What Are You Seeking? Come And See.

Tonight we’re looking at John 3, which even to those who may be the least knowledgeable in Jesus and the church may find familiar. But tonight we’re going to look at why this passage is so massive and packed with transformative truth for our lives.

Looking back at the past two weeks of teachings, we talked about how Jesus was in the beginning with God, as God, creating all things for His glory with the purpose of human flourishing. When mankind was created, they had everything they needed to thrive, yet mankind pursued their own fleshly desires rather than choosing to be obedient to the King of the Universe. Because God is perfect and we are not, perfect and imperfect cannot occupy the same space, just as light and darkness cannot occupy the same space.

Sin entered the world and mankind was removed from the garden, spending the rest of our days longing for our reconciliation and return to the garden.

The prophets in the Old Testament, that is, people who were given the word of God BY God and spoke it to the people, foretold the coming of Jesus. Long before Jesus walked the earth, God promised a King who would save us from our sins. The earthly kings that ruled before were no match. They lied and killed and stole and were cowards and ungrateful and weak. But all eyes were on what was to come.

We read about John the Baptist, a man who pointed people to the coming King. He boldly confessed that he was NOT Jesus, but taught his many followers that the King was indeed coming. And when Jesus showed up, he wasted no time, saying “That’s the One. That’s the guy. Go follow Him.”

The disciples of John, Andrew and Peter, began following Jesus, not knowing what they were getting themselves into. Last week, we focused on 3 statements:

WHAT ARE YOU SEEKING?

COME AND SEE.

DO WHATEVER HE TELLS YOU.

Remember, Jesus asked the Disciples, and He asks us too: what are you seeking? Whatever the answer to that is, we’re are invited to come and see. Whether we’re confident or doubting, answers are found in Jesus.

We talked about the wedding at Cana that Jesus attended with his disciples and his mother. Remember, his mother gave this statement to the disciples: do whatever he tells you. Because she knew Jesus would begin to move. He would begin to show himself as the Son of God. At that wedding, Jesus took water that the Jews used to ceremonially cleanse themselves of their sin before the meal, and He turned it into wine, which he would one day stand before his disciples and hold up a cup of wine, telling them it was his blood that was shed for them. No longer would they need water to ceremonially cleanse them of their sins, and no longer would we need to focus on the ways WE are supposed to make ourselves clean. No longer would we struggle cleaning mud with mud, because we now had a Savior who, if we turned to him, would take our sins and wipe them clean. He would push back the darkness and bring us back into the light.

John 3 begins with this:

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews…”

We’re going to stop here, because this sentence holds two important facts. Nicodemus, who was probably called Nick by his close friends, was a Pharisee.

The Pharisees were a powerful branch of the Jewish religious community during Jesus’ time. They were considered to be religious experts, and the strictly obeyed God’s laws and all the traditions they had established. The Pharisees would’ve had the entire Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible, memorized.

He was also a ruler of the Jews, meaning he was part of the Sanhedrin, which was the highest Jewish authority in Israel. The Sanhedrin had complete control over the religious affairs of Israel and had the final say in the interpretation of the Mosaic Law. It also governed civic affairs and tried certain criminal cases under the authority of the Romans.

All of this said, Nick was a pretty well-off guy in the religious department. Not only was he incredibly knowledgeable in Jewish law, having the first five books of the Bible memorized, but he was also part of the court that implemented these rules. He was in charge.

“This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I say to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

This man came to Jesus by night. This is significant. Because Nick, this man who was supposed to have it all together, who had the first five books of the Bible memorized, who was part of the court system that ruled on religious matters, this well-off man, he had questions. He had doubts. He had concerns. So he went to Jesus in the dark, looking for a new life. He knew Jesus was from God, and he wanted answers.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that unless he is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. And this baffles Nick. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Obviously, this isn’t what Jesus was talking about. But Jesus breaks it down like this:

You’ve already been born of the flesh. That happened the day you were born. Many years ago, on your birthday, you were born of the flesh.

But you haven’t been born of the Spirit. We were born physically alive but spiritually dead. The second mankind sinned and chose their desires over obedience to God, our ability to live in perfect nature with God was cut off. Mankind could no longer live forever, and our spirit died. We are born physically alive, but spiritually dead. And when the time comes for us to go home to Glory, our bodies are going in the ground. A Spirit that is alive, that is filled by Jesus, that’s what goes home to Glory.  

But man, when we are born of the Spirit, when Jesus breathes new life into us, when the sin that brings death is removed and nailed to the cross, when we place our trust in Jesus and live our lives in obedience to Him, our Spirit comes alive. We’re given new life.

Have you ever been asked if you are a Christian? Or when you became a Christian? A Christian is simply someone who follows Christ.

So think of that. Are you a follower of Christ? When did you become a follower of Christ?

For many of us, our natural answer to that is, “of course I am, I always have been.”

But what Jesus says here could change that. He’s saying, “You’re physically alive because you were born. But you’re not spiritually alive just because you’re physically alive.”

You see, no one has always been a Christian. No one has always followed Christ. Because from the day we were born, our human nature has led us to sin. That’s what we’re born from and born into. We don’t have to be taught to be greedy. We don’t have to be taught to be deceitful. You don’t have to teach a toddler to snatch a toy from someone else. That’s their human nature. So our human nature is to be against God. Our human nature is NOT to follow Christ.

You weren’t born a Christian. You may have been born into a Christian family, raised up with Christian morals, raised attending church every Sunday, but none of those things bring spiritual life.

Jesus says you must be born again. Not of flesh, but your Spirit, the part of you that longs for something nothing on this earth can fill, THAT part of you comes alive when you give your life and your trust to Him.

Nicodemus says “how can this be?”

Jesus points out to him that Nick is a teacher of Israel and still doesn’t understand this. It’s not about his head knowledge at this point. Memorizing the Torah wasn’t putting his trust in Jesus, it was putting his trust in himself. And then Jesus sneaks in this little part in verse 14 and 15:

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

Jesus is referencing a passage from Numbers 21:4-9. Numbers is in the first 5 books of the Bible, the Torah, meaning Nicodemus would know all about this text.

But let me read it to you here:

“From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he takes away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”

 So Jesus brings Nicodemus back to this text that he would’ve known so well. Moses was leading the people to the promise land, and God was providing them with everything they needed. He was literally raining bread from Heaven to provide for them. They had everything they needed. Not everything they wanted, but everything they needed. But they weren’t satisfied. So the Lord sent snakes among the people, and if the people were bit by a snake, they would die. And so people started dying. And these people came to Moses and said “Bro. We messed up. You’ve got to help us out.” So God talks with Moses and has him take a serpent, a snake, and put it up on a pole. So anytime someone is bitten by a snake, they look at the snake on a pole, and they will live.

Back in the garden, mankind was in the presence of God, having everything they needed. But it wasn’t enough. Our selfish desires wanted more, and a serpent separated us from God. Sin entered, and eternal life was stripped from us. The people of Israel were being led to the promise land, being provided with bread from heaven, having everything they needed, and it wasn’t enough. Snakes entered, biting people and killing Israelites.

God had promised a Savior. He showed the Israelites His faithfulness is Numbers 21. If you get bit by a snake, look to the serpent up on the pole. Gaze your eyes to the snake on a pole, and you will live. You will go from certain death to assured life.

Nicodemus, remember that story? That wasn’t about a snake. That was about you and me. You have been bitten. You are sick with sin. And you’re no match to heal yourself.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world may be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

John 3:16 holds so much more weight when you read the fifteen verses before it. The Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world. THE WORLD WAS ALREADY CONDEMNED.

Whoever looks at the serpent on a pole will not die. But whoever does not look at the serpent on a pole is already dying, right? That’s what God tells us in Numbers 21.

Your belief in Jesus is your acknowledgement that you can’t save yourself. Your belief in Jesus is your acknowledgement that you have fallen to sin that separates you from a Holy and Perfect God, but the blood of Jesus cleanses you and makes you new. 

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

Nicodemus knew everything there was to know about the word of God and the religious law. But this self-righteous man, under the cloak of darkness, approaches Jesus to learn how to receive new life.

Jesus’s answer to him is simple.

Just as you have been physically born, you must be spiritually born. We are born into sin, and therefore are spiritually dead. But when we place our trust in Jesus, when we step into the light, when we hand over our pride and our guilt and our shame, Jesus gives us new life. We become spiritually alive. And we live in the light from here until Glory. We gaze upon the cross and remember what Jesus has done for us, and we live our lives for Him.

We were born physically alive but spiritually dead. But Jesus breathes life back into us, bringing the dead to life and fulfilling the promise of eternity with Him. Life with Jesus is not something we can physically achieve. It’s not up to us. It’s the grace of God that redeems us, that buys us back.

In The Beginning

The Gospel of John is the account of the life of Jesus as written from the perspective of John, a disciple of Jesus. This entire account through these 21 chapters points us to the answer to all of God’s promises in the Old Testament.

This Bible starts with the story of Creation. God, the supreme ruler over all things, creating the world, bringing light into darkness and creating a world with all things necessary for humans to flourish.

We taught this at Camp Chisomo this summer in Malawi. We went through each day of creation, and talked about how God created the world to have everything mankind needed, right? Water, air, sky, sun, moon, trees, fish, birds, etc. When the world was ready, God made mankind last. And He made humans, US, in his image. He took the image of His perfect self and made us after that. That’s remarkable.

Mankind faced temptation, choosing the fulfillment of their desires over the commands of the One who created the world to have everything they needed. Because God is holy and perfect and our choice to fulfill our desires over the commands of the Almighty Creator result in us being sinful and imperfect, Perfect could no longer be in the presence of imperfect, in the same way that light and darkness cannot occupy the same space. So God cast mankind out of the garden, and since that moment, humans have been doing everything they can to find redemption in themselves, always trying to be better and bigger and stronger and prettier and smarter.

The Old Testament is a promise from God to restore His relationship with mankind. It’s stories of the fight for mankind to be saved, to be redeemed, but it’s the story of mankind trying to save themselves. Light and darkness cannot occupy the same space. Sin is darkness. We’re stuck in darkness. But darkness disappears when light is present. In the New Testament and in the Gospel of John, we see how that promise plays out. We see God answer the call.

John chapter 1.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The first time I read this, and then the 11 times after that, I was unbelievably confused. But then, when I finally understood these verses, they painted the picture of creation. Because when we take out “word” and put in “Jesus”, it begins to make a lot more sense.

In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God. Jesus was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Jesus, and without Jesus was not anything made that was made. In Jesus was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

So this text lets us in on a fun fact: Jesus has been around from the beginning. With God, as God, all things were made. Water, air, sky, sun, moon, trees, fish, birds, etc. In Him, in Jesus, was life.

It also gives Jesus this neat title of “the light”. Because light shines into darkness. Darkness cannot overcome light. Light shines into darkness, and the coming of Jesus to a world of darkness does just that; light shines into darkness.

