There are an abundance of teachings, beliefs, and religions all claiming to possess or know “the way” to God. They claim to have the keys to eternal life, nirvana, paradise, happiness, or etc. Some mix and match different theological and philosophical thoughts and beliefs to customize their own personal religion; it is personally designed individually just for you. Since time began humans have loved the idea of custom-made spirituality. The world loves the pluralistic religious culture it has created, resulting in society no longer holding to or knowing absolute truth. Truth has become relative.
I was in a conversation with someone years ago and I remember him saying, with slight tongue in cheek, “When I was young 2+2 = 4, today though 2+2 = whatever you want it to be.” Unfortunately, there is some truth to his statement. Sadly, truth in religion has become taboo because people who believe in one way to God or “The way” to Jesus are deemed as narrow-minded bigots. Religious and social tolerance is preached across the globe and if someone speaks up about certain teachings or beliefs being false; then you are immediately deemed a hateful, judgmental, and phobic person. Sometimes Christians are believed to be irrelevant and stuck in the dark ages, simply because we commit to living in obedience to God and holding to the conviction that the Word of God is inspired, it is absolute truth, and teaches that Jesus is the only way to God the Father.
We live in a consumer age where choice is king. We have the right to choose to shop wherever we want for whatever we want, eat at any restaurant we want, and they will make your meal the way you want, and if they don’t, we will go someplace else. We even have this mindset for the churches we attend.
Many years ago, the queen of talk, Oprah was confronted by a member of her television studio audience questioning her views about God. The woman speaking mentioned the words of Jesus being the way, the truth, and the life. Oprah responded, “There couldn’t possibly be only one way… there are millions of ways that lead a person to the Light or what others call god!” In her mind there are millions of ways to finding your way to what one thinks is God.
With the millions of philosophical thoughts, ideas, teachings, religions, and theories out there today (and many more new thoughts coming to light every day), how is one able to know, discern, or embrace truth? How can you and I find truth amidst the plethora of religious thought and belief’s that the world so lovingly embraces?
The Truth Is in Here
“What is truth?” This was a question asked over 2,000 years ago by Pilate to Jesus. This question was asked in response to the statement Jesus made, “For this purpose I have come into the world- to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then you are a person of truth. We are a church of the truth. We bear witness to the truth.
I Thessalonians 2: 13 – 15
Vs 13a: “We never stopped thanking God that when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human. You accepted what we said as the very word of God- which of course it is.” The Church of Thessalonica was a Church of truth. According to the Apostle Paul they were a Bible believing and Bible teaching Church. How do we know this? because this verse tells us they accepted the Word of God. They loved the Word of God. They received the Word of God. Paul thanked God continually for their love of the truth. In the Bible the Word of God is equal to the truth. This is displayed throughout the Bible. Jesus prayed in John 17:17, Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is the truth.” The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 33:4, “For the Word of the LORD holds true, and we can trust everything he does.” Proverbs 30:5 states, “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to all who come to him for protection.”
When Paul and his companions came to Thessalonica years before he came proclaiming the Word of God.
Acts 17 shows us what happened prior to the Thessalonians embracing the Word of truth. Paul went to the synagogue in Thessalonica for three weeks, which was his custom, and he began sharing the Gospel with anyone who would here. Paul verbally spoke the Word of God. He proclaimed verbally the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ unashamedly. Why? Because the Gospel had impacted his life so much. The transformation in the Apostles life is nothing short of a miracle. He was once a murderous Christian killer who is now a redeemed follower of Jesus himself. Paul knew the reality of the transforming power of Jesus. He knew the power of the Word of God. It was his life; his passion and purpose and he was going to share it with whoever would here.
While he was preaching the Gospel, he annoyed some prominent men, and he persuaded a group of others. The prominent were the religious Jews and the ones he persuaded were mostly Gentiles. The Gentiles heard, responded to, and embraced the truth amidst all the turmoil that was going on around them. The Jews stirred up a riot and Paul and his companions fled for their lives to the town of Berea. One of the Gentile believers, Jason’s, home was attacked, and he was dragged out with some other men and brought before the authorities and persecuted. The authorities took money from them and eventually let them go free. Paul and his companions had only spent three weeks with the Thessalonian Gentiles, and they were so convinced of the transforming Word of God that they willingly endured persecution and financial loss. These Gentiles were sold out followers of Jesus who lovingly accepted and embraced the Word of God, the truth.
Note, this was not a casual belief or a response to the fad of the time. The people of Thessalonica accepted the words Paul proclaimed (the truth) as words spoken by God. These men were convinced that Paul was not preaching a man-made Gospel. He was preaching a divine, Holy Spirit inspired message from God himself. They were so convinced this was God’s Word that they were willing to endure persecution and potential death.
Vs 13b: “And this word continues to work in you who believe.” This Church didn’t just listen to the Word of God… They were changed/transformed by it. It was at work in them as followers of Christ. The message they heard and embraced changed them; as it always should. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and powerful, it is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” What are some words that may stand out to you to show the Word of God is at work? It is ALIVE – meaning that it has and contains life. God’s Word still speaks to the hearts of individuals today. It is POWERFUL. The Word of God has the power to transform and change individuals for the glory of God. It is CUTTING which means it has the power to convict and correct.
Vs 14 - 15: Because the Thessalonians embraced the Word of God, they also experienced the same trials, tribulations, and persecutions that the Church of Jesus Christ was facing all over the world. The same people who had it out for Jesus had it out for his Church These same men had Jesus killed. These same men had prophets killed. These same men inevitably opposed all humanity by hindering Paul, his companions, and the churches by hindering them from sharing the Gospel on a grand scale. Because of this some were not able to receive salvation… But God will and does always have the last Word.
When we look at these three short verses today, we can ask, “How can these passages be applied to me/us today?” As followers of Jesus Christ everything we hold true must be rooted in the Word of God and in the person of Jesus Christ. We live in a world where the lines of truth are clouded and even vanishing. Truth is now becoming about majority rule. If the majority agrees something is right or wrong, then it is. So how does this affect us as believers in Jesus Christ? How do we ensure that we remain in the truth?
Have you ever been betrayed by someone? Has someone ever betrayed your trust or hurt you so badly you thought you could never forgive or trust this person again? Maybe this betrayal was done by a close friend, a trusted confidant, or a relative and this made it more difficult to endure. This deception may have shaken you to the core or to a place where you still have difficulty trusting people today. The act of betrayal is defined as a violation of a person's trust or confidence, of a moral standard. It is the act of hurting someone who trusts you, such as a friend or relative by not giving help or by doing something morally wrong against them. I can think of multiple times where I have been betrayed and even an instance or two in my younger days where I had betrayed someone’s trust or confidence. I know for certain; betrayal hurts and it’s often hard to bounce back.
We are continuing our series “Ordinary Rebels” and today we are going to look at an individual from the New Testament who is notorious for his act of betrayal. We see the ugliness of betrayal throughout the Bible with stories like Joseph and his brothers, David and Bathsheba’s husband, and a few others but none so much as in the disciple Judas Iscariot’s act of betraying the Lord Jesus Christ. We see in this betrayal the darkness of the human heart and the way Satan uses people to commit some of the most heinous acts of evil against one another.
Judas Iscariot is one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ. He is listed in all four Gospels as a disciple of Jesus Christ. He is always listed with a dishonorable depiction of who he was such as Judas, the one who betrayed him (Jesus) or Judas, the one who became a traitor. His dishonorable acts are most likely, why he is always placed last or least among the twelve. We don’t a lot about Judas, but what do know he is not painted in a positive light. The major role he plays in the Gospel account does not come until later in Jesus’ ministry and predominantly at the conclusion of his earthly ministry by handing him over to the authorities to be crucified.
Judas was appointed as the treasurer of the band of disciples who followed Jesus (John 13:29). In the Gospel of John, he is also described as a thief because he stole money from the group’s money box (John 12:6). This thievery may have been something they discovered after he left the group or after he had died. He is also the disciple who criticizes Mary for pouring her expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet and washing them with her hair. He approaches Jesus and asks why she would waste such expensive perfume by pouring it over his feet when they could have taken it, sold it, and given the money to the poor (John 12:3 – 5). Some could say, “that’s a good point!” but we know that charity was not his motivation. In fact, his motivation is in question among scholars as most believe he had no intention of selling the expensive perfume and giving it to the poor, but instead would have kept the money for the disciples and most likely using the money to line his pockets. Thus, many conclude that his suggestions were impure and motivated by his greed and deception.
This morning we are going to look at the remainder of what we know about Judas which are found in the Gospel accounts.
Matthew 26:14 – 16
After Judas criticizes Mary for her wasteful act Judas meets with the leading priests od Israel. It is in this meeting he conspires to betray Jesus for an agreed upon price. We see that he would be paid 30 pieces of silver by the priests to betray him. We read that once the price was agreed upon Judas began to plot his betrayal.
Matthew 26:17 - 25
Following the meeting with the priests Judas joins with the rest of the disciples as they prepare for and observe Passover. During the dinner Jesus tells the disciples that one of the twelve will betray him. One by one they began to wonder and ask if it was them. In verse 25 it would seem Jesus publicly identifies Judas as the one, but in John 13:26 – 30 we see Jesus identify him secretly as the betrayer, because the rest of the disciples did not know that it was him. John 13: 28 - 30 says, “None of the others at the table knew what Jesus meant. Since Judas was their treasurer, some thought Jesus was telling him to go and pay for the food or to give some money to the poor. So, Judas left at once, going out into the night.” Interestingly, we are told in both John and Luke that when he ate the bread that Satan entered Judas. This indicates to us that this was a spiritual matter and Judas’ act was motivated by spiritual darkness. Satan uses Judas to be the instrument to supposedly bring down the Savior of the world. However, we know that what Satan did was not something that brings victory to his evil empire, instead it is the beginning of the plan to destroy it.
Matthew 26:47 – 50
Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. It is in this prayer Jesus has an intimate moment with the Father and asks, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Shortly thereafter, Judas approaches Jesus and kisses him, thus identifying him to the authorities. Immediately he is arrested.
John 18:1 – 7
John’s account is a bit different and more dramatic. We are told that after Jesus had finished his prayer and concluded his farewell discourse, he went to a garden that he went to often with his disciples (Luke 22:39). Judas knew Jesus would be there at this time. He brought with him Roman soldiers (possibly up to 200) and the temple police to the garden to have Jesus arrested. Judas kisses Jesus, but John does not record it. Jesus meets the group and asks who they are seeking? They (we are not sure who “they” are) responds, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replies, “I am he.” The literal translation is “I am.” John tells us the soldiers drew back or as the NET Bible says, “they retreated” or moved back and fell to the ground. What happened at this moment? Why did the soldiers fall? More conservative biblical scholars believe that the soldiers in the front may have jumped back when Jesus unexpectedly advanced forward causing those in the front to start a domino effect of soldiers falling to the ground. Others believe the falling was a result of a Theophany (an appearance of God to humans) causing his enemies to fall back and fall prostrate before him. Both are plausible, but I hold more to the second view. Either way we know Jesus is in control of the situation. In this moment they are hit by a power such as that which struck the Apostle Paul and his companions in Acts 26:14. It was the magnificent radiance of the majesty of Jesus Christ which overwhelmed them. This show of power before he submitted to authorities would show His authority over evil, and the freedom with which He submitted Himself to them. I think it’s important for us (whether a believer or not) to know and understand as Pastor Tim Keller says in his sermon, I AM HE “Nobody can stand on their feet in the presence of God.” The power of God is awesome in all senses of the word. Not only is it awesome, but awe inspiring. I believe in Jesus we see the power of God manifested in His name (I AM, Yahweh). If the mere mention of the name of God can bring a squad of soldiers to their knees, and cause demons to tremble, then we should acknowledge, recognize and respect the power of God and his name altogether.
After this happened Jesus asks them again whom they seek and informs them he is the one they seek. He tells them to let the men with him go unharmed. Then Peter decides he wants to seize the opportunity and attacks the High Priest’s servant cutting off his ear. Peter’s knee jerk reaction spurs Jesus to let everyone know he is not seeking violence but will go peacefully. In fact, he rebukes Peter by asking him, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” This is his way of saying to Peter, “This all has to happen. This has been set since the beginning of time. I must do as the Father says in order to accomplish the plan from the start.” As we can see Jesus has accepted the mission the Father has given to Him. His death on the cross was not a hiccup in the plan of God, it was THE plan from the beginning.
Matthew 27:3 – 10
When Judas realized that his betrayal was the death sentence of Jesus Christ, he could not live with himself. Interestingly, we are told that he was filled with remorse. Was this repentance? Was this guilt? Was this a man who came to, once the devil left him? We do not know. We do know that once he realized he had sold out his friend, mentor, and savior for thirty shekels of silver he took the silver and threw it down on the temple floor and then took his life. It is a sad testimony to the end of his life. He was not martyred for his faith in Christ, he took his life because he his friend, mentor, and the God of the universe in the flesh.
In these passages we see the curtain rising to the final “act” in the Gospel account. The irony to the Good News of this story is that tragedy must strike in order for the news to be good. Since the time of creation this has been the plan of God. Jesus must take this cup and he must drink it in order for those who believe to be redeemed. What I find most beautiful is our perfect Savior lovingly, willingly, and obediently going to the cross of Calvary to give life for us the flawed followers of Jesus. Rejoice in this today. Know you have a Savior who has all the power of God available to him (even so much that at the mere mention of the name of God his enemies fall over) and yet he humbles himself to the point of death so that we who believe may have life and have it abundantly.
In this betrayal we certainly see the ugly side of sinful humanity. We see a man who some may have debated as to his purpose in the Gospel account and others question whether he was truly a follower of Jesus Christ. But what we do see is that God uses people, even in their sinful state, to accomplish his purpose. Was Judas a true Christian? Was he faking it all along? Was he pulling a fast one on God? Was Satan using him? These are all questions that can be answered in one way or another, but my purpose is not to go there this morning. What I see in this passage is the true core of the sinful human heart. Below are some observations…
One day in a classroom a teacher was teaching a lesson and she had a conversation with one of her students and it went like this…
TEACHER: Do you see the trees outside?
TEACHER: Do you see the grass outside?
As a class they went outside
TEACHER: Look up and see if you can see the sky.
STUDENT: Yes, I see the sky.
TEACHER: Do you see God?
TEACHER: So if we can't see God then he must not be there. He simply doesn't exist.
A little girl then speaks up and wants to ask the boy some questions. The teacher agreed and the little girl questioned the boy.
LITTLE GIRL: Do you see the trees outside?
LITTLE GIRL: Do you see the grass outside?
STUDENT: Yessssss (getting tired of the questions this time).
LITTLE GIRL: Do you see the sky?
LITTLE GIRL: Do you see the teacher?
LITTLE GIRL: Do you see the teacher's brain?
LITTLE GIRL: Then according to our teacher’s logic she must not have one!
This joke may make you laugh, but the logic behind it is not so humorous. There are certainly people who think this way when it comes to belief in God. They believe since God is not tangible or visible then he cannot exist. As the story the story suggests this is not very good reasoning.
Now, my point for today is not to “prove” the existence of God. Instead, we will go a different route as we will look at faith and specifically at a man who had a very close relationship with Jesus; he was one of the twelve Disciples and his faith was shaken as he encountered the risen Christ and this forever changed his understanding of what faith is and who Jesus is..
Thomas was one of the twelve disciples. He is listed in the names of the twelve disciples in all three synoptic Gospels and there are three accounts where he is mentioned in the Gospel of John. He is mentioned as Thomas the twin or Didymus which means twin in Greek.
Thomas is known for various characteristics in the Gospel of John.
Can you imagine how Thomas felt after this encounter? His response says it all. I am sure you have (or maybe are currently) had a time in life where you doubted God. Maybe you doubted his existence, maybe you doubted that he was going to come through for you in a certain situation or maybe you just wondered, “Why me Lord? Don’t you care about me?” Here are three observations when we encounter Jesus that may strengthen our faith in times of doubt.
So, what can we learn from this ordinary rebel named Thomas?
You may be thinking, “Well, it’s so much easier to trust something that you can see. I can’t see God, so how can I know beyond a shadow of doubt that He is actually there?” Answer, you can’t. That’s why it’s called faith. Can you see air or oxygen you breathe with the naked eye? I can’t, but I know it’s there, I feel the effects of it. We all had faith that when we walked into this building that there would be oxygen to breathe, correct? This is faith! I can’t see God, but I know He is there because I feel the effects of Him in my life and I see the wonder of His creation around me and then I KNOW He is real. Faith is something that cannot be proven otherwise it couldn’t be called faith. In this closing remark to Thomas Jesus is speaking of you and me. We are truly blessed.
[i] Carson, D.A. (1991) The Gospel of John p. 659 Grand Rapids, MI: William Eerdmans Publishing Company
1 Corinthians 1:20 – 30 says. “So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.”
Vs 21: Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe.
This passage is a great reminder of how God uses whomever he pleases, regardless of education, financial status, social status, or intellect to accomplish his will and purposes. We have seen this time and again in our current series titled “Ordinary Rebels”. We have seen how God used an ordinary virgin teenage girl to be the mother of the Savior, some fishermen, a tax collector, and zealots to turn the world upside down for his kingdom. Today we will look briefly at two men that we know literally nothing about but in the few verses we do have about them we can God’s bigger picture his plan for his people.
James, the Son of Alphaeus
Why would anyone consider preaching part of a message about a man who is mentioned in the Bible four-times and every time he is mentioned it is in the list of the names of the Apostles? Funny, I asked myself that same question. So, here it goes…
James was a very common name. In the N.T. alone there are several men named James who are associated with Jesus. There is James, the son of Zebedee (more about him in later messages). James, Jesus’ half-brother and author of the Epistle James and eventual leader in the church of Jerusalem. The James we will talk briefly about today is known as James the son of Alphaeus and that is pretty much all we know about him. However, this title does tell us one interesting fact, James was most likely the brother of Levi/Matthew the tax collector (Mark 2:14). There is also speculation that James was also a member of the zealot group (who we learned about last week) and that would be interesting then if Matthew (the tax collector) was his brother. This would have certainly been a problem for the brothers since zealots considered tax collectors traitors and would have been natural enemies. I am just throwing it out there for informational purposes.
That’s pretty much all we know about James the son of Alphaeus.
Thaddeus is known by early church fathers as Thaddeus Trinomius, which means “Man with three names”. In Mark he is called Thaddeus (Mark 3:18), in Matthew he is called Labbaeus (Matthew 10:30) and Judas the brother of James (Luke 6:16, Acts 1:13). This last name is significant because it most likely identifies him as the Apostle who asks Jesus in John 14:22, “Lord, why are you going to reveal yourself only to us and not to the world at large?” And I would like to spend the remainder of our time looking at this passage and what it means for us today.
John 14:22 - 31
Verse 22: Judas (Thaddeus) is perplexed by Jesus’ talk about the Helper and how he is manifesting himself to the disciples (Jesus introduces the “Helper” Holy Spirit in the first part of John 14). Thaddeus wonders how Jesus will be able to make himself known and seen only to his disciples and not to the world? He may have thought that Jesus was referring to him returning as the victorious conquering Messiah to Israel which they knew would be a very public display.
Scripture tells us that Jesus will indeed return and manifest himself to the whole world as the victorious Messiah at his Second Coming. We are told everyone will bend the knee before him as Lord and Savior. However, this is not the manifestation Jesus is speaking about. He tells his disciples that he will come back to them after his death, and he will manifest himself to them. He will physically return to the disciples after his death in his resurrected body. We see this in many accounts in both the Gospels and Acts.
Verse 23: Jesus says love and obedience go hand in hand. He says, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.” Here we see that obedience is the outward expression of true love for Jesus. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will…
Verse 24: Disobedience, on the other hand, is the evidence of unbelief and rebellion towards God. A person who has rejected Jesus is obviously not in love with Him. One who is disobedient will…
Verse 25 - 26: These are important words Jesus wants his followers to hear. He speaks to them while he is still here on earth.
However, the time is drawing near for his departure, and he will not be around much longer to teach and remind his followers of the words he has spoken. Thus, the Father will send The Helper, the Holy Spirit, to teach them all they need to know and remind them of his words. When Jesus and the Father dwell in the believer through the Holy Spirit the believer will then be guided by the Spirit. He will become the teacher, He will be the one to bring to remembrance the words Jesus Spoke, and He will guide them in all truth.
Jesus gives these words of comfort to the disciples because when he leaves this world the disciples will be left on earth to be Christ’s representatives. The world is usually depicted as hostile towards God. The world represents the created order and the people who live in it and many of whom have rebelled against God and have no cares or concerns about God and His Kingdom. While still on earth the disciples (and believers throughout history for that matter) will depend on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit will be in the believer to help, comfort, exhort, encourage, and empower him as they (we) dwell here on earth to be true representatives for Jesus Christ. The Spirit is given for our benefit and God’s glory.
Verse 27: The next promise given is peace. Peace (shalom) – The peace Jesus speaks of has a deeper meaning than what we have come to know peace in modern history. We generally think of peace as the absence of conflict, but this is the unstable peace the world has to offer. Those of you who lived in the 60s and early 70s are aware of the temporal and faux peace the world promoted. There was a movement of peace, love, and happiness but everything about the peace (and love and happiness for that matter) was temporary, selfish, and disingenuous.
The shalom Jesus speaks of is a peace that surpasses all understanding and is rooted in salvation. It is an inward peace; a peace of mind and a security in knowing your future destiny. It’s a peace that comes when you know you have been forgiven of your sins, where you can lean on the promise of the indwelling of the Spirit, in knowing you are redeemed and will be restored, and in having security in knowing whether in danger or safety you are in the arms of the Father.
Jesus not only leaves us peace, but he gives us His peace. He tells his us that we are to take comfort in this. To the disciples he tells them not to let their hearts be troubled or afraid. There will be tumultuous times ahead because after his death their persecution will increase. So he tells them to take hold of that peace and let it reign in your hearts.
Today we have this same promise given to us. Jesus has left us with and given us his peace that is far greater than the artificial peace of the world. We are still living in tumultuous times… The future is uncertain. We are reminded that we do not have complete control over all things… In fact, we have very little control in our lives… Yet we should not allow our hearts to be troubled, nor be afraid. We are to rest in the peace that Jesus has left and given us. As followers of Jesus, we can know true (shalom) even amid uncertainty, persecution, and turmoil.
Verse 28: Jesus re-assures and reminds his disciples that he is leaving. If the disciples truly understood what this meant, then they would be rejoicing with him. If they knew the reality of what Jesus was going to accomplish, then they would be behind him 100%. In his death and resurrection Jesus is beginning the restoration process and He is going back to the Father, and this is cause for celebration, not sadness.
Verse 29: He tells the disciples this beforehand so when the time of his crucifixion comes and when he is raised from the dead their faith would remain strong. I am sure there were times of doubt among the disciples as Jesus hung on the cross and now, he tells them, “Remember what I am doing and why I am doing it and let this strengthen your faith.”
Verse 30, 31: The ruler of this world could refer to Caesar but also refers to the one who is behind all acts of evil... Satan. Jesus assures this ruler has no claim on him. Satan is the accuser, and he has nothing on Jesus. His plan is to try and destroy the works of God but cannot succeed.
Just as the believer shows love to Jesus through faithful obedience, Jesus shows love to the Father through faithful obedience. God has called Jesus to the cross of Calvary, and He goes voluntarily and obediently because he loves the Father. His obedience (even obedience to the cross) will speak volumes of his love for the Father.
As we conclude today, we have a lot to be reminded of and promises to hold on to.
When we read the Bible, it is apparent that God is unique in so many ways but especially in who He calls to do his work here on earth. One of my favorite Bible passages is 1 Corinthians 1:20 – 29 (read). This is a great passage to show God uses whomever he pleases to accomplish his will and purposes.
For example, He makes a promise and a covenant with an ordinary gentile man from a place called Ur to become the chosen Father of a great nation. He empowers a murdering adopted Egyptian Prince to free the Hebrews from a miserable existence and life of hard slavery. He uses a prostitute living in the walls of Jericho to assist Israelite spies to overthrow the city. He commissions a shepherd boy and adulterer to become one of the greatest kings in Israel’s history. He sends a defiant, rebellious, and racist man (with the assistance of a whale) to bring an evil city to repentance. He uses a baby with no earthly father and a teenage virgin mother to be the savior of the world. He grabs hold of a Christian murdering Pharisee to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles and ending up writing 2/3’s of the New Testament. These are only a few of the people God used for his plan.
I honestly cannot think of a single affluent or “qualified” individual that God called to ministry. Everyone was either not qualified or disqualified for ministry, yet God still used these men and women. This has always been encouraging for me since I often feel overwhelmed and unqualified to do the work God has called me to. It is humbling to know God chooses you and me to do great things for his glory. We may at times feel insignificant or less than worthy and we may feel like the Psalmist who writes, “What is man that you are mindful of him…” Or maybe you are like me and often ask this question, “Why God did you choose me to be your child and how are you planning on using me for your greater purpose and plan?”
Today we are continuing our series titled “Ordinary Rebels” and we will look at two individuals today Matthew the tax collector and Simon the zealot. These two were men that many would never even consider God could or ever use because of their profession and affiliations. Both were feared and despised by the masses, but regardless of who they were these ordinary men were called by Jesus to be disciples. With one he was a hated individual among Jews, but God used him to be a vessel and a voice to carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations. The other… well we don’t know much about him except he was probably an insurrectionist affiliated with a terrorist group. Let’s begin with the taxman…
Watch: Corner Gas: Taxman Video
The Tax Collector
Not much has changed in 2,000 years… tax collectors were not and still are not well-liked or respected individuals. In fact, they were despised by Jewish society specifically because they worked for the Roman government. They wereknown as publicans and their job was to charge tolls and taxes on behalf of the Roman government. They were private government subcontractors who would tax travelers carrying merchandise between locations or delivering goods along certain well-known roads. Rome would hire local individuals who were familiar with an area's occupants, properties, and roadways so they could be more effective in collecting taxes. Some tax collectors were responsible for large areas, and they would hire employees to collect the taxes. It is likely Zacchaeus fit this category, as he is designated as a “chief” tax collector.
Tax collectors made their living by demanding or extorting higher taxes from the locals than they had originally prepaid to the Roman government. Not surprisingly this flawed system led to widespread greed and exploitation. This profession was flooded with corrupt people who overtaxed others to increase their personal gain and profits.
There are about 20 references to tax collectors in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and they all refer to or are connected to sinners.
Matthew (A.K.A. – Levi)
The disciple Matthew was a tax collector called by Jesus Christ (Matthew 9:9). He was also known as Levi the tax collector (Luke 5:27).
Now, we read in Marks Gospel that there were among Jesus’ followers many tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:14 – 15). Jesus was highly criticized for his association with tax collectors and sinners. But in this account Jesus not only associates with tax collectors but he calls one, in particular, Matthew to follow Him as a disciple. In response to the criticism he faced Jesus informs the religious leaders it is not the healthy who need healing, but the sick (Mark 2:16 – 17). When Jesus called Matthew he rose and immediately followed him and leaving his life behind to follow the savior.
We do not know much more about Matthew. We can make some strong assumptions about him.
A common interpretation of the title “Zealot” credited to Simon is that before he became a disciple of Jesus, he was a member of or affiliated with the radical Jewish group called the Zealots. Zealots were a politically minded group who hated the Romans. Their one and only goal was to overthrow the Roman government and their occupation of Israel. They would use guerrilla and covert acts of violence and terror. The zealots, like the Pharisees, interpreted the law literally and they believed only God had the right to rule over the Jewish nation. Thus, they believed they were doing God’s work when they assassinated and killed Roman leaders, soldiers, and anyone who worked with the Romans (including tax collectors). This is one of the groups who firmly believed the Messiah would come and lead them in conquering the Romans and reestablishing Israel to its former glory.
In A.D. 6 it is believed a group of zealots under the leadership of Judas the Galilean waged a violent revolt against a Roman tax census. These zealots believed firmly that paying honor to any pagan king was an act of sedition against God. This group of zealots carried out terroristic warfare against the Romans, but not soon after it began Rome flattened the uprising and killed Judas causing the zealot party to go underground.
Simon the Zealot
The second ordinary rebel is a man we know ever less about, he is named Simon “the Zealot”. Really all we know about Simon is that he is one of twelve disciples (Matt 10:4; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15) and we assume he was once part of this zealot group I mentioned earlier.
Simon is given the title of “Cananaean”, and some have misinterpreted this as Simon the Canaanite. It is believed and widely held by biblical scholars that the interpretation of the word Cananaean should be translated as “the zealous one”. Luke gives him the title “Zealot” both in his Gospel and in the book of Acts
Both titles, “Cananaean” and “Zealot”, point to the idea that he is referred as both to distinguish between he and the other apostle, Simon Peter.
Interestingly as soon as we are introduced to Simon, we no longer hear about him. What little we do know comes from extrabiblical historical sources and traditions. One source Passion of Simon and Jude, Simon the Zealot is recorded as traveling and preaching as far as Egypt, Persia, and various parts of the Near East and is believed to have been martyred in Persia (James, Apocryphal New Testament, 528–29). Perhaps due to this work, in some church traditions Simon became closely identified with the Apostle Jude
Other sources believe that after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Simon headed to the British Isles and preached the Gospel and was eventually martyred. We are not sure what became of him, but many accounts say point to the belief he was killed for preaching the gospel.
It is interesting to note that Simon and Matthew, who were at complete opposite ends of the political spectrum, became spiritual brothers in Christ. Matthew, a man working for the man (Rome) was called to follow Jesus and a man who, at one point in his life would have had no issue at all killing the tax collector was working by his side and for the same cause of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, what is our takeaway for today? What can we learn from these two ambiguous disciples that Jesus calls to become his followers?
 Bashaw, J. G. (2016). Matthew the Apostle. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
 Lowe, J. T. (2016). Simon the Zealot. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
I have always believed with all the disciples of Jesus Christ I could most identify with is Peter. I can relate to him simply because he not only was an ordinary man called to ministry, but he was a man who often did some extraordinary things and then in the next moment did something and messed up so badly or said some bone-headed thing that he received a rebuke or chastisement. Yeah, I can relate.
Today we are going to look at the life of the Apostle Peter as we continue our series Ordinary Rebels. We will look at the many aspects of Peters life that made him one of the most memorable, in my opinion, of all the disciples and Apostles. We will look at where he came from, his call to ministry, his successes, his failures, and his influence in the Church and Christianity in general.
Peter the man
Let us begin with looking at Peter the man. He was born in a fishing village in Galilee named Bethsaida. His given birth name was Simon Bar Jonah, which means Simon son of John. He is also known as Cephas or Petros (Rock) He was the brother of Andrew who was a disciple of John the Baptist and he is the one who introduced Peter to Jesus. He and his brother were fishermen by trade and according to Mark 1:29-31 he was married. We are told when Jesus came to Peter’s home (which some have suggested Jesus lived with him) Peter’s mother-in-law was sick and Jesus healed her. “And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” We are also told in 1 Corinthians 9:5 that Peter’s wife accompanied him on multiple mission trips. “Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” Extrabiblical traditions speak of him having children and that he was present when his wife was martyred.
Peter’s Conversion & Call
Simon/Peter comes to faith in Christ when his brother Andrew introduces Him to Jesus. (Read John 1:42) In his encounter with Jesus, he calls him, to come and follow and become one of his disciples and immediately they left everything and followed him. In his meeting with Simon Jesus changes his name to Cephas (Petros, Peter or rock). This is significant because from the moment Jesus meets and calls Peter, he has a plan for his life. Fast forward to the Gospel of Matthew 16 and Jesus is talking to his disciples and asks them, “Who do people say I am?” they replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Then he asks more specifically, “Who do you say I am?” to which Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” We read Jesus’ response in verse 17, “And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This is God’s plan and purpose for Peter, he will become the foundation of the Church that Jesus will establish through him, and the gates of hell cannot and will not prevail against this foundation.
Peter the Zealot
Now, one would think that since Peter is Jesus’ chosen guy for establishing His Church that he chose him because he was a man who was self-controlled, bold in his faith, and confident in who he was in Christ. This was not the case. He had some issues with his self-control. I often think of Peter as a person who was more of a “Ready, fire, aim” than he was a “Ready, aim, fire” kind of person. There were times when Peter’s enthusiasm or zeal for the Lord was so hot that he did some outrageous things. One example is in Matthew 26:47 – 56 Jesus is betrayed by Judas and a crowd of people from the chief priests and elders came with swords and clubs. When the crowd proceeded to take Jesus into custody Peter lashes out and cuts of the ear of the servant of the high priest. Jesus rebukes Peter and says, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.
Peter in his zeal for the Lord reacts out of instinct to protect the Savior, who does not need protecting. In his lack of self-control, he does not respond in a manner that is becoming of a follower of Christ and injures someone because of this lack of control. After Jesus rebukes him, the disciples flee out of fear.
How can we forget the fact that Peter walked on water??? (Matthew 14:22 – 33) We often read this story and think “poor overzealous Peter… he didn’t have enough faith to walk on water.” Think about it though when Jesus tells Peter to get out of the boat and walk towards him on water, he doesn’t hesitate, he jumps out and starts walking on water… If only for a moment. Eventually Peter realizes what he is doing, and fear overtakes him, and he begins to sink in the water. But can we really criticize Peter for his momentary lapse of faith? There are only two people we know who have walked on water… Jesus and Peter. You may think, yeah but he didn’t have enough faith to stay afloat. My response is, “have you ever walked on water?” I didn’t think so.
In as much as Peter was overzealous and enthusiastic for Jesus, he was also ashamed of and afraid to associate with Him at the trial and execution of Jesus as he denies any relation with Jesus Christ… He denies not once, not twice, but three times! And the third time he fervently denies as he says, “A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.” Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know the man!” And immediately the rooster crowed.” It is hard to believe that a man so zealous for his savior only a mere few hours previous is now denying his savior so vigorously. Again, we can look down our noses in disgust at what Peter did and how he had the audacity to do what he did, but we do forget, this denial had to happen in so that the prophecy Jesus made earlier that evening would come to pass. “Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”
The life of Peter, however, does not end on this sour note of denial. After the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection He appears to Peter and asks him a pointed question… “Do you love me?” (Read John 21:15 – 19) This threefold challenge to Peter seems to be designed to parallel Peter’s three denials. This post resurrection meeting is often viewed as Jesus’ restoration of Peter to ministry and in his faith.
In verse 15 Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” The question we can ask is Who/what are ‘These’? Does Peter love Jesus more than the fishing nets, boats, fish (occupation). If in fact Peter did abandon his commission (which I personally don’t think) is his love for Jesus more than his love/need for his occupation?
Is he referring to the other disciples? Is Peter’s love for Jesus more than the disciples? Is his love for these men he would consider his brothers more than his love for Jesus?
Is he saying is your lover for me greater than the other disciples assuming they were present? This is the most likely meaning behind the question
The command of Jesus is simple and straight forward… he says, “If you love me, then feed my sheep.” This is a command and commission for believers today. If we love Jesus, then we will not only share the Gospel, but we will continually help one another grow in our faith and to disciple those who are growing in their faith.
In verses 18 & 19 Jesus brings to light the solemn prophecy of Peter’s death. Ancient tradition goes that Peter was martyred years later by being tied to a cross and crucified upside down. John tells us that in Peter’s death he would glorify God. “Follow me” These are the same words Jesus uses to call Peter and thus by speaking to Peter it is believed he is fully restored to his place as an apostle.
“The fact that Peter was clearly forgiven by Jesus and given new responsibilities, amounting to apostleship, despite his total denial of his Lord, can give genuine hope to Christians today who feel that they have denied Jesus and that this is unforgiveable. He calls only for our repentance and our love.”
Peter the Apostle
Regardless of his successes and flaws in life Peter goes on to be an influential Apostle of the Church. He was one of the first disciples to witness the empty tomb. He met with Jesus post resurrection to be forgiven and commissioned to go out make disciples. He was present at Pentecost, and he was the one who delivered the message describing what was happening and preaching the Gospel that resulted in thousands of people becoming believers that very day. He was one of the first people to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. Peter received his vision from the Lord letting him know that Gentiles were not the unclean, unredeemable, and fodder for the fires of hell. He paved the road for the Apostle Paul regarding Gentile conversions who in turn took the Gospel to the Gentiles
Peter’s letters are essential documents in talking about salvation, the church, and Christian living. Author and commentator Scot McKnight writes, “Peter’s letter is an exhortation (5:12) to socially disenfranchised Christians to live steadfastly before God with faithfulness, holiness, and love. This steadfastness may lead to suffering, but a genuine understanding of persecution permits them to face it head-on and go forward faithfully. But the foundation of their faithfulness is an understanding of their salvation that Peter paints graphically at the beginning of his letter.
Peter’s life and ministry is an inspiration to me, and it should be to all Christians. In Peter we see, once again, how God uses an ordinary person like him to accomplish great things for the Kingdom of God. We also see the truth that we all know, but need reminding, that we are all seriously flawed as individuals. We all have issues in our lives, none of us are perfect, only Jesus is. But we see that Jesus is not content in allowing us to use the excuse of our flaws to continue living in our flawed and sinful ways. He calls us, like Peter, to own up to our sins, repent, and submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives. God does not expect us to be perfect, that’s his job. What he does expect from us is to be men and women who are available to work in and through us. Peter was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things for the sake of the Gospel and in establishing the Church. If God can use a simple man like Peter to accomplish his plans, He can certainly use you and me as well.
 McKnight, S. (1996). 1 Peter (p. 29). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
We see time and again how God has called and calls both ordinary men and women throughout history to do extraordinary things for His Kingdom purposes. Last week Jim Hatmeyer introduced a new series we are beginning titled “Ordinary Rebels”. The purpose of the series is to show that God has and always will call normal ordinary people to do extraordinary things for Him. We see this in Jesus’ ministry as he called the twelve ordinary and sinful men to be his disciples for his master plan of ushering in the Kingdom of God.
I am and we all should be encouraged by how God uses these ordinary men/rebels to forever impact and change the world for his Kingdom and glory. Their lives are truly evidenced that when Jesus becomes the Lord and Savior of your life that life and living will never ever be the same again. Pastor John MacArthur writes in his book, Twelve Ordinary Men: How the Master Shaped His Disciples for Greatness and What He Wants to Do with You, “The twelve were personally selected and called by Christ… He knew all their faults long before he chose them.”
As we read through the accounts of each one of these ordinary rebels, we see one common denominator… When Jesus calls someone to follow Him, they drop everything to follow him. The tax collector gives up his life of luxury and leaves his career behind to follow the savior. The blue-collar fishermen drop everything (this would have been their livelihood) to walk with the savior to see his grand scheme to save the world. The skeptic encounters Jesus and is challenged to “come and see for himself” this savior who does not fit the conventional description of what everyone thought the Messiah should look like. We see Philip and Andrew who are so struck with the Savior they just must go out and introduce their friends to the Lamb of God who is going to take away the sins of the world.
But, before we meet all these rebels it is important for us to look at the one who paved the way for these 12 men whom Jesus would eventually call. He maybe not so much an ordinary person, as he had some unique qualitied about him, but he is “ordinary” in the fact that he was not a person from an influential family, nor did he ever rise to a level of fame that would set him apart from others. He is John the Baptist. Today we will look at the person of John the Baptist and the role he plays in the both in the Gospel accounts and in the society he lived namely the religious rulers.
I am going to establish somethings before we get too deep into the message.
I will conclude with some personal applications, but I would like to extend an invitation for you to expand on the Word in your personal time with the Lord.
John The Baptist – We don’t know a lot about John the Baptist but what we do know we can find it in the Scriptures.
The Jews – Most often when this term is used in the Gospel account of John it refers to the religious leaders. The hierarchy of the religious order is a little complex and it is tied in with government. There was no separation of Church and state.
The Temple Order – There are many ranks and levels to the priesthood, and they are as follows…
The Religious Leaders
John 1:19 – 34
John the Evangelist (not the Baptist, but author of the Gospel of John) introduces a new topic and expands a little about this unique individual he briefly mentions in vs 15. It is believed John did not personally witness this account, so he is probably telling a well-known secondhand story of what happened.
Verse 19 – The religious leaders (probably the Sanhedrin) sent priests and Levites to question John the Baptist about who he was. They did not send in the big guns yet. They were only inquiring as to who he was… However, this was not just a casual “Who are you?” question. They were coming to find out specifically if John was the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet.
Israel was under Roman leadership, and they had lost their independence. So, there was a great sense of anticipation and hope for the Messiah to come and deliver the nation from the shackles of Roman rule. So it seemed the time was ripe for his first advent. The Jews believed the Messiah was coming to set Israel free from captivity and establish his Kingdom through the nation of Israel.
Verses 20 - 21 – John strongly denies he is the Messiah. He also says that He is neither Elijah nor the Prophet (which was believed to be one like Moses). They inquired about Elijah because Malachi 4:5 reads, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” They wondered if he was the fulfillment of this prophecy in Malachi. They thought the prophet was like Moses because Deuteronomy 18:15 says, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.”
Verse 23 – John says who he is and why he has come. He is the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3, “I am the voice crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” He was the one who is laying the foundation for the One who all of Israel has been anticipating… The Messiah.
Verse 25 - 28 – By what authority was he baptizing? According to D.A. Carson in his commentary on John, “There interest is in what authorizes John’s baptismal practices. It is not that baptism is unknown. Some Jewish groups practiced ‘proselyte baptism’, i.e., proselytes were baptized in the process of converting to Judaism… Candidates baptized themselves. One of the things that characterized the baptism of John the Baptist is that he administered it.” He continues, “They want to discover by what authority John is baptizing Jewish people as part of the preparation for the Kingdom of God he is announcing. Looking around for an adequate authority to sanction so extraordinary a practice, they wonder if he is an (end times) figure.”
Verse 29 – The day after John’s encounter with the religious leaders John sees Jesus coming towards him and proclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” To the modern Christian (or even to anyone post death and resurrection of Jesus) this statement is an understandable statement and think little of its meaning and how radical of a statement it was coming from John the Baptist. Some have debated even if John the Baptist understood to a degree the significance of what he was saying.
The Messiah the Jews were anticipating was considered a man who was strong, charismatic, a leader, and one who was going to usher in the Kingdom of God and establish Israel as God’s nation once again. To the Jews the Messiah was not going to be one who would be humiliated, hated and eventually murdered as a common thief. A sacrificed lamb was probably the last thing on their minds. They had high hopes for the Chosen One.
D.A. Carson writes in his commentary on the Gospel of John, “Modern Christians are so familiar with the entire clause that it takes effort of imagination to recognize that, before the coming and death of Jesus, it (the Lamb of God) was not an obvious messianic designation.” In other words, the title “lamb of God” was not a common reference to the coming Messiah.
However, John knows (from when Jesus was baptized, and the Spirit descended on Him like a dove) that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. He proclaims publicly Jesus as the Messiah.
Verses 30 – 34 – In verse 30 John affirms Jesus as Messiah. He states that Jesus was before him (even though John was older than Jesus). Jesus was confirmed for John the Baptist as the chosen one previously when Jesus was baptized by John (probably a week before this encounter) and the Spirit of God descended on Jesus like a dove and remained on Him. In Isaiah 42:1 the prophet writes that God will put his Spirit on His servant (the Chosen One) and he will bring forth justice to the nations.
John admits that before this encounter at the baptism he didn’t know Jesus was the Messiah. John knew Jesus since they were cousins, and they most likely had some sort of relationship before this. However, at the baptism Jesus was confirmed to John to be the Chosen Messiah.
As I was studying this passage, I thought about not only are we introduced to two new characters in this story but also to two opposing attitudes when it comes to our relationship with God. These two groups are characterized as heart changers and rule followers.
John the Baptist’s ministry (and life for that matter) was devoted to pointing people to Jesus. He was a heart changer. He knew his place in life. He had a humble (and strong) spirit about him. He was not about self-promotion, he was about Jesus promotion. He had no agenda of his own. His concern was God’s agenda. He was more concerned with people being right with God through preaching a message of baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins. His purpose was to show people a new way of life and a real relationship with God through the Messiah (Jesus Christ).
The Jews (or religious leaders) on the other hand, were all about the rules, conformity, and power. Their whole lives and ministry were bound to keeping the law and being pious. Their “religion” was more about doing than being. They were very much into self-promotion and power simply by imposing rules and regulations on people based on their interpretations and beliefs. Their clothes were lavish, their concern was with status, and their attitudes were conceit. They had no concern for God’s agenda; they were more concerned with their agenda and promoting their will. There was no talk of repentance and forgiveness and submitting to God. Their message was about the rules and regulations. Their righteousness was based in outwardly keeping the rules.
When we look at these groups, we are reminded of how these attitudes are still among us today.
Unfortunately, there are still people and attitudes among us today of the rule changers. These are individuals who depend on “doing” more than “being”. In their minds their fulfillment of duties and “being a good person” are all they need to be a Christian. They attend church on a semi regular basis, they try to be moral (but like all of us fail every so often). Maybe they will put some (in some cases a lot of) money in the plate when it comes around. There is little to no change in heart; they are the same person they have always been and maybe there is a little compartment in their life for God (on Sunday or when they are in a difficult situation. You get the picture.
There are still heart changers in this world today. There are believers who are committed to Christ promotion and preaching a message of repentance and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. They understand their spirituality or faith is not a result of keeping rules and pointing out the sins of others in judgmental and self-righteous ways. They are who they are because they are submitted, committed and obedient to the one (Jesus) who has shown us the way to the Kingdom. A heart changer receives a new heart when Jesus becomes their Lord and Savior. 2 Cor, 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” This means that they don’t just become better versions of themselves, they become new creations in Christ. The old has passed away and the new has come.
The question I leave with you today is… Are you a heart changer or are you a rule follower in your relationship with Jesus? Are you putting all your chips in the false beliefs that you are a good moral person and follow the rules as insurance or assurance of eternal life? Or have you repented of your sins, sought forgiveness, and given your heart completely over to Jesus to completely transform your life?
In the February 2021 issue of Sarasota magazine, I read an article titled “What’s Better Than the Super Bowl Halftime Show? A Peek Inside Tom Brady’s Tampa Mansion”
“Tom Brady’s mansion is the most famous home in Florida. Located on Davis Island in downtown Tampa, it was built by another sports legend—Derek Jeter—who is renting it to Tom and his wife Gisele Bundchen and their two kids...for a reported $75,000 a month.
It has been the setting of Tom Brady’s amazing year in Tampa during which he conquered the town as the GOAT—Greatest of All Time.
It’s a big house: 22,000 square feet under air, with another 9,000 feet of terraces, set on 1.25 acres. It has seven bedrooms and nine baths, plus every imaginable luxury feature: a theater, a dock with two boat lifts, a club room with a full-service bar, an au pair suite, a professional gym (naturally), an 80-foot lap pool, etc, etc. As for the kitchen, well, it has four dishwashers.
The exterior of the home is rather traditional, looking like a country mansion in Connecticut or perhaps a dorm at Yale. Lots of stone. There’s even stone inside, warmed up by a lot of dark wood.
Jeter is living in Miami now, thanks to his new job as CEO of the Marlins, and he has put the house on the market for $29 million.
58 Bahama Circle, Tampa, is priced at $29 million. For more info, call Smith and Associates Real Estate.”
After reading this article one can ask these questions, “How much is too much?” Regarding possessions, can we have too much and if so, at what point does having excess go from being blessed to being wasteful and sinful? Lastly, is it just the wealthy who are most prone to excess or can someone who has little still have too much? I am not going to answer these questions directly, but I will talk about the heart and attitude behind our desire to have more.
James 5:1 – 6: A Warning to the Rich
Today’s text deals primarily with the issues of those who put their trust in riches, wealth, and excess. It is often read or preached with a theme that generally comes across as a rebuke to wealthy people because they have much. As a result, many people who are wealthy often feel guilty or beaten up for being rich and having too much. This is a common mistake made by many. The theme of this passage is not so much about wealth as being sinful but more specifically the sinful heart and attitude behind hoarding, excess, and trusting solely in wealth for security and happiness.
Verse 1: James proclaims a warning to the unrighteous rich about the coming judgment that is upon them because of their selfish and oppressive use and views of wealth. He tells them of the misery that is coming upon them. James is not talking about a physical judgment or misery that is going to occur immediately but most likely is referring to the judgment they will receive after they have lived their lives in selfish and oppressive ways.
Verse 2: This certainly is a reflection or reminder of the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:19 - 21
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Jesus tells his listeners to not store up or hoard their wealth where moth and rust can destroy but rather lay up your treasure in heaven. This passage in Matthew is a way of saying that material wealth and earthly treasures are unreliable and of little value regarding the eternal Kingdom.
Verse 3: James reminds his reader that not only are treasures useless, but they will also be used against them in the last day as evidence of corruption. The wealth they were so dependent on for their security and happiness in the last days will be of no use whatsoever and their unrelenting greed and selfish accumulation will in fact be the one thing that has assured them a place in an eternal separation from God.
Verse 4: Apparently the workers (maybe some of the people in the church) were not paid for or were cheated for the work they had done. These workers most likely appealed to the earthly courts but to no avail, so they made their cry to heaven. The cries of injustice and oppression by those who have been defrauded by the wealthy unrighteous have captured the ears of God the Father and James ultimately says this injustice will not go unpunished.
Verse 5: The word indulgent also means a life of luxury, delicate or soft living… a pampered life. It’s not that the wealthy couldn’t afford to pay their workers they just flat out refused to pay. As their workers were living in destitution or going without food the rich were living lives of luxury. They spent ridiculous amounts of money on themselves and on things they did not need all the while refusing to pay their workers. This neglect and fraudulent actions of the wealthy were just preparing them all the more for judgment.
Verse 6: The wealthy persecuted and took advantage of the poor so they could gain more for their selfish lifestyle. “The righteous person” refers to believers. Although the rich may have defrauded them and even had them killed their cries are still brought before God and God is going to deal with the unrighteous wealthy in due time.
Does This Apply to Me?
In the United States of America God has certainly blessed each one of us with an abundance when it comes to having the necessary means to live our lives in relative prosperity. Now, you may not think you are rich, in fact you may think you are poor but the fact that we can live at the standard of living that we do indicates that we have wealth. When we look at the extreme poverty around the world, we can attest that we are indeed blessed. If you are a believer, you are doubly rich because you have earthily possession and you have eternal treasure that you can share as well.
The reality we should consider is by asking ourselves what we are doing with the resources God has so generously blessed us with? I have often heard people say, “Money is a curse.” I would agree with this only if what you mean is “I need to make money so I can have more and hoard it to myself all the while neglecting the needy” then yes, it is a curse. If you and I are in bondage to accumulating wealth, then it most certainly is a curse. However, as Christians we are called to view and use our money differently than the world. We are continually bombarded daily with the idea that to be completely happy and content we need more. We need bigger homes that we cannot afford, more cars than we need, the most up to date technological device to keep us connected to the world, more clothes, and more luxury items. more…more…more. You cannot be happy if you do not have.
I Timothy 6:17 – 19 is a good reminder, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”
R. Kent Hughes, retired pastor of College Church in Wheaton writes in his commentary on 1 Timothy, “Arrogance is accompanied by dark, telltale shadows. Wealth deludes people into imagining they are of superior value. The delusion goes like this: ‘I have more than other people—therefore I am superior. And certainly, God sees my superiority—otherwise I would not be so blessed.’ Of course, a Mafia don could use the same reasoning. Nevertheless, that is the way our culture thinks, with its pathetic elevation of the rich—so that a vacuous millionaire prominent in the media or the entertainment industry or whatever is held in awe by the masses. Moral superiority is believed to be a matter of homes and cars and yachts and designer labels”
James has accused and warned those in this church who have this mindset. He warns the rich of hoarding, cheating, and devoting their lives to living in luxury all the while neglecting to use our resources for the Kingdom of God. This is a warning we should all take heed. You see the Bible doesn’t necessarily condemn people of wealth because of their wealth. God condemns and judges the wealthy who allow their riches to become their god and devote their lives to hoarding, accumulating, and squandering it all. No matter where you or I may be individually today; as in all things we need to check our hearts when it comes to the resources God has entrusted to us. We also need to check our hearts and attitudes regarding how we treat those less fortunate or in difficult financial positions. Most of all we need to understand and come to terms with the vast wealth we have spiritually. We possess the greatest treasure of all; the Holy Spirit which is Jesus Christ in us, and we must be willing to share him with others. As his children and servants, we must allow him to have complete control in all aspects of our lives (for everything we have is given to us by Him) so we can in turn live as righteous men and women before God Almighty.
 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 160). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
In 1976 I was a young boy at the tender age of six and I remember on October 29th my world was literally rocked! I was watching the Paul Lynde Halloween Special on ABC and I saw a performance from a rock band named Kiss. The song was a ballad called “Beth”. I immediately fell in love with the song and the band. The next day I pleaded with my mom to take me to the local department store (It was Big N, later called Ames) to buy the record. I recall walking to the back of the store where the record section was located, and I finding the record from Kiss called Destroyer. Surprisingly my mother bought me the record and I took it home and listened to it over and over again. This introduction to Kiss began my lifelong obsession with not only the band Kiss, but with rock music in general… more on that in a bit.
So, if you would indulge me for a moment, let’s get in our Delorian and go back in time to the mid 1970’s where hair was feathered, the pants were belled, corvettes were cool, Jesus was just alright with me, and Kiss was one of the hottest bands in the world… Yes, Kiss were an anomaly to the music scene of their day because they were four grown men who painted their faces in makeup (one as a cat, one as a spaceman, one as a demon, and one as a starchily), wore platform shoes, outrageous costumes, blew fire out of their mouths, spit blood, and guitars that would smoke. And if this wasn’t outrageous enough, they had a stage show that literally blew every band off the stage… they had fire, platforms, a spectacular lightshow, and a band logo that was larger life.
In the 70s Kiss was the hottest band in the world. Just about every person knew them. They were on the cover of ever teen magazine, the radio waves, and television. I watched a documentary about the band a while back and at the peak of their fame it was estimated that each member made $12,000 per concert they played, and they sold out auditoriums around the world.
They had a marketing team that flooded stores with Kiss lunch boxes, action figures, puzzles, games, radios, Halloween costumes, posters, t-shirts, pinball machines, and belt buckles. It seemed a at the time that literally everything had Kiss on it. The problem with Kiss though was that they were weren’t a spectacular musicians. Their fame was, unfortunately based on gimmicks, not raw talent. People loved them because of all the things I have mentioned before. When you sit down and really listen to the music, I admit there was nothing spectacular about the songs. They were ok songs. Sure, some songs were catchy, but they were not stellar musicians at all. Stellar performers yes… musicians eh.
This eventually came back and bit them because they gained fans and a following based on gimmicks and to keep their fans they needed to always come up with new gimmicks. Unfortunately, with gimmicks they get old-, and over-time people lose interest after a while. This was the case for Kiss. By 1981 they were pretty much forgotten by the masses. Inevitable they canceled tours due to lack of ticket sales and created albums that flopped in the charts. After some time, they decided to take off their makeup and this gimmick put them back in the spotlight for a time and eventually they fell off the radar again. So, they put the makeup back on in the late 90s with much fanfare and success and now in 2021 they are currently on their third farewell tour playing mid-sized venues.
So, why have I spent so much time talking to you about a rock band named Kiss (a name some people thought meant Knights In Satan’s Service)? Because I believe the church and Christianity has in many ways become like them. Let me explain. With Kiss when you take the makeup off, take away the extravagant stage show, the outrageous costumes and gimmicks you have a band of four musicians who make ok music. When all of this is stripped away only the hard-core fans stick with the band no matter what. They have bought in to the band Kiss and not the gimmick.
Is this what has happened with the Church and Christianity? Think about your own worship experience. Some of your church services are like rock concerts, complete with smoke, lights, great music, cheering, and a message that makes you feel good about yourself, and may help you see Jesus in a different light, kind of like a buddy Jesus. Christians come to these large and sometimes small churches by the droves to get their Sunday Jesus fix. In other cases, people depend on liturgy, tradition, and their church building. In both cases people NEED their Sunday Jesus fix in order to make it through the week.
Now, am I being hard on these churches? Yes, but my intention is not to harp on them and call them evil, heretical, or shallow. That is not my intent. My purpose for today is to help us strip down our inflated ideas on what church and Christianity is and reflect on the words of the Apostle Paul… “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:1 – 5)
I know I spent a lot of time telling you about a gimmick and I guess that could be a gimmick. My hope in using the example I did would show you that gimmicks don’t work long term. I really don’t care if you like Kiss or not. My guess is most of you do not. My goal for today is to share the importance of Jesus.
Let me ask you this question… “When you strip away all the lights, smoke, auditoriums, praise bands, traditions, liturgy and eloquent speakers; is Jesus enough?” Is Jesus enough for you? Can you worship him without all the bells and whistles? Can you serve Him and be obedient to Him without the “feel good” sermons?
In the passage I just read the Apostle Paul is telling his readers Kiss is the only way. (Keep it Simple Stupid) His message is a simple message it is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That is, it. There is nothing more. It is not Jesus AND… The effectiveness in preaching the Gospel is not based on Paul’s eloquent words, his intellect, nor his personality. He has a simple message that Jesus Christ died on the cross for you and your sins. His death is an atonement for your sins. His resurrection is for your justification. His ascension is in the establishment of His Kingdom.
Is Jesus enough for you or do you think you need more? I know many of you have gone to church and to a Christian school for most of your lives. You are inundated with Jesus. In school you have bible classes, chapel, and are expected to conduct yourselves in a Christian manner. Your parents may bring you to church where you are told about Jesus weekly (if it’s a good church). You may go to youth group where you have praise and worship, bible teaching, food, games, and friends. Maybe you do more or maybe you do less. But I want to make it extremely clear right now. This school does not give you salvation. Your church won’t save you. Your youth group won’t save you. Your parent’s faith won’t save you. Only Jesus Christ and Him crucified can save you.
When I think of what Jesus did on the cross of Calvary, and I try to wrap my brain around what he did it humbles me. Why does it humble me? Why would the message of the cross humble anyone? What is the purpose of the cross of Christ? Why did Jesus have to face such an agonizing and humiliating death? Simply because the cross points me to my sin, my life here on earth, and my eternal destiny.
The Bible records that all are sinners and that no one is righteous before our holy God. Sin has separated us from God. If this is true, then we are worthy of one thing… death… eternal separation from God. The truth is we are ALL sinners and the sin nature we inherit makes worthy of death. No good deeds are enough to declare us righteous before our holy God.
There is good news though; the Bible says, “God loved us so much that He gave His only begotten Son (Jesus as a sacrifice and atonement for our sins) that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” This is the core of the Good News of the Gospel! We don’t deserve forgiveness, eternal life, or even to be declared righteous, yet He gives them all to those who respond to the Holy Spirit drawing us to the Father and repent of the sins and are called by God to become his children.
Pastor Craig Groeschel writes in his book CHRISTIAN ATHEIST about something horrible that had been happened to his younger sister throughout the years… He writes, “You can imagine how I felt when I learned of the tragedy. I found out that my little sister had been (abused) for years by a close family friend. Max had been Lisa’s sixth grade teacher. He taught me how to play racquetball, shopped at my dad’s retail store, and often cheered for my sister at her school drill-team performances. At the time, this single man in his mid-thirties seemed like a nice person looking for friends. Our family really accepted him, unaware that behind the supportive teacher façade was a very sick man who repeatedly abused numerous girls over many years.
To say I wanted Max to die and burn in hell doesn’t even begin to convey how much I wanted him to suffer. Although the words rage, hate, and revenge come to mind when I think about Max, the English language simply doesn’t have a word for how I felt.
We all know Christians are supposed to forgive. But many of us think that there are exceptions to this rule. Sure, we should forgive most of the time – maybe even almost all the time. But to forgive a guy like Max? Forget about it.”
Anger and forgiveness are two words that go together like water and oil. It is extremely hard to show forgiveness to someone who you are angry with.. To say it is easier to stay angry at someone rather than forgiving them would be an understatement. But controlling our anger and extending forgiveness is something the Bible tells us we must do. I think about Groeschel’s story, and I can’t even imagine how I would respond or even consider the painstaking difficulty I would have in even entertaining the idea of forgiveness. Yet, as a Christian I know that this is what I would need to do.
In Genesis we read the story of Joseph and his story is one that is entrenched with anger and forgiveness. Joseph’s life was ridden betrayal as his brothers took him and sold him as a slave. Abuse when his brothers threw him in a pit and when Potiphers wife tried to seduce him. False allegations when Potipher’s wife accused him of trying to abuse her. And injustice as he was thrown into prison for a crime he didn’t commit. We see from our vantage point it was all for the glory of God. However, at the time I am sure he did not know how the outcomes would be for God’s glory, so I am also sure that he had difficulty working through his anger and ultimately forgiveness. Today we are going to look at the events of Genesis 42 – 45. I am going to give a quick overview of these chapters (I would encourage you to read these chapters on your own) and we will see how Joseph worked through his difficulties and look at the amazing act of forgiveness he shows to those who did him wrong.
Genesis 42:1 - 10
At this point of the story Joseph had overcome his hardships and was promoted to a place of honor in the land of Egypt. He was Pharoah’s right hand man. However, there was a famine in the land where Joseph’s father, Jacob and his brothers lived, and they heard that there was grain for sale in Egypt. Apparently, his sons were a little mystified as to how they should deal with this famine. He says, “Why do you look at one another?” This is another way of saying, “Why are standing around doing nothing when there is a lot of work that needs to be done?” He sends his sons to Egypt but leaves his youngest Benjamin behind. Jacob did not trust his sons with Benjamin since he was Joseph’s brother. He was afraid they would allow something bad happen to him like they did Joseph. The pain of losing his son Joseph was still raw, and real after 17 years. Jacob had not forgotten what happened to Joseph. There is a lack of trust on his part and rightfully so.
Nevertheless, the brothers make the journey to Egypt and unbeknownst to them their brother Joseph is still alive and thriving in Egypt; in fact, he is now the governor of the land, and the one person people would see when they came to buy grain from the storehouses. When his brothers approached Joseph, they did not recognize him, but Joseph knew them. They bowed before him, and Joseph remembered his dream of many years ago (Genesis 37: 5 – 8).
Joseph does not want to reveal his identity to them just yet. He treats them like strangers and speaks harshly to them. He accuses the brothers of being spies. After grilling them for some time the brothers mention they have another brother… They say unfortunately, one is dead and the other, Benjamin, is back home with their father. Joseph demands they bring Benjamin to back to him and one should stay back until they return. The brothers talked among themselves, and Joseph went to a private place and wept.
Joseph filled their bags with grain and put their money back and sent them back home; Simeon stayed behind. When they returned home, they were afraid because their money was still in the bags and they were even more afraid when they saw their father. They told him the governor wants Benjamin to come back with them and Jacob refuses. Interestingly he would rather lose his son Simeon than entrust Benjamin with his sons.
Some time passes and the famine gets worse (just as the dream stated) the grain runs out in Jacob’s household, and he tells them to go back to Egypt to buy more. They convince Jacob to send Benjamin along with them. Judah swears that he will protect him and if anything, bad happens to Benjamin then his father could hold him responsible.
As they return to Egypt, they are afraid because they think they will be accused of stealing since the money was still in their bags from before. This ends up not being an issue. Joseph tells them he received their wages so God must have blessed them.
As they stand before Joseph, this time with Benjamin, he is overcome with emotion once again. He goes into his chamber and weeps. Once he regains his composure, he invites the brothers to dinner and portions from Joseph’s table were given to them, but Benjamin received five times the portion.
Joseph plants his cup in Benjamin’s sack. He accuses Benjamin of stealing and the brothers pleaded for mercy for their brother. Judah insists on taking the blame instead of Benjamin.
Joseph can no longer contain himself. He begins crying and commands everyone to leave him except his brothers. He then reveals his identity to his brothers. The brothers were troubled at this revelation. They were literally speechless. They were afraid because they knew what they had done. Never in a million years would they have ever thought this would have happened, but it did. They didn’t know how Joseph would respond. He was now second in command in all of Egypt and he could have easily sought revenge. But he doesn’t. This is where we see the true heart of Joseph. He demonstrates compassion, he extends grace, and he shows them forgiveness. He responds in 45:5, “Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God has sent me before you to preserve life.” Did you hear that? Do not blame yourselves for anything because I am here by divine appointment. In verse 7 he declares his purpose for going through all he went through and then caps it off in verse 8 by saying, “It was not you who sent me here, but God.” In so many words he is saying, “All is forgiven.”
Not only does Joseph show compassion and forgiveness but he invites his brothers, their families, and his father to come move to Egypt so he can take care of them. What an amazing spectacle of grace. They are so undeserving of this treatment, yet Joseph shows them kindness.
As he sends his brothers back home, he says, “Do not quarrel on the way.” He knows his brothers well. They could very easily play the blame game on the way home… “Hey, it wasn’t my idea to put him in a pit!” “I never wanted to sell him, I was going to rescue him, and so you are to blame!” and so on…. Joseph says “don’t quarrel. All is forgiven so let’s put this behind us now and continue as a family.”
When the brothers returned home, they told their father what happened, and he is ecstatic! He is willing to go to Egypt so he can go see his son Joseph before he dies.
All Is Forgiven
This is one of the most beautiful stories of compassion, grace, and forgiveness in the Bible. Joseph’s response could only happen through the power of God and the Holy Spirit. Joseph chooses forgiveness over anger and bitterness. Why? Because he knew it was the right thing to do and he also knew it was pointless to harbor anger and bitterness in his heart because then he would become an angry and bitter person. He could have easily justified revenge or gave his brothers a taste of their own medicine. But he doesn’t. He forgives. I/we can certainly learn a lot from Joseph when it comes to forgiveness. There is great difficulty in letting go of anger and extending forgiveness. Personally, I am still working through something that happened to me in recent years and I will admit I am having difficulty not being angry with someone who caused great harm too my family and me. In my heart I have forgiven this person, but the root of anger and bitterness lingers. I think therefore the story of Joseph speaks to my heart. I can honestly say that I have never withheld forgiveness from anyone, but I do struggle with allowing the spirit of anger and bitterness to remain in my heart towards this individual. Maybe some of you in this room have had similar experiences and have difficulty either showing forgiveness or allowing bitterness to take root; so, I am not going to stand up here and tell you how easy it is to forgive… but I will tell you by the power of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit you can forgive… even if you think you can’t.
How we can show forgiveness
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I currently live on the Gulf Coast of Florida with my beautiful family. The Lord has blessed me with over 25 years of full time ministry. He is and has been faithful.