The Test and the Type (Genesis 22:1-15)

Sermon #4 in the series, “66 in 52: A Yearlong Journey through the Bible”

James Jackson, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL

January 22, 2023

Good morning! Please open your Bibles to Genesis 22. We are going to be looking at one of the most well- known stories in the entire Old Testament. This is where God tells Abraham to take his son Isaac and offer him as a burnt offering on the mountain God will show him.

We are going to get into the story in a moment, but before we do, I’d like you to look at the chapter heading for Genesis 22 in your Bible. You may not have one;  Not every Bible does. They weren’t part of the original text, so the chapter headings represent what a group of editors determined was the most important them of that section.

So if your Bible has chapter headings, what does yours say this chapter is about? If you look at the six most popular translations—ESV, CSB, NASB, NIV, NKJV, and NLT, they are split exactly in half. Three of them emphasize Abraham being tested, and three of them emphasize Isaac being sacrificed.

This morning, I want to talk about both facets of the story. We will look at the testing of Abraham and the lessons we can learn from that, and then we will look at Isaac’s sacrifice, and how it points to Christ. I’m going to use what might be a new word for some of you: typology.  Biblical typology or “a type” is a person or thing in the Old Testament that foreshadows a person or thing in the New Testament.

So keep your Bibles open to Genesis 22, as we look at both the test of Abraham and the type of Christ—how the almost-sacrifice of Isaac pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus. Let’s pray together, and we will get started.

[Pray]

I will be honest with you. The  story of Abraham offering Isaac as a sacrifice is both horrifying and terrifying. It’s horrifying because you have to ask the question, would God ever tell anyone to sacrifice their child to Him? And the answer is no. Nowhere in the Bible does God approve of or demand child sacrifice.

There was a god worshiped by the Ammonites called Molech. He was represented as having the head of an ox and the body of a man. Idols to Molech were hollow bronze statues that had an opening at the base in which you could build a fire. Molech was worshiped by sacrificing children in the fire.

Over and over in the book of Leviticus, worship of Molech is 100% condemned. Leviticus 18:1 says,

21 You shall not give any of your children to offer them[a] to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.

Even with the warnings, the people of Israel still sacrificed to Molech. Hundreds of years after Moses, King Solomon himself built an altar for Molech (1 Kings 11:7), and King Ahaz of Israel and King Menasseh of Judah even sacrificed their own children to Molech.

God, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, gave this as one of the reasons God allowed Judah to be captured and exiled to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC:

35 They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.

Now, we know all of this from God’s word. It is crystal clear in Scripture that God considers every human life to be sacred.

And because today is the day Southern Baptists have designated as Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, I have to say it again: God calls the sacrifice of children an abomination. A detestable practice.

But it’s a practice that hundreds of thousands of people still engage in today. In 2020, the estimated number of abortions performed in the United States was between 600,000 and 900,000.[1] We are still sacrificing our children today. It may not be to a bronze idol. It may be the altar of convenience—that this isn’t a good time in your life for you to have a baby. Or the altar of your reputation—what would people say? Or maybe you have children but you don’t spend any time with them. You are sacrificing them on the altar of your own career. Or your own leisure pursuits. This isn’t just moms. Dads, we do it too.

We know God’s heart on the matter. But keep in mind that Abraham lived before the Bible was written down. At this point in history, Abraham is still learning about God’s character. He doesn’t know yet that God would never ask this of him. So it is a real test.

Verse 1:  “After these things, God tested Abraham. And he said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

God finds four different ways to emphasize Isaac.

  • He’s your son.  We are reminded of this twelve times in these fifteen verses.

 

  • He’s your only son. The only son born to you and Sarah.

 

  • He’s Isaac. This is repeated five times in this passage. The name means laughter, or he laughs.  I told you to name him Isaac (which means laughter), because when I first told you you were going to have a son when you were a hundred and your bride was ninety, what else could you do but laugh? (Gen. 17:19)

 

  • He’s the one you love.  You waited for decades hoping I would bless you with a son, and I finally did. And what’s more, I told you that through the covenant I made with you would be established through Isaac. (Genesis 19:21).

 

So think about how Abraham must’ve felt… He couldn’t open up the Bible and read how this story ends.  He had waited his whole life for this promised Son, and now God’s telling him to take him up on the mountain and offer him as a sacrifice. 

 

So the question is… How is Abraham going to respond?

Genesis 22 doesn’t tell us what Abraham thought during all of this.  But the New Testament writer of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, does.

The author of Hebrews wrote,

 

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:17-18)

 

Isn’t it interesting that Hebrews doesn’t say, “By faith Abraham believed that God would stop him before he could kill Isaac”? or, “By faith, Abraham knew that God was just kidding”?

 

No, by faith Abraham believed that God could do something that up to that point in history, He had never done before. God was able to raise the dead. Faith is the assurance of what is hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11:1).

 

So back to Genesis 22. Verse 4 tells us that on the third day (isn’t it amazing how many things in Scripture happen “on the third day?”

 

On the third day, they get to the place God showed them. They leave the servants behind. Abraham tells them that he and Isaac are going to go up and worship, and that he and Isaac will come back to them. Do you see his faith?

 

Father and son walk up the mountain together. Verse 6: The Father took the wood for the offering and laid it on the Son.… Isaac carries the wood up the mount, and as they are going Isaac says,

 

“Hey dad, you’ve got the knife, and the fire, and I’ve got the wood… but where’s the lamb?”  Look at Abraham’s response: “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”

 

And here is what happened next. Follow along in your copy of God’s Word:

 

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 

 

13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”;[b] as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”[c]

 

So Abraham passes the test with flying colors. Now before we move on, let me talk about the part that terrifies us the most: would we pass this test? Could we sacrifice what we love the most to the God who loves us best?

 

Probably not a single one of us could say without hesitation that we would. But I want you go back and notice the first three words of this chapter:

 

“After these things.” I want you to notice that God didn’t give this test to Abraham until Abraham was well over a hundred years old. “After these things” meant, after a lifetime of faithfully following God.

 

Charles Spurgeon wrote, the Lord knows how to educate us up to such a point that we can endure, in years to come, what we could not endure today.

 

If you’ve been reading the Bible through with us this year, have you noticed in our reading so far that God gives the toughest tests to the oldest saints? Abraham was between 100 and 140 at this point (based on Sarah’s age in 23:1). Noah was six hundred when the flood came (Genesis 7:6). We don’t know how old Job was when God tested him, but he was old enough to have seven adult sons and daughters (Job 1:2), and to have Elihu call him old (Job 32:6). These men had demonstrated a lifetime of trust and obedience before they faced these tests.

 

So don’t be discouraged if you can’t imagine yourself having this kind of faith. You aren’t 140 yet! Philippians 1:6 promises that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.

 

So that’s the “test” part. Those translations that make “Abraham tested” the point of the story encourage us to consider what we would do in the same situation.

But what if the main point of the story isn’t to give us an example of faith? What if the point of the story is what the story points to?

 

Question: How many of you have been to Buc’ees? Right. Six Flags over Tacky. Enough gas pumps to replenish the strategic petroleum reserves.

 

Second question: how many of you know that Auburn is getting a Buc’Ees? Everyone knows. Why? Because for the last year, we haven’t been able to go south on I-85 without seeing signs that one is coming.

 

The first clue was one that said “Coming Soon”. Then, Beavers at Work. Tick tock says another. One that just said “2023.”

 

All of these are signs in the present that point to a future reality. And that’s what a type is. Remember our definition: a type is a person or thing in the Old Testament that foreshadows a person or thing in the New Testament. And this story was one elaborate coming soon sign. It was an event in Abraham’s present that pointed toward a future reality.

 

Let’s look at the signs:

First, there’s the fact that Isaac carried the wood for his own sacrifice up the mountain. Here’s your sign and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha (John 19:17)

 

How about where this took place? In verse 2, God tells Abraham to take his son Isaac and go to the land of Moriah and offer Isaac up as a burnt offering.  When Isaac asked his father where the lamb was for the sacrifice, Abraham told him that God Himself would provide the lamb. Here is an artist’s rendering of what Mount Moriah looked like in Abraham’s day.

 

Here’s what Mount Moriah looked like in Jesus’ day. 2nd Chronicles 3:1 tells us that this is the site where Solomon built his temple.  2000 years after Abraham, outside the walls of a city that didn’t exist in Abraham’s day, Jesus Christ would be crucified within sight of that same Temple. On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.

 

Next, think about the fact that Isaac was a willing sacrifice. We don’t know how old he is at this point. Renaissance paintings always picture him as a boy. We know he was old enough to carry the wood, and he was perceptive enough to ask where the lamb was for the burnt offering. And the Hebrew for boy in verse 5 could also be translated “young man.” So he was at least a teenager.

 

Some people say that he couldn’t be a teenager, because if he was, it wouldn’t have been a sacrifice.

 

We don’t know. But it stands to reason that If he was strong enough to carry the wood up the mountain, he was certainly strong enough to resist an old man well past the age of one hundred. Rabbinic tradition says that he was 37 years old. How did they get that oddly specific number? Well, in the very next chapter of Genesis, Genesis 33:1, Sarah dies at the age of 127. She was 90 when Isaac was born. That’s how they got to age 37. 

 

So it is at least possible that Isaac was in his mid thirties when he was offered as a sacrifice.

 

This was the only painting I found that showed Isaac as an adult. You see the ropes on his wrists. You see the knife at Abraham’s side. You can’t tell from the picture whether this was before or after God stopped Abraham. Is the expression on Abraham’s face grief or relief? What about Isaac? Has he given up or given himself over? The artist has left it up to us to interpret it. I see this as Abraham and Isaac saying what they think will be their final goodbyes to one another.