Skip down to verse 9.

“The light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but of God.”

Throughout the entire Old Testament, God had promised to bring redemption to His people. There has never been a question of whether this world we live in is messed up. That’s evident. Everywhere you turn, this world is overflowing with problems. Wars and disease and poverty, lies, and corruption and selfishness. Even in our own beings, we KNOW our hearts long for something we can’t fill. We KNOW we are missing something. That’s why we struggle. Our home isn’t here—our home was meant to be back in the garden, in the presence of God where we had everything we needed. But sin entered and sin messed us up and sin separated us from the King of the Universe. Darkness ruled.

But the light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

Jesus was coming. Jesus promised redemption, and he came to save us from this messed up world. And even though prophets had spoken of him for thousands of years, that all eyes were open for the Messiah that God had promised, and Jesus fulfilled that promise, he was still rejected. He was still dismissed.

Continue on with me through this text.

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness about the light, the all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”

John the Baptist came to “bear witness about the light”. It says he was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

That’s a pretty bold thing. John knows the answer, he knows the light, and has his eyes fixed on that. And he comes to the world and says “Hey. I am NOT the answer. I do NOT have it all together. But I can tell you Who does. I can tell you where I get my hope.”

If you jump down to verse 19, even when people asked John who he was, he boldly confessed he was not Jesus.

John the Baptist didn’t have it all together. And he never claimed to. But He always pointed back to the reason for what he did and why he did it. Through all of it, he pointed people to Jesus.

“Keep your eyes open. You’re going to want to see this. Don’t look AT me, look PAST me. Look past me to the one who is the reason I’m here.”

When we let the light of Jesus flood our lives, pushing back the darkness, we become transformed. When we push back the darkness in our lives, when we believe in His name, our lives our changed. Jesus gives the right for us to become children of God.

This semester, as we continue to go through the Gospel of John, we’re going to unpack how Jesus is the answer to the brokenness in the world. We’re going to see light be brought into darkness. We’re going to read about lives transformed by the grace of Jesus, and my prayers is that our lives are continually transformed by that also.

Give Me A Drink.

Tonight we’re in John 4, looking at a pretty monumental story in Jesus’ ministry that has a direct impact on how we are to live our lives.

Just like the last few weeks, we’re going to keep doing a refresher of what we’ve read and learned so far, because I think the further into this book we get, you’re going to see the pieces fall together of who Jesus is and why John writes recounts these events.

So looking back to John chapter 1, we talked about how Jesus was in the beginning with God as God, creating all things for the purpose of His Glory and in order to create human flourishing. He gave us everything we needed, and our sin separated us from God. Perfect and imperfect cannot occupy the same space, just as light and darkness cannot occupy the same space. Where there is light, there cannot be darkness.

John the Baptist spent his days pointing people to Jesus, confessing that Jesus was greater than He. John’s disciples followed Jesus, being challenged by Jesus’s mother to do whatever He told them.

Jesus went to a wedding in Cana with his crew, and Jewish ritual required Jews to ceremonially cleanse themselves before eating. The wedding ran out of wine, so Jesus took the water used for the cleansing and turned it into wine, showing that our efforts to make ourselves clean were no match for His blood, which would fully make us clean.

Last week we talked about Nicodemus, the powerful religious leader who approached Jesus at night, asking how he may gain eternal life. Nicodemus had all power and authority, yet he went to Jesus knowing he needed to be made new. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that unless he was born again, he would not see the kingdom of God. We talked about how none of us are born Christians. We may be born in a Christian home or raised with Christian morals, but we are not born with the desire to do good. You don’t have to learn how to be deceitful or selfish; we are born with those desires. Our natural instinct is to be our own God, to be against God. Our transformation comes when we are born again; not physically, but spiritually. When we hand over our trust and our worries and our fears and our selfishness over to Jesus, trusting that His way is better than ours. We talked about the story from the book of Numbers, where snakes were biting and killing people, and Moses put a snake on a stick and raised it up, so that whoever was bitten could look at the stick and live.

And tonight, we’re in chapter 4.

“Now when Jesus leaned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John, he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman from Samaria came to draw water.”

There’s a lot of significance in these first few verses, and it’s important that we point them out and unpack them in order for us to know the significance of this story.

Jesus is traveling from Judea to Galilee, and must past through Samaria. Now here’s some history for you: Jews and Samaritans did not get along. This was known through history. Jews were considered the chosen race, while Samaritans were considered half-breeds. Foreigners had taken over the land of Samaria and had intermarried, leaving behind a mixed race that worshiped God, though did so according to their own traditions rather than the Old Testament Scriptures. To Jews, Samaritans represented the downfall of their nation and also represented forbidden intermarriages between Jews and Gentiles. In summary, Samaritans were outcasts. They did things differently, they stepped out of line, and a great divide had been created between Jews and Samaritans.

Jesus arrived in the town of Sychar, where Jacob’s well was. Jacob, a descendant of Abraham in the Old Testament, bought a piece of land, dug a well, and this well provided his family and children with physical water in a land where there was very little. Keep this in mind.

So wearied from his journey, he sits beside the well at about the 6th hour. The 6th hour of sunlight. We can estimate that this would have been around 12pm. So around 12pm, as Jesus is sitting at the well in a land that Jews traditionally detest, a woman comes by to draw water. Does anyone know why this timing is important?

In any culture where water not an easily accessed commodity, it must be drawn from a well. This well is dug deep into the ground, often with no covering on it, requiring women to take a bucket with a rope and lower it down into the well, let it fill with water, pull it back up, and fill their larger bucket with water in order to take back to their home. And that well is not just outside their house or in their front yard. It is most likely a community well, place in the center of a town or village in order to provide access to multiple families. In Malawi, for example, when we want water for a shower or for cooking, we must walk a half mile down the road from where we stay, draw the water from the well using a pump that has been installed, fill our buckets, and carry them back down the half-mile road on top of our heads. It’s not an easy task. But what is unique is that drawing water 1) always happens at sunrise, and 2) always happens in groups of women. You never see the well occupied alone. Women gather in the morning before sunrise, make the walk to the well multiple times, help each other get the water jugs or buckets on top of their heads, and make the walk back.

But Jesus arrives at the well at 12pm. This would’ve been the hottest time of the day. This would’ve been the least opportune time for him to find someone to draw him water. But this Samaritan woman comes, by herself, at the hottest time of the day. This shows us that culturally she is an outcast. She came when she assumed no one would be there.

So Jesus, traveling through a town that is culturally seen as detestable, stops by a well that traditionally is known to be placed there by their forefather Jacob, which for generations has provided water, a necessity for living. Jesus stops at mid-day, when the sun is highest in the sky, and a woman comes by to draw water, by herself, at the hottest point of the day.

“Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”

So not only is Jesus speaking to a Samaritan, but he’s speaking to a Samaritan woman, both acts were highly out of cultural practices.

“How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 

Jesus’s response would have raised at least 4 questions from the woman:

1)   What is the “gift of God”? (Eternal life)

2)   Who is this man? (Is he greater than Jacob?)

3)   What is living water? (On a physical level, it is fresh, flowing water from springs as opposed to stagnant cistern water. On a spiritual level, is it the eternally satisfying life that Jesus provides through the Spirit

4)   How can he get water without a bucket?

The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep (Addressing question #4). Where do you get that living water? (Addressing questions #3.) Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock. (Addressing question #2).

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The town of Sychar had praised their father Jacob for giving them the well. They had held him at high regard, but Jesus is showing her that He is greater than their father Jacob. Jacob’s well provided physical water from a stagnant well, while the living water Jesus would provide would be a spring of water welling up. That was the dream. Fresh, flowing water. Of course, Jesus wasn’t talking about an actual spring of water, but our dear friend here misses the mark on that.

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

Jesus says to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, “I have no husband”, for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”  

This lady is motivated by the thought of not having to be physically thirsty again. She knows the work that goes into drawing water from the well, water that is stagnant and unclean, and this man has told her that He can provide living, flowing water. She says “give me this water” and he says “go get your husband.”

She confesses that she doesn’t have a husband, and Jesus goes even further to say that she has had 5, and the one she is with now is not her husband. In doing this, Jesus shows the woman that he knows about her sins, which takes her by surprise.

“The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

The woman turns the conversation from her sin to a controversial religious issue: where should they worship? Has that ever happened to you? You’re trying to have a spiritual conversation with someone, maybe even trying to help someone reveal a sin they struggle with, and they turn the conversation into “Well what about this? What happens when this? Remember this?” That’s what’s happening here.

“Jesus said to her, Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is coming from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Here’s what’s happening, guys. Jesus has showed us that He was in the beginning with God as God, creating all things for His glory. He revealed that he was greater that John the Baptist. He revealed He was greater than the ceremonies used to make ourselves clean. He revealed that He was greater than the snake Moses put on a stick. He was the one who would truly bring healing, who would provide us with new life. And now, Jesus is showing that He is greater than Jacob. Jacob dug a well that provided water for his family. Jesus gives the gift of living water, eternal life, and those who drink of this water will never be thirsty again. We won’t be truly and fully satisfied with our hope in anything other than Jesus. Jacob worshipped on a mountain, but Jesus was not restricted by a specific place of worship. Jesus was to be worshiped everywhere, in Spirit and in Truth.

Jesus meets this woman where she is at—in her sin, in her shame, in her abandon. Jesus meets her at the well in broad daylight, breaking cultural taboos and traditions, and meeting her where she is at. She has lived her life trying to fill her desires with dirty, stagnant water. Jesus tells her he can offer her better. But first, she must acknowledge her sin. She must confess her sin. She makes the claim ‘I have no husband.’ This is true, but this isn’t the root of her sin. This isn’t the real problem. Jesus shows her he already knows her sin. She’s had 5 husbands. Let’s be real here. She didn’t need to hide her sin and her shame from him. He met her where she was at. He met her in her sin and shame and abandon and said “I can offer you something better.”

The woman said to him, “I know the Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ.) When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”

This is the Gospel. Jesus meets you where you’re at—in your sin, in your shame, in your abandon. Listen to me: Jesus isn’t afraid of your sin. Your sin doesn’t shock him. It doesn’t scare him; it doesn’t surprise him. Your sin does not keep Jesus away, rather, your sin is what brings Jesus to the well. Our sin leaves us desperate to be filled. We have a thirst that nothing seems to fill. And so Jesus meets us at the well. In broad daylight, in your sin, your shame, and your abandon.

You want to try and hide your sin? You want to try to minimize it? Make it sound like it’s not that big of a deal? You’re only hiding it from yourself. He already knows. It doesn’t shock him. It doesn’t keep him away. Jesus meets you where you’re at and offers you something more. But you must repent of your sin. You must acknowledge your need for a Savior. This woman knew that the water from the well wasn’t going to fill her. She desired something more. And we all do. We desire something that will fill us, but we must confess our sins. And when we turn that over to Jesus, when we put our trust and hope in Him, we are invited in as true worshipers—worshipping in spirit and truth, meaning both in faith and in fact. We trust the words we read. We believe the words we read. And we live it out. We hand over our lives to the King of the Universe, who meets us at the well in broad daylight, ready to give us something that will fill us forever.

The scandal of grace.

Luke 15 is an intriguing text. In this text, we have 3 parts of one story being told, 3 parables that relay the same message throughout. But before we can understand why this parable is being told, we need to understand what a parable is, and who the parable is being told to.

First, it’s important to know that a parable is a story used to illustrate a specific lesson. So Jesus would often share parables, stories, with crowds of listeners, as he’s doing here.

It’s also important to understand WHO he was talking to. Start in verses 1-2:

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 

This is important to note. Tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to Jesus as he spoke. We hear so often about tax collectors in the Bible. We hear that Jesus meets with them, talks with them, and eats with them. We think of them as people responsible for collecting taxes, and maybe occasionally pocketing more than they should. We see them as undesirable people, but I don’t think we really understand the boldness of their character.

At the time of this text, Rome ruled from England to India. And in order to have dominion over that large of a landmass, you had to have a massive, massive army. But you couldn’t have a massive army without massive amounts of money to pay for the army, to train the army, to feed the army. This army had full control, and there were no laws in place to keep them in check. So they did whatever they wanted.

This meant that the army was getting away with raping, stealing, and pillaging the ancient world. They could do whatever they wanted. And so the tax collectors, they were your neighbors who were taking your money and giving it to the army, enabling them to continue raping, stealing, and pillaging the ancient world.

That’s why their actions were so audacious. That’s why they were seen as undesirable. They were playing a part in the abuse happening in the ancient world.

 

This text also says that “sinners” were drawing near to Jesus as he spoke. Now in the first century, in the time of this text, there weren’t medical advances to explain disease, deformities, or mental illness. And because of that, their ailments were attributed to sin. People thought disease and deformity and mental illness as a result of sin. The term “sinner” also referred to those with less than desirable professions, such as prostitutes and thieves. So when this says “sinners” were drawing near, this is the crowd that it’s talking about.

This crowd was a rough crowd. But this crowd was a beautiful crowd. This crowd is the church. Because where the word of God is faithfully proclaimed, the most outcast of any culture will be drawn to the light of grace.

Now it’s important to note that the crowd wasn’t just tax collectors and sinners. Verse 2 says the Pharisees and the scribes were there too. And isn’t that always the story? Where Jesus is, there are broken people, and then there are broken people complaining about broken people, right?

Remember, the Pharisees and the scribes were the elite in religious knowledge. Pharisees would’ve had the entire Torah, the first 5 books of the bible, MEMORIZED. They held fast to the law. They knew more than us, simply put. But knowing ABOUT Jesus doesn’t mean you actually KNOW him, right?

So these are the people Jesus is talking to. We have a crowd of broken people, across the board. The tax collectors, the sinners, the Pharisees and scribes, they’re all drawing near to hear Jesus. And this is what he says, starting in verse 11:

“And he said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed by the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.” 

As Jesus starts preaching here, the tax collectors and sinners would have found it very easy to relate to this story. But the Pharisees and Scribes? They would have immediately thought “I hope they’re hearing this.”

Now if as I read that passage, your heart drifted toward “I hope _____________ is hearing this,” I want to guard you from that. Don’t just wish someone else were hearing this. Make sure you’re hearing it too.

 

So the young son comes to his father and says, “give me my share of what is coming to me.” The son is young and demanding, and ultimately has no power over the father. The father could have just as easily laughed and said no. But sometimes, and as it is with this story, the Father, in his grace, will let you exhaust yourself in the things you chase after. So that Father divided his property between the two sons.

The younger son took all that he had, all that the father had for him, all that the father was saving for his son. He took it into a far country and squandered it. He wasted it in a foolish manner. He blew it. He lived recklessly, and he lived apart from his father.

Sound familiar? It did to the tax collectors and sinners. They understood this. They understood what if felt like to buy into the lie that what we really need is more of what we already have.

The younger son thought he had it figured out. He thought the father didn’t know what he actually needed, so he took matters into his own hands. And the father, acting in grace, let him go. He said, “You think this will make you happy? Here you go; run.

 

We feel the text change starting in verse 17.

 

“But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father.”

He realizes he was better off in the care of his father. He realizes that even his father’s servants live better than he is living. After all, the son is now looking at food that pigs are eating, wishing he could have it. And so he plans to return to where he started. But here’s what’s fascinating.

The son doesn’t think he can return as a son. “Treat me as one of your hired servants.”

This is the part of the story that would have been mind-blowing to the crowd. 

For the tax collectors and sinners, they would have immediately thought “what will the younger son have to do to make it right? What will he have to pay?”

For the Pharisees and Scribes, they would have immediately thought “There better be a strict and heavy punishment for the younger son.” 

But the response from the father couldn’t have been further from either.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.”

The son, who said, “give me my money”, who took the fathers money, squandered the fathers money, belittled the fathers name, mocked the fathers name, who came to his senses in a pig pen, returns home hoping to be accepted as nothing more than a slave.

The father’s response was massive. It shook everything the crowd would’ve anticipated.

Instead of requiring the son to pay back for his mistakes, instead of the son receiving punishment, the father ran and embraced him and kissed him. And he didn’t wait until the son knocked on the door. He didn’t wait until the son got on his knees and recited his speech, asking for forgiveness. The father ran to him while he was still a long way off. (Romans 5:6) He brought him a robe, covering him in the father’s cleanliness. He brought him a ring, covering him in the father’s authority. He killed the fattened calf and threw a party, because the son was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.

 

Guys, that is scandalous grace. That is grace that would have shocked the crowd.

The son had believed that lie that what he really needed was more of what he already had. He had believed that he needed more money, more freedom, and more power. But when the son realized his mistake, he returned to the father, expecting to take the role of a servant, only to be welcomed home as the son that he was. The father threw a party, because the dead were alive and the lost had been found.

What a message this must have been to the tax collectors and the sinners. They’re hearing from Jesus: “you haven’t gone too far; you aren’t out of reach. There is no sin with more power than what I’m about to do on the cross.”

You see; the father in this parable delights in his son. And our Father delights in his children. And when we are the child that has left, that has squandered what the father has given us, we have a hard time thinking we’ll be returning to a father who delights in us. But the Father didn’t delight in the son because of what the son had done. The father was delighted in the son simply because he was his son.

 

Our father doesn’t delight in us solely because of what we do. Our Father God delights in us because of Christ. Christ covers us in his robe, taking on our guilt and shame and giving us his cleanliness. Christ puts a ring on us, claiming us as His and His alone. God delights in us because of Christ.

That was the message for the crowd. That was the message the tax collectors and sinners heard, the message that you and me need to hear. But Jesus knew who else was in that crowd. And he knows who else is in this crowd. So that’s not where this story ends.

 

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.” But he was angry and refused to go in. And his father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”

 

This would have hit hard with the Pharisees and scribes, and will hit hard with those who struggle with self-righteousness. The older son, the one who has served for many years, who has never disobeyed a command, hears a party being thrown for the son who squandered everything. And his heart immediately gets cold and hard. He’s pissed. He did everything right. He followed all of the rules, and it’s the younger son who gets a party? The one who blew it all?

The father comes outside and entreats with him. The father asks earnestly. The father pleads with the older son. “Come inside. Join the party. Rejoice that your brother has returned.”

You see, the self-righteous have trouble with this. They see the lost being found, they see the dead being given new life, and they refer back to their list of everything they’ve done right, or everything the brother has done wrong. But the father says “No, son. Come inside.”

Don’t shake your fist at grace shown toward sinners. Don’t be wounded when the lost are found. Join the party. Celebrate what the Father is doing.

If this grace made sense, if we had to work to make up for our mistakes, if we had to serve a strict and heavy punishment, we wouldn’t need Jesus. But Jesus makes this grace scandalous and he makes this grace possible. And the more we understand this, the more we can run to God and not from God. You don’t run from God to clean yourself up; you run to God. Our Father delights in us. He delights in saving us. We think ‘how could the Father delight in me?’ We go through our resume of mistakes, of short-comings, of doubts and massive insults to the King of Glory, thinking there’s no way we could be seen as a son. But the same Father, who in his grace, let us exhaust ourselves, runs out to the road when he sees us coming and throws his robe and ring on us and calls us His child. That’s the scandal of the gospel. That is the scandal of grace. 

Push back the darkness.

The Book of Acts looks different to me than it did the first time I read through it. It looks different to me now than it did when we first started this series. Because this book isn’t just a bunch of stories of courageous men. It’s a glimpse into what it would look like to follow Jesus with everything--with every interaction, with every possession, and with every moment.

And I think it’s hard for us to view life that way, because most of the time, we’re not in that position. We’re not in the position where we could lose everything in a moment. We’re not in the position where we acknowledge that every second could be our last. We don’t think that way. We live out an invincible mindset—until we realize we’re not invincible.

But these stories, this book that contains the Acts of the Apostles, it shows us courage in the face of paralyzing fear. It shows us that if we have Christ and we lose everything, we have everything, but if we have everything and lose Christ, we’ve lost everything. It shows us our worth is not found in something that can be taken from us. It shows us that our lives are to be wrung out for the glory of the Gospel.

Peter knew that. He knew if he had Christ and he lost everything else, he had everything. He knew that when he stood in the upper room with the disciples after Jesus died. He knew that when the Holy Spirit fell upon that place on Pentecost and the church began. He knew it when he stood before crowds of thousands and boldly declared the Gospel of Jesus. He knew that when he faced the Council and the high priests with John and declared, “For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

Stephen knew that if he lost everything but still had Jesus, he’d lost nothing at all. He lived his life as a servant; not in chains or bound to anyone, but freely giving his time and talent to serve others. Remember, Stephen was known for being full of the Spirit and of wisdom. He had a gift and he didn’t wait around to use it. He went out and took care of the Hellenist widows. He started feeding programs. He started getting on his knees and being with the people he was serving. He knew Jesus was all he needed. And he knew that when he was seized and dragged before the council. He knew that when he was given a chance to deny the claims against him, but instead spoke brilliantly and boldly about the sins of the past and about his obedience to Jesus. And he knew that when he was dragged out of the city and murdered. He knew that if he lost everything but still had Jesus, he’d lost nothing at all.

Phillip knew that too. Remember, Phillip served alongside Stephen up until his death. But instead of being scared into surrender, Phillip continued to follow Jesus with everything. He took the word of God to Samaria, a place notorious for being unwelcoming toward Jews. He walked boldly and with courage into adversity, and an entire region that had once followed Simon the Magician now saw truth in who Jesus was. They had seen Simon for the magic he practiced, but they saw Phillip for the message he brought.

