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Last week, Pastor Mike told us that there were some men trying to add to the Gospel. There was such dissension between this new idea introduced that the brethren decided clarification from the church in Jerusalem was needed so they sent Paul and Barnabas back to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas take advantage of the opportunity and continue sharing the good news of Gentile conversions as they make their way back to Jerusalem through Phoenicia and Samaria. We left last week with some Pharisees saying that circumcision and observing the Law of Moses was necessary for salvation. This morning, we’ll look at the argument and see the decision made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.

Our passage for today comes from Acts 15:6-29. Take the time and read this great passage.

Here’s the argument. For years, civilized society has engaged in debate. There are a number of hot topics in the news today. Gun control in light of school shootings. entitlements. Abortion. Race and religion. Social Justice. The push to remove historic monuments that seem to offend a few. Immigration. Open borders. Sanctuary cities. Debates also find their way into the church. Traditional vs. contemporary worship which I always find amusing given that singing and music are elements of worship. Baptism as a requirement for salvation and then is it by immersion or is sprinkling okay. What translation of the Bible is the approved one. Free will vs. predestination. Chairs vs. pews. Tile vs. carpet. What color a wall will be painted. Obviously, there are matters of preference that really can’t be effectively debated because it’s based on personal opinion.

That’s not quite the issue facing Paul and Barnabas. Some men have come alongside them, not to assist or help, but to challenge them on what they know to be true. I assure you folks, there is room in the church for healthy, honest, soul searching debate on matters of Scripture. Your pastors do not have a corner on the market for understanding the Bible and as we grow, our knowledge and understanding of the Bible grows as well. The same is true for you. Unfortunately, many times in debating topics of Scripture, there is a side that comes to the table without that understanding of Scripture. People that have been in the church a long time want to impart what they believe to be true. Notice I said have been in the church a long time, not necessarily walking with God a long time. So here we have some men that have come against the simplicity of the Gospel. The matter before the apostles and elders is this question: how are gentiles assimilated into the faith community? For the Jewish Christians, they believed that Gentiles should be circumcised and follow Mosaic Law. Any Gentile converting to Judaism was required to follow the Law, that’s the way it’s always been. The first Christian converts were Jews, right? So here we have the dilemma. Should Gentile converts to Christianity submit to Jewish requirements, particularly circumcision? How can Jews and Gentile converts live together in a faith family?

Paul and Barnabas head back to Jerusalem to get the answer to this question. Luke says, “The apostles and elders came together to look into this matter.” Luke leaves out all the specific aspects of the debate but there, “was much debate.” I’m sure that arguments from both sides were taken up. There was point/counter-point. There was passion and I’m sure some elevated speech patterns. Peter, who we have not heard from in a while, stands up and provides the following answer. Look at vs. 7-11.

There are a number of very important aspects of Peter’s answer. First, he shares that he was the one chosen by God to deliver the message of salvation to the Gentiles. Peter mentions, “In the early days.” Remember in Chapter 10 that Peter was sent to Cornelius opening the door to widespread Gentile evangelism. That was about ten years earlier. Every nation is welcome at the foot of the cross. Every tribe, every tongue, every background, every socioeconomic class of people can find forgiveness through the Messiah, through Jesus Christ! In God’s eyes, there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile. Hearts receive cleansing by faith, not by ceremony. Peter asks the rhetorical question, “Why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” That yoke of bondage, of keeping the law, didn’t work for our forefathers, why do you think it will work now? We couldn’t keep the Law, the people before us couldn’t keep the Law, why do you expect people today to keep the Law? Peter is reminding them of the inadequacy of the Law to affect salvation because no one could keep the Law. Jesus even addressed this in Matt. 11:29-30 when He said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Peter doesn’t hesitate when he says, “But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” Grace is unmerited favor. Your Jewish lineage won’t save you. Your ceremony won’t save you. Your Law won’t save you. Remember that Peter is speaking from personal experience. He has tasted the freedom found in Christ. He has been delivered from the bondage of the Law and has been set free by the power of the Holy Spirit to preach a message of redemption to all people. Salvation is by grace through faith! Peter gives the proverbial salvation mic drop. The liveliness of the debate was over and the people sat in stunned silence. At some point when Peter finishes, Paul and Barnabas talk about, “The signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.” The apostolic response is not over. After Peter shared from his personal experience and Paul and Barnabas share, James gets up and says, “Brethren, listen to me.” Referring to this Jerusalem conference in Gal. 1:19, Paul said he saw, “James, the Lord’s brother.” In Gal. 2:9, Paul said that James, Peter, and John were pillars of the church at Jerusalem. It looks like James has taken on the role of the leading elder at Jerusalem.

Look at vs. 14-18. James provides scriptural evidence to support what Paul and Barnabas were teaching. James calls on the prophets Amos and Jeremiah. He shares truths from Moses, Isaiah, and Daniel to help the Jews understand what is happening regarding the Gentiles. Remember, this is all new to them. James has established from Scripture, the handbook for all things in Christianity, that Gentiles and Jews are one in Messiah. Here’s what James says, “Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles.” The only restriction to membership was that Gentiles accept Jesus by grace through faith. Of course, that’s the same restriction now. Anticipating some possible push back from the Jews, James issues what has been called apostolic decrees. Since Gentiles were not required to keep the Law as the Jews thought they should, these decrees were designed to allow fellowship between Jews and Gentiles.

There are four decrees in James’ conclusion to the matter: “We write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.” Three decrees are ceremonial and are no brainers for a Jew. They were a huge part of their daily lifestyle. Abstain from food offered to idols. Idolatry was absolutely detestable to a Jew and the devout Jew would want to stay far away from this. Abstain from what is strangled.    This referred to any process of killing an animal that did not remove all the blood. Jews could not and would not eat an animal that still contained blood. Abstain from blood. This falls in the same category as the previous one. Don’t consume the blood of any animal. Blood was considered sacred to them. There is one decree left that has to do with the moral code. Abstain from fornication. This is also translated sexual immorality. In a nutshell, any sexual activity outside the confines of biblical marriage is prohibited. The reasons for this are many and if we adhered to this principle, much heartache could be avoided in our lives. As long as Gentiles followed these four decrees, fellowship between them and Jews would be possible. If you’re thinking, hold on, aren’t there many, many more principles to follow? The short answer is yes. The issue being brought to Jerusalem is fellowship. Jews were arguing that they couldn’t have fellowship with Gentiles on the fundamental premise of ritual Law. They weren’t talking about the fundamental principles of holy living which can be assumed based on what we’ve already since throughout Acts. That’s likely why James said this in conclusion: “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

What’s the effect? I love how we conclude this potentially explosive situation. The first part of v. 22 says, “Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church.” The conclusion to the issue was satisfactory with everyone involved. I wish that all debates ended this well. The varying positions and opinions were evaluated. A conclusion was made and was agreed upon by the leadership of the church and the church as a whole. Perhaps you’ve seen a church wide debate that didn’t end so well. Lines of division are drawn and no one is willing to see the other side, no one is willing to evaluate the issue based on the illumination of Scripture. Unfortunately, many times in the modern church, the issue is not a matter of Scripture, but a matter of personal preference. Again, too many times, those stronger voices will not stop after a decision has been made by leadership. Some in the church think their voice is the only voice that matters and if things do not go their way, then all hell will break loose in the church. On behalf of all the pastors and leaders at Three Rivers, we will not let unbiblical behavior go unchecked, we will not allow unholy or ungodly attitudes prevail. Yes, we will listen, we will pray, we will search the Scriptures, we will consider varying viewpoints and experience, we will labor over decisions, but we will not compromise on the truth of Scripture. Now, what of matters that we find are not as clear as others. That is where we will wait. If we don’t know or aren’t sure, we will commit to pray. So, here’s what they did. The church chose, “men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas – Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, and they sent this letter by them.” Much like we do when an issue arises, we’ll send an email, put something in the Current, post it on Facebook, or anything to get the word out about a policy implementation or a change to how we have been doing things or what we’ll do from here on out. That’s exactly what the Jerusalem church did with this issue.

The letter they sent is found in vs. 23-29.

An issue was raised by people in the church at Antioch. There was dissention among the people and they decided they needed insight from the church in Jerusalem. The points were argued and after hearing the issue, a decision was made by the leading elder and leading apostle based on the truth of Scripture. A policy letter was sent to the church at Antioch and if the people will follow the apostolic decrees as well as the other Scripture they have available, he says they will do well. What about you? How do you respond when problems arise? Are your problems a scriptural issue or a preference issue? When issues arise, and they will, if you handle them in a biblical manner, following biblical principles of behavior, holiness, and godliness, I assure you, it will be well with you.

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The Opposition

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Last week, Pastor Mike told us that a large number of Jews and Gentiles responded to the Gospel message Paul preached in Iconium. But there were some unbelieving Jews that stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against Paul and his colleagues. Paul’s preaching divided the city with some supporting the Jews and some supporting the apostles. A plot was formed to stone our dear brothers and they fled for their lives, but they continued to preach the Gospel. This morning, our missionaries end up in Lystra and we pick up the story with Paul preaching the truth.

Our passage today comes from Acts 14:8-20. Grab your Bible and take a look at it.

The stage is set and the narrative picks up with Paul already in Lystra. We don’t see him entering the synagogue which leads many to conclude there was no synagogue in this Roman colony. Paul encounters a man that is described three ways. He, “had no strength in his feet.” He was, “lame from his mother’s womb.” He, “had never walked.” Just to make sure we all understand: this man never enjoyed getting from one place to another on his own. He relied on other people to help him. The man is sitting somewhere that he can hear Paul speaking, but we don’t know the setting in which this takes place. At some point, Paul looks out into the crowd and locks eyes with the man. The man was listening, he was paying attention to what Paul was saying. As Paul is gazing into the man’s eyes, he recognizes the lame man’s faith.

We throw that word around a lot in the church. Faith is belief to the extent of complete trust and reliance. We put our faith in many things. The government. Teachers, coaches, schools, police officers, doctors, the military, cars, and other people. We find it so easy to trust these people; we find it easy to trust organizations and businesses. Is our faith as strong when it comes to God as it is with our kid’s coaches and teachers? I’m not saying don’t trust these folks, but I think we often have blind faith in these people. I think it’s safe to paint with a broad brush and say in most cases, coaches and teachers and police officers and government officials can be trusted. We’ve got many teachers right here as part of our faith family and I assure you, they love your kids and have their best interests in mind.

Does our faith in God compare with our faith in humans? I think of all the times I’ve counseled with people that have been hurt by others. Relationships that have gone awry. Family members estranged refusing to talk with one another. Unresolved anger and bitterness in the workplace. Friends gossiping about friends. Time and time again, people let us down that rightfully causes us to mistrust others, but often we find ourselves drawn back into those painful situations. God has never been involved in a scandal. We don’t have anywhere in recorded history where He does not do what He says He will do. We have nowhere written where God acts based on impulse or whim. Why do we find it easy to trust others and so difficult to trust God?

Whatever Paul was saying resonated with this lame man and Paul recognized his, “faith to be made well.” This is the third time in Acts that we see lameness healed. Remember the lame man in Chapter 3 that was laid at the Gate Beautiful that was healed by Peter. Then there was Aeneas that had been paralyzed for eight years in Chapter 9 that was healed by Peter. The result for all three is the same: Paul says, “Stand upright to your feet.” The man, “leaped up and began to walk.” Do you find it curious that he didn’t have to learn to walk. No shakiness, no tentative steps, no falling down, no trying to catch his balance, he miraculously, “leaped up and began to walk.” The response of the people in Lystra differs dramatically from the healings I just mentioned. In Chapter 3, the people, “Were filled with wonder and amazement.” (Acts 3:10) In Chapter 9, the people, “Turned to the Lord.” (Acts 9:35) But here in Lystra, “they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” Get the picture in your mind. The lame man is healed and the people raised their voices and began shouting. I’m sure there were looks of amazement, shock, awe, and wonder. They shout out in their native language, but there’s just one problem with that. Paul and Barnabas don’t speak Lycaonian. They didn’t know what was being said.

The people called, “Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.” Zeus is the legendary Greek god of the universe, ruler of the skies and the earth. The Greeks considered him the god of all natural phenomena; the personification of the laws of nature; the ruler of all things and the father of all gods. He had a Roman equivalent named Jupiter. Hermes was Zeus’ attendant and spokesman. Legend has it that he was the son of Zeus and Maia. His Roman equivalent was known as Mercury, the fleet of foot protector of travelers, thieves, and athletes that was able to move freely between the land of mortal and the land of the gods. Luke doesn’t say, but I bet the people began bowing down to Paul and Barnabas. I’m sure our Apostles thought the people’s response was strange, but they really began to understand when, “The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.” The people witnessed the miraculous healing of the lame man and concluded that the gods have become like men and are standing right in front of them. The false, pagan priest of the pagan god Zeus comes from the pagan temple just outside the city and wants to offer pagan sacrifices to Paul who the pagan priest thought just had to be Hermes.

This action caused Paul and Barnabas such distress, “They tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” In our day and age, we often treat important people differently than we treat common folk. We tend to fawn over stars and big-time athletes and often are excited just to get a glimpse of someone famous. Paul did not appreciate being treated like this. He and Barnabas tore their robes as a sign of great distress and opposition to this inappropriate demonstration by the people.

In Paul’s mind, everything is clear. He and Barnabas are simply on a journey telling people about Jesus and demonstrating His power as they have opportunity. The people mistakenly think they are gods and begin worshiping them. I can picture Paul waving his arms and screaming, “we’re just men like you, stop this!” Paul explains by saying, we “preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all this is in them.” That’s Paul’s explanation. We’re just guys sharing the message of the Gospel. They worship, “vain things.” Empty worship. Worthless worship. Idolatrous worship of gods who were not gods. Paul goes on to say, “In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” This is the first time in Acts that a group of people like this are addressed. They are totally pagan. They believe in many false gods so Paul had to start at the beginning. One fundamental aspect of Christianity is that there is one God. He told them they needed to turn from idols to a singular, living God. Any religion that will transform men into gods is worthless. This principle was likely very strange to these people.

Paul gives three main points in this mini-message. First, God is the Creator of all that lives in the sea and on land. Second, Paul tells them of God’s mercies with past generations. If people wanted to walk away, God allowed it. We’ll see this more clearly in Acts 17:30. There is an indication that people acted in ignorance, but now they should know better. Third, God left proof of who He is. He still provided the rain that allowed food to grow that produced fruitful seasons that the people could be satisfied. This concept would not be foreign to these people of Lystra. There were writers of the day that spoke of divine providence of the gods, but the idea of only one true God would have rocked their world. One God was the source of all things natural; one God was the source of all things from heaven, one God that left proof of His involvement in the world. “Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.” As he’s speaking, the people are still thinking he and Barnabas are gods. It’s got to be frustrating for Paul. He’s telling them the truth of God, but they’re not picking it up. Paul is building a bridge between the creation and the Creator.   He’s trying to meet these people where they are. He’s trying to bring them to the place where they can know the one true God, but something interrupts his message.

Before Paul could proceed to the next phase of the message, “Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.” The religious left comes again against what God wants to do. Remember the Jews were jealous of the crowds at Pisidian Antioch that wanted to hear from Paul and Barnabas. Just a few weeks ago, we heard Pastor Zane tell us these same Jews, “incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.” (Acts 13:50) Last week we saw large numbers of people turning to the Lord such that, “The Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the gentiles and embittered them against the brethren.” (Acts 14:2) The Jews have been pursuing Paul and Barnaba because of the success they’ve had in turning people from a religion to a relationship with Christ. The Jews from Antioch and Iconium won over the crowds and then stone Paul and leave him for dead. This is a mob and they have a mob mentality – even if not everyone participated. The people that just witnessed the miraculous healing of the lame man; the people that just wanted to worship Paul and Barnabas are turned against them and gathered stones. Why Barnabas was not given the same treatment is not known. In a stoning, large boulders, as big as someone can pick up are thrown at the person. Those stones are hurled at Paul and the crowd thinks he’s dead and drag him out of the city. In a miraculous turn of events, “While the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city.”

You cannot stop what God wants to accomplish. You might be able to delay it, but it’s not really a delay because all things work in God’s timing. Paul is stoned to death, but not death. Undeterred, “The next day, he went away with Barnabas to Derbe.” What will become of our missionary heroes? Will they receive the same treatment in Derbe as they did in Lystra? Join us next week as we continue to watch the incredible events of the early church unfold.

Three Promises

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We’ll skip 13:1-12 because that was the passage Pastor Mike was to preach through on Feb. 25th but was away in Tennessee. Last week we enjoyed a wonderful anniversary service so if you’re wondering when we’ll cover those verses, we’ll circle back after Easter. This morning, we’ll look at a history lesson Paul gives in the synagogue.

Take a look at Acts 13:13-25.

Verse 13 says, “Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Pathos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; but John left them and returned to Jerusalem.” When they arrived in Perga, John Mark decided he’d head back to Jerusalem. Luke leaves out the details about why John Mark left and there has been much speculation. In Chapter 15 we’ll get some insight into the fallout resulting from this so we’ll wait until we get there to talk about John Mark. Luke continues by telling us Paul and his companions went, “on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch.” Again, Luke leaves out the details of this trip to a different Antioch. To get to Pisidian Antioch from Perga would have been an extremely difficult trip. I want to mention this because we have a tendency to forget the incredibly difficult journeys these biblical people went on in obedience to the Lord. The trip to Pisidian Antioch was about a 100 mile trip, on foot, over the Taurus Mountains on a very desolate route known for its danger. Luke simply says they go there and arrive.

We don’t know the day they arrived, but, “on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down.”We’ll see this pattern over and over again with Paul. His normal course of action is to be in the Synagogue on the Sabbath – even when he is not at home. This synagogue was the center of all the activity in the Jewish community. Back in the olden days, you’d have a church in the center of town and everything revolved around church on Sunday. Paul and his companions arrive and find their seats. The order of service in your typical synagogue followed the same pattern from week to week. Just like at 3RC, we typically have the same routine week after week – it’s not good or bad, or right or wrong, it’s what works for us. The synagogue was a bit more rigid. The service was generally divided into six parts and depending on who was there, some parts might not be done. One of the standard parts was the reading from the Law and the Prophets. So, “After the reading of the Law and the Prophets the synagogue officials sent to them, saying, “Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.” It’s kind of comical to ask a preacher of God’s Word if they have anything to say. Probably all the pastors here have had this happen when visiting a church out of town. Somehow word gets to the pastor that a visiting pastor is in the congregation and they might be invited to say something or offer a prayer. We don’t know the specifics, but Paul and his companions are invited to speak to the synagogue.

Paul delivers a message that focuses on three main promises. Notice immediately that he speaks to two groups: men of Israel and those that fear God. You’ll see some pointed remarks directed at each group as we read through the text. The first part is the promise God made to Israel. Look at vs. 16b-25. I want to highlight a couple of points. Notice that God chose the fathers of Israel and it was through His hand that they were delivered from Egyptian bondage. During the exodus from Egypt, the people were generally belly-achers, complainers, disobedient and just plain awful and because of this, God determined not to let any of them in the promised land. “For a period of 40 years,” Paul says, God “put up with them in the wilderness.” Paul reminded them how God destroyed the seven nations of the Hittites, the Gergashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. It was a battle of epic proportions and God was their deliverer. Then God distributed the land to the twelve tribes. Then after the land was distributed which took 450 years, God gave them judges until Samuel the Prophet came along. The people asked for a king and God gave them Saul. Saul lasted 40 years until David, a man after God’s own heart, ascended to the throne. Fast forward through the lineage of Jesus and Paul says, “According to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus.” John the Baptizer proclaimed that Jesus was coming and a baptism of repentance was available to all the people of Israel. John described Jesus as a man he wasn’t fit to untie His sandals. A quick history review from the Exodus to Jesus just as God promised Israel.

Paul’s second part reveals God’s promise fulfilled by Christ. Paul starts out again speaking to the two groups he calls, “Sons of Abraham’s family, and those among you who fear God.” “The message of this salvation has been sent.” He just said in v. 23, “According to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus.” Paul is systematically setting up what God has done in the history of Israel. God has demonstrated his mercy to Israel from Abraham to David. And don’t forget the promise made by Nathan to David in 2 Sam. 7:16, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” Don’t forget Matt. 1:1 where Jesus is called, “the son of David.” These facts are really important because of what Paul says next.

Look at what Luke says in vs. 27-31. This is the Gospel message and should be familiar to you if you’re a believer. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yes, the people killed Jesus out of ignorance as Acts 3:17 says, but those acts of ignorance fulfilled the prophecies that Messiah must suffer and die. What’s even more crazy is that Paul is talking to the people that should have recognized Jesus because they read about Him every week in the synagogue. If this section sounds familiar to you, it’s essentially the same message Peter preached in Acts 5. The Gospel message is still sufficient to accomplish salvation without adding to it or trying to make it more attractive. When you add or subtract or otherwise alter the Gospel, it’s not the Gospel. After Jesus was resurrected, Paul reminds the people what happened next. Jesus walked among the people and those people are now His witnesses throughout the land. Notice the lack of a personal pronoun from Paul. He’s putting everything on those that should have recognized Jesus. Paul zeroes in on the critical aspect of the Gospel – the resurrection. Look at vs. 32-37. The good news of the Gospel hinges on the resurrection. Paul quotes from Ps. 2:7, Is. 55:3, and Ps. 16:10. Anyone can die, but being raised from the dead is another matter. Predicting a resurrection is something altogether impossible. And that’s what we have in Jesus. Our faith hinges on the resurrection. Paul devoted 1 Cor. 15 to the resurrection and concluded in vs. 16-19, “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” If Christ was not raised, we have no hope and this life is all there is, but I submit to you, that’s just not true.

The final part of Paul’s message is an invitation to accept the promise. Read vs. 38-41. Paul recaps what is available if they’ll take the step of belief. Forgiveness of sin is proclaimed. Through Christ, “everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.” He even provides a warning that they would never believe what he is saying even though he is describing it to them. Remember Paul is in the synagogue speaking to the men of Israel and those who fear God. How many times have you shared something with someone even though you really believed they wouldn’t listen? You still do what’s necessary and trust the Holy Spirit will work in them. You don’t give up and you take every opportunity the Lord provides to share the life changing truth with people. You remain consistent and authentic in your walk of faith knowing that it makes a difference. You go back time and time again hoping and praying they’ll still listen.

Paul took the opportunity to share the truth with these people in the synagogue. He reminded them of the promise God made to Israel. He took them from Moses in Egypt to the exodus, to the division of the land to Saul to David. he shared how the promise of God was fulfilled in Jesus. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the good news they needed to hear – the message of salvation. He invited them to accept the promise that afforded forgiveness that could never be found in the Law of Moses. Something pretty exciting happened in vs. 42-43. The people were intrigued and wanted to hear more so Paul and Barnabas were invited back the following Sabbath day. Many of the Jews and proselytes – those that converted to Judaism, followed after Paul and Barnabas and they were urged to continue in the grace of God. Not saved, but on the path. What’s next for Paul and Barnabas? What will come of their next meeting in the synagogue? Good questions that will be answered if you join us next week.

Serious Stuff

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Last week we learned that when you follow your own heart, you’ll end up in a world of hurt. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” Fools think they’re right and don’t bother getting the guidance of others. Wise people seek out wiser people to check themselves. Wise people seek course corrections from other people. When you have people in your life that will tell you the truth in love, you’re going to grow. Don’t automatically ignore the good counsel from others because you think you know it already. That’s a really dangerous place to be in. If you follow this guidance, I guarantee you’ll have sweet success. This morning, we’ll see the interrelationship of hunger, shovels, fire, and speech and how they work in our faith.

In Pro. 16:26-28 Solomon says, “A worker’s appetite works for him, for his hunger urges him on. A worthless man digs up evil, while his words are like scorching fire. A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends.”

From honey last week to hunger this week. Hunger drives a lot of what we do in this day and age. We have Hungry-Man dinners and Hungry Howie’s pizza. We have Hungry, Hungry Hippo and The Hunger Games. We have Food for the Hungry and Freedom from Hunger. We have government programs to ensure no child is hungry. Bruce Springsteen had a Hungry Heart and if we don’t eat, we get hangry. Hunger is one of those driving forces of man. Look at the correlation between hunger and work. Solomon says, “A worker’s appetite works for him, for his hunger urges him on.” What a great verse! This goes hand in hand with what the Apostle Paul told the church at Thessalonica when he said, “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” (2 Thes. 3:10) Perhaps you’ve heard of the protestant work ethic. The idea was first brought up by sociologist Max Weber in his book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism published in 1904. “Weber studied the phenomenal economic growth, social mobility, and cultural change that accompanied the Reformation and went so far as to credit the Reformation for the rise of capitalism.” The start of the Reformation is generally attributed to when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenburg Church in 1517. As Weber studied the Reformation, he discovered what Luther referred to as the doctrine of vocation. Luther stressed that our vocation, or calling in life is not about what we do, but about what God does through us.  He believed that salvation should change how we do life. The gospel infuses our everyday lives with spiritual significance. This is summed up by Paul when he said, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” (Col. 3:23)

Getting back to Solomon, this work ethic means that you need to be willing to work for what you get. It matters little what vocation you’re engaged in as long as it’s legal, ethical, and moral. As a follower of Christ, that vocation must be performed with a level of excellence that points people to Christ. “A worker’s appetite works for him.” Notice the assumption – there’s a worker. What motivates him to work? “His hunger urges him on.” If you’re not willing to work at any job, you’re not hungry enough. Our culture has shifted drastically in the last 20 years or so. We have people that are in their 20s that have never worked a day in their life. The gospel is a transformative experience. Followers should be different. We must be different.

Look at the quick shift. From the worker whose appetite drives him on to, “A worthless man digs up evil, while his words are like scorching fire.” Back in Chapter 6, Solomon equated worthlessness to wickedness, perversity, evil, and strife. This verse means exactly what you think it means. Is there anyone here that has not said things, thought things, or done things that they wish they could change? In the old days, when you did something stupid, it generally didn’t last long because we’d forget. Now, our words and dumb deeds are held in the digital cloud to be remembered forever. Today if something goes down, people whip out their cell phones to record the events. Just so we’re on the same page with Solomon, worthless means having no real value or use. Someone who has no value will look for something in you to gain an advantage. If nothing is apparent, they’ll go as far back as necessary. This is really apparent during the political season. During the presidential campaign in 2012, Mitt Romney was accused of bullying a classmate 47 years earlier when he was in high school and some thought that incident should disqualify him for the presidency. If you remember the snowball incident of 1992 that I shared a while ago, you might consider that I don’t have the personal temperament to pastor a church. The point is that all of us have done things we’re ashamed of or embarrassed about. The worthless person finds those events and brings them to light. “His words are like scorching fire.” Lots of crises have started because of words. Fights have started because of words even if the words are untrue. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase putting out fires. Unless you get to the root of the issue, the fire will likely reflash. Ja. 3:5, “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!” You have to ask yourself, what is the endgame for digging up dirt? I think it’s a good question to ask so let’s answer it.

What is the endgame? Let’s take a step back and look at the fundamental purpose for life. We were created to have fellowship with the Creator. God created us with a free will and the intention was for us to willingly engage in a vibrant, loving relationship with Him. Free will led to pride which led to ignoring God’s instruction and succumbing to the temptation of the serpent. Sin changed God’s design. Of course God knew this yet He still created us according to His perfect design. Sin entered and caused physical and spiritual death, but God already had a plan in place before He created all that we know. Gen. 3:15 points to the Messiah that would redeem mankind. Our fundamental purpose is to point people to this Redeemer we know as Jesus Christ and live our lives totally devoted to Him. The endgame of Satan is to deceive people into thinking there is a different way, another way, or simply that it doesn’t matter at all. “A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends.” Perverse means a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave unacceptably. Strife means anger, bitter disagreement, or conflict. Satan doesn’t always come out and do the dirty work himself. He gets others to do it for him. He wants to tear us apart. He attacks the weak, the newborn, and the sickly and tries to separate us from others that can help. He wants us to think we can do it ourselves. He wants us to make mountains out of mole hills. He wants us focusing on the minor. We need to recognize this perversity for what it is – a plot of Satan. Don’t allow yourself to be influenced by people like this. Yes, it can happen in the church by people who claim they just really care. That’s why they’re all up in your business. Don’t fall for it, but don’t play into the devil’s hands either. Don’t get all bent out and go to attack mode. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t believe the worst about people.

We are here on this planet to live our lives to their fullest for Christ. We are driven to work to exemplify the transformation that is not only possible, but should exist in us because of the work accomplished by Christ. Only people that are worthless seek to harm others or damage their reputation. Don’t allow yourself to get burned by the words of people that are valueless – and that’s hard to understand for us. Recognize the schemes of the devil. He wants us to live our lives apart from Christ and other Christ followers. He wants to destroy us and make us ineffective for Christ. Don’t be fooled by that. Don’t think the worst of others. You like it when you get the benefit of the doubt and you should be willing to do the same for others. This is all very serious stuff that Solomon wants us to understand and put into practice.

Absolute Corruption

Absolute PowerYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week Solomon told us about royal rules. We want leaders who are sensitive to the Lord’s leading and will listen to God. Nobody wants to be taken advantage of in business and God doesn’t like it at all. Being in leadership comes with expectations. Whether it’s in government, the church, school, or the fast food restaurant, we want leaders who exemplify the righteousness of Christ. We don’t want our leaders to act wickedly or unrighteously. There are royal rules that need to be followed if leaders are to act in a godly manner. This morning, we’ll see how absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Pro. 16:14-16 says, “The fury of a king is like messengers of death, but a wise man will appease it. In the light of a king’s face is life, and his favor is like a cloud with the spring rain. How much better it is to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver.”

Solomon starts off like a trailer for an action movie. “The fury of a king is like messengers of death.” What guy wouldn’t go see a movie like that? This has all the makings of an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone blockbuster. When you talk about absolute power, a king might come to mind. If you remember the statistics about ruling authority from last week, few royal figures today wield the absolute power that can be so frightening. This verse is talking about real power. The power can be far reaching and oppressive. Here’s something to think about: when was the last time you heard of a ruler with absolute authority that actually took care of his people? The absolute power quote really is, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” The quote is attributed to English historian and author Lord Acton who wrote that opinion in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887. Someone that has absolute authority is very likely to abuse that authority. So when Solomon says, “The fury of the king is like messengers of death,” he’s talking about the far reaching power of absolute rulers. In biblical times and in the middle ages, kings typically attempted to expand their kingdoms. They generally did this by force, coercion, threats, and intimidation. The more ruthless the king, the more expansive the territory.

Fury means extreme anger. Their power was absolute and arbitrary. When the king wanted someone dead, they got dead. When the king wanted someone to live, they lived. There didn’t need to be any logical reason or thought behind it. When kings get furious, people die. Solomon says, “But a wise man will appease it.” The right words spoken at the right time can have a huge calming effect. In 1 Sam. 19, King Saul was so furious with David that he wanted to put him to death. Enter Saul’s son Jonathan who speaks to King Saul with wisdom and adoration for David and causes Saul to change his mind. 1 Sam. 19:6 says, “Saul listened to the voice of Jonathan, and Saul vowed, “As the Lord lives, he shall not be put to death.” Jonathan used wisdom when talking with Saul and appeased his anger such that David would not be killed. I encourage you to read the whole story.

How about some royal favor? It’s not good to be in the line of fire with a furious king, but what happens on the opposite side? This is the place to be. Solomon says, “In the light of the king’s face is life, and his favor is like a cloud with the spring rain.” This is where I want to be. With a furious king, you could be put to death just because. But in the light, it’s “like a cloud with the spring rain.” Talk about a contrast. Spring rain brings restoration, it brings new beginnings, it brings life! Remember Solomon is king of Israel. He doesn’t want Israel to do anything that will cause his wrath because he can be like other fury filled kings that were around in his day. It’s awesome to find favor with the king. It’s even awesomer to find favor with the King of kings. Favor with God is like that life giving spring rain that brings restoration and new life.

Solomon makes a great comparison. He says, “How much better it is to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver.” What price do you put on wisdom and understanding? If only you could buy it. In our culture, wisdom and understanding of the things of God are not as prevalent as they used to be. Even if you could buy, I think few people would make the purchase. Listen to Rom. 1:18-23, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” That’s really what Solomon is saying. Remember Solomon could have asked for all the riches in the world, but he chose to ask God for wisdom. He ended up with both. Think about it this way. If you’re wise, can you use wisdom to gain wealth? Of course, but is achieving wealth the be all to end all? That’s what culture tells us, but the biblically wise person thinks eternally. There is no direct correlation between how much we have here and what we will have in eternity. All material possessions will be left on this earth when you die.

I asked a moment ago, what price do you put on wisdom and understanding? Wisdom is not something that you can learn. Pro. 2:6 told us, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Pro. 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” If you go way back to the beginning of this, Solomon said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Pro. 1:7) Wisdom is something we can obtain because as followers of Christ, God can and will give it to us. James 1:5-8 says, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” There’s the caveat. It’s like saying, well . . . I’ll pray about it, but God doesn’t hear my prayers. God can do that, but He won’t do it for me.

Maybe you’re thinking, you know, it’s easy for Solomon to say it’s better to have wisdom than gold, but wisdom doesn’t pay the bills. Actually, it does. Exercising biblical wisdom could prevent you from getting into financial binds in the first place. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve counselled over the years that made financial decisions that could only be classified as stupid. They’ve determined what they want to do and they do it without thinking of the impact of their decision. Those unwise decisions generally lead to other issues that are brought to light under the intense pressure of trying to make ends meet. Heavenly wisdom enables you to make decisions from God’s perspective.

Power can lead to corruption and absolute power can lead to absolute corruption. You’ve probably heard the quote that says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Exercising biblical wisdom can placate the fury of kings. It’s great to find favor with earthly kings, but it’s far better to find favor with the King of kings. As Christ followers we have a responsibility to passionately follow Him who is the source of great wisdom. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” (Lu. 12:48) Biblical wisdom is essential in making sound decisions in our lives. When we utilize biblical wisdom, we utilize the incredible power of God and avoid absolute corruption.

I Did It My Way

Frank

Check out the podcast here.

Last week Solomon talked about sacrifice. There are prescribed methods to sacrifice laid out in the Old Testament that have far reaching implications in the New Testament and for us today. The sacrifices of the wicked are not pleasing to God because they’re simply going through the motions of sacrifice without a transformed heart. We’re to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to the Lord. This morning, Solomon talks more about the wicked and how they really are and he minces no words.

Proverbs 15:9-11 says, The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LordBut He loves one who pursues righteousness.  Grievous punishment is for him who forsakes the way; he who hates reproof will die. Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord, How much more the hearts of men!”

Let’s get right to it. Solomon is a pretty straight forward guy when he says, “The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but He loves one who pursues righteousness.” This seems totally contrary to those people, even in the church, that says God loves everyone and He just wants us happy. In this verse, we have a very clear contrast in how God feels about two groups of people. Last week we focused on the sacrifices of the wicked and didn’t spend any time on how God viewed those sacrifices. It’s not that the sacrifices weren’t the right ones necessarily; it’s because they were offered as outward gestures only. It’s like putting a band-aid on an infected cut. You’ve got to treat the infection.

Abomination is a tough word to define, but it conveys the idea of rotting flesh. Think about food left in a refrigerator for a few weeks with no power.       Think about fish carcasses left in a cooler. Think about meat left outside in the sun or road kill that has maggots crawling all in it. The odor is overpowering and so thick you can taste it. Now you’re getting a sense of what abomination means. “The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord.” The way indicates lifestyle, habits, outside actions, and inner thoughts. This is who they are and that’s why they are an abomination. It’s not that God doesn’t love them as a person. So you’re asking how can such harsh words be spoken by Solomon on behalf of God? Do your kids ever do anything that is detestable to you? Have they ever acted in a manner contrary to your rules? Have they ever been disobedient? Thoughtless? Careless? Have they ever done something their own way instead of the way you prescribed? Of course you still love them. We wrongly conclude that just because God hates something, that somehow contradicts His love. Paul said in Rom. 5:8, But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners,  Christ died for us.” The only way to be set free from wickedness is through the power of the Holy Spirit through salvation. The wicked do it their way and that is not acceptable to God.

There is an important principle I don’t want you to miss. The contrast to the wicked is that God, “loves one who pursues righteousness.” Pursue means follow after. There is an understanding by the writers of Scripture that when you pursue righteousness, you will grow more and more like Christ. That righteousness will get noticed by God and by people following God. Let me tell you about two men from the olden days: one named Paul and the other named Timothy. When you look at how they met in Lystra, it’s pretty exciting. There are people that believe Paul led Timothy to the Lord, but Scripture doesn’t support that. Acts 16:1-2 says, “Paul also came to Derbe and Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium.” The brethren of Lystra, the followers of Christ, spoke well of Timothy – he was already a disciple; a follower of Christ. That’s why Paul wanted Timothy to go with him as he continued his second missionary journey. Then in his first letter to Timothy, Paul gives him instructions for what to do because he will be left in Ephesus as Paul makes his way to Macedonia. As Paul gets to chapter six, he goes into some character qualities that are not consistent with the way of Christ. In 1 Tim 6:11 Paul says, “But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” Pursue is an action word. Timothy is ordered to pursue, to run after, to seek after those godly characteristics with the idea that you will get increasingly closer to the goal. It’s a non-stop activity. In Phil. 3:13 Paul said, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” Paul wrote those words about 30 years after his conversion to Christ. We have a mindset that everything should come quickly. Paul was still reaching forward, was still pursuing, was not quitting even after decades of faithful service to Christ. God loves that quality in us. He loves when we keep going. He loves how we get more and more like His one and only Son.

There is a but. While God loves those that pursue righteousness because the idea is you are running after Jesus, there is an alternate reality for many people. “Grievous punishment is for him who forsakes the way; he who hates reproof will die.” Notice who the punishment is reserved for. He expects us to pursue righteousness, but these people are forsaking the way. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt. 7:13-14) Few people will find the way. There are many reasons for that and ultimately, the choice is an individual choice. I wonder if we put as much effort into persuading people to live for Christ as we did to persuade people to vote for a certain candidate, how would our communities change? I wonder if we put as much effort into our relationship with Christ as we did our jobs, how would our community change? I wonder if we put as much effort into our walk with Christ as we did anything else on this earth, how would our lives be different and also, how would the lives of those around us be different? Few people find the way of Jesus because we have professing believers not living for Jesus. Yes, everyone has a decision to make, but Solomon is saying the, “grievous punishment is for those that forsake the way.” That means they must know what the way is, they just don’t want anything to do with it. When you point it out, the wicked hate it. God wants a relationship with everyone and as Peter says, The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9)

While that is true, there will be people – many people – that reject the truth of Jesus Christ. “Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord.” It would be easy to conclude that Solomon is talking about the destination of the wicked and at first glance that’s what I thought. We’ve got to look at this in the context of the chapter. Sheol is a Hebrew word to identify the place of the dead whether righteous or wicked. Job 26:6 says, “Naked is Sheol before Him, and Abaddon has no covering.” Solomon is saying that God knows what’s going on in every corner of every place. There are no limits to His presence; nothing is hidden from Him. Since this is true, Solomon concludes, “How much more the hearts of men!” The heart is the seat of emotion, the center of our being, and the source of what comes out in our life. Matt. 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” You can’t fool God.

Everything about the wicked is a stench to God. Of course God wants everyone to come to the conclusion that He is the only way and choose to follow Him. His ways are right and holy and pure, but time is running out. There is a time coming that will be too late, where the choice made is an eternal choice. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thes. 4:16-18)

You can do it your way and spend eternity separated from Him or do it His way and spend eternity with Him. It seems like it’s an easy choice.

The Miracle of Easter

CrossYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we checked out Solomon’s words regarding wisdom and learned that no matter the path you’re on, there’s always opportunity to get back on the right path. Maybe you’re here and you’re thinking, I don’t know the right path to take. I didn’t even know there was a path. Today is your lucky day! Today, Easter is celebrated all over the world, but do we really understand this day that many people celebrate? Is it just another consumer holiday where we look forward to seeing everyone’s new outfits and enjoy chocolate and jelly beans? Maybe you enjoy Easter because it generally marks the beginning of Spring. I don’t want you to miss the miraculous and eternal significance of Easter. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s go back in time from the first Easter to a week or so earlier.

Take the time to read our passage for this morning found in Luke 19:28-40.

So who is this Jesus? The name Jesus brings many thoughts to people’s minds. Names are like that; they mean a lot. Sometimes nicknames are commonly associated with people and are instantaneously recognized. Old Blue Eyes – Frank Sinatra. The King of Pop – Michael Jackson. The King – Elvis. Michael Jordan is known as Air Jordan. There are the not so great people like Ivan the terrible , Jack the Ripper, Bloody Mary, and Vlad the Impaler. Biblically we have John – the Baptizer. Lydia – the seller of purple. Few people call him just Thomas without preceding it with doubting. These descriptive names are no different for Jesus.

In Matt. 1:21 an angel appeared to Joseph and told him, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, f He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus means Jehovah is salvation. Jesus most often referred to Himself as the Son of Man. He is known as the Messiah. The Light of the world. The Prince of Peace. The bright and morning star. He is the alpha and the omega. He is the redeemer, the advocate, the bread of life. He is the power of God. He is the Lamb of God, the good shepherd, the high priest. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He is the resurrection and the life. That’s who Jesus is. This Jesus was loved by people of all walks of life. This is the Jesus that the prophet Micah said would come to rule Israel, One whose, “Goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” While loved and adored by the common people, this Jesus was despised by the religious groups of the day – the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Jesus upset the apple cart; He rocked the boat; He went against the flow, He said things that were different than what those religious people had been taught and what they believed. They called Jesus a blasphemer, they judged Jesus because He hung out with the less desirables; the tax collectors and sinners. They accused Him of violating the Sabbath because He encouraged His disciples to pick grain when they were hungry. They didn’t like this, in fact, “The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him.” (Luke 6:7) Jesus taught on the Sabbath, Jesus healed on the Sabbath.

So now we know who Jesus is, but why do we need Jesus? The religious crowd of the day despised Jesus because He threatened their power, their control, their desire to be elevated above others, their desire to be better than anyone else, their desire to control their own destiny, their desire and requirement for everyone to follow the Law. The Law was an interesting thing. Various religions and even denominations attempt to control people by requiring the strict following of a set of rules and regulations. Rom. 3:19-20 tells us, “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” Even though the Pharisees wanted everyone to keep the Law, they were powerless to keep it – all the Law did was show people they were law breakers. We need Jesus because no matter how good we think we are, the Bible says there is not a single person that is good. The Bible is very clear about our need for redemption. We need redemption because according to Rom. 6:6 we are slaves to sin. Sin owns us, it is our master. Rom. 3:23 says, “All have sinned.” 1 Jo. 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” Rom. 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.”

What is sin? If we redefine what sin is, it’s easier to deal with. In our culture, we conform to the idea that personal feelings are the barometer of right and wrong, of morality and truth. We seek comfort and the least resistant path. We seek to please ourselves. We listen to so called “Christian teachers” or influential people who make us feel better about following our own path, about living in sin. Instead of calling people to repentance and authentic Christian living, these people refuse to call sin what God calls sin. We have a whole new generation of people that have succumbed to cultural pressure that it’s intolerant, judgmental, and unloving to declare God’s truth as absolute. I love Paul’s description of this found in Gal. 5:19-21 that says, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Evident is from the word that mean plainly recognized. These are the things of the flesh – they are incompatible with a life that follows God. Left to our own devices, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

We know who Jesus is, and we know why we need Jesus, now finally, what should we do with Jesus? In answering this very question to the Jews that gathered in the treasury at the temple in Jo. 8:34-36: “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. ‘The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.’” There is freedom in Christ. It’s freedom from the penalty of sin, not from the consequences. God will not and cannot allow us to get away with sin, but don’t expect to see someone’s nose grow if they tell a lie. We live in such a hectic, no time for anything world; a world where we seek instant gratification. Our cure then, comes not by redefining sin or by avoiding it. Our cure comes by admitting our sin, turning from it and receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Easter          is about hope, it’s about life; it’s about fulfilled promises; it’s about Jesus. Maybe you’re thinking, “I want to be free, how do I get this freedom?” To answer that question, we need to go again to the standard of truth. Remember that each of us is a sinner, we have all done wrong. Rom. 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As with any gift, you must accept it; just because it has your name on it does not make it yours until you receive it. Maybe if we just try harder to be good and righteous. No, the answer to sin is not to try harder to avoid it or change who you are. No matter how hard you try, no matter how good you are, it’s not enough. Eph. 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Rom. 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Confess is a great word. It means the same thing as agree. In other words, when you confess to God your failure to meet His standard or admit your wrongdoings, you are agreeing with Him.

Maybe you’re thinking God won’t accept you like you are. Pastor Ian if you only knew about me. Maybe you’re thinking, when I give up ___________, I will be good enough and I’ll trust in Christ. Here’s the good news: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) We don’t have to try harder because God knows that apart from Christ, we can do nothing. (Jo. 15:5) Rom. 10:13 says, “For ‘WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.’” You are that whoever. It is a guarantee. Becoming a Christian is a choice; it is a decision only you can make for yourself. Being a Christian really means being a follower of Christ. God changes your heart, changes your attitude, and you joyfully want to follow Jesus. It’s not something you do begrudgingly. Being a follower of Christ gives you freedom! You are not a Christian because you live in America or because you attend church, or because you pray or read the Bible, or go to a Bible study. You are a Christian because you have made a decision to trust in what Christ did to pay the penalty for sin; you choose to follow Christ. Paul gives us this hope in Rom. 6:10-11, “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (Jo. 1:12) So how did we get to the point of death? What began just five or so days earlier as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt with people waving palm branches and expressing their adoration for this man from Galilee, was overwhelmed by the crowds in Jerusalem that demanded His death by crucifixion. They got what they asked for and Jesus was sentenced to die on a cross for being found guilty of nothing. Jesus dies a horrible death on the cross and was buried in a tomb.

The rest of the story is found in Luke 24:1-9. Easter is all about the penalty Jesus Christ paid to cover our sin debt. He shed His blood for you, because of His incredible, unending, unconditional love. He is not here because He is risen. Easter is all about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the new life that He can give you.

You have heard about who Jesus is and why we need Jesus. You have heard about what you should do with Jesus now there remains just one question. What will you do about what you know?Risen