for us, but we run to those things for comfort. Make no mistake, Paul is saying in every circumstance, be on guard. There are schemes at work. So, we are not as different from the demoniac as we might like to believe.

Now, how do we see the goodness of Jesus? We said this about compassion, and it is. The goodness of Jesus is demonstrated in that he goes to the worst of the worst. He goes to a man that feels so far gone, compared to perhaps where we are, and he does that with intention, he does that with purpose, he does that because he wants us to see that we have hope, that where we, and our station in life, whatever these schemes are that are at work, that we are not too far gone, that his goodness is not present with us in the midst of it, and that his power is not strong enough to rescue us. He comes to the worst of the worst, the most vile, the most detestable, the most unclean in a graveyard, the place that a Jewish person would never go. Jesus goes to the depth with this man so that you and I might have hope from our depths.

And, there’s another layer here that’s happening. Notice he asks in verse 9 … what is your name? … and the answer is … my name is Legion, for we are many … A legion was the largest Roman military unit. It would have been about 5 or 6,000 people at this time, and they were known for their brutality and their destruction. So, we begin to see allusions and connections that would have been made for those early readers, that perhaps are lost on us. They see, okay, we’re seeing power over Rome, we’re seeing goodness in the midst of it, coming to rescue, and we’re seeing power over it, even the strange reality of the pigs, right? I mean, this is a strange story, there’s no doubt. Look what happens … 

And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea … 

Do you see the connection? Do you see, in Daniel, he says this power is coming, and it is a great power, and it is going to engulf the world, and here we see Jesus coming in the midst of this power, in the midst of this legion, and he brings redemption, and he brings healing, and he brings restoration, and then he demonstrates his power. Even with the pigs, there was a Gerasen that the Roman legion had, where their actual mascot, essentially, was a wild boar, because the Jewish people called the Romans pigs, and so what they did to kind of get back at them, is they said fine, we’ll raise the flag, we’ll be your pigs. So, there’s some real connections here that would have been made that show Christ’s power over what seems to be the most unmanageable power in the world. 

And then, finally, I love towards the end the picture of the healing that happens in verse 15 … 

And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid … 

Could you imagine this man that far gone, no longer able to be subdued, living among the graves, cutting himself, he is sitting - not naked - but clothed, not completely gone mentally, but present in his right mind. This is the holistic, deep healing of Jesus. This is the goodness of God at work, and if there is hope for him, there’s hope for you, there’s hope for me wherever we find ourselves.

And, finally, the man wants to go with Jesus. And, it’s interesting, Jesus doesn’t let him. Isn’t Jesus the one who says, come follow me? Yet, he says, no, actually. Look what he tells him in verse 19 … 

… And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled … 

See, Jesus is not safe, but he is good. Remember, Jesus has been run out of town. 2,000 pigs were killed. That’s no small thing. That had serious economic consequences for the people of Decapolis, and they ran him out of town because of it, and Jesus says, no, you’re not coming with me, you’re going to stay in the midst of that and declare my goodness. He is not safe, but he is good. He says, tell what the Lord - Yahweh - has done for you, and notice in verse 20, he tells how much Jesus has done for him, the creator and Jesus are one and the same. See, we are back to the power and authority of Jesus, which leads us to the last point here … a great fear. 

III. A GREAT FEAR

If you notice, throughout both narratives, there is fear woven throughout it. Notice 4:38, there’s fear of the storm, in chapter 4:41, fear of Jesus’ power to calm the storm. It’s funny, before Jesus calms the storm, they’re scared, but after they’re more scared. Fear of the demoniac is not explicit, but no one had the strength to subdue him, it says, in 4:5. The demon’s fear of Jesus’ power over them, in verse 7 … do not torment me … fear of Jesus’ power to heal the demoniac, in 5:15. They don’t rejoice when they see this man in his right man and clothed, they fear. 

Why? Why is there fear throughout both of these stories when there should be, it seems, rejoicing? Because, fear rises when we find ourselves in the midst of a power we cannot control. The difference between the power of the storm, the power of the demoniac, and the power of Christ, is that only one of those loves you, is that only one of those cares for us. See, the storm, the principalities and powers are not good, and therefore don’t have your good in mind, but the one who has power over them does. He is good, and he has your good in mind. 

Notice in verse 40 of the narrative of calming the storm, Jesus has been questioned. Jesus, don’t you care about us? Don’t you see what’s happening? But, notice that the questioned becomes the questioner, and he asks them in verse 40 … Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? … And, here’s where the power and goodness of God come to bear in our lives. He’s saying, essentially, if you knew I loved you, and if you knew my infinite power, you could have been calm in the storm. He’s saying, I can still care for you and allow you to go through storms. The issue is, your premise is wrong. And, I would submit to you today, that oftentimes our premise is wrong. The premise is wrong. You don’t see me for truly who I am.

Our premise tends to be, if you love us, you wouldn’t let us go through storms. But, that’s a false premise. Jesus says, I’m God, and I know better than you, and I am not safe, but I am good. So, I think part of what comes to bear for us, is when we find ourselves in the middle of the storm, wake him, ask him if he cares for you, but don’t be surprised when the questioned becomes the questioner, when God questions us. See, Mark’s invitation for us is to turn from questioning God, to answering God’s question. In light of such authority and power, and care, why are you so afraid? Why do you still have no faith? Do you see how Jesus is demonstrating both his authority and his goodness?

See, in the Gerasene demoniac, Jesus goes to the worst of the worst, and when he was done, he was clothed and in his right mind. But, Jesus goes one step further, so that we might have an immovable reminder of his power and his goodness. When we get to the end of the book of Mark, we see that Jesus exchanges places with this man. Jesus, as he goes to the cross, is now naked. Jesus, as he goes to the cross, is now crying out and bleeding. Jesus is driven to the tomb. That’s how Jesus dealt with evil, that’s how Jesus deals with evil today, not with the sword, but by taking evil upon himself, so that he could wipe out evil without wiping out us.

In the cross of Christ, we have a fixed and perpetual reminder of his power and his goodness. See, if Jesus were not powerful, the cross would have no efficacy. It would have no effect in our lives. If he were not good, he never would have gone to the cross in the first place. And, here is where it all comes to bear for us, this morning, as God’s people in light of his word. See, if we believe he is powerful, but not good, we are driven away from him. If we believe he is good, but not powerful, we are driven to pity him. But, if we believe he is good and powerful, we are driven to trust him in any and every season of life, and that is the invitation of our text this morning, and that’s the thrust of the invitation as we come to the communion table. Let’s pray. 

Jesus,

We are grateful that in every season of life, we have a fixed and perpetual reminder of your goodness to us, of your power that is unmatched and unmanageable. Lord, I know there are many storms brewing in each of our lives today. Really, there’s never a season where there’s not some kind of storm, whether it’s a great one or a mild one, Lord, in the midst of this fallen world, sudden storms are normal. So, Lord, we ask this morning in the midst of our storms, Lord, we ask that we would see your great power, and your great goodness. Lord, may we never see our circumstances are more powerful than you, and may we never see our circumstances as undermining your goodness. Lord, we are grateful this morning for this beauty, we are grateful this morning for this truth. Lord, as we come to the table, Lord, may we come believing, trusting, renewing our faith by your Spirit, that you are good, and you are all powerful. I pray that every heart in this room would find rest in that truth. We ask in Jesus’ name, amen.


Parables of the Kingdom Part 2-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: MAX STERNJACOB 

SCRIPTURE READING

A Lamp Under a Basket

And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

The Parable of the Seed Growing

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

—Mark 4:21-34 ESV

INTRO

Good morning, Emmaus. My name is Max, I am one of the pastors here at Emmaus, and I am excited to bring you round two of the parables of the kingdom. If you’ve been with us, we’ve been working our way through the gospel of Mark, as we were just talking about, get those journals, get your guide, and follow along with us. But, all up through chapter 4, Mark has been giving us glimpses and little insights here and there, that the message of Jesus, in a nutshell, could be described as saying that the kingdom of God has come, the kingdom of God is near. However, there hasn’t been much discussion about explaining what that kingdom is, until we get to chapter 4, where Jesus starts telling parables. 

And, when he does start speaking in parables, we see in the previous parable, the parable of the soils, that in the explanation of that parable, Jesus actually quotes Isaiah 6, which on the surface kind of sounds like Jesus is saying he’s purposefully trying to make it difficult for people to actually hear him and understand him. But, as we should do always, we should let scripture interpret scripture, and the parable that’s right after the parable of the soils, he starts by talking about light, by talking about a light that’s set on a stand, and not hidden. And, just as it would be silly for someone to take a lamp and hide it under a bed, or a basket, or a bowl, Jesus is saying that, no, the kingdom is actually on display, and it’s supposed to be revealed, and it’s supposed to be known, and experienced. And so, I hope this morning, what we can accomplish by looking at this smattering of various parables in the latter half of chapter 4, is to start to see what Jesus’ big themes are about the kingdom, what is it like, what is it like for us to experience it, and how can we know if it’s actually here. So, would you pray with me, and let’s jump into Mark chapter 4. 

Father, 

We recognize that the beauty of your word is that we can study it our whole lives and never come to its depths. And so, we ask, today, that you would allow us just one more step in better understanding who you are, and better understanding who we are, and better understanding your kingdom. Would you use Jesus’ words here to cut through to our soul, and to help us to see your kingdom, and to live in your kingdom in a more profound way than when we came. God, help me to explain your words accurately and faithfully. I need your help, would you please give it, and would you help my friends and my family in this room to help us to hear, as Jesus says, to have ears to hear. In Jesus’ good name, amen. 

So, we’re going to be jumping through these parables together, and I think there’s just three straightforward themes that permeate all three of these parables that Jesus uses here, and that is these - that the light of Jesus will not be hidden, that God will see to it that His Kingdom grows, and that God’s kingdom starts small, and grows large.

Mark 4:21 … And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” … 

See, before we jump into these series of parables, we want to remember the parable of the soils that came right before it. If you were with us last week, we talked about the fact that God’s miraculous yield in that parable is kind of the point. The point that Jesus is trying to make, is that 25% of the seed that goes out produces a yield of 100 fold, which is just, in that day, no one ever had that kind of return. And now, Jesus is saying, the light that is coming is having an effect, but it’s having an effect similar to the parable we just talked about in the parable of the soils, is that what happens is the light comes, but there’s not an immediate effect. There’s not an immediate result. If you were with us last week, we talked about that the roots grow first, and the roots grow in a way that’s unseen. See, the patience and slowness, and the steadiness of the kingdom is coming, because that is the healthiest kind of growth. 

And, I think as I was reading and studying Mark, one of the things that came up, is there’s a man named William Carey. Have you guys heard of William Carey before? He’s actually known as the father of modern missions. He was a missionary to India. In fact, if you’re interested, I got most of this information from a biography, that we actually have in our lending library, and it just goes through his whole life. And, one of the things about William Carey, is that he actually repeatedly, in his life, came back to this passage in Mark, and the similar cross references that we have in Matthew and Luke, of this parable of the light that’s on display. And, it was one of those things that fed his entire life and ministry. He’s constantly talking about that his job was to put God’s light on display for the world.

And, his life was kind of interesting. As he was preparing to become ordained, he actually failed twice. He went through all of the steps and went to school, and then he had to go preach a sermon, and he preached a sermon, and they cut him. They said, nope, come back later. And, after years of studying, he finally got ordained, and then he decided … I’m going to go to India. And, as he goes to India, he served as a missionary faithfully for seven years before he had his first conversion. Seven years of faithful work before he saw any fruit. And, William Carey used this passage of the gospels to fuel his life and ministry, to say, that is exactly what we’re doing. We put Jesus Christs’ light on display, we sow seeds faithfully, and the growth is up to God. 

I. THE LIGHT OF JESUS WILL NOT BE HIDDEN (Mark 4:21-25)

See, what Jesus is about to get into, here, is to talk about subverting our expectations about what kingdoms are like, and especially what God’s kingdom is like. And, he does that by saying, first and foremost, a parable of the light. And, Jesus says, Jesus’ light will not be hidden. Now, the first point, there, that Jesus makes is that if you hide the light, you misuse it. If you hide it, you misuse it. Verse 21 …  “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” …  Now, remember, in that day, the light was fire, right? It wasn’t just a battery operated flashlight that you could turn on and off. So, you can imagine that for him to say, if you brought in a lamp and put it under your bed … what’s going to happen? What happens if you put it under a basket? What were baskets made out of? Both their beds and their baskets were flammable, right? So, he says, if you take the light and try to hide it, you’re misusing it. And, not only are you misusing it, because the light was brought in so that you could see, but if you misuse it, it’s going to go bad for you, right? You’re going to cause damage. You’re going to burn something down. 


Jesus is saying that if you hide it, you misuse it. See, in those days when you did not have electricity, and you did not have flashlights, and all you had was fire, flame, to light and illumine things at night, you start to see real quickly how light and darkness became a very vivid metaphor for Jesus to use, because if you did not have any sort of flame, and you were inside a house, you were literally in utter darkness, right? You had nothing to see by. Light is necessary for life, not just so that you can move around, but, you know, I was reading in some of the books that my kids enjoy reading about the nature, and the food chain, and it has this chart, and it shows the food chain, and at the bottom of the food chain is phytoplankton. It’s the smallest little tiny microscopic creatures that little tiny fish eat, and then bigger fish eat those fish, right? But, actually, what’s not on that chart, I was realizing, is the sun. Right? Because, the only reason why the phytoplankton at the base of the food chain can exist is cause there’s light that fuels them. Light fuels creation. Our whole creation is dependent on light. It creates the seasons, it has power, and Jesus is saying that, likewise, the light of the kingdom is necessary for light, and you misuse it when you hide it. 

See, and the purpose of light is not just to sustain creation, but you and me, we need light. We can’t see without light, and the purpose of light is to reveal things for us to be able to see. I don’t know if you’ve ever had this happen, but when I used to work for the county, we had to wear boots, and we also had to keep our boots looking shiny. And, I had bought a new pair of boots once, and I had shined them all up, ready to wear for the first time for my shift, and I also had a pair of brown boots for working around the house. And, I had to get up for my shift early in the morning, it was dark, and I didn’t like to turn on lights, and so I literally went, I was tired, and I forgot that I was supposed to be wearing my new boots. But, what ended up happening is that I grabbed the left brown boot, and then I grabbed the right black boot, I put them on, and then I went to work. And, when I got to the locker room to change, I look down, and I go … oh no. Right? I mean, and I didn’t have any other boots. So, that day I worked my shift with a brown boot and a black boot on, and I got many, many comments about that. 

But, without light, we can’t see. Without light, we make mistakes, we make mismatches, right? We can’t see without the light. So, Jesus is talking about a misuse of the light, and what light is for, and then he turns and he makes a statement here that is actually pretty significant. It’s actually scary. What does he say? Look at Mark 4:24 … And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” … 

Sounds like a warning to me. What is he warning us of? Well, I think what he’s trying to get at, here he’s warning us that you can misuse light, but if you misuse it, you will lose it. If you hide the light of Jesus - because Jesus says if you try to hide the light of his kingdom, Jesus says you will actually lose his kingdom altogether. If you hide it, you will lose it. See, the people of Israel, that were hearing Jesus, and the religious leaders who had already, clearly, up until Mark chapter 4, we’ve seen it again and again, their conflict with Jesus, the tension that he had with them, they had some light. They had some of the revelation of God about who he was, and what he was like, and what he was doing in the world. But, they use that light, they use that revelation about God’s kingdom to segregate themselves from the nations, to pit themselves against God’s creation, and to actually use it to prop themselves up instead of God. And, they also used it to reject God’s message in the prophets, and now they’re using that same volition that God had given them, to reject Jesus himself. Right? 

Right before this is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, right? And, they use the knowledge they had about God’s creation, about angels and demons, and they said, God is against Jesus, because Jesus is doing these miraculous things by the power of Satan. So, they actually use the revelation that God had given them about the way the world and the universe worked, not to actually receive the kingdom of God, but to actually condemn what God was doing. They hid it, and Jesus is saying, you’re on a trajectory to lose it. He says, to the one who has, more will be given. But, to the one who has not, even what you have will be taken away. He is telling his hearers that, though you may have some light, if you reject me, even what you have will be taken away. That’s a powerful thing, isn’t it? 

Jesus is saying something very substantial here, and we should not just gloss over it, and say, well, that was for them. Because, for us, we stand many years removed from this original talk, this original parable, and we have more revelation than they had, than the original hearers. And so, if we reject Jesus with even more of that light, how much more are we liable, how much more do we condemn ourselves for the rejection and the misuse of the light of Jesus and his kingdom?

See, Jesus says elsewhere in the gospels, something that is very important to hear. He elsewhere, in John chapter 8, says … I am the light of the world … and, in Matthew 5 … you are the light of the world … What is he talking about here? Well, I went to Biola University for my undergrad, and when I was there they were building a new library, which made it kind of fun because the old library wasn’t really in use, and the new library wasn’t in use, so they literally just had, like, a basement with books in it, and good luck trying to find things in there. But, it finally did open, and as their project completed, I remember the first time I walked into the building. I actually have a picture of it, and this is the front of the library. And, when you walked in, it says … I am the light of the world … And then, when you go in and you come back out, it says … You are the light of the world … And, I remember walking into that library, and that made an impression on me, that there’s something to be said, that when we come to Christ, we come to him because he is the light of the world, but then he sends us out, as light, and we hear that in John 8 and Matthew 5. 

And, when Jesus talks about himself, and says .... I am the light of the world … What he’s saying there is that, you have no other option than to live by what I say, because he’s the light. See, Jesus doesn’t just say, I’m pointing to the light. He’s saying, he is the way, he is the light itself. Come. And, if Jesus is not that, if when Jesus says, I am the light, we go … well, maybe that is a little bit of an overstatement … if Jesus is not actually the true light, then he is utter darkness, because he is lying, and that’s what darkness is. See, we’re faced here right away, after the parable of the sowers, Jesus jumps right in and says, there is no middle ground. Either you see me as the light that will illuminate God’s kingdom, and you receive it and use it the way it was meant to be used, or else you reject it, and you will lose even what you have. 

See, what does he mean, though, when he says, now you are the light of the world? Is he saying that now we all become little saviors to everybody? No. I think what he means, is that we take on Jesus’ character. We take on the revelatory character of Jesus, because Christians go into the world because they are a part of a new kingdom, and they start to reveal things. They start to shine the light of the kingdom in dark places. They start to point out the mismatches, right? They start to say, your shoes don’t match. That is not the right way to do that. Right? 

See, God uses us to bring the light of his kingdom, to bring the imperfections and the sin that exists in our world, to ultimately point people to the true light. That’s our job. But, as we know, have you ever tried to start a fire without matches? We know that fire has to have some kind of an external source, right? Things don’t just spontaneously combust. There has to be a flame, fire, or a heat from outside that causes things to light, and it’s the same with us, is it not? When Jesus says elsewhere in the gospels that you are the light of the world, he does not mean you need to go rub some sticks together. He says, I will make you the light. I will bring the fire, right? And we see that he does, right? In Acts. The Spirit of God comes with fire, and regenerates his people, and makes his church, and sends them out. 

See, God alone is the only one that can do that. And, we know that we’re on the right track in interpreting these parables, because that was the point of the parable of the sowers, that’s the point of the parable of the light, and now we see that not only has Jesus’ current teaching illuminated that, but the whole of the old testament also talks this way. If you really want to understand Mark, if you went to the Bible workshops with Pastor Matt, he did a great job of this, but you’ve got to understand the Old Testament, particularly, you’ve got to understand Isaiah. Because the book of Mark starts with saying that Jesus’ life and ministry is the fulfillment of everything that Isaiah talked about. And, Isaiah chapter 60, verse 1-5, it captures from the Old Testament, God’s plan for his kingdom. And, I want to read it to you because this is exactly the heritage that we have. And, the reason why you’re in this room right now is because Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Let me read it to you … 

Arise, shine, for your light has come, 

and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 

For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, 

and thick darkness the peoples; 

but the Lord will arise upon you, 

and his glory will be seen upon you. 

And nations shall come to your light, 

and kings to the brightness of your rising. 

Lift up your eyes all around, and see; 

they all gather together, they come to you; 

your sons shall come from afar, 

and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. 

Then you shall see and be radiant; 

your heart shall thrill and exult,[a] 

because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, 

the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

—Isaiah 60:1-5 ESV

See, all of the Old Testament is pointing to the fulfillment of what Jesus is doing right here. Jesus comes, and he says, God’s kingdom is now coming, and is near to you now, and everything that God promised that he would do for his people, he is doing. And, what’s the point of all of this in Isaiah 60? He says that I will make you bright, I will put my glory on you, and people will see your brightness, and what will happen? They will respond, and they will come and worship God because of you. They will come, the nations will come, and they’ll come bringing their treasures. They’ll come bringing their people. They will come into my kingdom because of the work that I am doing in you, by you being reflectors of my light. 

See, God’s kingdom is growing, right? See, creation, fall, redemption, restoration, right? God is doing something, and God sees to it that his kingdom will grow, and that’s our next theme here.

II. GOD WILL SEE TO IT THAT HIS KINGDOM GROWS (Mark 4:26-29)

Let’s read the next section here … 

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” …

See, Jesus here is saying that God is doing something, his kingdom is growing, and look at the reaction of the man. He doesn’t know how it’s happening. Right? We mentioned last week if you were with us, that all peoples in the ancient near east saw agriculture, saw growing things as some sort of divine action. And, everyone basically had a god that they would attribute that to. Jesus is saying that the true God, Yahweh, is the one who is behind that. We do not know how things grow. Sure, we might be able to have the steps, we know DNA is involved in there somewhere. But, really, when you think about it, the mystery of something that could start as a seed and grow into a giant, you know, redwood tree, it’s a miraculous thing, right? That, everything that that large 300 foot tree is, is in this. And, Jesus is saying that God will see to his growth, and it’s miraculous when it happens. We saw that in the parable of the sowers, we’re seeing that here, that the farmer goes out, sows the seed, and he knows not how. 

There’s a mystery to it. There’s a mystery of the growth of the kingdom. Something is happening. I don’t know if you’ve ever reseeded your lawn. You go out, and you roto till the dirt, and you fertilize the dirt, and you go out there and you throw all the seed, and then you water like crazy, and then you water like crazy, and you water more, and a day goes by, and a day goes by, and a day goes by, and then you go out there and you get down on your hands and knees and you’re like … uh … nothing. And then, you water some more, you go to sleep, you repeat, you repeat, you keep doing it, and all of a sudden you go out, and what happens? Between literally one day and the next day, all of a sudden there’s a slight tinge of green on the lawn. How did that happen?

See, something was happening, you just couldn’t see it. Then, all of a sudden we see it. We know that roots grow first, right? Then shoots, then trees, then forests. It’s the already and not yet of the kingdom, right? Jesus is saying here, there’s a parable, here, of a man that goes out and sows seed, and as sure as that seed will grow, there’s a certainty to it, there’s a mystery to it, it’s happening, it just hasn’t been seen yet. It just hasn’t come into its fullness yet, but it’s going to happen. The dominoes are falling. It’s only a matter of time.

See, the kingdom is here, Jesus says, the kingdom is here, but it’s not fully realized. It’s already here, but it’s not yet completed. We don’t know how God is going to use our obedience, we don’t know when it will fully be ushered in, but we keep working. We keep going. We keep watering. It’s our little acts of obedience. There’s a certainty to it, right? The man just assumes, I need to go out and water, because something is going to happen. And, what we see here, is there’s a routine, right? There’s a, I go to bed, and I get up, and I keep watering, I keep planting, I keep sowing, and all of a sudden it grows, and it when it grows, he doesn’t know how. So, even though there’s a mystery to it, even though there is something we don’t fully understand, there is a certainly to it, is there not? 

Elsewhere in scripture we read about this. In James chapter 5:7-8, he writes to his friends … 

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

—James 5:7-8 ESV

So, he says just like a farmer needs to be patient, you need to be patient. We know that God’s done something, we know that he is doing something, and we know that he will do something. But, for you, you need to be patient. And, we mentioned this passage last week in 1 Corinthians 3, where the church that Paul’s writing to in Corinth is struggling with conflicts, and one of the major conflicts is basically kind of a celebrity culture, if you will, where they’re all kind of saying, well I’m a disciple of Peter, and I’m a disciple of Paul, and I’m a disciple of Apollos, and Paul writes to them and says … don’t you understand that we’re all supposed to be disciples of Jesus? And, he says in 1 Corinthians 3:6-9 … 

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

—1 Corinthians 3:6-9 ESV

See, Paul is reminding his hearers the same kind of tone and message that Jesus is giving here in the parable, is that you plant, you water, but God causes the growth. The fruit springs up, and we know not how. See, it’s slow.

And, one thing that struck me as I was reading this, is that it says he sleeps. I want to ask you something. How is it that he can sleep? Do you guys have trouble sleeping? He sleeps, because he has a confidence, right? He sleeps, because he knows that he doesn’t have to solve all the problems. Do you have trouble sleeping? Why do you have trouble sleeping? I would submit to you that you have trouble sleeping, because you think you have something more that you’re supposed to be doing, right? You can’t get a good night’s sleep because your conscience isn’t clear. You can’t sleep because you think you have God’s job, right? This parable says he plants, he takes care of it, and then he goes to sleep. He’s not up worrying about it, because he’s confident that God is going to do his work, that he does not need to take God’s job back from him and worry about it. 

See, what would it look like for you to actually go to bed tonight, and not worry that you have to somehow have God’s job on all the things that are affecting you? What would that look like? See, Jesus is getting at something here that we need to understand, that his light will not be hidden. There’s a warning about it being taken away. We need to see that God will see to it that his light and that his kingdom grows, but we also need to understand - which Jesus explains to us in the next parable - that though it may start small, it will grow large. Jesus’ kingdom starts small, and grows large. Look at Mark 4:30 … 

III. THE KINGDOM OF GOD STARTS SMALL AND GROWS LARGE (Mark 4:30-34)

And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

—Mark 4:30-32 ESV


See, Jesus compares the kingdom to a mustard seed, but more importantly, he doesn’t just say, it’s like a mustard seed. He’s comparing to what a mustard seed does. That’s the real parable. He’s not just saying that the kingdom is small, although there is part of that. Because, at this point, there’s only 12 of them, right? But, he says, it’s not just about the smallness, it’s about what happens to it. Well, it grows large, and it grows miraculously, just like the parable of the sowers. In fact, it grows so large that the birds of the air come to rest in it. In fact, it’s something interesting when you read Matthew 13 and Luke 13, they’re the same parable but there’s a little twist, and I want to read it to you, and I want you to see if you catch it … 

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

—Matthew 13:31 ESV

See, what Matthew and Luke both say here, a little bit different than Mark, but I think they’re getting at the heart of what Jesus is trying to say here, is that the miraculous growth of the kingdom is something that started out small, and grows large, but it’s not just that it grows large, it actually becomes something different. Mark points out here, that it’s one of the largest garden plants, or better translated here, maybe an herb. And, mustard plants do get large. They get about maybe 12 feet tall. But, Matthew and Luke say it actually becomes something different, it transforms from an herb to a tree. And, only God can take something in its nature and change it, right? He says it changes into a tree so that the birds of the tree come and make their nests in its branches. 

See, Jesus is trying to say something about the nature of the kingdom here. He’s saying, I’m telling you something about the kingdom, and I don’t want you to start trying to import all of your ideas about kingdoms into what I’m saying. Cause, people are saying, oh, he’s talking about the kingdom. I know what kingdoms are like. I’ve experienced them. I’m living in a kingdom right now. I know what that’s like. It’s just like all the other kingdoms. But, Jesus says, no, it’s not like that. It’s something completely different. And, he does that in a couple of ways, which I want to get to. But, first of all, let’s just contrast the description of Jesus’ kingdom to the contrast of the kingdom of their day.

The immediate context for at least the people who would have been the original hearers here, is that just a couple decades before, the Hellenisation happened, with the Greeks conquering all of the middle east. Alexander the Great comes in, his kingdom comes into town, and everybody knew he was there, because he came in like a hammer. He came in and just disposed people of their land, got rid of all the kings, got rid of all the leaders, took all their treasure, right? There were only two kinds of people in Alexander the Great’s kingdom … people who fought against him and died, and the people who were in his kingdom, the people who were left over. That’s what the knew kingdoms were like. That’s the kingdom they knew, is that a kingdom comes in, and it just changes everything, it comes in like a hammer, it just destroys everything, and then we prop up some new leader, and it just starts all over again.

But, Jesus is saying something different here. He’s saying the nature of my kingdom is different than that. The nature of my kingdom is not like a boulder, it’s like a seed. And, a seed comes in softly, it comes in quietly. A boulder comes in and just tears through the ground and leaves a trench in its path, but a seed comes in, and it does its work slowly, oftentimes unseen for quite a while. The seed comes in organically, gradually, and gently, the boulder comes in suddenly and coercively. The boulder breaks the ground, but the seed transforms the ground, right? The boulder doesn’t do much of anything to change the environment, but if a seed is left to itself, pretty soon deserts become forests. See, boulders come in with just sheer power, but the seed comes in and transforms it, because God’s kingdom is like a seed. It transforms things in their nature, it doesn’t just come through and scratch the surface. 

See, I have a picture for you that I want to show you. On the surface, you would think that boulder’s pretty strong. And, if you were to compare a big boulder like that and a tiny little seed, you’d probably say the boulder wins every time. But, left to itself, and over time, with faithful watering, look what happens. See, Jesus’ kingdom is like this. It doesn’t come in like Alexander the Great. It doesn’t come in and just dispose of everyone else. It comes in, and it radically transforms and breaks things down, that on the surface you would think could never be broken. Seeds, roots, shoots, trees, forests, fruit, seeds, roots, shoots, trees, forests … this is how God’s kingdom works, and that should be lifegiving to us. 

It should be lifegiving to us, because we don’t have to do all of God’s work all at once. See, that’s why you can’t go to sleep at night, because you think, I’ve got to get it all done right now. But, that’s not how God’s kingdom works. See, the other thing here that’s important to see, is that when he talks about the seed growing up into a large tree where the birds of the air come and make nests in his branches, something that the totality of all the gospels are getting at here, is that, again, there’s background, right? There’s the Old Testament background to this, and we can’t go through it all right here, but I’d encourage you to read Ezekiel 17, Ezekiel 30, Isaiah 60, go read it on your own, and even the previous parable is alluding to this, right? What happens in the parable? Where are the birds? They come in and they take the seed, and they fly away so that nothing can grow. 

But, see, now in this parable, the very same creatures, the birds that just took the seed, now have a place to rest because of the seed. The very birds that just stole the seed, are now benefiting from the seed. See, this is God’s upside down kingdom. In the background of Ezekiel and Isaiah, they talk about the nations being the birds of the air, that the nations would come and rest in the kingdom of God. They use this vivid imagery of all of the birds of the air migrating to God’s great kingdom, which is described as a tree, and some of that was in our liturgy this morning. They come and they find rest, come and find shalom, they come and find sabbath in God’s kingdom. And, this is the upside down nature of the kingdom, the very creatures that just one moment ago were stealing the seed, are now benefiting from the seed, making nests in the branches.

And, it’s this upside down kingdom that forces us to realize something, here, when read Jesus’ parable sand we hear them today, is that there is a necessity for us to let Jesus explain his kingdom. Because, we, just like the original hearers, we hear kingdom language and we import all of our cultural ideas about what kingdom is, so we have to stop and say, no, I’m going to let Jesus define and explain his kingdom, because everything that Jesus is describing here is upside down and backwards from the way that I understand, and the way that I would do it. I would come in hard and strong, I would come in and dig a hole, and bring in those boulders. But Jesus says, no, it comes in like a seed. You don’t understand. And, I’m going to come in with my anxiety, and I’m going to work my tail off at the end of the day, and I’m going to stay up all night worrying about it. No, it comes in differently than that. You can rest. You can sleep. 

So, there’s a necessity that we need to let Jesus define his kingdom, and we know that that’s necessary, because look at the response of the disciples. Why is he even teaching in parables over and over and over again in the first place? He’s doing it because his listeners don’t get it. He has to teach them, because it’s not like anything they’ve ever known. But, here’s my question … why didn’t Jesus just put the kingdom of God into a sentence or do some kind of venn diagram of flow chart or something? Why didn’t he just give us the numbers? Can’t you just give it to me in a sentence, Jesus? Why all the stories? 

See, what I think here, and what I want you to hear, my friends, is that Jesus is describing a real thing. The kingdom of God is not just an idea. It’s a real kingdom. And, if it’s a real thing, if it’s a real kingdom, then just simple propositions and assertions is not enough to capture the reality of that thing. We know this is true, because we do this all the time. If I was to ask you right now, if you’re married, describe your marriage. Describe to me that real thing you have. What would you do? Would you pull out your calendar and show me your schedule? There’s my marriage, on paper. Would you pull out your budget and show me all your bills? Would you show me your ring? What would you do to describe your marriage? Well, poets have been doing that for a long time, right? When people try to describe real things, what do they do? They describe it with analogies, they describe it with parables, they describe it with metaphors. Because it’s real, you can’t encapsulate it with just assertions. You have to describe it deeper than that, right? 

Do you guys know who Andrew Peterson, the musician, is? We listen to him a lot in our car, as we drive. He has a song called Dancing in the Mine Fields. Have you heard that song? That’s how he describes his marriage. It’s a good picture, right? He says, my marriage is like dancing in the mine fields, sailing in the storm. That’s what he calls it. When you go to describe something like marriage, you go to describe something that’s real, and tangible, and beautiful, you’re a force to try to use analogies and metaphors and parables to describe it, and that’s why Jesus is using these parables, because he’s saying it’s real, it’s here, and in order to experience it, you need to understand it, but in order to understand it, you have to dive deep. I can’t just list it out in a sentence or show you a chart.

See, C.S. Lewis said it this way … 

People...suppose that allegory is a disguise, a way of saying obscurely what could have been said more clearly. But in fact, all good allegory exists not to hide but to reveal; to make the inner world more palpable by giving it an (imagined) concrete embodiment.

—C.S. Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress

See, C.S. Lewis is getting at something that we all intuitively know, which is that if we’re trying to describe something real, we have to rely on metaphor and analogy. But, see, what we often will do is this, though. We’ll take those analogies, we’ll take those metaphors of Jesus, no less, and try to insert our preconceived notions to fit what we think God’s kingdom should be like. But, if Jesus is actually talking about a kingdom, friends, the question is, is he the king? Who’s the king of the kingdom? And, if you come to Jesus’ kingdom, if you come to God’s kingdom, and you think … I’m going to insert my expectations, I’m going to insert my understanding, I’m going to insert my desires into God’s kingdom, then who’s the king? You are, or at least you’re trying to be. See, Jesus taught in a way that turned everything upside down. And, we know we’re in good company, friends, because Jesus’ closest disciples did the same thing, which is why he had to say it over and over again. 

Later on in Mark, just a couple of chapters ahead, Mark 10:42, they’re all fighting about what the kingdom’s going to be like, and who’s going to be in charge, and Mark says in chapter 10 … Jesus calls to them and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rules of the Gentiles lorded over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them, but it shall not be so among you, for whoever will be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave. For, even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life for ransom for many.” 

See, Jesus’ own disciples didn’t understand the kingdom. They’re all still fighting, who’s going to be in charge, and Jesus says … you know what my kingdom’s like? My kingdom is the God of the universe, the God who made everything, maybe to put it another way … the largest and most powerful being became the smallest, like a seed, and came into the world, and was buried, so that something could grow. He didn’t come in swinging, he didn’t come in like a boulder, he didn’t come in like Alexander the Great, he came in like a seed.

Now, if you’re like me, I want Jesus to be my king. How do I do that? Jesus, help me. I want you to be my king, but I recognize in my life, over and over again, I still am fighting you because I want to be king, too. Well, there’s another place where a mustard seed is used to explain something about God’s kingdom. In Matthew 17, Jesus uses the mustard seed again, and he says this … that it’s the size of your faith, if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could tell the mountain to move here, and it would move, and nothing would be impossible. See, the disciples had gone out, and they were trying to basically usher in God’s kingdom, they were going out, Jesus sent them out and said, I want you to preach the gospel, I want you to heal people, I want you to exorcise demons, and then they encountered this situation they couldn’t fix. They encountered a demon they couldn’t exercise, and they fail, and they come back to Jesus, and they say, why couldn’t we do this? And he says, it’s because you didn’t have faith. And they’re like, well, I want faith. How much faith do I have to have? Jesus says, you have to have the faith of a mustard seed. What does that mean?

See, if you’re like me, we’re constantly fighting Jesus’ kingship in our lives. But, the good news is that all you need is mustard sized faith. What does that mean? It means that it’s not the size of your faith, it’s the object of your faith that matters. See, I’m indebted to Timothy Keller who uses this analogy, he says, a strong faith in a weak object will kill you, but a weak faith in a strong object will save your life, right? If you’re falling off a cliff and you reach out for a strong root to hold you up, all you need is a little faith for that root to hold you, cause it’s the object that matters, it’s not the amount of faith I’m putting in it, right? But, I can have a lot of faith and reach out and grab a weak object, and what happens? I fall. 

See, when we’re faced with God’s kingdom, when we’re faced with the light of the kingdom coming into the world, we’re faced with the reality that, by ourselves, we cannot receive the light, by ourselves we cannot be the light, and by ourselves we can grow God’s kingdom. So, what are we left with? We’re left with faith the size of a mustard seed. 

And, that’s why every week when we gather as a church, we gather around Jesus’ table. That’s why we do that, because it’s a demonstration of us coming to the table with a mustard sized faith of saying, my only hope is to receive from Jesus what he needs to give me. I’m not coming to it bringing my own meal - I hope you didn’t pack your lunch and try to bring it with you for communion. We come and we receive Jesus’ meal. We come to Jesus’ kingdom, and we have to stop and say, will I let Jesus actually be the king? Will I let him define what the kingdom is? See, that’s what communion is, is that we come, and we say, the one who made the universe came and condescended, and became small like a seed for us, for our good. 

Let’s read this one last passage as we prepare for communion. John 12:24-26 …

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him … 

Let’s pray. Father, as we prepare to come to your table, will you help us today to see, maybe for the first time - and I’m sure for many of us in here - to see for the thousandth time - that our only hope is that you would be the king, that our only hope is that we would rest and trust that you came like a seed to be buried in the earth to die, so that a mighty tree might grow, and that mighty nations might fall, and that your people would come and find rest in you. God, would you help us to see the kingdom the way your son sees it, and would you help us to live as if you are actually in charge. So, as we come to the table, would you help us, God. In Jesus’ name, amen. 


Parables of the Kingdom-Full Sermon Transcript

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PASTOR: MAX STERNJACOB

SCRIPTURE READING

“Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’” And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.””

—Mark 4:1–20 ES

INTRO

Good morning, Emmaus. My name’s Max, I’m one of the pastors here. I’m the pastor for discipleship and care, and I’m also the newest full time staff person here, and that means that I get, sometimes, in the position of kind of wondering, how did I end up here? Because, I have had many jobs in my life. This is, by far, my favorite one, so you can be rest assured I ain’t going anywhere for awhile. But, when we come to this passage, I’m in a unique position here, because you’ve probably heard this passage before, right? It’s one of the most common passages that the world even quotes. The world, who maybe want nothing to do with Jesus, they like what he teaches, and they will use the parables to Jesus to their own ends. And so, even if you’re not a Christian this morning, you’re probably familiar with this parable. 

But, the reason why this is unique is not just because it’s famous, but it’s also unique because it’s one of the only places where Jesus actually explains the parable. And, that makes my job hard. It makes it hard, because I don’t want to be the fool who gets up here and tries to make my word equal with Jesus’ word, and it also makes it hard because I don’t want to go beyond what Jesus has said here. So, my job this morning, I hope you’ll bear with me, and my job this morning is to hopefully take and make the most of what Jesus has said here, without going beyond it. My hope this morning is to pastorally help you to take this story that is probably very familiar to you, and helps us to apply it as a church, maybe see it fresh again. Because, usually as it is with things we’re familiar with, we tend to go yeah, yeah, I know the point, and so we don’t stop and think about it. So, with that in mind, we need God’s help, yes? I certainly do. Let’s pray and ask for his help this morning. 

Father,

I pray this morning that our familiarity with this story and this parable and your teaching would not cause us to not hear. There is a warning here that we can use our ears, but we can walk out of here not understanding. And, God, I know for myself that there are many things that I have experienced in my life that want to twist, to try to insert into this passage to make myself feel good about myself, or feel better about my past. But, God, would you this morning allow us to actually hear you, not me, not ourselves, but you. And, God, would you this morning do the very thing this parable is talking about. Would you take your word and scatter it among us, that it might bear fruit. By your Spirit, in Jesus’ good name, amen. 

If you were with us three weeks ago, our clerk of the clasis, our denomination, was actually here preaching, and he said something in passing that I thought was very insightful. He said that Mark is like the action movie gospel. It’s like scene after scene after scene of quick action, and Jesus is going from thing to thing, from teaching to teaching, from place to place, and it moves fast. But, just like an action movie, the scenes that come before it, influence the scene in the present, and what we have come from is this rising tension that has happened, here. And, there are three things that I want to take some time to look at when it comes to this parable, cause this is the first time, at least in the gospel of Mark, that parables are used by Jesus. The first one is that there’s a disturbance that this parable causes, we want to look at the details - the facts and figures - of the parable, and we want to look at the depth of the parable, the deep meaning and the application.

First, some context, cause context is king when we are trying to interpret. That rising tension I just mentioned is really surrounding not around the people, per se, but around the religious leaders. The religious leaders have their eyes on Jesus, and they don’t like what he is about. They don’t like what he’s saying, they don’t like what he’s doing. Jesus is going around healing people, freeing people from demonic oppression, forgiving people. But, the ministers of the day, the pastors of their day, the religious leaders, were not too keen on the subversion of their authority by Jesus. They didn’t like their influence being attacked. Because, the people in Mark talked about … we’ve never heard anybody teach like this. We’ve never heard anybody with this kind of authority. And, that cut right to the heart of the religious leaders, saying, well, wait a minute … I’ve been teaching for years, and no one's ever complimented me about my teaching. They’ve never talked about how I have authority, but yet this man from Galilee, this no name from Galilee, the people are following him, so much so that Mark says here that the crowds were so large that Jesus had to get on a boat and get away from land so that everyone could see and hear him when he spoke. 

See, this conflict was not just with the religious leaders, though, but with his own family. If you remember in prior weeks, we talked about that Jesus’ own family thought he was crazy, and they came just prior to this section of Jesus talking in parables here, they came to arrest him, to take him back into custody and say, we’ve got to take this guy home. So, this context we find ourselves in Mark, it’s been action scene after action scene after action scene, yet now we slow down, and Jesus starts telling stories, and Mark takes the time to say, not only am I going to tell you this story, but I’m going to tell you what Jesus said in explaining the story. And, what is going to happen here, is that Mark in his gospel is trying to slow down and tell us something important. He’s trying to show us, how is it that smart, learned, religious people who ought to know and expect a messiah, and how Jesus’ own family who have known him his whole life and have watched him grow and act, can reject him when he’s right in front of them?

Jesus tells this parable about the reality of rejection. How can this be true? How can people, in spite of the evidence that’s right in front of them, in spite of Jesus’ character, in spite of his miracles, in spite of his teaching and authority, in spite of everything he’s demonstrated, how can they reject him outright? See, when I first started interning, I started interning at a church out in Banning when I was 16 years old, and I wanted to pursue working in full time ministry at 16. Had I known then what I know how, I probably would have said … I should find a better job, easier job. But, see, one of the first things that was told to me - advice, if you will - as I started interning at church and working with, like, junior highers and high school students, was, when you’re going to talk or preach, you want to make it easy for people to understand you. You want to share lots of stories, so that people can follow. You want to be relevant. But, if you read with us this morning already, Jesus doesn’t do that. In fact, Jesus makes it harder to understand. 

Why does he do that? This passage seems to fly in the face of all the advice that I got as a young man. So, who’s right? My counselors, or Jesus? Jesus. Good. Someone’s listening, yes. This parable, I would suggest to you, is a parable about parables. Jesus uses this parable to talk about why he speaks in parables. And, the background here - if you notice in your Bibles, verse 12 of chapter 4, Jesus quotes something to them, from Isaiah 6 … 

Go, and say to this people: “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.” Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.

—Isaiah 6:9-10 ESV


And, in Mark 4, verse 10, right before he quote that passage from Isaiah, it says … And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand” … 

See, this parable is a parable about parables. In fact, later on in the next passage that we’re going to get into next week, Mark 4:34, it says that … from this point on, Jesus did not publicly teach without a parable … so, there is something that is happening in this parable that’s significant, and I think the key to unlocking what Jesus is talking about in his words here is starting at us right here. It’s from Isaiah, and if you go back to the beginning of Mark, what’s the first thing that happens in chapter 1? You can look there, it says … The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “I send my messenger before you, prepare the way, the voice of the one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight …” See, Mark explicitly, and in Matthew and Luke, implicitly, they are saying something about Jesus. They are saying that Jesus is fulfilling Isaiah’s words. And, if we go back to Isaiah and his commissioning by God, God tells Isaiah … go to your people, and they will hear but not understand, they will see and not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, make their ears heavy and blind their eyes lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed … That’s Isaiah 6. 

See, while all the gospels rendered this command as slightly different ways, it all captures the basic essence of Jesus’ words here in Isaiah’s prophecy. Isaiah sees a vision of the Lord and is charged to go preach to the nation. He spent his life proclaiming the impending judgement and the coming messiah, and the restoration of the remnant. But, God tells them right at the beginning of his ministry, that you’re preaching is not going to be received. In fact, the opposite result is going to take place. More people are going to be unresponsive. See, when Isaiah entered into his ministry, God told him that what you preach is going to stir faith in some, but most are going to be hardened. And, the Lord tells Isaiah in his ministry that is by design. In God’s mysterious plan, he is causing division between the repentant and the unrepentant. And, when Jesus comes onto the scene, especially in the gospel of Mark, Mark is saying that Jesus is taking up the same kind of ministry as Isaiah, it’s going to have the same result. 

So, what is Jesus doing in this parable? First, he’s identifying himself as a prophet, because he’s using Isaiah to talk about his ministry. But, what he is saying is that the culmination of Isaiah is being brought forth, it’s being brought in. The kingdom of God that was talked about in the Old Testament is now in their midst. And, when he does that, when he starts speaking the way he does with authority, and now speaking with parables, it causes hardness of heart, it causes a disturbance. So, let’s dig in here to the disturbance of this parable, yes?

I. THE DISTURBANCE OF THE PARABLE (Mark 4:10-13)

We know the context. What’s causing the disturbance? It’s in Mark 4:10-13, let’s just read it again … 

… And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’” And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? …

See, Jesus is trying to weed out true and false disciples here. Now, here’s the question … Jesus often includes elements in his parables and teaching that were shocking. And, by shocking I mean that he speaks in a way that goes against the normal conventions of the day, the way people would expect things to work. Just off the top of my head, you know, the parable of the prodigal son, the reaction of the father and the actions of the son, it flies in the face of the cultural conventions of the day. Noone would go to their father and ask for their inheritance early. And, no father would run out and be quick to forgive someone who did that. The good Samaritan, right? The Samaritan is the one who has mercy, the people who are enemies of Israel, and the Levite and the priest who we would think of as pastors of their day, ignore the needs of the man who’d been robbed. The two debtors, the one who owed much and the one who owed little, and the weeds where Jesus tells the parable of the weeds that are amongst the wheat and the farmer tells his workers, don’t pull out the weeds, just let them grow. All of these things, when Jesus talks in parables - and this parable especially - every single time Jesus talks in parables, there’s always something in the parable that is shocking, that people go, that just doesn't make sense. That doesn’t sound right. That sounds like it’s the wrong thing to do. 

So, what is it in this parable that is shocking? What is it that flies in the face of our conventions, or at least the conventions of that day? What is it? Is there something miraculous going on here? I would submit to you that there is, and it’s the harvest. The fruitful yield, here, is the shocking result. See, the agricultural return here - now, how many of you guys are farmers? Do you count tomatoes as farming? Most of us don’t make our living by farming, and most of us get our food not from our backyard, but we go to the grocery store. So, we’re many years removed from this kind of lifestyle, and we’re many layers removed from this kind of living. And so, we forget how growing things work.

See, I think as modern western readers, we forget the shocking results that are talked about here from the sower and the seed. I have a picture here I just want to remind you of. This is wheat, you may not have seen it not in a loaf of bread, but this is where it comes from. And, I was doing some research on wheat and grains, and I don’t know if you can kind of see, he’s kind of holding two bunches here, but most of the time on a head of wheat like that, you would have 15 to 20 grains of wheat, little seeds. And, that means that when you go out to sow seed, one seed produced one grass, and one grass would produce 15-20 heads like that. Now, I couldn’t find records, but I did find this as I was researching, that in the middle ages, in the year 1250, in Britain, there were some parchment documents that talk about the yield and return on wheat and barley. And, what I found was that in the year 1250, farmers, on average, would get a 17 to 1 return. So, that means if they gathered their harvest and they would set aside some of the seed for the next sowing, they would get 17 back for each 1 bushel of barley, and that was considered good. 

Now, in the ancient near east, you would think that in 1250 years, farming technology had gotten better, and the return was probably a lot less, right? I mean, you have things like locust and mice and people walking by and just … I mean, Jesus just previous walked by and took some of the grains with his disciples, right? We just saw that. So, the return would be somewhere, let’s just say 12-15 to 1. So, when Jesus tells this parable, and he gets to the end of the parable and he says, the seed that fell on the good soil produced a return of 30, 60, and 100 … the original hearers would probably be saying … yeah, right. That is unbelievable. That never happens. See, and we know that Jesus is purposefully saying something shocking cause he’s trying to elicit a response from his readers. And, I think we’re on good ground to think that that is a major point that Jesus is trying to make, because the next parable after this that we’re going to be talking about next week in Mark 4:26, if you want to look at it, it says … the kingdom of God is if a man would scatter seed on the ground. He goes to bed and sleeps and rises night and day and the seed sprouts and grows, and he knows not how … See, in the next parable Jesus is going to highlight something to us about the reality of the fruitfulness of the harvest, and the farmer doesn’t know what causes it. 

See, in that day, everyone believed it was either God or the gods that were in charge of the harvest, right? They knew that. They assumed that there was something miraculous at play. They don’t know how things grow. So, for Jesus to talk about this kind of harvest was something significant, and he’s pointing to God’s providence, here, and he’s pointing to the fact that God is doing something miraculous. In 1 Corinthians 3:3-9, Paul later on reflecting on Jesus’ teaching, says this … 

“for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”

—1 Corinthians 3:3–9 ESV

See, Jesus talked about the sowers and the seed and the soils, and Paul, reflecting on this later, uses that same kind of analogy and conflict of the church to say, don’t you recognize that you are God’s field? You are being grown, not by me, not by Paul, but by God. See, for Jesus’ audience, nothing is out of the ordinary of what he said here, until he gets to the end. And, Jesus, who’s making things harder to understand, and who is clearly talking about a miraculous return in yield on the fruit, that at this point, the people listening to Jesus would say, Jesus, you need to stick to your day job. You need to go back to being a carpenter, cause you clearly don’t know how to teach, and you clearly don’t understand how farming works. But, see, Jesus is trying to teach something, and he’s doing a really good job of it, and he’s teaching us about the nature of the kingdom. And, he’s doing it in a way that forces people either to stick around and be near to him, or doing it in such a way that they can write him off and ignore him, or maybe even worse, kill him. 

The parables of Jesus are dynamic stories that should draw us in to reflect. Jesus does not confine his teaching to just systematic propositions. He implicates the listener into the dynamic motion of the story, and just as Nathan in the Old Testament, arouses the moral imagination of David in calling out his adultery with Bathsheba, Jesus arouses the spiritual imagination of his hearers, that they might understand the nature of the kingdom. And, by choosing to speak to the multitudes in parables, Jesus reveals a deeper truth that we all really know about the teaching process, that if the content is made too easily accessible, we won’t actually learn it, because we were never forced to think deeply on it. Have you experienced that?

See, this is why in the age of Wikipedia and Google, and more access to information than we’ve ever had, are we smarter because of that? Are we wiser because of that? We live in an age where we can quickly and easily get access to any information and knowledge. But, why is it we’re not smarter or wiser? Why is it that we’re not more educated? Why are we not more adept at living? Why is it that we’re the dumbest age, right? Have you ever seen those man on the street things where people go out and they ask simple questions of, like, what’s the capital of the United States? And, people are like, I don’t know … Copenhagen, right? We have more access to information, yet we’re dumber than we’ve ever been. See, people don’t remember things if they know they can just go look it up. 

And, the parables of Jesus also remind us that learning does not always have an immediate result. That, acquiring knowledge, sometimes, is very slow. We build upon line upon line, precept upon precept. In fact, this is exactly what being a disciple is, right? Being a disciple is being a learner. And, sometimes the slow, cumbersome, and tedious work that learning is, is actually producing in us a greater return, because through difficulty, we grow. Because, the only thing that will sustain us when things are difficult, is the pure pleasure of the learning, itself, right? See, Jesus knows that it’s okay sometimes to leave someone behind, because he knows it’s not the end of the story.

Wisdom also involves keeping the long view in mind. Beauty takes time, fruitfulness takes time, eventually we know, if we read ahead in Mark, that the disciples did eventually get the aspects of the kingdom that Jesus wanted them to know. But, their knowledge was not immediately demonstrable, was it? We’re going to see here, in the future, that Jesus teaches things. In fact, we’re seeing that God actually divinely gives revelation to some of the disciples about who Jesus is, and in the next moment, they can’t take that knowledge and put it into practice when Jesus tells them, I’m going to die. So, there’s good news for us, yes? If you’re not learned, mature, wise yet, there’s time. As disciples, we make room for this long process that Jesus is about. 

See, I don’t know about you, but I have often gone back and thought about my parents, and teachers in my life who were trying to teach me something in the moment, and I missed it. And, it’s only years later, decades later, that I think back and I look, and I go … I see what they were trying to teach me. I get it, now. Thank you. Right? See, we should see a danger, here, which we’re going to get here in the details. We should see a danger, here, of getting it too quickly. Cause Jesus, in this parable, talks about growth that’s quick, and fast, but eventually dies out. So, let’s dig in to the details here.

II. THE DETAILS OF THE PARABLE (Mark 4:3-9,14-20)

We see that there’s a disturbance, and why does Jesus talk in parables? To cause this kind of disturbance in us, that we should want to stick around, to ask more questions. But, what are the details, here, of this parable? Look at Mark 4:3-9, and 14-20 … 

… Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” …

See, it’s important as we dive into the details of this parable, to try to make the most of what’s here, but not go beyond it. The first thing that popped into my head is what’s not here. Jesus does explain some things about the soil, but what does he not spend time explaining? Where does he not spend his time? He does not spend his time talking about the sower, his character, his heritage, how many years he’s been doing it, who his father was, where he got his land from. He doesn’t spend time talking about the technique, his casting method, his equipment. He doesn’t talk about the time of year, or the weather. He doesn’t talk about how the soil got that way. He just jumps in to talk about the soils. And, I think it’s wise for us to stop and say, how much of our time is spent talking about those things as a church? Our technique, the time of year, the weather, the equipment. He doesn’t spend any time talking about that, he talks about the soil. 

So, what do we see here in the soil? Let’s talk about it. The hard soil, right? Mark 4:14, what does it say in the explanation?

“The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.”

—Mark 4:14–15 ESV

It’s the path. It’s the hard soil. And, the idea, here, is that the seed - before it could even go into the soil, it’s on the hard path, and it’s stolen away. And, Jesus actually says it’s stolen away by Satan. And, as I thought about this, I would ask you to reflect with me the reality here that, I don’t know about you, but I have a strong conviction of protection of defending my stuff, and my family against threats that come and would threaten to take that away. But, do I have the same conviction and eagerness and passion when I know that God is sowing seed and that the enemy is taking that away, do I have the same zeal to prevent that from happening as I do with my own stuff? See, if the sower is sowing the word, is sowing the gospel in the lives of people, and there are things that are actively keeping that gospel from penetrating deep into the lives of people, there are things that are obstructing that, do I fight against those things just as much as I fight against the things that are my own? 

See, for us as a church, we have unity with one another, friends. We are all called to defend one another, to preach the gospel to one another, and to remove those obstructions from one another. Do we do that with the same zeal that we would do for our own family, as for others, for our own stuff, as for others? 


The rocky ground, Mark 4:16 …

“And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.”

—Mark 4:16–17 ESV


See, the rocky ground here, the idea is that there’s no root. It springs up, but the roots can’t go deep. It’s shallow. And, Jesus says here in the explanation of the details, that it’s the hardship, it’s the tribulation and persecution not on account of where they’re planted, but on account of the word. So, when they receive it with joy, we would expect that. There should be joy. But, when hardship comes, it leads to apathy and hostility, and they shrivel. See, we all can point to probably ourselves and other people that we know have grown chronologically, but they have not grown spiritually, right? They have no depth. Time ticks on, and we see growth, we see some green poking through, but eventually it fades, yes?

And then, Jesus talks about the thorny ground … 

“And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”

—Mark 4:18–19 ESV

See, everything else around them in this one has roots already, right? He says it’s thrown among the thorns, and the reason why it can’t go anywhere is because all these other things already have deep roots, so there’s nowhere for it to go. It does try, it grows up, but eventually it’s choked out. And, it’s interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus - what does he say is the cause here? - the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches. Woah, Jesus, don’t talk about money. Right? Of all the things that Jesus could point to as why things get choked out, why does he go to money? He says it’s not just money, the deceitfulness of money. It’s the way money lies to you. How does money lie to you? See, money and wealth, more than anything else, can actually functionally prolong your life. It can protect you. It can help you have control. Wealth, more than anything, can effectively replace our need for God, right? See, if you have money, you can actually have access to better health care, and better food, and better medicine. And, you can have a bigger, more safe house, and safer vehicle to drive, right? You can actually extend your life with money, to some extent, right? You know, more people die in the world from just lack of access to fresh water than anything else. So, with money, you can have that. You can have clean water. But, Jesus says it’s deceitful, the riches. Right? Because, we’re deceived about money. Because money actually can do those things, we think that’s enough. 

See, money actually produces two things in us. It can produce significance, and it can produce safety and security. And, people who get significance from their money, spend a lot of money, right? Because, they want to feel important. And, people who get their security from money actually don’t spend any money. They save it, because it’s their security. And, both of those are lies. Both of those are deceitful. You cannot extend your life with money. You cannot have true life with money, and you cannot be safe because of money. They are the ones who get choked out, because money has a deeper root than God. 

Lastly, Jesus gets to the good soil … 

“But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

—Mark 4:20 ESV

See, the good soil that the seed goes in, and it goes in deep, and roots can go deep, and that’s why there’s fruit. Let me ask you this … how many of the seeds grew? Three of them. Three of them actually grew, 75% of them. Want to know something else? 75% of them didn’t have fruit. So, those 75% of them actually grew, only 25% actually bore fruit, and this is the point of the parable, right? We should really read that last sentence before we read the rest of the parable, cause it informs everything else. That 25% of the seed produces a return of 100 fold? Are you kidding? See, if you’re hearing this, and like the listeners that first heard this, you’re immediate thought should be … that’s miraculous. That’s a miracle. How could that few of seed produce that kind of return? Only God could produce that kind of return. 

See, Jesus says here, by what he emphasizes, that it is not about our technique, or trying to change ourselves or the ground. He stops and says, it’s God’s providence that’s on display, here. So, this turns, now, to the depth of this parable, the meaning behind it, the application for us, the depth of the parable.

III. THE DEPTH OF THE PARABLE (Mark 4:14-20)

It’s the depth that is the determining factor. It’s the thing that unifies all of that. The reason why things grow up and die, or go nowhere at all, or actually produce fruit, is because of the depth. And, when we read the beginning of this parable, it says something that you probably would not know unless you’re reading from the Greek, but in verse 3 of chapter 4, it says, before he starts teaching this parable … listen, listen. It’s the world shama from the Old Testament. Do you know the shama? It’s … hear, oh Israel, listen, oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one … He’s using the same language from the Old Testament about hearing, and not just hearing. Because, again, the idea of listening or hearing, that shama word, is know, understand, live as if it is true, that God is our Lord, and he is one. 

And, Jesus uses that same language, here, to say, listen and hear this parable. Live as if it were true. All other activities of the church are subservient to the proclamation of the gospel, is it not? Everything we do should be to plant the gospel. This is why if, indeed, everything is subservient to preaching and planting the gospel, why we can celebrate things like Bible Camp. If you were with is for the week, you know. And, if you got to pop in, you know that on the surface it looks silly, what we’re doing, right? We’re playing games and reading stories with kids. Is that really going to go somewhere? Is that really going to produce fruit? Well, in God’s economy, yes. It will. This is why we can be celebratory of what was going on in San Bernardino. It was not a waste. Because, we see that we risk, we go and our job is to plant. Our job is not to determine the outcome. This is why we can be okay with paying for an empty building for a while. Right? Are we wasting money?

See, everything becomes subservient to planting and preaching the gospel. And so, from the outside, it can look silly, it can look wasteful, it can look risky, it can actually look like there’s nothing happening, but we plant on. Because, depth is the most important thing, let’s think about this. Let’s put our farmer hat on for a minute. What grows first? The roots. Do you see that? Do you see roots? You don’t see them. Roots grow first. What is unseen comes before what is seen. And, I would say to you, maybe you are here for the first time, that actually it is a miraculous work of God that you are just sitting here this morning. And, that’s all that we see. It is small, it is unassuming, but it’s something that God is doing, because we know that seeds produce roots, and roots produce shoots, and shoots produce trees, and trees produce forests. And, something small can have a return of 100 fold, because it is God who produces the growth.

Patience, slowness, steadiness, organic growth is slow growth, but it is also the healthiest and the most fruitful. Do we really believe, like Isaiah 55 tells us, and as this parable is teaching us, that all we have to do is scatter it? Do you believe that? See, for others of you, there’s a warning here. There's encouragement, right, that roots grow first. So, sometimes we don’t see growth, but God is at work. But, there’s also a warning here, that some of you might have been growing for a long time. There’s a lot of green, but there’s no fruit. 

See, the theology behind this parable is that the Lord’s sovereignty in salvation is puzzling, but ultimately glorifying. The seed of the gospel is freely and lovingly scattered to any and everyone, and it is a soil that matters. God, alone, is the one who prepares the soil to receive the seed, and this is very freeing, is it not? It is freeing for me. It ought to be freeing to you, because you are not in charge of the yield. Jesus is still the king, even though his kingdom does not grow as fast as we expect, as large as we would expect, or when we expect, or where we expect. We do not need to worry about the percentages, or the numbers, we do not need to worry about waste or risk. We do not need to let our technique trump anything. We are just called to sow.

That should be freeing to you, because for some of you, you think your job is to get all the rocks and the weeds out of the field. You’re unhappy because you have forgotten that you are not the gardener in this story, you are the soil. You’re sitting there with thorns and rocks in your life, and you’re just saying … I need to get better at pulling these out. But, that’s not your job. Your job is to shama, your job is to hear, to live as it if it is true, that the gardener, the ultimate gardener, is the one who produces the growth. And, I am calling you - Jesus is calling you - to recognize that you are not strong enough for that job. That, you need the gardener in your life. You need to go to him and to say, I have rocks and boulders in my life, I have thorns in my life. I have the deceitfulness of riches in my life. I actually believe that I can extend my life and make it secure without you. 

Have you received the gospel? Has God prepared your heart to receive it? The harvest is miraculous because it is only God at work in the life of someone who can urge them to stick around and ask questions about Jesus, right? Jesus is looking for people who not just hear, but understand, not just see and perceive. And, in a moment, we who have received are going to come to the table to remind us that it is all about receiving. Our liturgy from Isaiah 55 reminds us that God has prepared a banquet for us that we can come eat and drink without cost, and without money, without price. That’s the definition of receiving, isn’t it? But, to him, it costs him everything to bring his gospel into our life, and the hard soil of our hearts. Listen to the end of Isaiah 55 with me … 

““For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.””

—Isaiah 55:10–13 ESV

See, friends, why am I getting emotional? I am guilty of putting my own metric on things. And, I am guilty of also assuming that just because I see some green, that I can ignore that. And, I am calling you, and Jesus is calling you, that if you do not have the fruitfulness of the gospel in your life, either because you’ve never received it, or because you’ve received it with joy but you have no depth, and no fruit, that you need to respond. You need to receive, without cost, without price. So, in a moment, we’re going to come to God’s table and we’re going to receive. And, if you have not done that, that table is not for you. But, if you need to receive, then I would encourage you to stick around, like his disciples did, and ask questions. I’m here, Pastor Matt is here, we would love to talk to you more about what that means to receive the gospel. Will you pray with me?

Father,

Help us, by your Spirit, to hear and understand ourselves, where we lack the gospel going deep into our lives and hearts. Would you help those who may never have received your Word and your gospel, to do so now, and would you help us, as a church, to have the long, fruitful view of your kingdom the way Jesus did. Would you help us not to assume that our technique, our stuff, and our experience, and our character is what you’re after, but you are after new hearts, and we can trust and rest in knowing that your Word will go out and be scattered, and it will not return empty, because you are good, and you are producing a miraculous harvest. Help us, God. In Jesus’ name, amen. 


A New Way of Relating-Full Sermon Transcript

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

PASTOR: VINNIE HANKE

SCRIPTURE READING

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

—Mark 2:13–3:6 ESV

INTRO

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

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

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

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

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

Father God, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father God, 

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


The Call to Follow-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

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

—Mark 1:14–20 ESV

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

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

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

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

Jesus,

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

I. KINGDOM CONTRAST (vv14-15)


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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronos = Chronological or sequential time

Kairos = Opportune time for action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church, pg. 11

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

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

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

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

KINGDOM ENTRANCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Martin Luther, Thesis 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KINGDOM LIFE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Mark GC Guide, Emmaus Church

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

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

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

Jesus,

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


Gospel Renewal-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS

SCRIPTURE READING

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

—Romans 3:21–26 ESV

INTRO

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Colossians 3:10 ESV

And then, 2 Corinthians 4:16 …

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

—2 Corinthians 4:16 ESV

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

—Titus 3:5 ESV

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

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

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

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

So, let’s pray before we dive in.

Heavenly Father,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

—John Stott, Romans


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Robert Murray McCheyne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Martin Luther King, Jr.


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

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

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

—Revelation 21:1–5 ESV

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

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

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

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

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

—Kent Dunnington, Addiction & Virtue

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

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

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

—1 John 3:2 ESV

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

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

Heavenly Father,


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


Gospel Conversion-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS

SCRIPTURE READING


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

—Matthew 28:16–20 ESV

INTRO

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

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

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

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

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

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

—1 Peter 1:3 ESV

The next, in 2 Corinthians 5:17 …

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

—2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

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


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

—John 3:3 ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heavenly Father,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parrot Approach (Convincing the Mind)

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

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

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

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

The next distorted approach is the puppet approach.

Puppet Approach (Colonizing the Will)

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

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

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

The last approach, the party approach.

The Party Approach (Cathartic Emotional Moments)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Tim Keller

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

Proclamation & Prayer Approach (Conversion of the Heart)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

—Acts 17:26–27 ESV

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

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

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

—Julian Barnes, Nothing to Be Frightened of

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

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

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

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

CLOSING

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

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

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

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

Heavenly Father,

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


Content in Christ-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

Philippians 4:10-13, ESV

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

INTRO

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. THE UNIVERSAL CHASE FOR CONTENTMENT

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

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

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

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

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

—Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

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

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

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

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

So, four things. First …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… Remove far from me falsehood and lying;

   give me neither poverty nor riches;

   feed me with the food that is needful for me,

(9) lest I be full and deny you

   and say, “Who is the Lord?”

or lest I be poor and steal

   and profane the name of my God …

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

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

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

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

3. OUR UNION WITH CHRIST (v13)

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

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

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

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

—Sam Storms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Guarded in Christ-Full Sermon Transcript

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EMMAUS REDLANDS SERMON TRANSCRIPTION

PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS

SCRIPTURE READING

PHILIPPIANS 4:2-9

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

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

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

INTRO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Importance of Confession-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to blog

PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS

SCRIPTURE READING

Philippians 3:12-16

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

INTRO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE HUMAN TENSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE MISTAKEN WAYS OF RESOLVING THE TENSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE GOSPEL KEY TO RESOLVING THE TENSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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


Fulfillment in Christ Alone-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to blog

PASTOR FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

PHILIPPIANS 3:1-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE WRONG KIND OF CONFIDENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Lord will circumcise your hearts.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE RIGHT KIND OF LOSS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In verse 8, he says, in fact …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE BEST KIND OF KNOWING

Verses 8-11 …


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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