Paul knew this probably better than anyone. Remember, he was born Saul of Tarsus. He had nearly all power and authority. He was circumcised on the 8th day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. He met all of the religious requirements. He had his religious checklist covered. But he missed it all. And Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and his life changed.

In Philippians 3:8, Paul declared his surrender to Jesus. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

Paul knew that all he needed was Jesus. He had lived so much of his life trying to gain the whole world, and in the process had lost his soul. But the moment he encountered Jesus, his world was turned upside down. And there was no going back. Paul spent the rest of his days traveling the world, taking the Gospel to every corner of the earth. He was arrested over and over again, and ended up living the rest of his days in prison. And even then, he didn’t let that take away his joy. He wrote letters to all of his churches, urging them to continue living for the Gospel.

Barnabas knew this truth too. He knew that he could have everything, but if he didn’t have Jesus, he had nothing. So he spent his life encouraging others. He spent his life being wrung out for the Gospel. He traveled around with the man known for throwing Christians in prison. He spent his time with him, encouraging him, facing trials with him, and reaching the ends of the earth with the Gospel.

In this whole book, in all of these stories, the Gospel is pushing back what is dark by establishing communities of faith that are dedicated to one another and dedicated to the mission given to us.

This book ends with chapter 28. It ends with Paul welcoming all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

That’s where the book ends. But that’s not where the story ends, because the church continued to grow and spread. The Gospel continued to push back what is dark and continued to establish communities of faith that are dedicated to one another and dedicated to the mission given to us.

 

And that’s why we’re here. That’s this incredible gift we have been given--this community of faith that is dedicated to one another. This is a gift and a treasure. Having a place where you can come and be honest and vulnerable and tackle life’s challenges together with the assurance of the Gospel and the promises it brings—that is a gift.

But the community of faith is not just dedicated to each other, it is dedicated to the mission given to us, the same message that was given to Peter, to John, to Stephen and Phillip and Paul and Barnabas. That message takes us right back to where we started. Matthew 28.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This is the same mission he gave his first disciples, and that they gave the early Christian Church. And it’s the same mission we’re given.

 

Go.

 

Make disciples. Notice it says disciples, not converts. The goal in our going is not just to have people who say they follow Jesus, but people who actually follow Jesus. People who choose to make Jesus everything. People that know that if they lose everything but have Jesus, they have everything they need. And we do this by letting people in. Walk alongside people for an extended period of time and you will see the darkness of their ways. Walk alongside them for longer and they will see the light in yours. Be a faithful presence in peoples lives so they can see the Gospel in yours.

The Book of Acts is a really neat story of how the Church pushed back what was dark in order to bring more people into the light. And we get to do that too. Every time you fill these seats, every time you open your Bibles, when you gather together and spend time in this community, every time you put Jesus first, you’re pushing back the darkness. Every time you walk into the doors at Novak, every time you show up for service crew, every time you choose joy over gossip, every time you choose to value someone over using them, you’re pushing back the dark. You’re living out the message of the Gospel. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

My prayer for us tonight is that this study we’ve done through the book of Acts would resonate with you. That you would not only see yourself somewhere in this story, but that you would see yourself in the rest of the story. That you would be stirred and compelled into action. That you would choose to see Jesus as being worth everything. 

Sons of Encouragement

Paul, who we learned about last week, hung out with a guy whose name means “sons of encouragement”.

I like to think that’s what Barnabas did in the book of Acts. His name is dropped all over this book. He is predominately mentioned once Paul comes into the picture, but if you would just associate him as Paul’s traveling partner, I think you would miss a really important part of who he was. This account of the early Christian church shows Paul and Barnabas partnering in ministry together, but I think it’s bigger than that. Because when you look at Acts chapter 4, it talks about how the church is acting and functioning, and it sneaks this little fun fact in there in verse 36:

“Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means sons of encouragement)…”

 This man Joseph now goes by Barnabas, because Barnabas means “sons of encouragement” and that’s what he was good at. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be such an encouraging person that your friends simply called you encouragement?

Paul starts as one of the fiercest oppressors of the Christian Church, and after Jesus meets him on the road to Damascus, he get’s partnered with the most encouraging person around. What a picture that must have been.

Have you ever noticed that when you first came into a community rooted in Jesus, that there’s that one person that you always felt encouraged by? That you always felt loved by? That no matter what you were coming from, they welcomed you?

I think that’s who Barnabas was for Paul. Paul didn’t just come from a regular childhood or a regular occupation. He was a man full of hatred and rage. He imprisoned Christians and had them murdered. I’m sure this man had baggage to carry. He probably had feelings and emotions and mindsets that he had never fully dealt with. So he went on the road with Barnabas, the guy named because of his encouragement. For much of the beginning of Paul’s ministry, Barnabas and Paul were partners. Wherever one name is, the other follows.

“Many Jews and devout converts to Judiasm followed Paul and Barnabas…”-13:43
“And Paul and Barnabas spoke loudly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you…”-13:46
“But the Jews stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of the district…” 13:50
“But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out…” 14:14
 “Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders…” 15:2 
“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.” 15:12

On and on, Paul and Barnabas are partners. And I think it’s because Paul was in a tough place. He was living in a world of sin and brokenness and pain, a world that he once took part in. And there’s a difference between living in that world and taking part in that world. And Barnabas knew that. He knew that when you live in that world, it’s hard to not take part in that world. It’s hard to not cower before our fear. But when we begin to cower, we need someone to come beside us and lift us up with hope. We need encouragement.

This is what Barnabas did. He went around giving people hope that helped them keep fighting the faith. He went from group to group, church to church. He encouraged them. He built them up.

We live in a flood of discouragement. We live in a time where we’re fluent in sarcasm and criticism, where it’s easier to complain than encourage. We human beings are by sinful nature ferociously critical of one another. And we let this into our conversations and interactions and ultimately into our hearts. We let ourselves get away with tearing down others, and we encourage others in the same.

But we forget that our God is the God of encouragement.

 

Romans 15:5 says “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

Our God is the God of encouragement and endurance. And if our God, who chose us and created us together and with a purpose, finds value in encouragement and endurance, you can bet He wired us to run on both.

Barnabas got his name by the way he saw the grace of God in all things. No matter what happened, what crisis or controversy, what criticism or failure, Barnabas had a resilient hope in God. John Piper puts it like this: “When some threat discouraged his friends, Barnabas would consistently remind them of God’s promises in such a contagiously hopeful way that their courage would revive.”

We live in a world where threats discourage us daily. We live in a world where children die from preventable diseases every day. Where bombs blow up buildings and gunmen take out crowds of innocent people. Where words are used as weapons and we all too easily see the ones who love us most as people worth hurting and not looking back.

These are the things we cower before. We submit to these things, to the world we live in. And in the moments when we cower before fear, we need a Barnabas to come before us and give us hope. To remind us the world we live in is not the world we take part in. To remind us our God is the God of encouragement and endurance.

Barnabas people are those who soak in and store up God’s word and, by doing so, are able to speak what is good for building others up. They create a culture different from the one we live in. They are the people who are so characterized by encouragement that it becomes part of their character.

Barnabas people encourage. It’s who they are and what they do.

But we can’t always be Barnabas people. And that’s the reality of life. Sometimes life sucks. Sometimes life is terrible and tragic. Sometimes its little things, and sometimes its really big things. But no matter what thing, there will be a day when it’s hard for you to get up.

And on days like that, you need people who are going to surround you without you having to ask. You need people who are going to encourage you and speak truth to you when you don’t want to hear it. In Paul’s life, Barnabas was around when Paul’s life was being threatened, when people wanted to kill him. Barnabas was in the group that picked Paul up off the ground when people threw stones at him in an attempt to kill him.

People may not be dragging you out of the city and throwing stones at you. But the pain we go through is no less agonizing. Stones are thrown every day on Twitter and After School App and all of the things this society creates. . And when we live in a culture where stones are thrown, our tendency is to cower. To give in to that fear.

One of my favorite pastors Matt Chandler has quite a bit to say about this. But I’ll break it down into these two points:

Ladies: God has given you a divine power with words to either build up humanity, or burn it to the ground.

You have so much power in what you say. Your words have the power to build up people or painfully tear them down. And too often we choose the latter. We choose passive aggression rather than loving honesty. We choose to use our words to hurt rather than to heal.

Men: Many of you think encouragement isn’t a guy’s thing. We’re told men are supposed to be brave and courageous. But being vulnerable takes courage. You don’t need to just put your own stone down; being vulnerable means encouraging others to put their stone down. That takes courage. That’s bravery.

But as a whole, men and women, we were created by the God of encouragement FOR encouragement.

If you feel like you’re a Barnabas, like you go out of your way to pour into others and build them up, I want to encourage you to keep loving and encouraging people. Keep kneeling next to those cowering in fear. Keep lifting them back up. Keep seeing God’s grace is all things. Keep helping people put down their stones. Be contagiously hopeful.

And if you feel like you need a Barnabas in your life, seek that out. The best way to learn how to swim is to get in the pool with someone who knows how to swim. Do life with someone who can help you along the way. Seek out someone who you know will help you when things get tough. They sent Barnabas out into the world with Paul; someone who knows living in the world is different than living for the world. You’re in a room full of people who know that.

 

“Encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
-1 Thessalonians 5:11

Glory is grace triumphant.

Saul’s life begins with unbelievable grace, and the result of that is unbelievable glory. 

Saul was this terrible, wretch of a man who was the greatest persecutor of the early Christian church. But Jesus took hold of his life in powerful and undeniable ways, leading to his conversion from enemy to ally. After Saul’s conversion, God moved and his glory was shown in 3 ways that we’ll talk about tonight, but one thing to note is that Saul was now referred to as Paul. So though there are two different names, this text is referring to the same person. Saul is Paul.

This weekend we defined grace as unearned kindness and undeserved forgiveness.

God gives us grace. He pours it out on us. Freely and when we don’t deserve it. He pours out forgiveness. It’s out of control and it never ends. And that’s hard for us, because we are taught to earn and work for success. We are taught that we are defined by our successes and our failures. We are taught that we need to fight to be good.

But grace changes all of that. Grace comes in and sweeps all of our notions of what is deserved away. We have trouble with grace because we think WE need to be GOOD. But Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live.

Grace didn’t take a bad man and make him good. Grace took Saul, a dead man, and caused him to live. And that’s amazing and humbling and such a gift.

We then talked about glory with this: 
“Grace and glory differ very little. One is the seed, the other is the flower. Grace is glory militant, and glory is grace triumphant.”

Grace is glory militant. Grace is glory in action. It’s glory in the fight. But glory, glory is grace triumphant. Glory is when grace has won. Glory is grace’s trophy of victory.

So last week we saw the first part: grace is glory militant. We saw grace in the fight for Saul’s heart. Saul’s wretched life was taken over and Jesus said, “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

So grace reigned in his life. And Ananias prayed over him, and Saul was baptized and believed. And the result was glory. But glory looks different than what we may assume. Because when you read about the life of Paul, and the things he endured, and the life he lived, you wouldn’t immediately see triumph. You wouldn’t immediately think victory. But I want to walk through tonight how God was glorified in Paul’s position, his pursuit, and his persecution, and how that translates to your position, pursuit, and persecution.