 

Centuries later, another Son, also in His mid thirties,  would say His goodbyes to His heavenly father. “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” And having said that, He breathed His last (Luke 23:46)

 

One more: After Abraham passed his test, God said to him in verse 12 “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And verse 13 says that Abraham “lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 

 

Now some people will point out that the text says that God provided a ram for Abraham and they’ll say, “Abraham was wrong… in verse 8 he said God would provide a lamb, but here in verse 13 it’s a ram.” 

 

Abraham wasn’t wrong… God did provide a Lamb:

 

Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

 

He submits to his father’s will.  He trusts his dad. And God provides the offering. 

 

[Invitation]

 

This is what theologians call “Substitutionary Atonement.”  God demands justice for the sins of man against Him.  But no man could ever pay for all the sins of the world, let alone his own sins. 

 

And just as God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son, God gave us His son to be the Lamb for the sacrifice.

God took his Son, his only Son, Jesus, whom He loved, to be the substitute who would atone for our sins.

 

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul!

 

 


[1] The CDC says there were 620,327 abortions nationally in 2020 in the District of Columbia and 47 states, a 1.5% decrease from 629,898 in 2019. Guttmacher’s national total for 2020 was 930,160, a 1.5% increase from 916,460 in 2019. (pewresearch.org)

Answers From the Whirlwind (Job 1-42)

January 15, 2023 (Four days after a major tornado hit our county)

Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville Alabama. James Jackson, Pastor

Good morning! We are going to be in the book of Job this morning. I know the slide says we are covering Job 1-42. But don’t panic. We aren’t going to read all forty-two chapters this morning. What I want to do is look at the overall point of the book of Job, and try to give some answers to the big question that dominates the book.

Let me say also that I am so glad so many of you are reading through the Bible this year. And if you haven’t started yet, you still can. You can start with Day 16 tomorrow, when we leave Job and go back to Genesis. That would be a natural place to jump in. Or, even better in my opinion, you can start at Day One and just go at your own pace. There is nothing magical about finishing in a year. But there is something transformational about reading the entire Bible. And that goes for anyone that falls behind in the reading plan. Don’t feel like you have to double up on days to catch up. And don’t beat yourself up. Just keep going.

So here we go with the book of Job. Like I said, there is one big question that dominates Job. It’s actually the same question that people have been asking for thousands of years: Why do bad things happen to good people? Or maybe you are theologically sophisticated enough to say, “Well, the Bible says there is none righteous, no, not one (Romans 3:12). So, technically, there are no good people.”

Which, ok. I’ll give you that. But here’s the thing. This week, a tornado tore through Autauga County. Seven people lost their lives, and that number could still go up. Dozens of homes were destroyed. One of our sister churches in the Association was cut in half. And as I was out in the community on Friday with Alabama Disaster Relief, seeing the devastation, seeing shell-shocked people trying to make sense of what had happened over the last twenty four hours, I am 100% sure that none of them were pondering the doctrine of total depravity. Their questions were not theologically sophisticated: Why me? Why now? Why our church? Why didn’t God stop it? Or is it, Why couldn’t God stop it?

These are the questions people have been asking for thousands of years. And honestly, these are the questions that have kept many people from putting their trust in God, or even believing there IS a God.

The argument goes like this. If God is all powerful, He is able to prevent suffering. And if God is all good, He would want to prevent suffering. So when we have a day like this past Thursday, they come to the conclusion that if God wanted to prevent this, but couldn’t he’s not all powerful. And if He could prevent it, but didn’t, He’s not all good.

These are the questions the book of Job forces us to reckon with. Let me pray, and we will dive in.

[Pray]

If you aren’t familiar with the book of Job, let me give you a quick overview. No one knows who wrote the book of Job. Most scholars believe it was written during the time of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob). So it is generally accepted that it was the first book of the Bible to be written.

Job basically has four sections: Prologue, Dialogue, Monologue, and Epilogue [briefly explain this]

In the prologue, we are introduced to Job. He’s described as a man of complete integrity (CSB) or blameless and upright” ESV. He fears God and turns away from evil. Verse 3 says he is “the greatest man among all the people of the east.”

Then verse 6 shifts to the throne room of heaven. Scripture says that “the sons of God came to present themselves to the Lord, and “Satan also came among them. Now, I want to pause here to point out something we’re going to circle back to at the end. The book of Job has more questions than any other book of the Bible. It has 330 questions, over twice as many as the next most—160 in the book of Psalms. Job asks God questions. Job’s friends ask Job questions. But I want you to notice that the first two questions come from God Himself. He asks Satan,

The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 

Then, God asks the question that sets up the rest of the book. He asks Satan,

 “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”

And Satan asks a couple of questions on his own. He says to God,

Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” 

And amazingly, God agrees. Shortly after that, Job experiences the worst day you can imagine. His oxen and donkeys are stolen in a raid and some of his servants are killed. Then “fire fell from heaven”—probably lightning—and destroyed his sheep and some more of his servants. After that, his camels are stolen in another raid, and whatever servants Job had left were also killed.

7000 sheep. 3000 camels. 500 pairs of oxen. 500 donkeys. Gone. Just like that. Now, I visited with a lot of people on Friday who had lost everything, but could still say, “None of our family was hurt, so we are blessed.” And maybe Job could have said that. Maybe he could have said, “all those are just things.” Even when all his servants were killed, Job might have said, “Well, at least my children are safe.”

But then came the tornado. Verse 18-19, one more servant comes with the ultimate bad news:

“Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, 19 and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”

Losing one child is devastating. Some of you have been through that, and I’m not sure if anyone fully recovers from that. But Job lost all ten of his children. What would you do? Could you do what Job did? Look at verse 20. Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground. None of that is surprising. But look at the next phrase: he worshiped.

And then, Scripture says what Job did not do. Verse 21: In all this Job did not sin, or charge God with wrong doing.

Chapter two is basically the same set up as chapter one. God and Satan have another conversation. Once again, God says,

And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?

Then, God adds

He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.”

And Satan basically says, “Well, he still has his health. But take that away, and He will curse you to Your face.” And God gives Satan permission to strike Job with painful boils—loathsome sores in the ESV. His own wife, the one member of his family that wasn’t killed in the tornado, shows contempt for both Job and God when she says, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” And Job rebukes his wife, and the narrator has this to say:

In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Now I’ve got those two verses up on the screen to remind you that we know something the Job’s friends don’t know. We know something even Job himself doesn’t know. We’ve seen behind the curtain and seen that all Job’s suffering is because God staked his reputation on Job’s response to suffering. And we know that Job passed the test. Twice, Scripture makes clear that Job did not sin.

But like I said, Job’s friends don’t know that, and for the next twenty two chapters, Job’s friends try to convince Job that his suffering has to be because he sinned. And Job tries to convince his friends that it isn’t. But because they haven’t seen behind the curtain, they are kind of in the same position all the people in the Kingston area and Deatsville and Wadsworth are asking: Why, God? Why did this happen to me. Why didn’t it happen to someone else? God, do you just like them better? How did I get on your bad side?

So many questions. And we find ourselves kind of like Tom Cruise’s character in A Few Good Men: [explain briefly]

We want answers. We think we are entitled to answers. But can we handle the truth? Let’s look quickly at what the rest of God’s word says about suffering:

  • Sometimes we suffer because of  our sin. This was what Job’s friends kept coming back to, over and over. And you can’t deny that the Bible says God punishes people for their sin. Psalm 89:32, Isaiah 13:11, Isaiah 26:2, and dozens more all say that God punishes sin. It can be direct, where God Himself punishes. It can be indirect, where God just allows the consequences of sin to run their course. We see that with heart issues related to the sin of gluttony, alcoholism and addiction, emphysema from abusing your body with cigarettes. And without repentance and trusting Jesus as your Savior, there will be ultimate and eternal punishment. But on the other hand, Job’s example shows us that not all suffering is the result of our sin. Remember how Job is introduced. He is blameless and upright. He wasn’t perfect, but he regularly made offerings for himself and his children to atone for sin. But he still suffered.
  • Sometimes we suffer because of other people’s sin. Exodus 34:6-7 and Dt. 5:8-10  both say that The Lord…visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6-7 = Deuteronomy 5:8-10). And I’ll be honest, this one may be the hardest for me to accept, because it seems so unfair. But again, think about the consequences your sin sets in motion. Anyone who has grown up in an abusive home, or whose parents’ marriage fell apart over a moral failure, or has had to deal with alcoholism’s effect on the entire family can tell you that it’s not fair, but it is a reality. And as far as that “to the third and fourth generation” bit, we know that 75% of those who commit acts of abuse against others were themselves abused as children.[1] I want to be clear that the reverse is NOT true, the vast majority of those who are sexually abused DO NOT go on to abuse others. But still, we see people suffer because of other people’s sin. But again, this was not Job’s story.
  • Sometimes we suffer because of original  sin. Original sin is the doctrine that we all have inherited the sin nature from Adam. We see this teaching in Romans 5:12, where Paul wrote that,

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men[e] because all sinned—

So this means that everyone dies. Statistics show that one out of one people dies. And death causes suffering. It might be expected, it might be a shock. But there is grief, and sadness, and loss, and this was not what God intended when He created Adam and Eve.

Original sin also means that creation itself feels the effects of sin. When Adam sinned, the first judgment God made against him was that the ground would be cursed because of him. Even to this day, Paul said, that all creation groans. This is worth spending some time on, because I think this probably more than anything else explains what our community experienced Thursday.

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Rom 8:20-22)

We live in a broken world. A world with flooding and earthquakes and forest fires and avalanches and hurricanes and tsunamis and yes, tornadoes. All of them cause immense suffering, And all of them are symptoms of creation groaning because of sin.

  • Sometimes we suffer to turn us from  sin (33:29-30). We can be heading down a road that is going to end in destruction. And God can allow a little pain, a little hardship, to get our attention. Elihu, the last of Job’s friends to speak, says in Job 33:29-30 that


29 
“Behold, God does all these things,
    twice, three times, with a man,
30 to bring back his soul from the pit,
    that he may be lighted with the light of life.

So far, everything I’ve talked about has connected suffering to sin. But remember that not all suffering is the result of sin.

  • Sometimes we suffer so that God will be glorified (John 9:1-3). Remember when Jesus and His disciples came across a man blind from birth? All the disciples were thinking like Job’s friends: Rabbi, who sinned? Jesus answer was that it wasn’t this man’s sin or his parents sin that caused him to be born blind. It was so the works of God could be displayed in him.
  • Sometimes we suffer so God’s people will be unified (1 Cor. 12:25-26). When Paul taught about the church being one body with many members in 1 Corinthians 12, he saud, “If one part suffers, we all suffer.” We are to rejoice with those who rejoice, but we are also to weep with those who weep. Its not just feeling sorry for, its feeling sorry with.

Here is a bonus one that’s not on your handout, but I’ve seen it in action this week, and it is AWESOME:

  • Sometimes we suffer so the church can be mobilized. I’ve seen it over and over and over this week. You’ve made chili. You’ve cooked meals. You’ve sent out lists of things specific families need. You’ve fired up the chainsaws. When we got to Wadsworth Baptist Church the other day, we saw so much devastation. Their welcome center, that they put $40,000 into just last year was destroyed. This was what was left of the pastors office [picture]. Everywhere we looked, we just saw destruction. But you know what we smelled? Hamburgers! The church was not turned inward. It was turned outward. They were feeding the community. That’ s because, while the church building was destroyed, the church wasn’t. Their mission and vision has not changed.

Let me bring this in for a landing. You guys have hung with me while I’ve basically turned the fire hose on you. I’ve given you seven answers for why there is suffering in the world. But if there’s anything that we learn from Job, it’s that…

  • Sometimes we don’t get answers (Job 38-41; Dt. 29:29). For most of the book of Job, Job has been asking for an audience with God. He wants answers to why all this has happened. I told you earlier that there are 330 questions in the book of Job. Guess who asks most of them? Not Job. Not Job’s friends. God. In chapter 38, God finally speaks. Verse 1 says, Then God answered Job out of  the whirlwind. But it doesn’t say God explained Himself. It says He answered. How does he answer? With questions! The first thing He says is, “Who is this that darkens my counsel, who speaks empty words without knowledge (38:2) After this, God asks Job 85 more questions. More than a quarter of all the questions in Job come in the next three chapters. Where were you when I made the world? Who placed the stars in the sky? Who sends the rain? Who has storehouses full of snow?

Through it all, Job never gets an answer to why this has happened to him. And neither do we. Dt. 29:29 says, the secret things belong to God.

But Instead, Job gets something better: Look at Job 42:5:


I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent[a] in dust and ashes.”

We talked last week about how much we can learn from the footnotes. That little “a” next to “repent” points to an alternate translation. I am comforted in dust and ashes.

  • Sometimes we suffer so we will be satisfied with God’s presence. Why did God answer Job “from the whirlwind?” Because that’s where Job was.

[Hymnal in the debris picture] On the cover of the bulletin, there’s a picture of a hymnal I found in the debris around Wadsworth Baptist Church on Friday. I promise I didn’t stage this. It was lying exactly how it was when I took the picture. And you can’t tell what hymn its open to. So here’s a close up: Near to the Heart of God, and Jesus is Lord of all.

Why is it that suffering brings us near to the heart of God? Because God suffered too.

[Gospel]

God asks the last questions in Job. But He also asks the first questions. Way back in Job 1, God asks Satan, Where have you been. After Satan replies, God asks, twice: HAVE YOU CONSIDERED MY SERVANT JOB? Think about it: of all the people Satan found while he was roaming on the earth, God singled out Job. He said, there’s no one like him, blameless and upright.

And Satan said Wanna bet? Let me mess with him. Let me send a tornado that wipes out everything he has. Let me take one of his children. While we’re at it, let me take all of them.

Let me cover him with open sores. And then, just to put the cherry on top, let me leave him with a wife who turns against him and holds him in contempt and says “Curse God and die.” I’ll bet Job will curse you to your face, God.

And God looked at Satan and said “You’re on.”

So let me end by asking you a question: Could God stake His reputation on you?

I think I would fail that test. I know I would.

Which is why I thank God that millenia later, God would make another bet with Satan. He said, Have you considered my Son Jesus. There’s no one like Him. He is my only begotten Son. He is blameless and upright. No sin can be found in Him. And Satan, I’m gonna let you do your worst to My Son. And after all of it. He’s gonna past your test. And all who trust in Him will one day stand before Me, not because of their blamelessness, but because of His. 

[Invitation]


[1] Source 1in6.org

Faithful Plan, Fallen People (Genesis 3-8)

Sermon #2 in our series, “66 in 52” January 8, 2023, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL, James Jackson, Lead Pastor

Good morning! Please take your Bibles and turn to Genesis 3. Actually, Genesis 2, because we are going to start there. I’ve been so excited about the response to the 66 in 52 Challenge. Our Facebook group is over 120 people now, and I know of one Sunday school class that is planning on using this for their weekly discussion..

I want to remind you that I’ll publish the Discussion Guide each Monday for the upcoming week’s readings, and that can be used for anyone that wants to organize a small group for accountability and discussion. That will be posted on the 66 in 52 Facebook page.

Some people have asked me what they are supposed to do if they don’t have Facebook. Here is the solution. You subscribe to my blog and get most of what you would get on the Facebook page emailed to you. You can get the weekly discussion guide and all of the daily posts I write. If you have questions about anything you see in the daily readings, you can ask them on the blog. The one thing you’ll miss is the ability to interact with each other.

There is a reading plan in the Bible App that uses the chronological plan we are following. And that’s important because not all chronological plans follow the same order, because scholars are not in 100% agreement about when different events took place. So just to avoid confusion, I encourage you to use this plan. We also have paper copies available of the plan if you would rather keep up that way. 

Now, if you started Day One on January 1, that means Sunday will be the start of a new week. And in the sermon time, we will look back on a big idea from the previous weeks’ reading and expand on it in the sermon.

So this morning, I want us to look back at Genesis 3-8. We are going to look at how sin came into the world, but even more importantly, we are going to look at how God already had a plan to deal with our sin. And we are going to see how God illustrated that plan over and over, just in this first week of reading, and hopefully this will give you the tools to see how this foreshadowing runs throughout the Bible. Because remember, just as we saw in the opening video, every story casts His shadow. Let’s pray together, and then we will jump in.

[pray]

If you were a first grader in the American colonies between 1690 and 1780, you would have learned how to read using the New England primer. It was the most successful textbook published in the 17th century, and you would have learned your ABCs with pages like this. Each letter had a little two word couplet that went along with the picture, and would help the child remember the letter. For example:

  • B is “thy life to mend this book attend”
  • C: The cat doth play and after slay. Apparently even the Puritans knew that cats were evil.  In later versions, the rhyme for C “Christ crucified for sinners died.”
  • F: The idle Fool is whipped at school (Those were the good old days!)
  • For all of us that started Job this week, check out J: Job feels the rod / and blesses God.

I doubt we would see a textbook in the public schools that taught the letter C with “Christ crucified / For sinners died.”

But I want you to take a close look at how children were taught the letter A:  “in Adams fall we sinned all.” We definitely wouldn’t hear THAT in public school. We don’t talk about sin in public places.

The truth is, we don’t talk much about sin in our culture today. We talk about mistakes. We talk about bad decisions. But no one talks about sin anymore, unless they are being intentionally ironic.

In Adam’s Fall, we sinned All. The Bible teaches that sin entered the world through Adam. And we have been sinning ever since.

So how did we get there? Let’s look at it together. When God first created the first man, even before Eve was created, Genesis 2:15-16 says,

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat[d] of it you shall surely die.”

Now, there is a very important detail in that verse, and we are going to come back to it in a bit. But right off the bat, we’re like “Um, Lord, I have questions”

  • First, what’s so bad about having the knowledge of good and evil? Wouldn’t that be a good thing? Parents, don’t we work hard to teach our children right from wrong? Wouldn’t it be great if they were just born with that knowledge already? Why is that tree forbidden?
  • But, God, if you’re going to make it forbidden, why make it look so good? It’s not poisonous; we know from the story of Eve and the serpent in Genesis 3 that Eve “saw that the fruit was good for food.” And it’s not ugly, like a Georgia Pine.  I hate those trees. Grew up with them in our yard. I’m not throwing shade on Georgia. But neither do the pine trees. They just grow straight up like a telephone pole for 40’  and then put out a few pitiful pine needles. But Genesis 3:6 says that the tree was “a delight to the eyes.” So why God? If you didn’t want them to eat from it, why not make it a pine tree? Has anyone ever been tempted to chow down on a pine cone?
  • And maybe the  biggest question of all: Why would God create a tree that they weren’t allowed to eat from in the first place? You created everything, so why couldn’t you just plant a garden without any forbidden trees?

we send all if we believe the story of Adam and Eve that maybe you wondered why all of us should have to deal with something that happened in the garden thousands of years ago why do we still have to bear the consequences of original sin we didn’t bite the fruit did we?

Let me try to give you my best answer on these. They aren’t the only answers, but here’s how I understand it.

First, understand that “ knowledge of good and evil” isn’t about information, it’s about determination.

God’s desire is that human beings would trust Him as the ultimate authority of what is right and what is wrong. But if Adam eats from this tree it’s going to be a rejection of God’s authority to determine right and wrong, and claiming  that authority  for himself.

See, this is the original sin. We think moral relativism is a modern problem—that we’ve only just recently started to say, “Well, my truth might not be your truth.”

“What might be right for you may not be right for some.” (It talks diff’rent strokes, it takes diff’rent strokes…)”

Second: Temptation always looks good. If it didn’t look good, it wouldn’t be a temptation. Think about every single beer commercial you’re gonna see when you watch the championship game tomorrow night. Everybody’s young and good looking. No one has a beer gut. They all look like they are having the time of their lives. You’ve never seen a commercial that says, “You’ve just thrown up in a dumpster. It’s Miller time.

Third: It is true that God could have made a temptation-free world. He could have removed anything and everything mankind could choose instead of him. But listen, in order to choose to follow God, it has to be possible to choose something else. There is no free will if there is no other option.

And you know what happens next. In Genesis 3, you see Eve deceived by the serpent. You see her give some of the fruit to her husband. You know their eyes get opened, and they realize they are naked, and they hide from God because they are ashamed.

And you know what happens after that. They start blaming each other. Adam blames Eve for giving him the fruit. And then he blames God for giving him Eve. Genesis 3:13:

12 The man replied, “The woman you gave to be with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate.”

Then Eve blames the serpent: Genesis 3:14: The serpent deceived me, and I ate.

Again, you know what happens next. Sin separates them from God. It breaks the perfect fellowship they have with each other. And it even disrupts their relationship with creation. They don’t get to live in the garden anymore. They don’t get to talk to serpents anymore. Later on, after Noah and his sons leave the ark, God says that “the fear and terror of you will fall on every living creature.” (Genesis  9:2)

In our readings last week, we saw the continuing spread of sin. Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, killed his brother because he was jealous that God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s (Genesis 4)

God becomes so fed up with the sin of the world that he decides he will destroy the world and start over. He chooses one man, Noah, and his family to build an ark, gather two of every kind of animal, and then shut themselves inside the ark while the Lord pours out His wrath on the earth for 40 days and 40 nights. After the floods subside, God tells Noah’s sons to multiply and fill the earth.

They obey… half of God’s command. They multiply, but they don’t fill the earth.

So, within just a few generations after the earth is destroyed, mankind once again decides they can decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong, and so they decide  to stay in one place and make a name for themselves by building a tower.  

And we know what comes next. God confuses their language, people abandon the tower and scatter all over the earth, and that’s why we can’t understand people from Japan. Or Zimbabwe. Or Louisiana.

By the time we get to the book of Job, sin is so pervasive throughout the world that when Job experiences unbelievable suffering, the first response of his friends is “You must have sinned. We will spend the next two weeks on Job, so hold that thought.

So, all of this is familiar to us. We grew up with these stories. That’s why you’ve heard me say, over and over, “You know what happens next.” But let me ask you another question:

Do you know what happened before?

Before Job and his trials. Before Babel. Before Noah. Before Cain and Abel. Before Eve and the serpent. Do you know what happened before?

I want us to take another look at the Scripture we began with: Genesis 2:15-17. Remember I told you that there was a very important detail that we would come back to? Well, here it is. 

It’s the letter d. It’s a footnote.  And if you are using an online Bible, you can click on that little letter d, and it gives you an alternate translation of the Hebrew. Instead of “in the day you eat of it you will surely die,” or “if you eat of it, you will surely die.”

When you eat of it, you shall surely die.

And that little change changes everything about how you read the rest of the Bible.

If it’s “If,” then Adam and Eve’s fall in the garden caught God by surprise. He’s like, Oh, Me, what are we going to do now? We’ve got to scramble to put something together.

If it’s if, it changes how you read the beginning of the flood story:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.    

If you think the Bible starts with God not knowing what’s going to happen next, then you imagine verse 6 as God saying “I just never thought it would be like this. I’m just going to start over.

But friends, sin did not catch God by surprise. God regretted the choices man had made, to the point that he would pour out His wrath on all creation, but He wasn’t surprised by it.

The right way to read Genesis 2:17 is “when you eat of it, you will surely die.” God knew from before the foundation of the world that we would sin against him. Which is why, according to Ephesians 1, he chose us before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1:3

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us[b] for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

Which is why, according to Matthew 25, we are going to inherit a kingdom prepared for us “from the foundation of the world”

There’s a song from about 20 years ago by a Christian band called Caedmon’s Call that I love. The song is called “Table for Two.” In the song, two friends are make a late night pancake run to Waffle House, and they wind up talking all night. They talk about  life and death and God and soccer and heaven and hell and girls and what’s going on in their lives. And in the last verse of the song, the narrator begins to speak to God directly, and he sings:

You knew how you’d save me before I fell dead in the Garden

You knew how you’d save me before I fell dead in the Garden
And You knew this day long before You made me out of dirt.  
And You know the plans You made for me. 
And you can’t plan the ends and not plan the means. 

Listen to the whole song here:

Focus on that last line. God has a plan for us.  We know from Jeremiah 29:11 that God has a plan to give us a hope and a future. And that plan was set in motion even before we sinned.

So put this together with Ephesians 1:4—5, that before the foundation of the world God had predestined us for adoption through Jesus.

Write this down in your notes: God planned it all before the fall.

Before the first man and the first woman ate of the fruit, God knew that one day He would send his son into the world to redeem the world. Job saw it, even in the middle of his suffering. If you’re caught up with the reading, this morning you got to Job 19:25:

For I know For I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and at the last he will stand upon the earth.[a]

I know we talk about Genesis 3:15 a lot—we talked about it just a couple of weeks ago in one of the Advent sermons.

“And I will put enmity (open hostility) Between you and the woman, And between your seed (offspring) and her Seed; He shall [fatally] bruise your head, And you shall [only] bruise His heel.”

I have it on the screen the way it reads in the Amplified Bible. If you aren’t familiar with that version, you need to know about it. Because it unpacks the nuances of the Greek and Hebrew right there in the English texts, using brackets and parentheses. It’s not great for just reading through because it interrupts itself so often, but its awesome for studying a passage. So look at what the Amplified Bible amplifies:

  • Her Seed is capitalized. This is how most translations emphasize nouns and pronouns that are referring to God. And since it’s the seed of the woman, we know its pointing to the virgin birth.
  • That seed will deliver a fatal wound to the serpent’s head, while the serpent will “only” be able to deliver a non fatal wound to the seed.

When God says the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent, it means that the power of sin will be crushed. It will be forgiven. Humans will be redeemed. Death will be swallowed in victory.

But this victory would come by the shedding of blood. Before the seed of the woman crushes the serpent, the serpent is going to bruise His heel. The Seed (Jesus) will suffer when He sheds his blood on the cross. Hebrews 9:22 says that without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness for sins. As I read this week, I started noticing how many times, even in these first few chapters of the Bible, there were signposts pointing to Jesus’ sacrifice for sin:

  • Genesis 3:21—when Adam and Eve were naked and ashamed, God covered their nakedness with clothing made from animal skins. For shame to be covered, something had to die.
  • Genesis 4—Abel’s sacrifice was accepted, and Cain’s was rejected. Scripture doesn’t explicitly say why, but it does point out the difference: Abel’s sacrifice involved the shedding of blood. For an offering to be accepted, something had to die.
  • Genesis 9—the first thing Noah did when he came out of the ark was to build an altar and offer up burnt offerings. God’s word says that  “When the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, he said to himself, “I will never again curse the ground because of human beings, even though the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth onward. And I will never again strike down every living thing as I have done.” For the covenant to be established, something had to die.
  • Job 1:5: Job made burnt offerings on behalf of his children every time they had a banquet. Let’s close by looking at this verse more closely:

Whenever a round of banqueting was over, Job would send for his children and purify them, rising early in the morning to offer burnt offerings for[a] all of them. For Job thought, “Perhaps my children have sinned, having cursed God in their hearts.”

Let this sink in: The father purified his children by making a sacrifice on their behalf. 

For the children’s sin to be atoned for, the father shed the blood of a lamb from his own flock.

This is the gospel. For God so loved the world that He gave His son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but will have everlasting life.

For sin to be forgiven, Someone had to die. 

And God planned it all before the fall.

[Invitation]

Revering the Irrelevant (Matthew 1:18-25)

Christmas Day sermon, December 25, 2022 Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, Alabama

Grateful appreciation to Steven Ferber, a Lutheran pastor in Minnesota, whose sermon, “Mr Irrelevant” was the inspiration for this sermon.

Good morning! Please open your Bibles to Matthew 1.

Well, this is the beginning of the last week of 2022, which means, of course, that every time you turn the TV on you’re going to get a “Best of 2022” list. I was scrolling through ESPN.com this week, looking at their top ten of 2022 list. There were all the ones you would expect—Argentina winning the World Cup, Serena Williams retiring from tennis, Lebron James becoming the first NBA player to reach 10,000 career points, rebounds, and assists, and so forth. But one item on the list took me down a rabbit hole where I learned about something I had never heard about before.

December 11: Mr Irrelevant Beats the GOAT.

Now, most of you probably know what the GOAT is. Greatest of All Time. And in the NFL, most people consider Tom Brady to be the greatest of all time. Seven Super Bowl rings. 330 career starts.

But I had never heard of Mr Irrelevant. Mr Irrelevant is the title given to the last player chosen in the annual draft of the National Football League. The award was created in by a former NFL player-turned-millionaire businessman Paul Salata, who died in 2021 at the age of 94. In 1976, Salata got together with some of his friends in the Los Angeles area and raised money to fly the last man picked and his family to southern California, where they would be treated to a day at Disneyland, be the Grand Marshal of the Irrelevant Parade in Newport Beach, the guest of honor at the Mr Irrelevant banquet, where they would be presented with the Lowsman trophy, which is like the Heisman Trophy, only instead of a running back stiff-arming the competition, it’s a wide receiver fumbling a football. Over the years, Irrelevant Day in Newport Beach has morphed into an entire week that includes a sailing regatta, a golf tournament, and a guest appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

So here is a short clip from the 2022 NFL draft. This is what you miss if you turn off the draft after the first round, when all the Alabama players get drafted:

[show clip]

Brock Purdy. Iowa State. Who up to two weeks ago had not started an NFL game. But on December 11, not only did he get the start, he also became the first rookie in NFL history with at least two touchdown passes, one rushing touchdown, and a passer rating of 134 in his first career start.

And he beat Tom Brady, had never lost to an opposing quarterback in his first start. And he didn’t just lose. The Niners beat the Bucs 35-7. Mr. Irrelevant put on a clinic! In the post-game interview, Brock Purdy said:

“I mean honestly, for me, I just kept telling myself, dude, this thing ain’t over with that guy on the other side of the field,”

He’d seen Brady make crazy comebacks throughout his career, and he was determined to put the GOAT down for the count.

Tom Brady was a senior at the University of Michigan the year Brock Purdy was born. And just when you thought the story couldn’t get any better, Brock Purdy was born at Christmastime.  December 27, 1999.

2,000 years ago, another baby boy was born, one that the world might have written off as Mr Irrelevant. Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary. 

Matthew 1:18-25 tells us that

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ[a] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed[b] to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

A backwater town. Dirt-poor parents. Scandalous circumstances. A people who had been enslaved and exiled and scattered throughout history, who at the time were living in a police state under an oppressive regime.

Powerful, relevant people don’t come from circumstances like these.  In the eyes of the world, this Jewish nobody would be the last person you would expect to alter the course of world history. People would expect him to do what all poor Jewish boys would do: follow his father’s footsteps, learn carpentry, live poor, bow to the Empire, and die forgotten.

He certainly didn’t look like He would be anything special. The prophet Isaiah said that

he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him. 

Years ago, in 1926, a pastor named James Allan Francis preached a sermon to a convention of the Baptist Young People’s Union in Los Angeles. You’ve probably heard this portion of it before, but if not, listen to these powerful words:

There was a man who was born in an obscure village as the child of a peasant woman.He grew up in another obscure village. He worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty and then for three years was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book, but more books have been written about Him than about any other subject.

He never held an office, but politicians everywhere place their hand on a copy of His words when they take their oath of office.

He never owned a home, but he is the cornerstone of many homes.

He never had a family, but he is the centerpiece of many families, and the best foundation you can build a family upon.

He never went to college, but the most prestigious institutions of higher learning around the world were founded in His name.

He never put his foot inside a big city, but cities everywhere, from the largest to the smallest, hold revivals each year to tell people about this man’s love.  

He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where he was born, but His followers have gone to the ends of the earth with His message.

He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness.

He had no credentials but himself.

But While still a young man the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied him. Another betrayed him.

He was turned over to his enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial.

He was nailed upon the cross between two thieves.

His executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had on earth while he wasdying, and that was his coat.

When he was dead, he was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen wide centuries (twenty now!) have come and gone and today he is the most influential figure in the history of the world, and the leader of the column of progress.

I am underestimating when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that were ever built, and all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon the earth as powerfully as has this one solitary life.

There are two names given to this baby boy in Matthew’s gospel.

The first is in verse 21: You will call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. God told Joseph to give his son the name Jesus—Yeshua– meaning the Lord Saves, because it defined His purpose for being born: to save us from our sins. Jesus died, He rose, He ascended to Heaven so that we, who were enemies with God, could be reconciled to Him.

And if all Jesus had done was save us from our sins, He would still be worthy of all praise. He would still be the most important person who ever lived. He could have defeated sin, crushed Satan, ascended back into heaven, looked at us and said, “Good luck! See ya when you get here!” And that would have been enough.

But there is another name given, and this one changes everything:

Verse 22:

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us).

Jesus didn’t just die for us. He lived for us. He lived with us! He set an example for us to follow in His steps. And he promised to be with us always, even to the end of the world. We don’t just have a two thousand year old book of his teachings. We have His presence.

God did it all because He loves you.  You are not irrelevant.  You are not alone; life is not a game of chance. Your life has purpose. Think of it – 8 billion people in the world, God knows you personally; He knows your name.

The night before Thanksgiving, James Michael Grimes from Lafayette, Alabama fell off a cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico. He had been on the ship with eighteen of his family members, yet they didn’t realize he was missing until 12 hours later. For 20 hours, he treaded water, with no flotation device, alone in the dark.

As night began to fall on the second day, Grimes spotted the lights of a passing oil tanker, and he took off his socks and started to wave them. Incredibly, he was seen, and a short time after that, he was rescued by a coast guard helicopter. The rescue diver that got him in the sling said later that he believed Grimes was only minutes, maybe seconds, from going under. He had nothing left.

I wonder if any of you have felt that way this year. Maybe you are drifting this morning, wondering if anyone even sees you. Maybe you feel alone after a loss this year. Maybe, in the midst of all the celebrations and Facebook photos of families gathered together, you are wondering if anyone would miss you if you weren’t here.

I have to wonder if, at some point while he was treading water in the Gulf of Mexico, James Michael Grimes thought to himself, “I was on that boat with eighteen of my family members. Didn’t any of them notice when I didn’t come back from the bathroom?

And so maybe you are wondering if God is the same way. Does He see you? Does he know where you are? if He does, does He care? Will He help?

Hear these words from the prophet Isaiah:


43 
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…

Because you are precious in my eyes,
    and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
    peoples in exchange for your life.

Good News – God does see you, even in the darkness.  He does love you.  He sent His son Jesus to pull off your rescue.

Don’t be afraid, don’t give up. Call on your Redeemer, the one who named you His child, through His Son Jesus.  Repent of your sins, turn to the Savior, trust in Him alone, the only path to salvation.  God is with us, in the waters, through the rivers, in the fire.

Immanuel! God with us.  You are not irrelevant.  You are loved. And if you have been rescued, you now have a part to play in God’s rescue mission for the world.

1 Timothy 2:4 says that “God wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”  God doesn’t want your neighbor just to be fed and clothed, but to live forever in Heaven, in God’s presence, by putting their faith in Jesus, the Son of God. Many of God’s people all over the world are taking the Great Commission seriously, by sharing the Gospel, even in dangerous places.  We’ve been sharing stories of missionaries each week this month as we have talked about the Lottie Moon offering for International Missions. And if you haven’t yet contributed to that offering, I urge you to be a part of God’s rescue mission. There are so many people who are lost at sea right now. You have a part to play in rescuing the perishing.

[Play missions video]

You are not irrelevant; you have new life in Christ, God born in the manger.  And because you are part of the body of Christ, you are now part of God’s Plan A to reach the nations. There is no Plan B. You have great purpose, a great calling. God may or may not call you to cross an ocean with the gospel, but he is certainly calling you to cross the street with it. See your neighbor as one for whom Christ died, to be a brave witness by inviting them to see Jesus, born in the manger, for them, so they know they are not irrelevant; they are loved, just like you. 

Merry Christmas!  Amen.

Gray Matters (Romans 14)

November 13, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL. James Jackson, Lead Pastor

Good morning! Please open your Bibles to Romans 14. I’m going to do something a little different this morning. I want to read all of chapter 14 at the beginning of the message. We are getting close to the end of our study of Romans together, and next week I’m not going to be here, so I want to get the whole passage in your minds, even if we don’t deal with it verse by verse.

Because the Scripture this morning deals with disagreements in the church. You know, there are some things that are crystal clear, black and white, and we have to be in agreement on those things. But there are other things that aren’t black and white. They are gray matters. And spoiler alert—the point of chapter 14 is that we don’t divide over those gray issues. Those gray matters. So let’s jump in. It’s a long passage, and I would really like you to be in your copy of God’s Word as we read. So I’m not going to ask you to stand up, but I am going to ask you to read along with me, and not just listen. Here we go.

[Chapter 14]

[Prayer]

In Romans 14, Paul is going to address two specific issues that were dividing the church in Rome. We’re going to look briefly at what the two issues were, but then move from there to giving some guidance for how to deal with some of the gray areas that can potentially divide believers in the church today.

The first thing we have to understand is what Paul means by the one who is “weak in faith.” Well, he’s not talking about somebody who is not sure whether or not the Bible is true, or that Jesus is actually who He says He is. Paul isn’t describing a non-Christian here.

He’s also not talking about somebody who is weak in conviction. This isn’t a description of someone who is afraid to stand up or speak out for what he or she thinks is right.

One helpful clue to what he does mean comes from the original Greek. In the Greek, there’s a definite article there, so that it literally reads, accept the one who is weak in THE faith. So it’s not a lack of trust or a lack of faithfulness, but it’s a lack of understanding of Christian doctrine and the gospel message. And it’s a temporary condition. In the Greek “weak” is a present participle, which means it’s not a permanent state. So the assumption is that someone who is weak in the faith is going to do what? Right. He or she is going to get stronger in the faith.

Here’s a great definition of what it means to be weak in THE faith:

A weak Christian is one with strong convictions about superficial matters.

Now, let me be clear: Doctrine is not a superficial matter. There are doctrines that determine what it is to be a Christian.

  • Do you accept that the Bible is the inspired, authoritative word of God? Do you believe that there is one God revealed in three Persons as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
  • Do you understand that all human beings, including yourself, have a sin nature that inclines them toward sinful behavior, which separates them from God?
  • Do you accept that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified as a substitutionary, atoning sacrifice for our sin, buried, and dead, rose again in bodily form, and ascended into heaven?
  • Do you believe that he will return one day and that there will be a judgment of the living and the dead?
  • Let’s just close out the Apostles Creed: Do you believe in the church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting?

This is doctrine. And we have to be in agreement on those things, because they are the difference between whether you are a Christian or not. These are the essentials.

But then there are non-essentials. Superficial matters.

There were believers in the church in Rome who had strong convictions about superficial, or surface issues. Food was a big deal. It always is, whenever you have multiple cultures coming together. Some of them had come from pagan backgrounds, and they couldn’t bring themselves to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Because that was the common practice in Rome. An animal would first be offered in the temple, then it would be butchered and sold in the market. And that bothered their conscience so much that they would eat only vegetables. For others, they didn’t have an issue with it. They reasoned that an idol was just a hunk of wood or stone, so it didn’t matter if the meat had been offered to it first. Practically speaking, all the choicest cuts of meat had been offered to idols first, and it was sometimes hard to find meat that hadn’t been.

Then there were those who came from Jewish backgrounds, and they were still practicing all the dietary laws from Judaism. They were keeping kosher, which means they wouldn’t eat shrimp or shellfish or bacon.

Another issue was what day you considered to be the sabbath. Many of them still considered Saturday as the Sabbath and wanted to worship on Saturday. And many of them were still observing all of the Jewish feast days as well. But then others were saying, no, Sunday was the day Jesus rose from the dead. Sunday is the Lord’s day, so we should worship on Sunday. And why are you still observing all those feasts? That’s from the old covenant.

Now, I need to point out that Paul doesn’t specifically say what the issues were about food and days. We are drawing some conclusions based on what Paul did explicitly say to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 8, and what he said in Colossians 2:16 about Christians continuing to observe feast days. I think he keeps it intentionally vague in because he wants to focus on the principles and not on the issues.

So what is the principle? He says to welcome them. Welcome the one who has these strong convictions, but not to quarrel with them over opinions.  

There are a lot of variations in translations for the Greek here. It comes down to the same thing: arguing or dividing over non essential differences of opinion.

Do we have any of those today? Anything that you have a strong conviction about, but you can’t really back it up from Scripture? Or it’s in Scripture, but Scripture doesn’t treat it as something that is the difference between Christian and not Christian. And let’s just talk plainly and specifically:

  • Alcohol. Is it a sin to drink alcohol?
  • How do you feel about certain TV or movies? Do you follow the ratings board, and draw the line at R rated movies?
  • Tattoos. Is it a sin to have tattoos?
  • Is it a sin to wear makeup? Or to cut your hair?
  • We have our own issues about holidays, don’t we.  Should Christians allow their kids to dress up for Halloween? Should we talk about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny? What about Christmas itself? We know that Constantine just kind of Christianized the pagan feast of Saturnalia, and that’s why we celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25. So maybe we shouldn’t celebrate it.
  • What about patriotic celebrations in church? Some would say even having an American flag in the sanctuary is too much of a mix of church and state.
  • What about the way you dress at church? Do you have a strong conviction that you need to present your best at church, and that means a suit and tie? What’s your definition of Sunday best?
  • What about the way someone else is dressed at church?
  • What about the way I’m dressed? Would it bother you if I wore jeans? Does it bother you that I’m not wearing a tie?

Ok, so how do we decide what is a sin and what is a matter of conscience? Because as Tim Keller pointed out, it is possible to err on either side. He writes, “We must guard against thinking that almost every area is a disputable matter of conscience and against the view that hardly any area is a disputable matter of conscience.” One is about legalism, one is about antinomianism. One is about your sanctification as a Christian, the other is about your liberty as a Christian. So in the time we have left, I want to give you some filters to help you evaluate your strong convictions.

First, does Scripture speak to it? If so, how does it speak to it? Does the Bible describe a behavior or does it prescribe a behavior? If the Bible speaks to it, what is the context? Let’s look at the verses on alcohol, for example. Verse 21 of this passage says “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” Paul is speaking specifically to believers here, and encouraging them to limit their own liberty in Christ out of love and compassion for someone else.

But in Proverbs 31, it says to give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.” This was a word to a ruler, and the writer of Proverbs is contrasting how a ruler should behave with how those who don’t have any responsibility or decision making authority behave. When you look at Proverbs 31 in context, it begins with, “It is not for kings to drink wine or rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” You ladies that just finished the study of Esther, you saw how much alcohol played a part in some really bad decisions, didn’t you?

Then in 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul says to Timothy, no longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach. Timothy was apparently dealing with some stomach issues, and they were apparently related to impurities in the water. So Paul said, don’t drink the water. Drink a little wine.

Maybe you are wondering, James, why do you have all those passages memorized? Well, it’s because those were the passages I used when I was trying to convince myself that it was okay to drink in high school and college. Me and my church friends didn’t want to cause anyone else to stumble, so we wouldn’t drink at parties. Instead, we would drink with each other. And so on it went.  

So knowing the text and the context is so important. There’s a phrase I’ve picked up from Tara-Leigh Cobble, the host of The Bible Recap podcast. Tara Leigh says, “We don’t want to shout where Scripture whispers, nor whisper where Scripture shouts.” That’s a good guide.

Second filter:

Does salvation depend on it? I’m not going to spend as much time on this, because we’ve already talked about the basic Christian doctrines—authority of Scripture, salvation by grace through faith, trusting in the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross, etc. And none of the issues we’ve been talking about so far are about salvation. At best, they are salvation adjacent. They could relate to someone’s sanctification as a believer. But they aren’t requirements for salvation.

I say that because there are a lot of sentences that people begin with, “I just don’t see how you can call yourself a Christian if_______” and then they fill in the blank with something that doesn’t have anything to do with someone’s salvation. Listen: you are allowed to say, “I don’t see how you can call yourself a Christian if you think that Jesus was just a great moral teacher but wasn’t God.” That’s allowed. But if you’ve ever said, or thought, “I don’t understand how a Christian could dress that way, or listen to that kind of music, or vote for a Democrat, or anything else that is not a salvation issue, then you are adding to the Gospel.   

And that’s the third filter for evaluating whether you are going to partake in a behavior or abstain from it: Does it align with the Gospel?. In your notes, you can write, “is it in step with the gospel?”


Now, you should know that not even Paul himself was above a church fight or two. In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas had a falling out, not over any doctrinal issues, but over a guy that Paul simply didn’t like named John Mark. He had left Paul on an earlier missionary journey, and when he wanted to come on the next one, Barnabas wanted to give him another chance, Paul said absolutely not, and it pretty much broke up the band.

Then in Galatians, Paul talks about a beef he had with the Apostle Peter. He says in 2:12 that for awhile while he and Peter were ministering together in Antioch. Peter was eating with the Gentiles, but then some guys came from headquarters in Jerusalem, and all of the sudden Peter stopped going out with the Gentile guys. They’re all like, “Hey, Peter, Peter, Bacon Eater, where are you going? I though we were bros.”

Paul says, “When that happened, I opposed Peter to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. And Paul gives a rationale in that situation that I think is important for us to keep in mind: Verse 14:

14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Now I give you those two examples to point out something important: On one hand, there are always going to be people in church that you don’t get along with. There’s always going to be people who are part of the body of Christ that you don’t agree with on certain issues. And it’s possible to disagree without derailing the gospel. As it turned out with Paul and Barnabas, the gospel actually advanced further when they parted ways.

However, there are some issues that, as Paul said in Galatians, are not in step with the truth of the gospel. Paul saw Peter making the gospel conditional. That it was salvation by grace AND keeping Jewish dietary laws. Or living to please men instead of God.

The gospel is that salvation is by grace, through faith, and not by works. Period. Full stop. Questions, none. There isn’t anything we can do to earn it. Nothing we do can make God love us anymore, and nothing we have done could make God love us any less.

So if your choice to do something or not do something, wear makeup or not, drink or not, wash your car on Sundays or not, watch certain movies or not—does it align with the gospel?

Don’t miss verse the last part of verse 3:

 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.

Do you see the connection between verse 1 and verse 3. Verse 1 says welcome the person who might have different convictions than you do, or doesn’t have the same convictions you do. And then verse 3 says “for God has welcomed him.”

However, you do have to judge your own convictions and your own choices. Let’s look at four tests that you need to apply to yourself when you are thinking about what you choose to do and choose not to do. Again, we aren’t talking about sin. We are talking about those areas that Scripture doesn’t speak to, or are salvation adjacent, not salvation crucial:

First: What is your motivation? Are you seeking man’s approval or God’s approval? Verse 4 says:

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master[a] that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

In a nutshell, if someone is a Christian, that means God is their master, not you. They are answering to God, not you. So it is not for you to judge their convictions. This also means that whatever you decide to do or not do, it ought to be because you are genuinely desiring to please God and not man. For you, if that means not drinking, you don’t drink. If it means wearing a coat and tie to church, you wear a coat and tie to church.

Number 2, what is your attitude toward God? Are you thankful to him or are you begrudging that you have to do this or don’t do this or can’t watch this or can’t dance or whatever? Look at verses 6-7 again:

The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.


Maybe you’ve seen firsthand the destruction that alcohol has caused in your family, or maybe in your own life. And every day you don’t take a drink, you are giving thanks to God for what he has delivered you from. For how your marriage was restored when you quit drinking. And you don’t pass judgment on someone who doesn’t have that history. But you don’t say, “God, I hope you’re happy. Look at all this I’m giving up for you. I sure hope you’re noticing, because I’m missing out on a lot of fun for you. Listen: you are not getting brownie points from God just because you don’t play cards.

Third: What is your attitude toward those who think differently? Do you despise and judge them, or do you walk in love with them?

Don’t resent someone else for enjoying his Christian liberty. It’s not for you to judge them because they don’t have the same convictions as you. Verse 17 and 18 are a great word about this:

17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 

Fourth: What is the effect of your behavior on someone else? Are you weakening their faith or building them up?

[story about my brother?]

Wrap it up with the so thens.

Paul has three summary statements in this chapter:

  1. 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. This means that each person is accountable to God, and no one else.
  • 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. This means that even more important than winning an argument is winning a person. Isn’t it worth it to give up some freedoms in the short term if it means building up and encouraging a fellow believer?
  • For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.[d] The conscience cannot take something that is sinful and make it okay. But it can take something okay and make it sinful. If you are choosing to indulge in a behavior or abstain from a behavior for any other reason that to please God, there’s a good chance that it is sin.

Pay Up, Wake Up, Suit Up (Romans 13:8-14)

Sermon Preached November 6, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville Alabama.

Good morning! Please open your Bibles to Romans 13.

This week, I was in Stacey’s office, and she was helping me try to come up with a title for the message. I had these three points, of pay up, wake up, and suit up, but I couldn’t find anything to kind of tie them together. And as you can see, I kind of took the lazy way out and just made those three points the title. But while we were trying to come up with something, Stacey just typed those three phrases into the Google search bar. And what came up over and over again was this quote from a woman neither one of us had ever heard of named Regina Brett:

“No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up, and never, ever give up” –Regina Brett

I loved the quote, but I wanted to find out more about Regina Brett before I put her out there as an example or a role model for you guys. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t some Wiccan high priestess or whatever.

It turns out, she’s a really cool lady with a great testimony. She was raised Catholic with an abusive father and a distant mother, became an alcoholic with an unplanned pregnancy in high school, survived one marriage falling apart, got her life together through a series of spiritual retreats and devotional reading, became a newspaper columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer; remarried, and survived breast cancer. In 2006 she wrote a column called “Fifty Lessons From Life’s Little Detours,”  which made her a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for newspaper commentary, became a bestselling book, and launched a podcast. This quote is Life Lesson #46. But here are some of the other ones:

  • Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.
  • When in doubt, just take the next small step.
  • Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
  • Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
  • Pay off your credit cards every month.
  • You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
  • Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.
  • It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
  • Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.
  • If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.
  • All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

I bring all this up because I have a strong suspicion that Regina Brett must have been reading Romans 12-13. Because a lot of her life lessons sound a whole lot like what Paul has been saying all through this section.

We are going to finish up our conversation about Romans 13 this week by talking about verses 8-14. And since we are going to go through this passage verse by verse, I won’t ask you to stand to read it all at once. Let’s pray, and then we will get into the Scripture.

[pray]

The first thing Paul talks about is the obligation to love one another. On your listening guide, we’re going to call this The Debt You’ll Never Get Out Of.

Paul says,

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 

Now, I want to be clear about what verse 8 is NOT saying. Verse 8 is not a prohibition against borrowing, so don’t make it a Dave Ramsey prooftext. It may be make good financial sense to avoid borrowing, but you can’t really argue that from Scripture. Verse 8 is just a clever transition from verse 7. Paul has just said pay to all what is owed them— taxes to whom taxes, revenue to whom revenue, respect to whom respect, honor to whom honor.

So now in verse 8, Paul is saying that the one debt you are never going to be able to pay off is the continuing debt to love one another.

Couple of things about the Greek that Dr. Mark helped me understand better this week. Your translation might say, “Owe no one anything except the continual debt to love each other.” That’s a better translation than the English Standard Version, because “to love” is an infinitive verb. That means it is independent of time, or person, or condition. I had never seen the connection between “infinitive” and “infinity” before Mark explained it this way to me. So we are to love like Buzz Lightyear. To infinitive and beyond.  

So who are we to love? Each other? Now is that inside the church or outside the church? Because remember in Chapter 12 we talked about how In verses 9-10, Paul was talking about loving one another inside the church, and verses 14-21 were about loving people outside the church. So when Paul says, 8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law, which is it?

Here’s what’s genius: It’s both!  There are two one another’s in verse 8. The first one is the Greek allelon, which means another of the same kind. That would be loving the people who are like you—other believers, people in the church. But in the very next sentence, when Paul says “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” he switches to heteron, which is another of a different kind.

So it’s a debt that we can never stop paying, and it isn’t limited to the people who are like us. The debt of love is continual, and its universal.

You might be saying to yourself, OK, I can understand having a debt of love to people in our church. We are a family of faith, we support each other, and maybe today I have a need someone else can meet, but on another day I’ll be able to meet a need you have. I get that.

But what does it mean that I have a debt of love to someone I’ve never even met? How can I owe them anything? And the answer, is that it isn’t them that you owe. It’s God. We are to love—agape, which is self-sacrificing, Christlike love—because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19). And when we love, it is the fulfillment of the law. Verse 9:

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

You may know this already, but just in case you don’t—the Ten Commandments are basically divided in half. The first five deal with our vertical relationship for God—no gods before Him, don’t make idols, don’t take His name in vain, remember the sabbath. Honor your father and mother.

(By the way, if you live in Prattville, you’ll never have an excuse for not remembering the first five commandments. Just think about Gin Shop Hill Road: Gods, Idols, Name, Sabbath, Honor Parents. Gin Shop. You’re welcome.)

 five, because the last five are all about our horizontal relationships—our relationships with other people. Don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t covet something that belongs to your neighbor. Don’t lie to or about your neighbor.

So when Jesus was asked what’s the greatest commandment, he said, I can’t just give you one. I have to give you two. First, love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. If you do that, you’ll take care of those first four commandments—the vertical relationships.

Then, if you love others like you love yourself—starting with your mother and father, then the last six commandments will fall into place. And Paul is saying the same thing in Romans. If you love your neighbor, you aren’t going to steal from them. If you love your neighbor, you aren’t going to do any wrong to them.

Love is the fulfilling of the Law, according to verse 10. Now, this statement has another layer of meaning for those who are in Christ, In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I’ve not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law by never sinning. And then, he shed His blood on the cross as a demonstration of God’s love for us. Friends, that is a debt we can never repay. And so in a very real sense, every single person we will ever lock eyes with is a person for whom Christ died. And some of them don’t even know it. We owe it to them to share the love of Christ with them. It is a debt we will never get out of. So In the words of those great theologians from the 80’s, REO Speedwagon, we’re going to keep on loving you.

So that is the first point of the sermon this morning. You owe a debt of love to each other, so pay up.

Paul moves from talking about the debt you never get out of totalking about the Sleep we’ve all got to get up from. Look at the next two verses with me.

11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12The night is far gone; the day is at hand.  

The word “time” is another one of those rich Greek words that’s worth camping out on. Greek has two basic words for time: chronos, which is about the chronological sequence of events, and Kairos, which is a divinely appointed moment. Kairos describes a time when God is about to break through and do something.

And that’s the word Paul uses here. He’s saying at any moment a chronos moment can become a Kairos moment. At any moment God can break through our normal everyday existence with a divine appointment—a Kairos moment that changes everything. And you don’t want to miss that. So you have to be awake. You have to be watching for those moments.

When Paul says that “salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed,” what does he mean? I think there’s three ways to understand this, and I think they are all true.

First, Paul is speaking prophetically. We know that Jesus is returning one day, right? And no one knows the day or the hour. But every day Jesus tarries is one day closer to the day he will come.

Second, Paul is speaking personally: The doctrine of salvation has three components: There is regeneration: that moment when a sinner repents and puts his or her faith in Christ. When people talk about when they “got saved,” they are talking about that moment of regeneration. But the Bible also talks about the ongoing process of sanctification as part of our salvation. Sanctification is our day to day becoming more like Jesus. Finally, there is glorification, which will happen in the future, either when Jesus comes back or when we die and are united with Christ. Regeneration, Sanctification, and Glorification are all part of salvation. As the early theologians put it, we have been saved, we are being saved, we will be saved. And Paul is saying that for every one of us, our ultimate glorification is nearer now than when new first believed.

But third, Paul is speaking evangelistically. This circles back to what he has been saying about the debt of love we owe everyone we meet. Understand that every single person we encounter is potentially on the verse of a Kairos moment. They are either one step closer to following Jesus, or they are one step closer to rejecting him for the last time. And it is crucial for us to wake up, to preach and teach and proclaim and exhort and urge and beg and plead with urgency.

Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed, but beloved, so is condemnation for those who won’t believe. Listen to the verse again, but this time, put the emphasis on the word “we”: Salvation is nearer to us now than when WE first believed. For those who have not put their faith in Christ, the night is far gone, the day is at hand. O, God, let there be a Kairos moment for someone today! If you are listening to this and are not a Christian, wake up, and come to Christ. If you are listening to this and you are a Christian, wake up, and tell someone about Jesus.

We need you in the game. We need you off the bench. So that brings us to the third exhortation from Romans: It’s time to suit up. Put on the clothes you’ll never grow out of! Let’s close out the chapter by reading verses 12-14:

So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Notice that Paul says put on the armor of light. Armor is a very specific and intentional word. Not the bathrobe of light. Not the pajamas of light. Not the tuxedo or cocktail dress or cocktail dress of light. This is a reminder to the Christian that we are in a battle. Armor is what you wear when you are going to war. And the Christian is at war every minute of every day. Not against other people. Not primarily against a pagan culture, although there are elements of that. The emphasis in verse 13 is that we are at war against our own sinful nature.

So when Paul says out on the armor of light. In Ephesians 6, he will explain piece by piece what the armor is. We are to put on the belt of truth. The breastplate of righteousness, our feet shod with the gospel of peace. the shield of faith, with which we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. We put on the helmet of salvation. That’s what protects our mind. Then, the one offensive weapon is the sword of the spirit.

And when we are suited up in the armor of light, we can do battle against all these besetting sins Paul lists in Romans 13.  

How do we make provision for the flesh? We make provision for the flesh when we don’t take sin seriously. Paul lists a lot of besetting sins that were an issue for the people of Rome— orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, sensuality (which doesn’t have to be sexual. It could just be living for your senses), quarreling, jealousy. So to make no provision for the flesh means you are aware of those besetting sins, and you avoid situations where they might have an open door back into your life.

  • If drinking too much is a besetting sin for you, then you don’t have alcohol in your home. One of the men in our men’s bible study talked about how he had been so used to downing a six pack every Saturday while watching college football that he had to take a break from college football.
  • If quarreling and rage are besetting sins for you, stop watching the news. Stop listening to talk radio.
  • Maybe jealousy is a besetting sin. Get off Instagram. Get off pinterest.
  • If sexual immorality is the besetting sin, and you are constantly giving in to the temptation of clicking on porn after everyone else has gone to bed, then don’t charge your phone by your bedside.
  • If procrastination is your besetting sin, and you find yourself wasting hours playing games on your phone, then have someone else set a screen time password on your phone. You can set limits for every app on your phone. And if you don’t know your own password, then once your allotted time is up for the day, you’re done.

The point of all of this is that this is how we as Christians put on the armor of light. This is how we do battle with our own sin nature. Forget the culture wars. The biggest battle you face is not against culture. It’s against your carnal, sinful nature. So suit up! Get in the game. Fight.

Part of the armor of light is directing your mind to a greater affection direct your mind to the glory of Jesus. Direct your mind to Scripture. This is going to be a major focus of 2023 as we are encouraging every glynwood member to read the Bible through next year.

But maybe some of you need to put on the Lord Jesus Christ for the first time. The call in verse 14 is for you to repent and turn to Christ and trust him to save you.

Listen, when you put on Christ, you will never grow out of Him. He will never go out of style. He will always fit you perfectly.

This morning, as the musicians come back up and we enter into our time of response, can I remind you that salvation is nearer than when we first believed. Today could be your Kairos moment—your moment of spiritual breakthrough. So suit up.  Put on Christ.

Invitation.

Church and State (Romans 13:1-7)

October 30, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville

Good morning. Please turn in your Bibles to the book of Romans, chapter 13. I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey through Romans as much as I have.

We’re in Romans chapter 13. And once again, God’s timing is just so perfect. Remember how it “just so happened” that we talked about Romans 8:28 on 8/28? Here we are again with another coincidence that isn’t really a coincidence. We hit Romans 13, about how believers are to relate to the governing authorities, and in a few days we get to vote on our governing authorities.

This is a great reminder to you to vote on November 8. We have a privilege that Paul and the believers in Rome didn’t have. We have a say in who our governing authorities will be. It is an unbelievable privilege to cast your vote. So don’t blow it off. Thank God for the privilege, and then exercise your right to vote.

Also, remember that our church is a polling place. On Election Day, our entire fellowship hall will be used for voting. So teachers and Awana leaders who use the fellowship hall, please make sure we clear away any personal items or clutter or stuff that needs to be thrown away before next Tuesday. We want to be good hosts. 

So. We participate in our democracy. We cast our vote. And if our chosen candidates win, we clap each other on the back and do a little happy dance and go to bed on election night believing that better days are ahead. And what Romans 13 says about being subject to the governing authorities comes easy. If someone else is critical of the person we voted for, we might remind them what the Bible says in Romans 13, and that we are commanded to pray for our government leaders, and that you show respect for the office even if you don’t agree with the person that is holding that office. We are quick to correct anyone who says, “He’s not my President.”

Again, these are all the things we do when the guy we voted for won. But what happens when our guy loses? What happens if our preferred political party is not in power? Romans 13:1 says we are to be subject to the governing authorities. Does that change? It’s amazing to me that conservative evangelical Christians, who maintain that every word of the Bible is inspired and inerrant can spend long stretches of time—often either four or eight years—acting like Romans 13 doesn’t really mean what it says.

So what does Romans 13 actually say? Let’s look at it together. If you are physically able, please stand as we honor the reading of God’s word:

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Romans 13:1-7

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. You may be seated. Let’s pray.

[PRAYER]

Now, I know you’ve got a LOT of blanks on your listening guide. And for the sake of all the people that will get really bent out of shape if we don’t fill in all the blanks, let’s go ahead and get that out of the way first. So, first things first. The blanks.

What is our Responsibility to Government (What we Do)?

First, be subject to the governing authorities. (v. 1). Paul says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.”

The word translated person is a little surprising. It’s not Anthropos, “man.” The word is psuche, which is usually translated “life” or soul. So I think Paul is saying this isn’t just superficial submission. You don’t just “do the right thing.” This is subjection at the soul level. We submit with our attitudes, not just our actions.

Just in case we miss it in verse 1, Paul says it again in verse 5: We must be in subjection to the governing authorities. Your translation might say, “submit” to the governing authorities. That Greek word is hupotasso and it literally means to line up under. It was used in a military sense to arrange troops in formation under a leader. It’s the same word Paul uses to describe husbands and wives submitting to one another in Ephesians 5:21, and wives submitting to their husbands in Ephesians 5:24 and Colossians 3:18.

Now we could spend all of our time just on verse 1, and it could be our guide for everything else. Because this is a categorical imperative. There’s no qualifiers or conditions on either side of this statement. Who is to be subject to the governing authorities?

Every soul. Every person. Every man, woman, and child…

Is to be subject to: Submit. Line up under. At the soul level, not just superficially.

To the governing authorities: Which governing authorities? All of them. You can fill in the blank with any world leader, past, present, or future, and it’s going to be the same answer. Paul was writing to believers living under Emperor Nero. Be subject to Emperor Nero. The next generation of Christians would suffer horrific persecution under Domitian. The book of Revelation was written during Domitian’s reign, and much of what we read as end-times prophecy, the Christians of the day were reading as what was happening to them. Be subject to Domitian. Well what about Stalin? What about Hitler? What about Xi Jinping, or Kim Jong Un, or Bashar Al-Assad in Syria or Erdogan in Turkey. What do you say to Christians in those countries?

You say Romans 13:1: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.

Well, what about our local school board? What about my AP Us History teacher? What about the woman that runs our HOA and sends me a nasty letter whenever I don’t edge my sidewalk?

You say Romans 13:1: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  

Second, we obey them, for the sake of the conscience.  Verse 5: everyone must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. God commands that we be subject to the governing authorities? Do submit and obey always mean the same thing? Not necessarily, and we will get to that, but after this Paul does gives some specific points in which we are to obey. For example:

Third, We are to pay our taxes: It’s right here, in verse 6. We don’t pick and choose which taxes to pay. Verse 7 says “Pay to all what is owed them.”

How many of you hate that this is in the Bible? This week I heard a story about a man who had cheated on his taxes, and for weeks after April 15, he had been unable to sleep. Finally, it became too much for him, so he wrote out a check to the IRS, along with a note that said, “Dear IRS: I haven’t been able to sleep ever since I failed to pay you the full amount I owed on last years taxes. So please accept this check, and I apologize for it being late.

P.S.: If I am still unable to sleep, I will send you another check for the rest of the amount I owe.”

The truth is, the believers in Paul’s day had a much, much more oppressive tax system than we do. Here are all the taxes a citizen of Rome was required to pay, according to a Wikipedia articie:

  • Every citizen paid what it’s called the poll tax. This wasn’t a tax to vote. Pol is from the Latin polis, which means people.  It was a tax simply for being a person. So you were taxed for every person in your household. Every male, aged 14 to age 65, every female aged 12 to age 65, just for being alive.
  • If you were an unmarried man or a woman of childbearing age who wasn’t married, you paid a marriage tax.
  • If you owned slaves, you paid a tax. If you sold slaves, you paid a tax on the sale. If you freed slaves, you paid 5% the value of each slave you freed.
  • If you were Jewish, you paid a tax just for being a Jew.
  • Widows and orphans paid a tax specifically to care for the horses of the military.
  • If you received an inheritance, you were taxed 5% the value of the inheritance.
  • There were sales taxes, trade taxes, and land taxes. There was a flat 10% tax for income. There were taxes for roads and harbors. 10% of your grain sales if you were a farmer. 20% of your wine sales if you had a vineyard.
  • Then there was the fish tax. You were taxed on how many nets you would throw out into the lake or into the sea. You were then taxed on every single fish that your net caught.
  • There was a wheel tax. If you had a cart, you were taxed on the number of wheels you had on your cart. Wheelbarrows were crazy popular.

The Roman government had the simplest 1040 ever. [show slide Two lines: How much money did you make? Send it in.]

But Paul didn’t spend time breaking down the tax code and trying to give the believers guidelines for which taxes to pay. Neither did Jesus. One time, the Pharisees and Herodians tried to trap Jesus by asking him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Do you remember Jesus’ answer?

19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.[c] 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 

Jesus was brilliant here. The money has Ceasar’s image on it, so give it to Ceasar. But guess what, Christian: You have God’s image stamped on you. So you give yourself to God.

Fourth: We are responsible for honoring and respecting our governing authorities. