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Life is A MAZE (ing) | A Holy Hunch | Acts 15:1-29 | Week 3

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LIFE IS A MAZE(ing): A Holy Hunch     Acts 15:1-29

It’s a bit of irony that some of the greatest movements in the history of the church have been birthed out of some of the sharpest disagreements.  Some of the things we celebrate most started off as…..well, a fight.  They started off as people on two sides of the aisle unable to come to a conclusion and having very different opinions about the way that things should progress.  In Acts 15:1-2, we see one of those situations.  But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, {The brothers—the church in Antioch) “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the other were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.  What follows, in Acts 15, is what we will refer to as the Jerusalem Council.  It was one of the church’s first ever business meetings. You didn’t want to miss a business meeting in the early church though.  Some business meetings ended with your teachers being sent on the very first ever missionary journey.  You don’t want to miss that one.  This one you didn’t want to miss either.  This Jerusalem Council, this church business meeting, actually set the trajectory for the New Testament church.  I think what’s decided in Acts 15 is the biggest decision the church has ever made.

Can you just imagine what this 300 mile—probably fifteen to twenty day journey—was like?  What do you talk about on the way up to Jerusalem from Antioch?  Three hundred miles.  Paul.  Barnabas.  Some other people.  There might have been some men there that had a vested interest in what this council would decide.  Do I have to have a surgery to be part of the church or not?    That’s part of what’s being decided here.  But at the core of what they’re going to figure out at the Jerusalem Council is what does it really mean, at a very base level, to follow the way of Jesus?  What does Jesus ask of us?  Is it Jesus AND Moses?  Is it Jesus AND surgery?  Is it Jesus plus fill-in-the-blank, whatever law you want to fill in from the old covenant?  Is it Jesus plus or is it just Jesus?  That’s what they’re going to figure out.  A three hundred mile journey and they walk into this meeting where they’re going to make the biggest decision the church has ever made.  Here it is in verse 5:  But some believers who belonged to the part of the Pharisees rose up {Notice: These are believers who are part of the party of the Pharisees, so they got a little residual, okay?}  and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them {Gentile believers who have come to faith in the Jewish Messiah, his name is Jesus.}  and {This is a big ‘and.’} to order them to keep the law of Moses.  

Let that sink in on you for a moment.  This is a huge decision.  If you are grateful that you can eat ham sandwiches and enjoy bacon with your eggs, this decision matters.  If you’re grateful, as a man, that we do not need to perform surgeries in order for you to be part of the membership of this church, you should be grateful for this council.  If you’re grateful that you can wear clothes with more than one type of thread in them; that you can eat shellfish; that we don’t stone disobedient kids any longer, you should be really grateful for this council.  If you’re grateful that we don’t have animal sacrifices right up here, you have a vested interest in this.  This is a HUGE, HUGE decision.  It’s the most important decision the church collective, I believe, has ever made.  They were deciding what we’re going to do today, what we’ve done for the last 2000 years, how do we interact with the law of Moses?  Jesus plus?  Jesus and?  Jesus above?  What does it mean, at a very base level, to follow the way of Jesus?  This is an important decision, yes?

In a series where we’re talking about God’s will, what I’ve decided to do…..I may have mentioned this last week, but originally I said this was going to be a three week series and then I started getting into it more and I thought, “That’s stupid.”  It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and us, to extend this series.  Over the next few weeks, I’m going to do a few case studies about how did people discern God’s will?  It’s the most important decision the church collective ever made.  How’d they make it?  What did they do?  Because maybe there’s some things we can learn when we’re looking at important decisions that will shape our future, from how they made this decision.  So, Acts 15.  What we’re going to see is that the church is going to enter into a process.  What does not happen is that God does not, somehow, just speak a direct word to the church leaders.  They don’t go into a prayer closet, come out, and say, “God spoke to me and this is what we’re suppose to do.”  If that’s how this had played out, they certainly would have written that.  Let’s step back for a moment—When we are trying to make difficult decisions in our life, isn’t that usually how we expect that God’s going to speak to us?  He’s just going to give us a direct word and then we’re going to be able to make a decision and move forward.  The only problem with that is that doesn’t happen every time, does it?  I’ve met so many people who are paralyzed by their perceived silence from God that they just can’t move forward and make a decision.  What I want to say to you is oh, oh, if it FEELS like God isn’t giving you a direct word, a direct guiding word, for your situation, you’re in great company!  The church made the biggest decision it ever made without a direct word from heaven.  That should scare us a little bit also, but it’s simply true.  Discovering God’s will—what we’ll see in Acts 15—is often, not every time, sometimes there is that direct word, I don’t want to write that off.  But it’s often more of a process than it’s instantaneous.  It’s often more of a process of discovery, a journey of discovery.  It’s often like God takes our hand and starts to SHOW us rather than just tells us.  It’s often a journey.  A journey of discovery.  A journey that the Bible refers to simply as the life of faith.

I was a backpacking guide for Young Life for four years (late1990’s-early 2000’s).  I absolutely loved my time in the outdoors.  One of the very first training they did with new guides was navigation training.  They would take us with these paper things they called maps—this was before GPS was a big thing—and we go into the wilderness and we would do something called triangulation.  You’d get to an open meadow where you could see a few peaks around you, and from where you were standing, you would shoot a bearing with a compass and figure out what angle, what degree you were at, and then physically draw a line on the map from that peak all the way down the map.  Then you would have another peak and shoot another bearing and you’d draw a line all the way back from that.  And you’d do it on a third peak and draw the line all the way back.  It would look similar to .  You know what it never gave you?  It never gave you your exact location.  It gave you a ballpark.  If you’re triangulating and you were right in the middle of a lake on your map, you knew you were off, right?  Unless you were on a boat.  But, it gave you sort of like a ballpark.  It was way more art than science.  At least it felt that way.

I want to give you, this morning, three bearings to shoot.  Three bearings that the early church shot.  Where they tried to discern God, what do you have for us here?  God, where are you leading?  Where do you want us to go?  When we’re making the biggest decision the church collective has ever made, what are some of the things we take into account?  What are some of the bearings that we shoot in order to figure out where we are, in order to figure out where we’re going?  Let me show you what they did.  Acts 15:6-12.  This is what we refer to as the Jerusalem Council.  The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. {So you get the picture—There’s believers that have traveled 300 miles from Antioch.  There’s believers from all over Jerusalem.  They’re all gathering in order to seek God to figure out what do we do with the law of Moses and circumcision?  Is it a part of what we believe as followers of Jesus and what we do or not?}  And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.  And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. {Now, if you want to read what Peter’s talking about, you can read about it in Acts 10 and 11.}  Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? {He’s talking about the Mosaic Law.}  But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”  And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.

God gave them, the Gentiles, these non-Jewish people, the Spirit of God just like he gave to us.  He cleansed their hearts through faith, just like he did for us.  Only they didn’t have to go to the Temple.  They didn’t have to present some animal sacrifice.  They didn’t have to go through the Day of Atonement.  They didn’t need to slaughter the bull.  God just met them in their messiness exactly where they were at, no surgeries, and gave them the Spirit of God and cleansed their hearts.

Paul jumps in and goes, oh man, the signs and wonders God is doing amongst the Gentiles, because he’s just returned from a missionary journey where he saw all of this take place.  {If you want to read about it, it’s Acts 13 and 14.}  He goes, you guys, it’s unbelievable what God’s up to.  It’s really interesting, when they try to seek what God’s will is, what his path forward is, what’s the very first thing the church does?  They say well, God, what are you up to?  How are you moving?  You’re at work in people’s lives.  The Spirit’s being poured out in the lives of people that aren’t Jewish.  Essentially they go, well, who are we to argue with God?  This is a great line of thought.  If You think it’s a good idea, we think you’re pretty smart!  We want to get on board with what You are doing.  I think that’s the first bearing we’ve got to shoot:  God, where are you active?  God, where are you moving?  {Slide: Recognize the activity of God.}

I don’t know if you’re aware, but we have an email address set up that’s just [email protected]  There’s two reasons we have that set up.  One is because, as a staff, there are moments where we will need to dig into that story box in order to remember why we do what we do.  You serve our souls when you do that, as a staff, as an elder team, as leaders.  It helps us to see that God’s doing something great here.  But here’s the other reason, we want to get on board with what God’s doing.  Our goal as a leadership team, our goal as elders, our goal as staff, is not to create a movement of God.  Our goal is to get on a surfboard and ride the wave that He has created.  And those are two very different things.  When we hear stories that God’s moving, God’s working, this is what God’s doing in my life, we go, well, that’s a wave that we want to surf.  How do we resource that?  How do we get on board with that?  Even if it’s not something that we came up with.

I love this—in Mark 9:38-41, the disciples come up to Jesus and they tell Jesus, “Hey, Jesus, you’re going to be really ticked off because there are people driving out demons and they’re not with us.”  Jesus is like, well, that sounds terrible.  Why would they be driving out demons?  He goes no, no, come on, you guys, if they’re not against us, then they’re with us.  They want it to just be there thing, but oftentimes God works in wider areas.

Think about it for a moment—the activity of God in YOUR life.  Think of how many things in your life you didn’t choose.  You didn’t choose when you’d be born.  You didn’t choose where you’d be born.  You didn’t choose the family you’d be born into, good or bad.  You didn’t choose your wiring.  You didn’t choose how smart you’d be.  You didn’t choose the first language that you’d speak.  You didn’t choose the things that would get you fired up.  Those are all sort of built into you.  So lean in for a moment….when we talk about the activity of God, we’re not just talking about the activity of God out there.  We certainly are.  But what about the activity of God in our own lives?  How do we become students of our own life, because we aren’t bound by our history and our stories, but we aren’t free to push it to the side either.  Every decision, or any decision, you make is simply the next chapter in your story.  It’s not a new story altogether.  Most of the time, God’s will in our lives, just like it did in the Jerusalem Council, moves along the contour lines of what God has been up to and what God has been doing.  Very rarely—I’m not saying never—is it a complete 180 turn.  Maybe you start to ask yourself this question, it’s a great diagnostic question—recognizing the activity of God in our life, what decision, which choice—out of the myriad of choices—this thing that I’m wrestling with, this thing that I want to discover God’s will in, which choice allows you to live most consistently with how God has been writing the story of your life?

I used to think it was just God’s divine comedic humor and it’s partially that, but when I was a senior in college, I had two jobs that I didn’t want to have.  One of them was I worked in an early learning daycare center at Colorado State.  The other was that I worked at a Starbucks as a barista.  Fast forward ten years and I am a lead pastor of a church that has an early learning center and owns a coffee shop!  Here’s the deal, guys, I’m not that smart.  I’m not!  I kicked against those as hard as I could.  God was writing the story.  It’s not that everything falls in line like that, but if God is the author of the story, none of the pieces are outliers.  Let me say that again:  If God is the author of the story, none of the pieces are outliers.

Flip over to the back of your insert in your bulletin.  I believe Aaron Bjorklund’s dad, Phil, who’s been a missionary and worked with college students for most of his career, came up with this really neat tool called “Stones, Wires, Fires.”  It’s a great way to try to figure out God, what have you been up to in my life?  God, how are you moving?  How are you working?  Stones are the milestones, the things that we’ve walked through in our life.  Those big moments.  Some of them are good and some of them are painful.  Like I said, we don’t get to ignore any parts of those.  These things shape us—the good things and the bad things.  Please hear me on this.  Those events SHAPE us, but they do not have to define us.

Wires are the way that you’re wired, the things that you’re naturally good at, that maybe came easy to you.  Don’t think just in academics, think in relationships too.  Some of you guys are very wired to be relational connectors.

Fires—These are the things that get you fired up.  These are your passions.  You may have noticed that not everybody shares your passion.  If you’re a passionate evangelist for your passion, you want everybody to get on board with it.  Our ideal image of ourselves—hear me on this—is intricately connected to our deepest passion.  We will never know our true self, unless we can name that which we are most passionate about.   So some questions might be:  What moves me deeply—good or bad?  What do I enjoy doing?  Where do I find the greatest pleasure and the greatest joy?  Who or what do I love?  What breaks my heart?  Because God’s will goes along with God’s work.

The Jerusalem Council goes let’s ask some simple questions:  What’s God doing?  He’s pouring out his spirit and he doesn’t seem to care about whether or not you keep the law of Moses or don’t.  His spirit’s coming!  Here’s the way it continues in Acts 15:13-18 — After they finished speaking, James replied, {Most people think James was the leader of the Jerusalem church (the early church in Jerusalem), brother of Jesus, until he was killed in 62 AD.  But James, Jesus’s brother…..by the way, he wasn’t a believer until Jesus rose from the dead….which is probably what your brother would have to do to convince you he was God.}  “Brothers, listen to me.  Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.  And with this the words of the prophets agree,   {This is not going contrary to what God said he would do.  This is actually very much in line.}   just as it is written, ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’   So, Simeon stands up and goes, hey, shouldn’t we have been sort of like expecting this?  Didn’t God say and he quotes some obscure passage from Amos (9:11-12) that there’s a ton of debate about what that actually means, whatever it means.  They are saying that it’s being fulfilled right there.  That’s the lens.  Regardless, of what it actually means, what he’s saying is happening, he’s going we should have been expecting this.  It says it right in our prophets.  It honors the promise and it honors the pattern of the Scriptures.  That’s the second bearing — We align with the teaching of the Scriptures.

The first bearing is God, where are you at work?  The second bearing is God, we know it’s not your will to do anything that’s against your way.  So does it align, does it fit, with what we know of your personality?  Does it fit with what we know of your character?  Does it fit with what it says in your Scriptures?  But if you’re an astute student of the Scriptures, you’re going…..which ones?  Can I give you my heart a little bit?  As a college pastor, I saw so many young believers get into a philosophy class, a religion class, at a secular school—maybe even Bible school—and they started to actually wrestle with the Bible.

The problem with believing the narrative “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” is what the Bible says.  Which parts do we align with?  That’s the question we should be asking.  It’s far to simplistic to say we just believe it all.  We believe that it is all true, but we don’t do it all.  YOU don’t do it all.   Let me just throw a few out there.  Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death. (Exodus 21:17)   Anyone killed your kids because they disobeyed?  I’m guessing you don’t have perfect kids and most of them you didn’t kill.  That’s there, I can go chapter and verse.  The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.  What about…..this is one of my favorite ones — When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand.  Your eye shall have no pity. (Deut. 25:11-12)   First of all, was that really an issue that needed solving?  Second of all….   Let’s just go to something that’s easier.  Okay, you can only wear clothes that have one type of thread, one type of fabric, in them. (Leviticus 19:19)   We’re all guilty.  Bacon. Shellfish.  Where do we stop, right?

If you’re going well, Paulson, you’re sort of eroding the foundation that I stand on…..you’re welcome!  Because you stand on faulty foundations.  Our students do too.  If you’re a student here, if you’re going off to college, if you are at college, you’re going to encounter this.  What’s your answer?  What do you do with it?  The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.  No, it doesn’t!  What they decided at this council was both in line with the big story that God was telling, but it was divergent, it was….this is the next chapter, this is the next phase, this is something that God promised that he would do that’s NEW.  What they decided means—-please, hear me on this, this is important—-that all of the Bible is true, but it doesn’t mean that it’s all applicable to us.  Which is why you can eat bacon.  Which is why you don’t stone your kids when they disobey.  Which is why you’re wearing the clothes you’re wearing.

If I’m tracking with the tone in the room….I’m not saying that I am.  These are just the questions I had when I studied it.  Okay, well, Paulson, here’s the bearing we’re suppose to shoot.  Align with the Scriptures.  Which ones?  What do you mean?  Glad you asked that.  Here’s what the Apostle Paul writes.  He’s wrestling with these things.  Here’s what he writes in Romans 13:8-10 — Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  {Fulfilled the law! Presumably in its entirety.}  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  {They’re summed up.  If you pull that thread of “love your neighbor,” the entire law is going to be attached to that one.}  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.    Love God.  Love people.  This is the New Covenant, friends.  THIS is what we are called to align ourselves with.  The early disciples were convinced, they were all in—we’ll see in just a moment—that love was the intent of the entire Old Covenant.  So they didn’t point back to the Old Covenant to say, this is the way we need to organize our lives, these are the laws we need to keep.  They actually pointed to Jesus.  They went if we keep this one, we keep all of them.  That’s our goal.  Let’s keep that one!  In doing so, we keep them all.

Does this minimize the law of God?  I think it clarifies it.  It reveals the heart of what God intended to take place.  What do we align with?  {Look up at me for a second.}  We align with Jesus.  That’s who we align with.  I said this before and I’ll say it again:  Never, never, never break the first commandment in order to keep a secondary commandment.  That’s our lens.  Love God, love people.  These are primary.  If I have to break those in order to keep another one….DON’T!  Questions: Does is honor the dignity of people?  Can I love God and do this thing?  Is it spreading the net of God’s love wider?  These are the questions we should be wrestling with as New Covenant followers of Jesus.  This is what it means to bring our lives into alignment with the Scriptures.

Acts 15:6-7; 19-21.  This is the third bearing, okay?  The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. {What matter? Whether or not we should keep the law of Moses and be circumcised.}  And after there had been much debate….  {Scoot forward to verse 19.}  Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, {What a great line!} but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.  For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.

Here’s what starts to happen.  You have a debate.  You have judgment.  It’s my judgment, my logical brain says we should do this.  Eventually, verse 25, says they come to one accord.  Not all business meetings end like this, but here’s what they do.  The third bearing is:  What does the community of saints think?  We’re not going to make this decision on our own, with our head buried.  Certainly, we’re going to seek God, but also seek God’s people. What do they think?  {Slide: Seek out wise council.}   They debate.  Do you know what a debate requires?  It requires that people are on opposite sides of the aisle.  A debate requires that people have information, and based on that information, they have formed an opinion that differs from other people.  Debates demand—we haven’t seen this a whole lot—that those people that are informed and have come to different opinions actually start to talk to each other.  {I know, it’s crazy!}

There’s this really interesting movement.  I mentioned a few weeks ago I read a book called The Coddling of the American Mind.  In academic circles, there is this movement if somebody writes a paper that others don’t agree with, there’s massive energy put towards calling that person to redact the paper.  Take it back.  Say you didn’t mean it.  What use to happen, in academic circles, is there would be a rebuttal.  Here’s where you missed it.  Here’s what you got wrong.  Now it’s like where feelings are hurt, we need you to redact that.  We’ve lost the ability to debate.  It’s not just outside of the church, friends.  We’ve lost the ability to debate inside the church, to do it well.  Some of the times over the last few years that I’ve been most embarrassed to be a follower of Jesus is when one follower of Jesus writes a paper or a book and says here’s what I believe about this issue, and other followers of Jesus are like…..YOU’RE OUT!  Think of how easily that could have happened here.  You believe that?  You’re out!  We’ve done it this way for how long?  We believe this for how long?  When was the last time you changed your mind about something you believe?  I’m convinced that the future of the church rests on our ability to engage and debate differing opinions without demonizing people and without casting stones.  May the best, most biblical idea win!  Even if it’s not what you think is best.

Just a few tips for calling on wise council.  In order to get people to speak into your life, you need to invite them to.  In order to consistently invite people into your life, to speak into your life and have them do it, you need to receive what they tell you, humbly.  Seek it and receive it well.  Here’s what I’m not saying though, because number two is just as important as number one.  Not all advice is created equal.  You could receive something humbly, think about it honestly, and go, “I’m not sure I agree with that.”  Here’s my lens of whether or not I trust what somebody’s telling me — I decide based on their love for me.  Does this person care about me?  If I disagree with them will they be gone?  Is our relationship based on me accepting their advice?  If so, no thanks.  I base it based on their lifestyle.  Do you want the kind of life that person is living?  Here’s the deal: People typically give advice that’s in line with who they are.  Do you want your life to look like theirs?  If not, I wouldn’t take their advice, or maybe tell them to take it first.  Here’s what I don’t try to do.  This is so hard, you guys.  I try not to make my decision based on whether or not I like what they say.  That’s not a part of it.  If we’re asking for collective wisdom, we might find out we’re wrong.

Here’s what we have:  We have these three streams — God’s activity out there and in our lives; the teachings of the Scriptures, primarily the way of Jesus; and wise council.  When you draw all of those back, after you sought those things out, eventually you’re going to go, I think, I think, that I’m sort of in this area and what it looks like to move forward in God’s will means moving in this direction.  Do you know what the most interesting thing to me is?  What the church leaders say BACK to the church at Antioch, verse 22 — Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, {Quick insert here.  This term ‘seemed good’ is going to end up three times in the discussion.} with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.  They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings.  Since we have hears that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, {He’s referring to saying you need to keep the law of Moses and be circumcised.} it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth.  For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements.   {The most important decision the collective church has ever made, they made based on what ‘seemed good’ to them and to the Spirit.  That’s what they’re saying.  We’ve triangulated.  This is what seems good.  What seemed good?}  that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.  If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.  Farewell.” 

They didn’t say hey, here’s the Mosaic Law, do it.  They picked out a few commands that were central to keeping the unity of the church.  That’s what they did.  They said do these.  You’ll do well if you do them.  Farewell.  There was no clear word spoken from heaven, you guys.  But there was a clear leading.  There was a clear leading, and that’s how they discerned the will of God in the most important decision the church has ever made.  It seemed good to the Holy Spirit…..and us.  Let’s roll.

I don’t know what decisions you’re facing in your life right now, but can I propose—this is way more art than science—that you run them through this grid:  God, where do I see you working?  Where are you at work?  God, what does it look like to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus?  How do I align with where you’ve been leading us in the Scriptures, that trajectory that continues to go forward today?  What does it look like to ground my life in that?  Finally, God, you’ve brought some people around me…..the church is typically called the spiritual direction.  You’ve brought some people around me to speak into my life, to sort of point me in a way, to ask great questions, to try to help me discern where you are moving.  God, what are those people telling me?  And well, God, it looks like I might be here and it looks like you might be leading me forward there.  What decisions are you looking at?  I’m just going to give you a moment to think on that.  What might it look like for you to run it through this grid?

I want to just carve out a moment here for you because my guess is you’re going to go running out of here, and you might have these notes, but you’re going to go on with your day.  What’s that decision that you’re going, God, I so long to know what you want me to do?  Maybe you’ve even been asking for a long time and it seems like heaven’s silent.  I just want to tell you, heaven isn’t silent.  There are invitations all around you.  Shoot these bearings.  See where God might lead you.

I’m going to end with two things:  Number one, I’m going to invite you….throughout this series, we’ve had people ask some really, really good questions.  This Tuesday, Aaron and I are going to do a live Q&A on Facebook; it’ll be posted afterwards on our website.  If you have questions that you’d like me to try to answer, I would love to do that.  You can send your questions to [email protected]  I would genuinely be very grateful if you’d send those in.  Secondly, if you were here last week, you know that we did a survey and we’re going to hand that out if you didn’t have the chance to complete it last week.  Our leaders, our elders, our staff would be so grateful if you’d take the time to fill that out, because, like I said, seeing where God’s moving right now, will help us chart the course forward…..it seems good to the Holy Spirit AND us to do this.

Jesus, give us wisdom.  Help us hear you and each other clearly.  Lead and guide.  Maybe in ways we didn’t think you’d lead and guide.  Lord, help us be faithful to follow.  It’s in your name that we pray.  And all God’s people said…..Amen.

Life is A MAZE (ing) | A Holy Hunch | Acts 15:1-29 | Week 32020-08-20T16:32:32-06:00

Life in the Vine | John 15:1-17

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Life in the Vine | John 15:1-172019-05-06T21:34:26-06:00

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? | Eternal Hospitality | Mark 6:21-44 | Week 4

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? | Eternal Hospitality | Mark 6:21-44 | Week 42019-02-18T00:50:39-07:00

Sermon on the Mount | Kingdom Re-Action | Matthew 5:38-45 | Week 7

SERMON ON THE MOUNT: Kingdom Re-Action  Matthew 5:38-45

We are exploring the Sermon on the Mount this summer as a community.  We are sort of in the middle of Jesus’s teaching, it’s in the gospel of Matthew.  Matthew, one of Jesus’s disciples, records a collection of Jesus’s teachings in one place.  It’s probably the most famous sermon given EVER!  If you have your Bible, you can open to Matthew 5.  Over the last few weeks, we’ve explored some really light, fun subjects like adultery, lust, divorce, remarriage, being people who are honest.  Jesus decided to lighten up a little bit on us and today we’re talking about loving our enemies.  That should be easier, right?!  This is one of those passages that probably isn’t all that difficult to understand.  It’s just really difficult to live out.  It’s difficult to apply.  Let’s pray and ask Jesus that he would, by the power of his Spirit, open us up to what he would say.  Lord, we long to not only hear, but to obey, because we know that that’s where the foundation of our life is formed.  Father, that’s our posture today.  Would you move, would you convict, would you lead us to righteousness for our joy and for the sake of your name?  Amen.

The year was 525 BC, and King Cambyses II of Persia marched his army toward Egypt.  He knew something interesting about the Egyptian people. . .they had a deep love for cats.  They (the Persian army) carved into their shields an outline of a cat.  They brought with them hundreds of cats onto the battlefield.  In Egypt, it was a capital offense to kill a cat.  This battle was called the Battle of Pelusium, Persia vs. Egypt.  The Persians went onto the battlefield with hundred of cats.  Since the Egyptians so revered cats, they had a god named Bastet that was formed and shaped into the image of a cat.  They didn’t want to kill a cat so the Persians were throwing cats into the faces of the Egyptian army.  {For 38 years I’ve been wondering what good a cat is and now we’ve figured it out.}  What’s fascinating is that the Persians won this battle, hands down, without much of a fight at all, because the Egyptians were so nervous about hurting the cats.  Afterwards, to scorn and shame them (the Egyptians), they took the cats and rubbed them in their face after they won the battle.  I thought, “What a strange battle tactic!”  Can you imagine the strategy session?!  What a strange, ridiculous strategy!

Yet, I don’t think it’s the strangest strategy that’s ever been enacted to fight a war.  I actually think, as followers of Jesus, we have a stranger strategy.  I think we have a more ridiculous tactic, at least as far as the world would be concerned.  Can you imagine early followers of Christ, in the midst of a Roman Empire, where they all had friends who were pinned to Roman crosses and crucified as enemy of the state.  People, in the Romans’ eyes, who weren’t even worth the ground that they’re standing on.  Can you imagine the followers of Jesus gathered into a room and talking about how are we going to overthrow the Roman Empire?  How are we going to be the people who come out on the other end victorious?  Maybe we could gather enough of a following that we could get the voting block and win it that way.  Maybe we could get a bigger army than Rome.  Followers of Jesus would have looked around and gone that’s absolutely crazy, that’s insane, we’ll never get it that way.  I wonder if at any point in time there was a disciple or apostle who raised his hand and said, “You know what?  The Jesus way isn’t the way of a bigger or better army; it’s not the way of a bigger or better strategy; it’s not the way of the majority getting their way and imposing it on others.  The Jesus way is more ridiculous than bringing cats into battle.  What if we loved our enemies?”

Did you know that secular historians wrestled with this idea?  How in the world did this rag-tag band of early followers of Jesus, who had ZERO power, come to have massive influence?  How did people who had nothing to their name come to have significant impact in a kingdom that was dominated by a powerful empire?  It wasn’t through gaining a bigger army; it wasn’t through getting a voting block.  Anecdotally, post-Constantine and what happened to the church under Constantine in the Roman Empire, we have, as followers of Christ, bought the lie that if we can get the majority of the people behind us then we’ll be successful.  If we can get the majority of the people behind us then we’ll have influence.  We bought the lie in tying power and influence together.  Jesus wants to say to his early followers no, no, no, no, no, that’s not how you have influence.  It’s not by having the most power, it’s by having the greatest love.  If you want to see how my community will transform the world around them, it’s ridiculous!  It’s more insane than taking cats into battle.  But. . . .you step back and you look at the pages of history and as they turn they affirm that what Jesus said actually works.

If you have your Bible, Matthew 5:38-45.  You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.  You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

So pretty low bar.  Most people, when they read the Sermon on the Mount, have this line of thinking where we go well this is such a high bar, Jesus must have expected that we would read this and know that we were going to fail and therefore, turn to God’s grace.  Turning to God’s grace, I say yes and amen, but Jesus expects people who are his followers to be living this out.  He expects us to let this teaching sit on us in such a way that it would mess with us a little bit that we would have to say, “I’ve got to die to MY kingdom in order to enter the kingdom of God.”  I’ve got to surrender some of my rights in order to enter the kingdom.  I don’t know about you, but as a high school student, I can remember wrestling with the ‘way of Jesus.’  I can remember sitting in a church—not all that dissimilar to this one—and hearing the Sermon on the Mount taught and thinking, “I don’t want anything to do with that.”  I don’t want to be walking down the halls of Smokey Hill High School and have somebody slug me in the face and be expected to turn the other cheek.  Is Jesus off his rocker here?!  Does he expect us to just be doormats?  Is that what we’re suppose to do?  And all these wrongs going on around us.  What in the world is Jesus actually saying?  He’s saying that allegiance to Him radically transforms not only the attitude we have towards people but the way that we act towards people.  Our attitude and our actions are radically transformed because of life in the kingdom.  {Slide reads:  Allegiance to Jesus transforms both our attitude and actions toward people.}

I had the chance to coach baseball again this summer. . . .a little nine-year-old Little League team.  I love coaching.  I get such joy seeing a child come and learn the game a little bit.  Learn how to take a good cut, baseball-wise, and step up to the plate and hit it.  I find so much joy in seeing what we do in practice actually executed on the field.  I find so much joy in seeing that because it happens SO LITTLE!!!  Most of the time!!!  I’m like, were you there on Wednesday?  Did somebody steal your brain in between Wednesday and Saturday, because we talked about this?!  You’re suppose to cut the ball off, right?!

I wonder how many times we come into a service and go Jesus, we agree with you?  Yes!  That’s how to throw the ball, that’s how to hit the ball, that’s how to live life!  We agree with you, Jesus.  Then we get out onto the field of life and we just go back to the way that we’ve always done things.  We just go back to what’s deeply ingrained in our soul.  What Jesus is going to gently press on us this morning is. . .look up at me for a second. . . .Jesus isn’t looking for admirers.  He’s not looking for people who agree with his teaching, who go, intellectually I get it, yeah.  He is looking for people who would follow Him.  It’s on the wall right out front.  It’s our mission as a church—to help people live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  His teaching here isn’t one that’s difficult to understand—we’ll talk about some of the pieces that are nuanced and that I think, at the onset, are difficult, but ultimately, this teaching is really, actually, pretty straightforward.   But it’s easier understood here than it’s lived out in the world.  Martin Luther King, Jr., who lived this teaching out maybe better than anybody in our modern day, said it like this:  “One of the greatest tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between profession and practice, between saying and doing.”

So the question in front of us today is not will we trust Jesus as Savior?  In fact, this passage is for people who’ve done that.  If you’re not a follower of Christ, you’re sort of off the hook this morning.  You get to look on to the way of Jesus and sort of window shop and go, wow, that’s a pretty drastic teaching.  But for people who have declared Jesus, you are my Lord, today he wants to say to you, am I also your rabbi?  Can I teach you HOW to live in my way with my heart?

As we’ve been doing the last few weeks, let me just point out a few things Jesus is NOT SAYING, then we’re going to jump into what he is saying.  Jesus is not saying you have to be a doormat.  In fact, he’s actually saying the opposite, and we’ll talk about that.  He’s not saying that if you’re in an abusive relationship or an abusive home or abusive situation that you’ve just got to continue to take it.  That’s not what he’s saying.  He’s also not saying that you MUST be a political pacifist if you’re going to live out this passage.  Although, I would say that there’s a massive stream of Christianity that has applied it that way.  You can wrestle with what you think it’s saying in that regard.  Here’s the last thing—This passage of Scripture is NOT saying that we do not combat and resist evil.  The church is called to be a prophetic voice that speaks up when things are wrong, that speaks out when people are dehumanized; we are not called to be passive observers of reality, we are called to be active participants in renewal.  Amen?

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what in the world is Jesus saying?  If he’s not saying all those things, what’s he saying?  Matthew 5:38-39a. . . .let’s explore.  You have heard that it was said, {This was Jesus’s methodology of inviting them to a Bible study.  You’ve heard that it was said in Torah.  You’ve heard that it was said in your writings.} “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”    In fact, there was three different times in the Old Testament scriptures that this law was given.  It was the law of limited retaliation (lex talionis in the Latin).  It means you could only wrong somebody back to the extent that they’ve wronged you.  There was this really interesting study they did at one point in time where they had somebody hit another person’s thumb and they rated the scale of how hard it was.  What happened was that our perception of the way that we’re treated is always more so than the way the person thinks they’re treating us.  So what happens?  The cyclical cycle of ‘you’ve wronged me and I’m going to wrong you and I’m going to get you back a little bit more than you got me and therefore an eye for a hand!’  Sounds pretty good sometimes, doesn’t it?  In the Old Testament scriptures, lex talionis, an eye for an eye, was actually a very gracious way of people interacting with each other.  I’m only going to wrong you as much as you wronged me, no more no less, we’re just going to make it even.  What Jesus points out is not that he disagrees with that, he just goes that’s a pretty low bar.

But I tell you (Jesus says), do not resist an evil person.  He invites us to a completely different way of interacting with people we perceive—and they might too—to be against us.  Paul, in the book of Romans (12:19-21), will say it like this:  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary:  “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Here’s what the teachings of Jesus and the Apostle Paul say:  You can EITHER get even or you can have influence.  You can EITHER try to get revenge or you can have massive impact on the people around you.  But you cannot do both.  You can EITHER have revenge or gospel influence, but you cannot have both.

So think of it, for the early followers of Jesus in the Roman empire how hard this must have been.  Probably about as hard as it is for you!  Can we admit that this is a radical teaching of Jesus, but if I could summarize it, here’s what he’s saying—Our attitude towards people has to be tough-minded: We refuse to allow the way we’re treated to determine the way we respond.  Oh gosh!!  Jesus, take your foot off the gas a little bit.  Isn’t it so easy to get in a ‘tit for tat’ type of interaction with people?  They did this to me, therefore I must do this to them.  Jesus says no, no, no, no, no, life in my kingdom is you do not have to do that.  You could allow creative engagement with the people around you to replace justified retaliation.  Instead of just retaliating—even if it’s your right—what if you thought about it a little more?  What if you took a step back and prayed and thought, “Jesus, how would you want me to interact with this person that’s just wronged me?”  What might that look like?

People in the early church, in the Roman empire, were wrestling with this.  Do you know what the number one emotion we have to get over to live with this is?  FEAR.  What’s going to happen to me?  What’s going to happen to me if I do that?  If I turn the other cheek, what happens?  If I go the extra mile, what happens?  I love the way Dallas Willard said it: “This world, with all its evil, is a perfectly good and safe place for anyone to be, no matter the circumstances, if they have only placed their lives in the hands of Jesus and his Father.”  So now, if we’re in the kingdom, we’re free.  We’re free to go Jesus, what would you have me do in this situation?  In order to not be ambiguous, Jesus says let me give you a few examples.  If you’re going what might this look like, that’s a great question.  Jesus is really glad you asked that, and he’s going to give you four pictures of what it might look like.  These are brilliant pictures of creative engagement rather than justified retaliation.

Here’s what he says (the first picture) — If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matt. 5:39b)  I used to read this:  If somebody slugs you in the face, let them slug you again.  That isn’t what Jesus says.  He’s very specific.  If somebody slaps you on the RIGHT cheek….  If you were to slap somebody on the right cheek, what hand would you use?  The left.  In this culture, the left hand was the dirty hand.  It was not used for eating or signing papers.  It was used for things like wiping.  It was not the clean hand.  In an honor-shame culture, Jesus is not—hear me on this—talking about somebody who is being abused, he’s talking about somebody who’s being demeaned.  He’s talking about somebody who’s socially getting pushed down, and either slapped with a left hand or back-handed with the right hand like a little child would have been.  It was a way to insult somebody.  Typically, we would imagine we have two responses in mind to that—two options.  We can either ‘eye for an eye’ slap them back OR we could run away.  Or we could do what I probably would have done in high school — slap and run.  Sort of a combo of both.  Jesus is going what if there’s a third way?  What if you look at the person who’s dishonoring you and demeaning you and turn the other cheek and say why don’t you hit me with your right hand and treat me like a man?  Why don’t you treat me like a person, because that’s what I am?  Jesus is inviting us to a way of being a creative influence where vulnerability replaces revenge.  When I feel like I need to defend myself, I lose my influence.

At work, when you feel like you need to defend yourself, when you feel like your honor has been violated and you need to get even in order to be right, Jesus would say you could do that but you lose your influence.  Isn’t it better to influence the people around you than just to get paid back?  Oh, it’s way better to win over the people around you rather than an eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth.  Jesus would say that you now, as an agent of the kingdom, can look for strong, creative ways to refuse to participate in the mutual ongoing hostility that is so rampant in our world and SO ineffective.  Can we agree?  Is it working for us?  Is a bomb for a bomb, a gun for a gun, and an eye for an eye…   How’s that working for us?  It’s not!  Jesus invites his people to a different way.  What if you embrace the posture of vulnerability instead of revenge?  What if you did that?

Here’s his second picture (Matt.5:40) —  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  First century dress codes are essential to understanding what Jesus is saying.  Somebody is being sued for their shirt.  In first century Israel, most people didn’t wear pants.  They would have an undershirt that was sort of their underwear that would be a long undershirt that would be used as an undergarment.  Over that would be a coat.  The coat is what they would use as a pillow at night or as a sleeping bag, but it was a way to keep themselves covered.  So a poor person is being sued by a wealthy person for their underwear.  Jesus says how about you give them your coat also.  What would happen?  They would be naked.  Everyone around would go that person’s naked.  Jesus is saying what if you didn’t let yourself cover up the wrongs that people are perpetrating against you?    As the one who’s a little bit lower on the social totem pole, as the one who doesn’t have as much socio-economic stability in your life, what if you pointed out this gross offense that’s being perpetrated against you by giving away another piece of your clothing?  Jesus is teaching a methodology for impact where he’s saying listen, what if you valued your impact that you were having more than the comfort you so dearly wanted?  Think about this for a moment with me, you guys.  The people who have made the greatest impact in our world are people who are willing to sacrifice a little bit of comfort, are they not?  People who are willing to have a hard conversation.  People who are willing to take a financial risk.  People who are willing to forgive when it would be easier to grow bitter.  These are the types of people who consistently, throughout time, have changed our world.

I think of Dr. Jeff Brodsky.  We have the joy of partnering with he and Joy International.  Every year we participate in the Barefoot Mile.  It’s coming up again this Saturday, July 21st, Clement Park, 9 o’clock.  For years, Jeff Brodsky’s been going barefoot in order to go, “Hey! There’s an issue we need to be aware of.”  He’s given away his coat in order to expose a wrong.  That’s what Jesus is teaching.  What if we valued our impact over our comfort?  How might that look?  What if we didn’t allow anxiety or fear to rule, but we were free to step into the places God’s called us to step into?  We might volunteer in our Kids’ or Student ministries.  We might have a conversation about our faith.  What ways are we stepping back from impact in favor of comfort?  Jesus says no, no, no, no, no, draw it out, embrace a posture of discomfort in order to have great impact.

Here’s the next picture he paints:  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.   You may know the context:  In the Roman Empire, a Roman soldier, part of a Roman garrison, could be marching along and, at any point, could call somebody who was a citizen of the country they were occupying to carry their gear a mile.  Imagine planning a nice picnic for your family on Sabbath, sitting around a lake enjoying it.  You just sat down with your lamb chops and hummus and a Roman soldier comes up and says to you, “Carry my gear.”  Oh man!  Jesus wants to step into this moment that most of his listeners have had where they’ve been inconvenienced by the Roman empire.  Jesus goes, I know, everything in you wants to go one mile, drop their gear, and tell them to go back to wherever they came from.  Jesus says what if you started to see the people around you, not just as soldiers, but as sons and daughters of somebody?  Not as people of the state of Rome, but as image bearers of God, and as people having a ridiculously hard day.  Instead of dehumanizing the people that are against us, what if as followers of Jesus, we started to have compassion on them?  Isn’t it so easy to dehumanize the people we don’t like?  Jesus says what if you look for ways to actually serve the people around you?  Even people who were inconvenient.  I often think it would be way easier to share my Google calendar with Jesus so he could bring me opportunities to serve him that fit in the slots that I have open.  Anyone with me?  What I found is that he has a copy of my Google calendar and he often picks the most inconvenient times to bring people into my life.  The question is in those moments are we willing to serve people?  Are we willing to go the extra mile and extend compassion, maybe relationally or maybe financially?  It’s not a lot.  Jesus isn’t saying that you always have to do this.  That’s not his point.  His point is you could if you wanted to, it’s an option for you now.  Instead of bitterly gritting your teeth, going one mile, and dropping it saying, “I’m out!”

So vulnerability replaces revenge.  Impact replaces comfort.  Compassion replaces inconvenience.  And finally, here’s what Jesus says:  Give.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one what wants to borrow from you. (Matt. 5:42)   Jesus uses an illustration of a story that everyone of his listeners would have understood, and we understand too.  There’s certain people in our life that are needy.  There’s certain people in our life that always seem to be sort of in the place where they want something from us.  Jesus says what if you looked at those people. . . . .I don’t know about you, I often make up a story about how they got to where they got.  If they would have made these decisions, like I’ve made, then they wouldn’t be in this position, right?  If they just pulled themselves up by their bootstraps—like I’ve done—then they’d be okay.  You know what that’s called?  Judgment.  It’s called judgment.  Jesus is saying that we’re so prone to doing this.  When someone is needy, what if instead of judging and coming up with a story, what if you were generous to them?  It doesn’t mean you have to give to every single person you see that’s in need.  It means that your heart is now free from making up a story so that you can love the people that the Spirit would say, “I’m calling you to step into this.”  Sometimes these are called EGR people.  Extra. Grace. Required. People.  Do you know some people like that?  If you don’t, you ARE people like that!  Jesus is saying maybe it’s a gift of food.  Maybe it’s a gift of honesty.  Maybe it’s a gift of truth or confrontation or money.  He’s saying you are free to look at the people in front of you to see them as people and to give them what you think they need the most.  That’s the freedom.  That’s the kingdom freedom.  We’re tough-minded, our attitude’s changed by the gospel, we don’t just respond to people based on how they treat us.  We actually respond to people based on how we’ve treated by God.  And it changes everything.  Four little vignettes, stories, that Jesus talks about.  Aren’t they just beautiful and brilliant?  I think they are.  When your head and your heart are not consumed with revenge, you’re free to love the people around you creatively and invite them to step into the kingdom.

Here’s the way Jesus continues.  It’s easier now.  It’s really simple.  You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  {Ironically, you can find the command ‘love your neighbor’ all throughout the Old Testament, specifically Leviticus 19, but you cannot find ‘hate your enemy’ ANYWHERE in the Old Testament.  So Jesus is picking up a particular teaching that has been popular in THAT day, that took the Scriptures and combined them with some other thoughts.}  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matt. 5:43-44)  Do you know the number one factor, for every person in this room, that determines whether or not we like somebody?  Is if we think they like us.  It’s the number one factor.  We often surround ourselves with people who look like us and talk like us, ’cause we love us some us, right?  Everybody does.  Jesus is pushing back against that.  You could find out that Mother Teresa didn’t like you.  You’re like. . . Mother Teresa!  Did she ever do anything great?!  Jesus is pushing back against that mentality and saying what if, what if, what if.  What if you were not only tough-minded, but what if you were tender-hearted?  What if you refuse to allow your tribal allegiance to determine the extent of your love?  {Slide:  Tender-hearted: We refuse to allow our tribal allegiance to determine the extent of our love.}  What if you refuse to allow the lines that have been drawn in the sand. . . .maybe the flag that you fly, the language that you speak, the color of skin that you have. . . .what if you refuse to allow, whatever tribe you’re a part of, to determine that’s the extent of my love?  What Jesus is doing is looking at his followers and saying, “As a follower of mine, as a disciple and as an apprentice of mine, you do not any longer get to determine and choose who you love.”  You love whoever is in front of you.  THAT’S the calling of followers of the way of Jesus.  You don’t get to choose WHO you love, you can choose HOW you love, but you do not get to choose WHO.

That word ‘love’ is such a slippery word, isn’t it?  We read it and sometimes we have romantic love in mind.  There’s a number of different words, in the Greek, that Jesus could have chosen for this word ‘love.’  He chose the word “agape.”  It’s this Greek word that means to wish and to will for someone’s good.  It has action attached to it.  You can’t agape somebody and not have it come out in the way that you treat them.  To wish and to will for the good of another.  Jesus says, to his followers, look up at me for a moment, you’ve never met somebody you weren’t called to love.  In fact, your battle is not against flesh and blood.  You’ve never met a person who was your enemy.  Your battle is not against flesh and blood, it’s against powers and authorities, the enemy in this dark world, but it’s not against people! (Eph.6:12)  You’ve never met somebody who you were not called to love.

Jesus makes this point.  Just look around.  Do an experiment, he says.  Next time it rains in your neighborhood, go stand in the middle of your street and look up.  Then look down your street. . . . .there’s probably some really nice people on your street, and maybe some who follow the way of Jesus, and then, my guess is, you have a jerk neighbor somewhere down the road, right?  Walk down to his house when it’s raining and see if the rain is hitting jerk-neighbor’s lawn?  Yes!  When the sun came up, did it come up on jerk-neighbor’s house too?  Yeah.  What Jesus says is wired into the fabric and fiber of creation is the ridiculous generosity of God.  Theologians call this Common Grace.  It’s everywhere!  It’s oftentimes so common we miss it.  But Jesus says just look around you.  The sun rises, the rain comes—and it’s a picture of the love of God—on every person.  What he says is when you live in the way where you don’t just love the people who are like you, but love the people who are opposed to you, you start to look like God.  He says you may be children of your Father.  It was an idiom, it was a picture.   It was like saying someone was ‘a chip off the old block,’  they’re exactly like their dad.  When we love radically, we become a reflection of our Father, our Father in heaven.

He gives you two practical things you can do.  First, what if you prayed for those who are your enemies?  When was the last time you did that?  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a great little book called “Life Together,”  makes this point.  It’s true, try it.  He says:  “It’s really hard to hate somebody you pray for.”  Try it.  Jesus says you can pray for them, or, second, you could love them or bless them.  What if you looked for active practical ways to bless the people who curse you?  What if, in light of this teaching this week, you just said, “Jesus, point out for me somebody who I disagree with, or somebody I just don’t like a whole lot, somebody who rubs me the wrong way, and give me a vision for what it looks like to love them this week.”  {Watch you start getting all these ridiculous gifts from the friends around you who are sitting here, and you’re like am I everybody’s enemy?}  What if you did that this week?  Because Jesus is calling the church to be a light to the world, a city on a hill, and I believe, maybe more than ever, that our world needs us to step into this calling.  To not just be admirers and go Jesus, we like that, we agree with that, but to be people who live it out.  Do you know why it’s so hard to imagine what would happen if we actually did this?  I’ve been reflecting on this a lot in my life this week.  I’m like, “God, why is it so hard for me to imagine what it might be like if I did this?”  I just sense the Spirit say to me, “It’s because you do it so infrequently.”  Maybe you do too.

Here’s how he closes:  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  {I don’t know that he’s talking about a tangible reward, maybe a heavenly reward at some point, but I do know that he’s talking, AT LEAST, about what we would call an intrinsic reward.  If you’ve ever loved your enemies, if you’ve ever prayed for those who persecute you, you know that that boomerangs back on your soul and God enlightens something, enlivens something in you and there’s a blessing that’s intrinsic in living in the way of Jesus.}  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:46-48)

The word ‘perfect’ in the Greek is the word ‘telios.’  It means to fulfill, or to take to an appointed culmination.  You could read it ‘mature.’  Therefore, be mature, grow into maturity.  What does Christian maturity look like?  How do we measure maturity as a follower of Jesus?  It’s not based on how many Bible verses you can recite.  It’s not based on how many classes you’ve taken.  It’s not based on how good a theologian you are or how many questions you can answer in apologetics.  Maturity, as a follower of Jesus, is based on one thing. . . . .LOVE.  That’s what Jesus is teaching.

But, friends, we can only live in the kingdom if we know first that we have been loved by the King.   I want to end by pressing this onto us, I hope it falls like a weight on our souls that we get how much we have been loved.  Because this is the King who was on trial and was slapped.  He turned the other cheek.  They didn’t just take his outer garment and they didn’t just take his undergarment, they took everything that he owned, stripped him bare, humiliated and naked; had scornful words lobbed in his direction and he hangs on the cross, naked and exposed, in order to declare that you are loved and you’re forgiven.  Based on nothing that you have done but based on EVERYTHING he’s accomplished on your behalf.  This is not the King that just goes one extra mile; this is the King who carries his cross all the way up to Calvary’s hill where he hangs and he dies.  And he gives GENEROUSLY.  He does look down on people in judgment.  Who’s glad that that’s the case?  Amen.  He doesn’t look on us with judgment saying, “They just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” or “If they were a little bit more like me they’d get it all together.”  He looks down on us in GRACE and generously loves his enemies.  When we were the enemies of God, Christ loved us and died for us, welcoming us as children of God.  Amen!

Friends, it’s that love when it sits on us that actually frees us to not just admire the words of Jesus, but to live them.  And that’s the calling.  I’m convinced that there will be opportunities for you this week that you think are meant to destroy you, but what God wants to do is develop you.  So I’m going to invite you to have one phrase in mind this week:  Opposition is my Opportunity.  When I’m wronged—somebody cuts me off in traffic or cuts in front of me at a grocery store. . . .opposition is my opportunity.  When I’m criticized or somebody speaks negatively against me or maybe says something that’s even untrue about me. . . . .opposition is my opportunity.  When I’m taken advantage of, when I’m not thanked, when I feel like I just got run over. . . .opposition is my opportunity.  When I’m hated, not because of anything I’ve done, but because of who I am. . . . opposition is my opportunity.  Maybe in that opportunity we deliver a cup of cold water or a kind word in return.  When your head and your heart are not consumed with hate, you are free to love, and when you love, you’ve never looked more like Jesus in your life.

If your looking for a few ideas of what this looks like, I commend to you Bob Goff’s work, Everybody Always.  A friend gave me this book recently and I read it.  There are a number of stories in it that I could share with you of Bob Goff going into jails in Uganda and ministering to witch doctors and all sorts of crazy things.  But there was one story, for me, that stood out.  It was the story of Bob Goff going to teach at a church in Texas.  He was away from his wife and was hurrying to get back to his home and wife.  He was running late.  He was returning a rental car and chose the line that he thought would move the quickest because it was the shortest.  As he got stuck in that line, he realized it might have been the shortest because the guy at the counter was the most incompetent person on the face of the planet.  Bob tells the story of sitting in his car wrestling, impatiently. . . . .I chose the wrong line. . . .this guy, this moron. . . . .all these things going through his head.  Jesus does some work in his heart and his life as he sits in this line.  He gets to the front of the line and the guy says, “How was your trip?”  Bob says that there were a lot of things he wanted to say.  He responded, “I had a great time.  The car was awesome.  You’re awesome.  Airplanes are awesome.  Life is awesome.  I hope you have a great day!”  He missed his plane.  He was walking through the airport and he heard these feet come up behind him and felt this finger tap his shoulder.  He turned around and here’s the guy from that line.  The guy looks at him and says, “Mr. Goff, I just want you to know that I was at church today, and that sermon that you gave was the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard.  Thank you so much,” and he walked away.

We don’t choose who we love, we just choose how.  We never know how God might use that to change somebody’s life, to change somebody’s eternity, and also to change us.  So Jesus, I pray that this week, you would help us see opposition as our opportunity.  That in the great words of Martin Luther King, Jr., that we’d recognize,  “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  That you would make us people of great influence, not because we have the most power, not because we have the majority, but just simply because we live in ridiculous, radical love.  Would you transform our lives and the lives of the people around us by it, we pray.  In Jesus’ name. . . .Amen.

Sermon on the Mount | Kingdom Re-Action | Matthew 5:38-45 | Week 72020-08-20T15:46:42-06:00

4 Days that Changed the World | The Turning Point | John 12:20-36 | Week 1

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We are starting a new series today that we are calling “4 Days That Changed the World.” Sometimes a walk has a way of changing things. I did a wedding yesterday — those doors in the back of the worship center opened, and a bride walked down the aisle to be received by her groom. Anecdotally, it was a ‘Cook’ marrying a ‘Hunter.’ By the end of the wedding, it was two had become one. Some walks change everything. March 21, 1965: Martin Luther King, Jr., and a number of his civil rights workers with him, left from the city of Selma, Alabama to march to Montgomery, to fight for the right for African-Americans to vote. They’d been turned back two times already, but this time they had the backing of President Johnson. He had given his support to the march. Instead of having armed guards there to turn them back, they were there to protect the marchers as they embarked on a 54-mile walk. When they got to Montgomery, Dr. King gave one of his most famous speeches. It was summarized by the phrase “How Long, Not Long.” In that speech he said, “Like an idea whose time has come, not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. We are moving to the land of freedom.” On August 6, 1965, African-Americans were given the right to vote in this country.

Some marches change everything. It was March 29, AD 33. Jesus of Nazareth got on the back of a colt to ride into Jerusalem. We call it ‘The Triumphal Entry.’ It started the clock ticking on a week that has changed the world that we live in. Maybe in more ways than we recognize, that week changed everything! The reason you have Sundays off as part of your weekend? It’s because Jesus rose from the grave on a Sunday. It used to be that followers of Christ, until Christianity was the religion in the Roman empire, would go to church before work, early in the morning, before the sun came up, to worship, then go to work. Because Sunday was just like every other day in the week. THIS changed everything! We now have a weekend. It changed more than that. Over the next few messages, we’re going to wrestle with these four days, these 96 hours that changed the world. My hope is that over the next week, the Spirit of God invites you into this story to know it better, but maybe knowing IT better, we would be known. That we might not just regurgitate it and the facts of what happened. We’re going to wrestle with questions like: Why did Jesus die? Why did Jesus have to die? Who killed Jesus? Who did Jesus “pay off” for the debt of sin? What was that all about? Please come back. We’re going to wrestle with a new type of influence. . . .an influence of love. We’re going to talk about ‘he descended to the dead’ or ‘he descended to hell.’ What does that mean? On Easter morning, we’re going to celebrate the fact that what Jesus does on Easter morning changes definitively the world we live in. It’s a march that changes everything.

As I was preparing and reading through some of the gospel accounts, I was struck by if you take the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and you start to read them, you’ll notice something really interesting. This one week, this Holy Week as we call it, beginning with the Triumphal Entry and culminating with resurrection from the dead. . . . .if Jesus lived 33 years, which is roughly what most scholars would say he lived, this is 1/1716th of his life. Which, if you’re doing the math, is .06% of Jesus’s life. That’s a small percentage. But if you read through the gospels, you’ll start to recognize that they seem to put an awful lot of emphasis on this one week. It’s .06% of Jesus’s life, but it’s 33% of the gospels. From the time of the Triumphal Entry forward. I’m not even including times that Jesus definitively says, “I’m pointing my face towards Jerusalem,” or he starts to talk about the cross. I’m starting the timer when he walks into Jerusalem on the back of the donkey. Thirty-three percent of our gospel narrative is this one week. That’s amazing!

You might be asking the question: Why is it so important? Glad you asked that. Open your Bible with me to the gospel of John 12. Jesus is going to begin to tell us why this week is so important, why this week is going to change the world. We want to listen to the words of Jesus and the teachings of Jesus today, and sort of let these 96 hours just press in on us a little bit. John 12:27 then we’ll jump back to the beginning of this story to see it for its whole. Listen to why Jesus says it’s so important: Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? {Quick timeout. I love that the gospel writers are going to include for us these moments of Jesus’s humanity. He’s looking at what he’s walking into, and like you or I, he says I am troubled. His soul is in turmoil. He asks a rhetorical question then.} Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. The reason I’m clothed in humanity, the reason I’m walking the face of the earth, the reason the incarnation happened is for THIS MOMENT. Everything has been coming and leading up to this. . . .like little streams that eventually merge into a river. . . .Jesus goes this is what it’s all about. Jesus’s turn towards the cross turns the world upside down. Today we’re going to look at sixteen verses in the gospel of John where Jesus lays out, for us, sort of a methodology why we can say this with confidence. Why did these 96 hours, why did these four days, why did this week change it all? He goes, “Let me tell you.”

Let’s go back to verse 20, because that’s where this story begins. Jesus’s turn towards the cross, and his resurrection. . . .so we’re seeing that as an entire event, turns the world upside down. Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. {I think they chose Philip because he was also a Greek.} “Sir,” they said, “we would like to Jesus.” {Underline or star that in your Bible. It’s going to be important and we’ll come back to that in a few moments.} Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single see. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify you name!” Then a voice came from heaven, {Timeout! This only happens three times in the gospels, so it’s sort of important. Often, we just read right over things in the Bible without trying to put ourselves in the picture of people who are just standing there going, “What in the world is going on??”} “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.”

What is going on? They begin by saying ‘We want to see Jesus,’ and Jesus says ‘Oh, you’ll see me alright.’ He goes into this almost riddle-laden teaching about his cross. But notice what he wants to address first. Verse 23 — The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Jesus says, “Here’s what you’re going to see. You’re going to see the Son of Man glorified. Father, glorify your name.” He says, “I have glorified it,” talking about his life, “and I will glorify it again.” Most people who study the Scriptures say that Jesus is unequivocally declaring that the cross is THE picture of God’s glory. Which is astounding!!

This word ‘glory’ has a lot of history to it. If you were to be a good Jewish person, your immediate thought would be going to the book of Exodus 33, where Moses, arguably one of the best leaders the nation of Israel had ever seen, asked to see God’s glory. God, let me see your glory. God says I’d love to show you my glory, but it would kill you! We’ve got a little problem here. So how about you just look at my backside after I pass by. Or your mind, as a good Jewish person, would be drawn to Psalm 19:1 — The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. This word ‘glory’ could literally be translated ‘weightiness.’ If you took a pebble and threw it into a lake, you’d get to see its glory by how much water it displaced. If you took a boulder and threw it into a lake, you’d get to see its glory by how much water it displaced. It’s a way of talking about majesty. It’s a way of talking about beauty. So Psalm 19 says if you go out in the evening and look up in the sky and try to count the stars, it’s a little bit like taking in God’s majesty, his glory, his beauty.

But when Jesus says that the Son of Man will be glorified, talking about the cross, it changes everything. It changes the entire view of what we think of when we think about God, but also about what we think about when we think about glory. What Jesus is saying, what the Triune God is saying, if you want to see what I’m like, in all of my glory, in all of my weightiness, in all of my splendor, and in all of my beauty, then you cannot look passed Golgotha. You cannot look passed Calvary. That’s where you see, ultimately and definitively, what I’m like. Every other picture of God’s glory is subsidiary to the cross. We go that doesn’t make any sense, that God would show his beauty, his majesty, his power through the cross?!? Yeah, I know. Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist, echoes our lament and questions about that: “I don’t see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on a cross as worthy of grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it’s going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible.” To Richard Dawkins, I’d say, “What’s more incomprehensible than the cross?” I think he nailed it, unknowingly to him. This is the upside down world that Jesus invites us into. Friends, Jesus is the exact radiance of the glory of God (Hebrews 1:3). The glory of God is best displayed, according to the gospel of John, on the cross. That’s where you see him most fully. If you read through the New Testament, it’s going to be really clear that the cross is the wisdom, and the power, and the glory of God.

So why does this week change the world? It exposes the reality that God’s glory is sacrificial love. So glory’s this word about weightiness, but the word ‘glorify’ is a little bit different. It’s the request. When Jesus says glorify your name, he’s saying put your glory on display. Let everyone see it. Literally in the Greek, it means ‘to recognize the real substance of something.’ Where you go, oh, so that’s what that’s like. That’s what that tastes like. That’s what that means.

Anybody else like the show “Fixer Upper” on HGTV? Chip and Joanna Gaines go into these houses that look like yours and mine, and then they turn them into houses that don’t look like yours and mine. They do all sorts of remodeling and make it awesome. There’s this moment at the end of the show where they have this big banner in front of the house, and there’s a picture on the banner of what the house used to look like. They have a big reveal. {Are you ready to see your fixer-upper?!} They pull back the curtain and the couple gets to see their new house. You know what they’re doing? They’re glorifying it. They’re displaying it. They’re letting all of its beauty shine forth.

What if the trinitarian God is looking at the cross going that’s it! That’s what we are like. He’s echoing what early church creed would have said, and Paul records it for us in Philippians 2:6-7. Here’s the way this creed read: (Jesus Christ) Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; {Paul is saying that the way that Jesus characterizes God, displays God, glorifies God, is not by coming and powerfully suppressing those under him. He could have done that but he didn’t He actually showed us what God is like by emptying himself.} rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. He doesn’t empty himself of God, he empties himself of grasping and displays what God is like. That’s good. {You can write this down.} The cross is not something God does, the cross reveals who God is. The cross reveals what God is ultimately like. The cross is showing us forgiveness extended to all. Love for enemies put on display. Hope for the hurting held out. Relationship with God ultimately and finally restored. This is what your God is like.

I know a lot of people who want to “live for the glory of God.” That’s so up-in-the-air that we have no idea what that means. Can we just agree with that? I’m a fan of the Westminster Confession that says the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. To that I say praise the Lord, but let’s define glorify. And let’s define it like the Scriptures do. What if we looked at it as the chief end of man is to selflessly love which allows us to enjoy a God who is love. What if we actually defined what we’re talking about and sunk our feet into the ground that we actually walk on and say well, this is what it actually looked like for Jesus and this is what it looks like for us. So he’s transforming the world. This is what glory looks like, this is what God looks like. Self-giving, sacrificial love for those who are distant and obstinate towards him. That’s who God is. That’s what God is like. {You can say Amen if you’d like to.}

Listen to John 12:23-26 — Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. {I can imagine Jesus being a great rabbi—being witty, being funny, using props and all the things around him—picking up a stalk of wheat and putting it in between his hands, rubbing it, and it falling to the ground. He’s making this point: The rhythms of grace are sown into the soil of creation. Every time you see a seed go into the ground and come out with more life than it went into, you’re seeing something that God has wired into his world. That’s awesome.} Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

What’s Jesus saying? Should we read this literally? Literally, Jesus says that we should hate our lives. Well, he also teaches that the Golden Rule is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you hate your life, literally, and want to harm your own life and your own self, then that command doesn’t make a lot of sense. Can we agree on that? Jesus is using hyperbole; he’s going to the nth degree to make a point. He’s saying you’ve got to surrender your own life, and in doing so, find what it means to actually, truly, genuinely live. That’s his point. He’s not calling you to be a sadomasochist. He’s actually inviting you to be a hedonist. He’s going this is what real life looks like.

January 7, 2007, The New York Times Magazine ran an article about a study they had done. They were trying to figure out what makes people happy. They called this article “Happiness 101.” They found that the people who were trying to just live for pleasure, to live for the next high, to live for the next newest thing, were actually some of the most unhappy people they studied. You know why that makes sense? We’ve all seen it. Here’s what they decided. . . .if that type of please is our ultimate goal, it keeps distancing itself from becoming a reality. You get something and it satisfies temporarily, but then you need just a little bit more in order to make yourself happy the next time. You need a little bit newer car, you need a little bit nicer, a little bit brighter, a little bit shinier, a little bit bigger… All of that and we’re on this treadmill that keeps getting pushed up, up, up, more, more, more, bigger, bigger, bigger, brighter, brighter, brighter, and soon we’re running so fast that we can’t even keep up. The study found that we become addicted to our own pleasures and the need for it keeps growing until it outgrows our capacity to feed it. You have to do more and more to be satisfied, they said. According to this study, the best way to increase happiness is to do acts of selfless kindness, to pour yourself out to those who are in need. Research shows that an unselfish life of service gives a sense of meaning, of being useful and valuable, and of having significance.

Jesus is like hey, look up at me! That took you 2000 years? I was telling you that!!! Come on! That’s exactly what he’s inviting us to. . . .the life where we lay down ours and find what it means to really, truly live. He says it like this in Mark 8:34-35 — Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. {In the same way that Jesus uses an illustration about a stalk of wheat and seed that goes into the ground, he’s using a saying from the day. ‘To take up your cross and follow’ was to say I’m going to place myself under the authority of the Roman empire. I’m going to surrender to them. I’m going to submit to them. What they ask of me, I will do. So, when people talked about carrying their cross—which they did back in Jesus’s day—they were talking about a surrender to the empire. When Jesus says take up your cross and follow me, he’s inviting them to surrender, not to an empire, but to a kingdom. Live in my way.} For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. Taking up your cross is essentially saying back to God, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

When Jesus turns toward Jerusalem, he turns the world upside down, because he reveals that death is actually the path to life. You have to hear me on this, Jesus is not calling us to look at the cross and admire the cross. He’s asking us to look at the cross and emulate it, to live in the same way. It’s not hey, Jesus, that was great. He’s like wonderful, will you do the same? You follow me in this. Look at how he does this. In John 12:21, there’s these Greeks that come to Jesus and they say we want to see you. He’s like, great, you’re going to see me lifted up in all of my glory, but my goal is not just that you SEE me. That’s important, but it doesn’t end there. My goal is that you FOLLOW me. That’s my goal.

Unfortunately, because we live in a world that’s twisted and permeated with sin, we’ve seen this idea of laying down your cross and dying to yourself abused, and taken advantage of. Where people in position of power try to manipulate other people and say well, you’ve got to die to yourself, which actually really means to live to my desires, not yours. But when Jesus invites us and calls us to die ourself, he’s calling us to die TO ourselves, not to a death OF ourselves. {Lean in for a moment.} In order to die to ourselves, we’ve got to first KNOW ourselves. Otherwise, we will just die to ourselves and live to what everybody else wants us to do! I love the way John Calvin puts it in the beginning of Institutes of Christian Religion: “Nearly all the wisdom which we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” If we don’t know ourselves, we will die to ourselves and live to whatever anybody else wants us to do. Let me ask a question: Is that what we see Jesus doing? NO! Absolutely not! Nobody wanted Jesus to do the things that he did. It’s the reason he was crucified. He gave them what they needed, he didn’t give them what they wanted. He lived to the Father’s will, not to their will.

Death to self looks like something different to every person in this room. For the people pleaser, death to self looks like becoming a truth-teller in some instances. For the fearful, death to self means embracing a life of faith and maybe a little bit of risk. To the stingy, death to self means becoming generous. To those who’ve been sitting on the sidelines, death to self means jumping in and taking that risk, going a little bit extroverted when your natural tendency is introverted. . . .or the opposite, right? To those who’ve been working their fingers to the bone and feeling like their soul is shriveling, can I just tell you, that’s not what God wants for you. That is not death to self, that’s not knowing self and living to whatever anybody wants you to do. Death to self might mean saying “NO!” Or, to some, death to self might be saying, “I don’t know.” A surrender of pride. A surrender of ‘I’ve gotta have my own way.’ To the adventurous, death to self might mean planting yourself firmly in the soil of community and staying, and being known, and going against some of the natural desires and the natural tendencies. Death to self is laying aside everything else and saying, God, what do you want from me? Not my will, but yours be done. Jesus says something really beautiful happens when we do that. . . .it actually allows us to really, truly, fully live. Which is what he’s after. . . . .you want to hold onto your life, you want to control everything? It’s going to kill you! But if you’ll let me, you’ll find out what it means to really, truly live.

It’s something hard to diagnose in ourselves. Have I died to myself? Let me ask you a few diagnostic questions that could help. How often do you get offended? We live in an easily offended culture and world, don’t we? We get offended at everything! It’s like a sport sometimes! I would submit that maybe you’re not dead in the way that Jesus invites you to be, if you’re often offended, because I think that’s pride showing. How often do you find yourself defending yourself? How often do you feel sorry for yourself and wallow in self-pity? I’m right, how dare they! I deserve fill-in-the-blank. How do you respond when you don’t get your way? How often do you say “I’m sorry,” and not I’m sorry you’re a moron and didn’t understand what I was really trying to say, which is sometimes how we do it, right? Did you say sorry? Yeah, technically, I did!

What do we do with this? Here’s the truth of the matter: you cannot die to self by trying harder. You can’t! You can die to yourself by training better. So, if you were to train, what does this look like to release a little piece of ourself? The Christian community, for centuries, has said a good practice of learning how to do this is fasting. We don’t do that often in our culture, but it’s a great way to learn how to just. . . .in a little bit, one day, or one meal, die to self. You go, if I did that I’d be really hungry. Well, that’s part of the point! We can take that hunger and put it back to a God who says I’ll satisfy you and we can release some of our desires and take on his. Or maybe, you embrace what the early fathers would call a posture of simplicity or frugality. Maybe this week you don’t go out to dinner at all. Or maybe this week, you decide to not go to the store and just live off of what you have in your house. {Look up at me.} Most of us have enough, in our house, to live off of until Jesus comes back! You go, well, I wouldn’t get to eat anything that I want to eat! That’s the point! So we’re training ourselves to die to some of our desires and to step into the way of Jesus, where he says death to some of our desires and our pride and us, is actually where life is found. That teaching changes the world. Here’s a quote by Jan Johnson, who wrote An Invitation to a Jesus Life: “Does ‘death to self’ sound too hard? It’s easier than living for self.”

Here’s how Jesus continues (John 12:31) — Now is the time for judgment on this world… We have this visceral response to this word ‘judgment,’ because we probably picture somebody with a sign on a street corner…. We picture something like fire. . . . .I don’t know what’s in your mind, but we typically have a step-back response. What I’d like to present to you today is the way that Jesus talks about judgment we should all go “YES!” Finally! Because listen to what he says. . . .judgment has two parts to it. The first part (he’s talking about judgment): Now the prince of this world will be driven out. That’s great news. He’s talking about the Satan, he’s talking about sin, he’s talking about death, he’s talking about evil. He’s presenting sin, death, and evil, personified in the Satan, with an eviction notice ‘You’re done!’ That’s great news. Paul will recount that in Colossians 2:13-15. I’d encourage you to read the whole section, but he finishes in verse 15 by saying that by the cross he’s forgiven us, he’s taken our debt, he’s cancelled it out, and he’s disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. What’s his judgment? His judgment is this is not the good world that I created, and I’m turning it back to that world. I’m kicking the Satan, the Evil One, the one who’s behind systems of oppression, and racism, and manipulation, and keeping the low on the bottom and propping the higher up higher and higher. . . . .he’s like, I’m kicking the Evil One out! Literally, in the Greek, it’s exorcizing him. He’s throwing him out for being over us. We haven’t lived with him over us, so I don’t think we get the full weight of all that that means. Suffice to say, it’s doesn’t mean the devil’s defeat doesn’t always mean the devil’s absence. So we have this tension of what’s going on and we’ll talk about it more in a few weeks.

The second thing Jesus says is just as fascinating. . . .all in the context of judgment: And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. This is judgment. This is awesome! The cross is driving out evil and drawing in people. It’s driving out evil and it’s drawing in people. How many people? Jesus says all of them. 1 John 2:2 says that he’s atoned for the sins of the world, especially for those who believe. The sins of the world! In 2 Corinthians 5:19, it says that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. He’s drawing all people to him. Does it mean that every path leads to Jesus? No, but it does mean that people on every path are led to Jesus. His blood, and his death, and his life, and his resurrection is sufficient for every single person. We have this picture of judgment that’s presented as restoration. The word ‘judge’ literally means ‘to separate.’ It’s God looking at the world that he created, the world that he loves, and it’s him saying these things are right, these things are wrong.

People that live in a culture that’s been suppressed far more than ours has, long for the day of judgment. The day of judgment is like going into your chiropractor, and saying you have a kink in your neck. He looks at it and says that you do, that you’re all out of whack. He tells you to relax your head for a moment. How many of you find it really hard to relax your head in that moment because you know he’s about to break you? Judgment feels like he’s going to break us sometimes. Judgment is God looking at humanity, taking our head and saying relax, this might hurt a little bit, but you’re out of joint, you’re out of place, you’re not walking in the way I created you to walk. So. . . . .CRACK! That’s better. That’s judgment. If we don’t want to be bent, it feels like a fire. If we’re willing to surrender, it feels like refinement. But either way, it’s love. It’s love through and through, it just depends on whether you want to swim up that stream or get in line with it, but either way it’s love. Driving out evil—-if we aren’t ready to let go of our evil, we will be driven out with it—-and drawing in people. So, now when people ask you if you believe that God is a God of judgment, you can say, “ABSOLUTELY! Isn’t that great news?” Then you can explain: According to the gospel of John, Jesus is really clear. Judgment is driving out evil and drawing in people.

Here’s how Jesus closes: The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?” {They’re just quoting back the Scriptures that say The government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end. (Isaiah 9:6-7) NO. END. They’re going, gods don’t die, they reign. You’ve got this wrong Jesus. Here’s what Jesus says.} Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.

He’s going listen, you have this opportunity in front of you. You’ve got this picture of what God is like: sacrificial love, it is his glory. You’ve got this picture of the path that he’s called you to walk: death as a way of abundant life. And you have this picture of God: restoring his good creation, driving out evil, drawing in people. He says, believe it. Believe it! Believe that light. Walk in that light, and in so doing become children of that light. I pray that we would. It’s just one day in the midst of many. But it’s one day that began a domino effect that changed the world.

So for 2000 years, followers of Jesus have been gathering around a table to remind themselves that the sacrificial love of God is his glory on display. To remind themselves of the path that they’re also invited to walk, of death to self and finding what it means to really, truly live. They talked about a cross that bids us come and die and find that I might truly live. As we come to the table this morning, would you remember his cross, not just to admire it, but as you come would you come with the anticipation of God, how do you want me to live this? Would you come and taste his sacrificial glory? And would you come saying, oh yeah, that illumination, that light is an invitation that I respond to today. If you’re not a follower of Jesus, I invite you to believe and step into the light, and come to this table.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s march ended with the right to vote. But Jesus’s march into Jerusalem ends with eternal life. Let’s come and let’s celebrate that light and that life together. {Ryan gives specific communion instructions.}

4 Days that Changed the World | The Turning Point | John 12:20-36 | Week 12021-03-29T11:31:54-06:00
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