Saul was one of the most powerful men of his times. He had nearly complete rule and reign in his area. He had approval from the chief priests to do whatever he wanted. He had money and power and prestige. He had power in his position. So what happens when one of the most powerful men, known for persecuting the church, suddenly goes from enemy to ally?

People notice. People take note. Remember, Ananias’s first response to Jesus was “Are you sure about this? I’ve heard who this man is.”

After Saul’s conversion, he spent days with the disciples in Damascus. (Keep in mind, this is the place he was headed toward to arrest and throw in prison the people who were following Jesus.) Acts 9:20 says, “Immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is this not the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon his name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?”

Paul’s position made this all the more intriguing. These people knew his power and his reach, and he knew it too. So whenever Paul had the chance, he got up and spoke. In Acts 13, he stood in front of the rulers of the synagogue and proclaimed Jesus. He spoke these words: “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” Now this was legendary. This man, who lived his life defending the law of Moses, who had the first 5 books of the Bible memorized, who imprisoned, persecuted, and killed to defend these laws, is now acknowledging that this old law was not able to set them free from their sin.

It would have been understandable for Paul to be weary of proclaiming Christ to the people he ruled over. He had been so set in his ways, so firm in them that he killed for them. But Paul saw the opportunity and he took it. He understood his position wasn’t just given to him when he was an enemy, but that he could still use it as an ally. He stood up for the gospel and used his position to reach the people around him with this good news.

Glory came in Paul’s pursuit. Paul is widely known because of his pursuit of getting the Gospel out. Getting the knowledge of Jesus out to everyone and everywhere. Really, from the moment Saul went from enemy to ally, he immediately proclaimed Jesus. He would teach in the synagogues, to the people, and then move along. He spent time with the disciples learning, and then he would immediately go out and preach what he knew to be true. Acts 9:31 says “And walking in fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, the church multiplied.”

Paul was so obedient in every way. In Acts 13, while worshiping, the Holy Spirit said “Set apart for me Saul for the work to which I have called him.” Remember, back in Acts 9, Jesus said that Saul was a chosen instrument of His to carry His name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. Saul was to carry the name of Jesus outward, to the ends of the earth. He knew the call Jesus left is Acts 1:8, for his name to be proclaimed in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth, and he pursued that fully. He went from region to region, taking disciples with him, preaching the word, starting churches, and proclaiming Christ. People were converted. Lives where changed. Acts 13:49 says, “The word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.” He spoke in a way that both Jews and Greeks believed. People who had spent their whole lives living one way were transformed by the grace of God and were giving their lives to Jesus. From kingdom to kingdom, Paul pursued his calling. He learned from and with the disciples, and then went out and proclaimed what he knew to be true.

These books in the New Testament? 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, these are all letters to churches that Paul started. All over the region, from Europe to Asia, Paul was traveling and sailing and walking and taking the Gospel to these places.

And take note on this: we are here today because these things happened. We are here tonight because Paul took the call in Acts 1:8 seriously, to take the message to the ends of the earth. We are here because these things happened.

God’s glory also showed in Paul’s persecution. It’s interesting that Saul went from being the greatest persecutor of the church to being one of the most persecuted of the church. Everywhere Paul went he received opposition. When he first went from enemy to ally, Jews plotted to kill him, and the disciples had to sneak him into a house by lowering him in through an opening in the wall. In Acts 14, Paul was interrupted during his preaching, dragged out of the city, and stoned until they thought he was dead. But the disciples got around him and found out he wasn’t dead, and Paul “rose up and entered the city.” Verse 21 says he “preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are in prison. They’ve been once again seized and dragged in front of people, and they were beaten and jailed. So starting in verse 25:

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

COME ON. This is insane. They’re in prison. After being beaten. And I can just imagine them singing these songs, loud enough that all the other prisoners can’t ignore it. And the prisoners are listening to the words and hearing these men pray together. Even in their chains, they’re praising God. And an earthquake comes, aka Jesus shows up, and their doors are opened and their chains are loosened.

But do these guys run? Do they flee? No. They stay put. They use this as an opportunity. So this prison guard wakes up and sees that he blew it, and is about to take his own life. But Paul speaks up. And this prison guard encounters grace in that moment. And glory follows: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

In Paul’s position, his pursuit, and his persecution, grace is triumphant.

Paul goes on to spend his life traveling to the ends of the earth preaching the gospel. People try to kill him many times; he is arrested many times, and ends up living out his days in prison. But none of these things keep him from praising Jesus and proclaiming his grace. Paul’s final days were spent writing letters to the churches he started, pleading with them to give their lives to Christ. The grace that was poured on him resulted in glorious victory for Jesus’s kingdom.

Glory is grace’s trophy of victory.

We each have positions in life. We each have places in our lives where our position is valuable, and is an opportunity for the Gospel to be shared. And we always have two options: to share the grace of God with others, or to keep it to ourselves. No one lives a life where they are not valued, and where you are valued, you are heard. Use your position to reach the people around you with the Good News.

Let God’s glory be grace’s trophy of victory. In your positions and in your pursuit. Pursue him. Life is not flat terrain; it’s an uphill climb. If we’re not in pursuit, we’re rolling backwards.  

And let God’s glory reign in your persecution.

Your pursuit of Jesus will not always result in a pat on the back. It will not always result in praise. And there’s a good chance that it won’t result in imprisonment like it did for Paul. But it will result in hardships. And trials. And tough conversations. But in those situations, God’s glory shines. Those situations are tough and difficult and trying, but they are grace’s trophies of victory.

Grace is glory militant.

WHO IS THIS MAN?

 

Saul of Tarsus was an incredibly religious man. He lays out his credentials in Philippians 3:5

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

Saul received the best education available in the first century. From the beginning, he was part of the elite. Let’s break down these credentials he identifies:

1) Circumcised on the 8th day

  •  This comes from God’s command in Genesis 17, where God says that “he who is eight days old shall be circumcised”—this is “so shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant…"
    •  Anyone not circumcised has broken my covenant
    • According to God’s Abrahamic covenant, Saul is righteous

2) Of the people of Israel

  • The Israelites were God’s chosen people, through whom Jesus Christ would be born
  • God promised to protect them, deliver them, and save the world through them
  • This was known from the beginning that God was set on protecting these people and would fulfill his promises through them

3) Of the tribe of Benjamin

  • There were 12 tribes of Israel after the 12 sons of Jacob
  • Jacob’s youngest son was Benjamin, and the tribe of Benjamin was the smallest tribe
  • Warlike nature

4) A Hebrew of Hebrews

  • Pure-blooded Hebrew who had retained the language and customs of his fathers, in contrast to other Jews who had adopted Greek language and custom
    • “If it would have been possible to gain salvation by obeying the Jewish ceremonial laws, Saul of Tarsus would have been one of the best qualified Christians in history.
    • Not only was Saul of the nation of Israel, he was named after a Jewish King

5) As to the law, a Pharisee

  • Pharisees were the great teachers of Israel
  •  They were zealous for the Torah of Israel, and zealous to fight against any attacks against the temple
  • Pharisees often led young men into terrorist activities to defend the purity of Israel and the Mosaic law

6) As to zeal, a persecutor of the church

  • Zeal=violence
  • Willing to enforce the Torah by using violence
  • He persecuted the church because he thought they were blasphemers, or speaking lies about God

7) As to righteousness of the law, blameless

  • Doesn’t mean without sin
  • Means he followed the law completely according to the laws own standards
    • Offered proper sacrifices at the proper times
    • Studied the Torah
    • Lived by all purity laws

Saul was wealthy and had access to power, money, and prestige

In the days of the Book of Acts, Saul’s power reached further. When Stephen was taken outside the city and stoned, Saul was the man overseeing that event. The Bible says that the people killing Stephen took off their garments, their coats, and laid them at the feet of Saul. Some translations even say that Saul held their coats for them. This act indicated power and authority, and verse 1 of chapter 8 echoes that: “And Saul approved of his execution.”

This was a guy on a mission. Chapter 9 says that Saul was breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. Breathing threats. With every inhale and exhale, his driving purpose was to take down the church. Saul even went so far as to intercept letters that were being sent to the followers of Jesus who were in prison. He’d find the people who wrote the letters, go and get them, drag them out of their homes, and have them tossed in prison. Saul was out to end the growth of the church. He was methodical and intentional and without remorse. But Jesus had greater plans.

Jesus has his ways of getting our attention when we’re stubborn or on our own agenda. And that’s what he did with Saul. Saul is on his way to arrest more Christians, to throw more believers in prison, and Jesus stops him in his tracks.

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

I hear this like a father talking to his son. With stern tenderness, only wanting what is best, but not going to let Saul’s actions continue any longer. And Jesus has taken Saul’s offensives personally.

“Why are you persecuting me?”

Saul was persecuting the church, but Jesus sees no difference. And I love Saul’s response.

“Who are you, Lord?”

Saul knows exactly whom he is talking to. Because when you’re living a reckless life of disobedience, you will be confronted. It may not be a bright light from heaven, but you will be confronted and you will know exactly who you’re talking to.

So Saul is confronted, and Jesus says “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.

“Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were open, he saw nothing.”

Arguably one of the most powerful men of the times, Saul is blinded. He no longer was in control. He is physically blinded, but his heart and mind were blinded long before his eyes. Saul was stopped in his tracks, confronted of his ways, and stripped of any control he had over his life. And that’s what Jesus does to us. If we don’t give up control, it’ll be stripped from us.

Now enters Ananias.

Ananias was a disciple at Damascus, the same place Saul was headed to arrest Christians, possibly even Ananias himself. So Jesus speaks to Ananias in a vision, and tells him a specific house on a specific street to go to. "Oh, and by the way, there’s going to be a man there that you may have heard of? His name is Saul of Tarsus, and he should be expecting you…” Ananias is told to go seek out the man that is known for persecuting Christians. The man that was most likely on his way to Ananias before Jesus intervened. Equivalent to the leader of ISIS.

Reaction: “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”

Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.

Ananias obeys. He enters the house, finds Saul blinded, lays hands on him and says “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened, no longer by his own power.

We don’t decide who is worth saving. We don’t decide the credentials for salvation.

Jesus shows us that no one is good enough where they don’t need grace and nobody is bad enough that they can’t receive grace.

Saul was confident because of his religious checklist. And none of those things sound compelling to us. But don’t be fooled to think we haven’t created our own checklist. But that is not what your confidence is found in. In religion, Saul was glorifying Saul for Saul. In Christ, Saul’s life will glorify Christ for Christ. Saul’s story shows us that no one is bad enough that they can’t receive grace. 

 

Love is worth what it costs.

“Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of disciples and said “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit…”

 

So let’s look at Stephen the man. He was a disciple, a follower of Jesus, but not one of the original 12 disciples. He became a disciple after the church began. It says that Stephen was a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. This would have been a requirement that the apostles looked for in the seven men they were choosing. When I was studying this text and looking up what those requirements would have looked like, this is what I came across: “Being full of the Holy Spirit would mean their daily walk under the control of the Holy Spirit had continued for a long enough time to produce the evident fruits of the Spirit.” So Stephen was known for his love, his joy, his peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Those things were consistently evident in his life and he was chosen because of them. Now why did they call Stephen for this task? What was happening?

 

The text says the Hellenist widows were being neglected. There were two distinct groups here, the Jews, and the Hellenists, who weren’t native Jews. This text tells us that the church had organized a feeding program for feeding the needy, and in spite of this good work, there was a group of people who were not being cared for in the same manner as the other. This neglect was not deliberate but merely an oversight. The Apostles were leading the church, and they were preaching and teaching, and the church grew and grew. And the native Jews, the people they knew, they were doing a great job at feeding the needy and the widows they knew, but with the number growing and the Hellenists merging with this group, the widows were unintentionally neglected.

 

So the Apostles, the ones preaching and teaching, gathered together the disciples and addressed this issue. The Apostles picked out seven among them that were in a position to step up and help lead.

 

So Stephen was chosen. Verse 8 says, “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.” Verse 10 says, “They could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.”

 

So 5 things to note about Stephen the man:

 

He was full of Faith. (6:5)

He was full of the Holy Spirit. (6:5)

He was full of grace. (6:8)

He was full of Power. (6:8)

And he was full of Wisdom. (6:10)

 

Stephen the Message

 

Follow with me at verse 8: “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen, and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly instigated men who said ‘we have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.’ And they stirred up the people and the elders and scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses who said, ‘this man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.’ ”

 

Stephen, this man who was full of faith, the Spirit, grace, power, and wisdom, was now being accused by the Jewish people, the chosen people of Israel, for speaking against Moses and God, against the laws and customs handed down by Moses.

 

The high priest, the top dog, the supreme religious leader, said to Stephen: “Are these things so?”

 

And Stephen just lets go. He just pours out for an entire chapter against these people of Israel. This righteous Jewish people. He walks them through THEIR history, the history of the Israelites, who time after time, persecuted each and every prophet that God sent to them. He talks about Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph, and Moses, and Aaron, and Solomon. He ends with this: “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

 

We are starting to see a pattern of boldness within these disciples. Before the most important people, in front of the ones who decide their futures, whether they live or die, these Apostles choose boldness and courage.

 

Stephen the Martyr

 

As you can imagine, this didn’t go over well. Which brings us to Stephen the martyr. Verse 54 says “when they heard these things they were enraged…they rushed together at him. They cast him out of the city and stoned him…and as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Stephen became the first Christian martyr; the first person killed for Jesus Christ.

 

This is a huge turning point in the early church, and something that we’ll talk about in the next few weeks. But let’s look back at Stephen as the man, the message, and the martyr, and let’s look at the story that his life tells.

Stephen shows us that there is one story. There is one story worth living for and ultimately worth dying for. And this story is triumphant and heroic, but look at it from a bigger picture. Stephen isn’t triumphant and heroic. He’s just following the example of the one before Him. Stephen is living out the story of Jesus. Of Jesus the man, the message, and the martyr.

 

Here’s what Pastor Beau Hughes has to say about it: “Like Stephen, Jesus was filled with the Spirit and had a ministry of unrivaled wisdom and authority. Like Stephen, Jesus was accused of blasphemy before God. Like Stephen, Jesus was given an unjust trial and refuted his accusers with power and wisdom. Like Stephen, Jesus was led out of the city and executed in an excruciating and horrendous way: crucifixion. Like Stephen, Jesus, as he was being crucified, as he was being murdered, prayed for forgiveness for the very ones who were murdering him. Stephen is just following Jesus' example.”

 

Stephen had 30 seconds. He had 30 seconds to tell the world the story he was living for. What story are you living for? What is it you want people to know about you? What do you want to be remembered by? The story you’re living for shapes your identity. Stephen lived for the story Jesus died for, and Stephen died for the story Jesus lives in. Are you living out the story Jesus died for and lives in?

 

“We don’t think much about how our stories will affect the world, but they do. People learn what’s worth living for and what’s worth dying for by the stories they watch us live. I want to teach our people how to get scary close, and more, how to be brave. I want to teach them that love is worth what it costs.”-Donald Miller

 

What shall we do?

The book of Acts starts with the end of Jesus’s time on earth. The Bible tells us He lived, died, was resurrected, and spent 40 days with his disciples. At the end of those 40 days, He told his disciples that he was leaving, but that the Holy Spirit would come upon them and be with them. They asked when He would restore the Kingdom of Israel. When was He going to be back? What was His next move? They were eager to know what was next. But Jesus answered with this:

 

“It is not for you to know the times and seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power with the Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

Translation? Don’t worry about it.

No, really. Don’t worry about it. It’s not for us to know. God has this whole thing figured out—the times, the dates, all of it. And it’s not for us to know.

But Jesus gives them this charge: you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. Up until this point, these disciples felt empowered because they walked with Jesus, next to Jesus, within arms reach. But Jesus gave a new perspective. It’s not just when you’re in the physical presence of Jesus. The power is now going to come from the Holy Spirit. And when it does, you’re to be witnesses. You’ve seen and heard and observed, and you’re going to tell people all of those things. You’re going to be witnesses in Jerusalem—on our home turf. Right here in our neighborhood, on our streets. You’re also going to be witnesses in Judea and Samaria. These places are further out. They’re the neighboring states, the places it takes effort to get to. But we’re to go be witnesses, here and there. And finally, we’re to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. Jesus left them with those words and returned to heaven.

 I imagine those disciples standing there in awe, until someone made the first move back to their homes. They probably walked back in silence, staring down at their feet covered in dirt. It says they went back and went to an upper room, and I imagine not knowing what else to do, they started praying.

 And then Peter speaks up.

 

We’ve read a lot about Peter in the New Testament. As one of the first followers of Jesus, Peter is referenced many times in the Gospel of Matthew. To refresh your memory, here’s a few of Peter’s shining moments. His resume, if you will:

  • Peter was called by Jesus when he was out fishing. Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
  • Peter was the one that freaked out when Jesus walked on water and ran out onto the water after Jesus, and then took his eyes off of Jesus and sank until Jesus saved him.
  • Peter was the first disciple to profess Jesus as the Christ, son of the living God. And immediately after, Jesus said “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”
  • Shortly after that, Peter rebuked Jesus—he called out Jesus—for saying that he would suffer and be killed and on the third day raise from the grave. Peter. Called. Out. Jesus. That’s when Jesus pulls out the famous line “get behind me, Satan.”
  • Peter was one of three people who went on top of the mountain with Jesus when he transfigured right before them and “his face shown like the sun.” Peter then comes up with the genius idea to pitch some tents and stay put. They were the privileged ones, why wouldn’t they stay and just soak it all in?
  • Peter asked Jesus how many times he was required to forgive his brothers. He was probably tired of people messing up, and he wanted a black and white answer of what his requirement was. He wanted to make sure he was meeting the quota.
  • Peter falls asleep in the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus asks him to keep watch while Jesus goes to pray. This leads to Jesus being arrested and taken away.
  • Peter is probably known best for his next role, where he denies Jesus three times.

Peter doesn’t have the greatest track record. He goes back and forth for nearly three years. Every time it seemed like Peter had it figured out, he dropped the ball. He messed up often and he messed up in big ways.

 

In the beginning of this book, we see Peter stepping up. These guys just saw their best friend murdered, like he said he would be. Then he defeated the grave, just like he said he would. And then he hung around for a little bit, like he said he would, and then he returned to heaven, LIKE HE SAID HE WOULD.

Can you imagine the feelings they felt? The confusion and the excitement and the pressure and the fear? Jesus was gone, the Holy Spirit was coming, and they were to go be witnesses. Everywhere.

That’s a mighty charge they faced. And so I think they sat in that upper room. And I think for a long time, they sat in silence. And then I think they prayed hard. And then Peter stepped up. I can just imagine Peter in that moment; in his mind, knowing how many times he’s said the wrong thing. Knowing how many times people have seen him fail. But that didn’t hinder what Jesus asked him to do.

Acts 2:1 “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.”

Pentecost is a holiday that commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit on the early followers of Jesus. So Jesus said back in chapter 1 “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you…” and chapter 2 is saying: this is when that happens. Historically, Pentecost is the beginning of the Christian church. Spiritually, it is the day that the church began because the Spirit came upon the group of believers. Because the church could not move until the Spirit was present. A group of people gathered together is just that: a group of people gathered together. If the Holy Spirit is not present in that place, it is not the church, but rather a group of people gathered. So both historically and spiritually, Pentecost acknowledges and commemorates the beginning of the Christian Church.

So as Pentecost is going down, as the Holy Spirit is coming and showing up and moving within this group of people, the skeptics start talking. They start pointing fingers at Peter and his homies, accusing them of being drunk.

Have you ever had that happen to you? That you’re so filled with joy about Jesus, that your life is changed, that your actions are different, that your attitude is alarmingly contrasting to what the rest of the world sees and views and portrays that people can’t find a way to explain you? They can’t explain the way you act and the way you love and the choices you make, so they start talking? That can’t be normal, they must be weird or confused or blinded or drunk.  

That’s what’s happening here. Peter and his crew are associated with this, and Peter has a choice to make. The last time he was associated with a group, he denied it hard. But not this time. Peter speaks up, for what is his first sermon: 

"But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: 'Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jersualem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day…Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know-this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.'

Peter throws down. He calls out the people of Israel, the chosen people. And he says this: God gave Jesus to you as proof. God did mighty works and wonders and signs through him RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. The guy that was your proof, you delivered him when he was innocent and you killed him when he was blameless. That’s on you. But Jesus was raised up because death can’t hold him. That’s on God.

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Acts 2:36

Can you imagine the crickets in that arena? The silence that comes after that? Peter stood up for his 11 and for his King. He called out the chosen people who saw and heard and witnessed all that Jesus did, and they looked the other way. I imagine that awkward silence. But here’s what came next:

 “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’"

They were cut to the heart. Peter’s words went straight for the heart. And the Holy Spirit was present and it moved and these men now understood.

“What shall we do?”
“Repent and be baptized. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness….so those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

 And so began the church.

The book of Acts is all about the church beginning and the church moving. And Peter shows us that the church began with his courage. 

Peter's time with Jesus had one monumental moment in it. Jesus said,

“Peter, who do you say I am?”
“You are the Christ, son of the living God.”
“And you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”

In that moment, and I’m sure in all the other moments too, Jesus saw Peter not for who Peter was, but for who Peter would become. Jesus knew Peter. Jesus had Peter’s resume, but it didn’t look like this. To Jesus, Peter’s resume was all about where he was headed. Jesus was more interested in where Peter was headed than all the places he had been.

And when Peter realized that, he moved and the church began. It began just like Jesus said it would.

 God is more interested in where we're headed than all the places we’ve been. And I think Jesus wants to use us to move his church. To grow his church. But that requires us to do what Peter did: we need to step up. 

Let them see your boldness and courage.

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John, and realized they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished. And they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13

 

Let me give some context to this verse. This is after Jesus died. After Peter went back to being a fisherman—interestingly enough, John was with his crew that said “we’ll go with you”—so after they fished, after Jesus said ‘Follow me’. Jesus spoke his last words and went up to heaven. After that, the disciples knew it was game time. There was no more going back; their lives were radically changed and they lived that out. Thing started happening. These men had lived learned from Jesus, but his physical body was no longer with them. He promised the Holy Spirit, and Peter and John began preaching and teaching. They went full force. They were spreading the word, meeting with people, devoting their time to studying scripture and listening to teachings. These guys were all in.

 

As they were headed to the temple, they came across a man who was ‘lame’. From birth, this man was unable to walk. The man was a beggar, and he asked Peter and John to help him out. Peter told the man he didn’t have any gold or silver to give him, but what he could give him he would. Peter spoke these words: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”

 

This man got up. And he walked. And he praised God.

 

Peter and John didn’t really see it as a huge deal. They knew the power the name of Jesus held. But the people—the people saw this to be extraordinary. This man sat outside the temple every day begging. Everyone knew this man was unable to walk from birth. So when he’s skipping around praising God, people begin to notice. Peter saw everyone’s interest peak, so before credit could land on him, he said this:

 

“Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom YOU delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But YOU denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you (who was that murderer?) and YOU killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name-by faith in his name-has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.”

 

Peter stops them right where they are. “Wait, you are interested now? Now you care? You’re the ones who handed over Jesus to Pilate. You’re the ones who asked for a murderer to go free so that Jesus would be killed on a tree. The man you denied-he’s the one who made this man walk.”

 

Believe it or not, this didn’t go over super well. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and captain of the temple showed up, and Peter and John were arrested. The next day, the rulers, elders, and scribes, all the important people, came together to have a little chat with Peter and John. After all, Peter had just blamed them for killing Jesus.

 

In regards to the healing of the man who couldn’t walk, the important people asked this question: “by what power or by what name did you do this?”

 

I’m not sure what they were expecting to hear, but Peter wasn’t about to hold back.

 

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter said to them:

 

“If we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom YOU crucified, whom God raised from the dead-by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

 

Peter didn’t just stop at “uh, it wasn’t us, it was Jesus?”

 

Peter proclaimed. And I assume it was with a little fire and a little angst.

 

A good deed had been done indeed. But it wasn’t by their power. It was by the power that these rulers and authorities and important people tried to stop. It was by the fire they tried to extinguish but couldn’t. Not only could they not stop it, but now they were to rely on him, for there is no other name by with they can be saved.

 

Pretty bold move from Peter, right? This coming from the guy who backed into the crowds when extraordinary was killed on a cross. This coming from the guy who went back to being a fisherman because he had failed and doubted and messed up.

 

This certainly could have ended poorly for these guys, but they knew that. They weren’t worried about that anymore. And the important people noticed.

 

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John, and realized they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished. And they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”

 

They were unschooled, ordinary men. They weren’t leaders and scribes. They didn’t grow up studying in the synagogues. They were ordinary people. But we know full well that God uses the ordinary and makes it what? Extraordinary.

 

They had been with Jesus. The rulers didn’t come to that conclusion because they had records of where John and Peter had been. They didn’t hire a private investigator to track their movements and interactions. But they knew. They knew that these men had been with Jesus.

 

Here’s something really cool, so track with me on this. When Adam and Eve were created and living in the Garden of Eden, they were with God, perfectly and intentionally. Sin came in, and messed that up, causing Adam and Eve to have their sin exposed and removing them from the garden. Separation happened. But God didn’t stop there in his pursuit. His plan to restore was and has always been at work. God called Moses to free his people, and he made a promise to Moses: “I will be with you and your mouth, and will teach you what to do.” God was with Moses. God was with the prophets in their trials. He was with Hosea as he pursued a wife who chased the world. God was with Ruth as she was faithful to her mother Naomi when they had lost everything. God made it CLEAR he was with us with the birth of Jesus. “They shall call him Emmanuel, which means God is with us.” Even at the end of Jesus’ time on earth, he spoke these words: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you, and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus is with us always. That’s not just a pretty picture and a warm fuzzy feeling. That’s a promise. He is with us always. Not he was with us, or he will be with us; it’s a present promise. He is with us always, to the very end of the age.

 

Peter and John finally got that. They understood that. They believed it, trusted it, and left everything else as trivial pursuits. And because of that, these elders and rulers and important people SAW JESUS. They saw his power and his love and is reach in Peter and John.

 

We’ve had quite a year together. We started off with a killer kick-off party, with new and old faces, but faces that became familiar and became family. We started through the 5 foundations; fellowship, discipleship, worship, service, and evangelism. We lived those out; we started a service crew, and you guys hit the streets and neighborhoods and showed people you cared. You cleaned gutters and weeded gardens, and raked SO MANY LEAVES. You moved furniture and listened to stories did it without a complaint but with so much joy. We studied through the life of Moses, and how God was with him through all that crazy stuff in Egypt. 50 of us went to Kansas City and served at My Fathers House. You fixed furniture, packaged gifts, loaded trucks, and helped families start over with their lives. You served joyfully and selflessly. We studied through Ephesians, that God chose us and pursues us. He gives us the tools we need to take on the world, and he protects us through it. You guys cooked and served Wednesday night dinners to the church families here, all while you took on a HUGE task of Student Life Series. You sought the Lord and studied the scriptures, put together lessons, and stood in front of your friends and explained to them what Jesus has taught you. You woke up before the sun and served Easter breakfast to hundreds of people. You smiled and danced and shook hands and exemplified joy. And then in just a few months, we’ll be heading to the Adirondack Mountains, where we’ll just have the greatest time.

 

Here’s the thing, friends. This year, when people have looked out their windows at a bunch of teenage boys raking their yard, when they walked through the line to get pancakes and sausage, when they see 20 kids show up to a Sunday service together, when they read about you teaching the Bible and they see your dedication to this, they see boldness. They see devotion. They see courage. And when they see your courage, they are astonished.

And I PROMISE you—they take note that you have been with Jesus.

 

When they saw the courage of the EDGE students, are realized they were ordinary high school students, they were astonished. And they took note that THESE STUDENTS HAVE BEEN WITH JESUS.

 

That’s what this is all about. That’s what it will always be about. Let them see our love and our gentleness. Let them see our boldness and courage. And let them take note that you have been with Jesus. He’s been with us from the beginning, and he promises to be with us to the very end of the age. And it’s’ just the greatest promise to get to be a part of. 

Conquer Lies with Truth

I don’t think we talk about Satan enough.

I think we underestimate his power and his schemes and we overestimate our own strength. And I think it’s when things are great and happy and big that Satan creeps in and starts working. The bible says quite a few things about our enemy:

John 8:44 says Satan is the father of lies. He owns them, he created them, and he thrives off of them.

2 Corinthians 11:3 says that, just as the serpent deceived Eve with his craftiness, our minds are capable of being led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.

John 10:10 says the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. That’s it. That’s Satan’s purpose. But not Jesus’s. He came so that we may have life and have it abundantly.

So what does he steal, kill, and destroy? This:

 

He steals our joy with lies about ourselves.

He kills our unity with lies about each other.

He destroys our progress with lies about God.

 

Let’s start with the first one: he tries to steal our joy with lies about ourselves. Satan works to make us ineffective for the Gospel. He wants us to think we’re useless. If you teach a soldier he is inadequate to fight the war, he is going to surrender. That’s what Satan does. He tells us that we’re worthless and that we’re no good. He points out our mistakes and reveals our imperfections. He tells us we’re not good enough to be part of the army, and that our baggage is too heavy to carry. When we think we have it figured out, he tempts us into sin and uses it to get us off course. He tricks us into thinking sin is okay. He deceives us into ignoring our conscience. He plays the game, and he plays it well. Here are lies he often tells us about ourselves:

 

“I’m not good enough.”

“I’m not pretty enough.”

“I’ll never be as smart as them.”

"I don't need to change--I'm fine how I am."

“Nobody would care about me.”

“My worth is found in what other people think of me.”

 

He also tries to kill our unity with lies about each other. Satan is the great enemy of God and his people, and one of his greatest tactics to disrupt the church is to bring about disunity. He wants to break up community. He wants there to be an absence of love and a presence of pride. And he does this by lying about the people around us. One of the ways we see this most often is through correction. Correction is a good thing. It is a noble and humbling thing in our lives. And we NEED it. We need to be corrected by the people around us so that we can be encouraged to live a life honoring to God. But Satan takes correction and turns it into a word that is so frequently used and misunderstood. 

JUDGMENT. Yes, judgment. When we are corrected by the people who love us, we should immediately stop and think, “Is there any truth to what they are saying? I know this person; I know they love me and they care about me. They wouldn’t correct me to hurt me, it would be for my benefit.” But instead, Satan starts in to kill our unity. He says, “Who are they to correct me? They’re not perfect; I know what they did last weekend. They look down on me, but they’re just as bad.” Or, he convinces us correction is used to elevate ourselves. "We are better than them, so we get to tell them how to live life." His voice gets a little louder with these lies:

 

“They don’t actually care about me.”

“I’m better off without them.”

“They think they’re perfect and could never understand.”

“I feel judged the second I walk in the door.”

“I’m not here to be lectured by people who think they’re perfect.”

“They don’t belong here, they’re not one of us.”

 

Let me make this perfectly clear to you: those thoughts are lies. They are lies from Satan. He wants to kill unity. He wants our community to be gone.

 

 Satan also tries to destroy our progress with lies about God. This started way back in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. Satan said to Eve, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’ ” Adam and Eve had made so much progress in the garden. Man was created and lived in harmony. Man named the animals and had complete freedom in the garden, until Satan twisted God’s words and deceived Adam and Eve. Satan made them believe that God was withholding good from them. Satan takes a good and loving and just God and twists our perception of him into a harsh and unfair ruler with impossible expectations. Satan takes the things we think we heard about God and changes them to be lies. That’s why it’s so important to know scripture and what God actually says. The lies that come with those often sound like this:

 

“He’s impossible to please, so I might as well give up.”

“I’ll never be good enough for Him.”

“I always feel bad when I sin against Him, so what’s the point in trying?”

“How could a good God expect that from people?”

 

So what do we do with this?

Satan comes to kill and steal and destroy. But Jesus came so that we may have life and have it abundantly. So to have life, we need to conquer lies with truth.

Truth about ourselves:

Yes, we fail. But we aren’t called to be perfect, because Jesus was perfect for us. But we are called to walk in light. All those lies of us not being good enough are silenced when we realize the price Jesus paid for us. That realization should propel us to walk in light and in freedom.

Truth about others:

Community is important. It’s a gift from God. It restores us and encourages us and corrects us. And those are all good things. We have to remember to see them as good things. We also need to remember that our community is made up of messy people with messed up lives. People expect a church family to be nice and neat and clean, but it’s actually the opposite. It’s a place for the messiest to come and be with other messed up people. But it HAS to be a place with the presence of love and the absence of pride. It HAS to be a place where we can say, “Hey, I know these people love me. I also know they’re messed up, just like I am. I know they fail, and I know I’m going to get hurt. But I know forgiveness and grace will reign.”

Truth about God:

God is good and loving and just. Yes, we will always mess up. Yes, we will always fall short. Yes, we deserve wrath and punishment and death. But God is good and loving and just. He is good because he rewards righteousness and deals with sin. He is loving because He came up with a solution for our sin. He is just because he took our punishment and completely laid it on His Son on the cross. Our God is for us. That is the truth. Satan will try to twist that in anyway he can, but we have to hold on to the truth we know.

Satan comes to steal our joy with lies about ourselves, but God tells us we are His dearly loved children. We are fearfully and wonderfully made for His purpose.

Satan comes to kill our unity with lies about others, but God tells us our community is a gift that encourages us and holds us accountable. We should see it as a joy and a privilege.

Satan comes to destroy our progress with lies about God, but God himself is for us, not against us. He sent Jesus so that we would have life and have it abundantly. 

 

 

Extraordinary after Easter

John Chapter 21 brings us to a place that we often return to after Easter. The crowds have scattered, the headlines have changed, and the weeks have passed, and Peter does what most of us often do: he returns to ordinary life. 

Peter seems to always be a clear example of what our human lives are capable of. Peter was first a disciple of John the Baptist, the man who came telling people of the coming King. Luke 5 tells the story of Peter being called to follow Jesus. Peter was a fisherman, and he had been fishing all night when Jesus approached him and told him a different way to do what he spent his life doing. Jesus said, “Peter, put out your nets and catch some fish.” Peter was stunned, and probably a little frustrated. He had been up all night and hadn’t caught a single fish. To his knowledge, the seas were empty. But Peter knew this Jesus. He knew Jesus was extraordinary. His expectations may have been low, but he was willing to obey. And when he obeyed, Jesus was indeed extraordinary. Peter caught a large number of fish; so large their nets were breaking. Peter fell at Jesus’ feet, and Jesus called Peter to something great: from now on, you’ll be fishing for people.  You’ll use your skills and gifts for something greater. 

So Peter became a disciple of Jesus. The text says Peter left everything and followed Jesus. He was drawn to extraordinary. For nearly 3 years, Peter lived and learned alongside Jesus. He witnessed miracles and he took part in the extraordinary. He listened to Jesus promise something greater time and time again. Jesus challenged what Peter thought he knew. Every time Jesus taught a parable, Peter was listening. Every time Jesus healed someone, Peter was watching. 

BUT THINGS CHANGED.

Peter watched extraordinary be unpopular. He watched extraordinary be treated like a criminal. Peter faced persecution and when the crowds associated Peter with Jesus, well, we all know how that ended. Peter turned his back 3 times. He denied that he had anything to do with extraordinary. Peter hid in the crowds while extraordinary was nailed to a cross on a hill.

Back to John 21: Peter, along with the other disciples, have seen Jesus after death. Twice. They have seen the holes in his hands and feet. They have heard his voice and held conversations with him.

 

THAT SHOULD BE EXTRAORDINARY.                                                                          And that could be the end of the story. But it wasn’t.

 

After this, Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Galilee. Get this: Peter and six other disciples were together. Peter said to them “I am going fishing.”  They responded, “we will go with you.”

After everything they had encountered, everything they learned and witnessed, they sat together at their old hangout, where Peter makes an audacious statement: “I’m going fishing.”

Doesn’t seem like much, right? But think about it: 

Fishing was Peter’s identity. Peter was a fisherman. He fished for a living. It’s how he made his money. It’s where he found his worth and importance.

Peter didn’t know much; he wasn’t a trained theologian. He didn’t grow up in the synagogues and know all of the religious teachings. But he did know fishing. Jesus interrupted that back in the beginning of his ministry, though. He showed Peter that even what he was incredibly gifted at, what he knew the most about, Jesus had control of that. Jesus called him to MORE, and Peter knew that MORE meant extraordinary.  

But then Peter doubted. And Peter said stupid stuff. And Peter watched from the crowds as extraordinary was nailed to the cross on a hill. So what does he do? He returns to what he knew. He goes back to his old life. After the crowds dispersed, the headlines changed, the weeks rolled over, Peter went back to ordinary.

They fished all night, and didn’t catch anything. So as morning came, Jesus stood at the shore and yelled out to the disciples, “catch anything?” They answered “no.” He told them to cast the net to the other side of the boat. Sound familiar? They were not able to haul their nets in because of the quantity of fish. Peter, once realizing it was Jesus, “threw himself into the sea”.  The disciples did the rest of the work hauling in the fish and they all sat down and had breakfast together.

 After breakfast, Jesus gave Peter another instruction: Follow me. Jesus’s call for Peter hadn’t changed. Jesus used Peter’s ordinary to show him his extraordinary.

Have you ever felt like you failed Jesus too much to return to him?                                      

Have you gotten to a point where it seems easier to return to the life you used to live?  

Just like Peter, Jesus calls you again. After you doubt, after you fail, after you say stupid stuff, after you back into the crowds, Jesus stands on the shores while you’re back in your routine and back trying to take care of yourself. Jesus will watch from the shore and say, “How’s that going? How’s that working for you? Follow me.”

 

 

We only need one field to find hope at harvest time.

The book of Ruth

The story of Ruth begins with despair and bitterness, but resounds with an overwhelming message of grace and redemption. 

Tess and Delaney brought us the story of Naomi and Elimelech, and couple living in Bethlehem with their two sons. When famine hit Bethlehem, they feared the uncertainty that laid before them, and decided to take matters into their own hands. They left Bethlehem and settled in Moab, a country known for its perversion and sin. It wasn't long before the sons each took a Moabite woman to be their wives, but soon after, Elimelech and both of his sons died, leaving Naomi with her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. 

Still living in Moab, Naomi received news that God indeed had provided for Bethlehem, and she decided to return in hopes of finding refuge. She urged both Orpah and Ruth to remain in their homeland of Moab, knowing that without any men in their family, she would be unable to provide for them in any capacity. Orpah agreed and said her goodbyes, but Ruth was determined to stay at Naomi's side. "For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God." Ruth gave up a certainty of prosperity in Moab to an unknown future with her mother-in-law, choosing to trust in the God that provided.

When returning to Bethlehem, Naomi was the talk of the town. She was overwhelmingly bitter at God for the situation she was in. Naomi told anyone who would listen about how God had taken everything from her. To Naomi, Ruth was a display of God's curse on her, but Ruth remained faithful even still. 

Ruth took to the fields, collecting crops leftover from the harvest, when she happened to come across a man named Boaz. He was the complete package: wealthy in money and character with his eyes set on Ruth. When Boaz heard of Ruth's faithfulness to Naomi, he was moved to compassion. He told her she no longer needed to work in different fields; he would provide her with everything she needed. Ruth reported this back to Naomi, who was thrilled. 

Culturally, if a man died and left a family behind, another member of the family could redeem the members, land, and property. Because Boaz was a relative of Elimelech, he was able to be the family redeemer to both Ruth and Naomi. He stepped up to the plate, married the woman he loved, and cared for Naomi, the woman whose lack of trust in God had no effect on God's divine plan for his people. 

In the toughest times of struggle and uncertainty, Naomi took matters into her own hands in an effort to provide for her family. Even so, God was faithful and provided exactly where and how He said He would. When Naomi returned to benefit from God's blessing, she still placed blame on His will rather than her decisions. 

Even so, Ruth stood by Naomi. She chose to believe God would provide, and kept her eyes on Him. Because of her faithfulness, Boaz took notice and provided for her in every way.

We often try to take things into our own hands. We wander back and forth, looking for resolution and comfort. But God sent us a family redeemer. Jesus took notice of us. He gave us hope at harvest time. He assured us we never had to work in another field; his field was all we would need. He paid the price to redeem us, and has given us assurance that He is all we will ever need. 

God bought back what was already His.

Hosea 1 & 2

The story of Hosea is fairly unfamiliar to most, yet Brett brought it to the forefront of our minds in his teaching last night. He told us of the prophet Hosea, who was given an unimaginable task by God. "Go marry a wife who will be unfaithful to you." 

Hosea, trusting in God's sovereign plan, did just that. He married Gomer, a woman with a reputation. She was already labeled as a broken, promiscuous prostitute. But Hosea married her, accepted her, and started a family with her. It wasn't long before things unraveled and Hosea was faced with despair and heartbreak. His wife left him, chasing the things of the world, and left Hosea to care for three children on his own. As we see this story unfold, we can't help but think that Hosea had it coming. He knew he was marrying a woman who was known for being unfaithful. What did he expect? 

But Hosea kept his word. He loved and cared and provided for Gomer, even when she was chasing the things she thought would bring her happiness. He dropped supplies at the back door of where she way staying, hoping to provide for her in any way that he could. And that persistence won her back. She realized the things she was running after weren't providing her the happiness she wanted. She returned to Hosea, and he promised her a life of love and righteousness, of justice and mercy. He took her back and claimed her as his own. 

But the story doesn't end there. Chapter 3 gives us a glimpse into the future of their relationship. Gomer has left again, and is up for auction. But God's message to Hosea is clear: pursue her. chase after her. she is yours. So Hosea paid the price and bought her back. He bought back what is already his. 

This story is beautiful. Hosea stopped at nothing to win back his wife. Her unfaithfulness was no match for his love. Because once she was his, she was no longer defined by her unfaithfulness. She was defined by the love he had for her. This is a picture of the Gospel. That our God, who created us, chose us, and loved us, went to the greatest lengths to buy us back.

We are Gomer. We have a God who loves us and pursues us and offers us an eternal life with Him. He assures our security and our future under his provision. But we choose to be unfaithful. We so often think it's easier to do life our way, and we stray. We chase after our pursuits, only to realize they don't provide what we're looking for.

We are Gomer, but we have a Hosea. We have a God whose love is relentless. It surpasses our understanding of why it would continue when our sin and defiance is so great. It follows us into the deep and dark places of our lives and draws us back to Him. And that relentless love paid the greatest price for us.

We are Gomer, but we have a Hosea. God bought back what was already His. 

                                                     

                                                     

Brett Willhite teaching over the story of Hosea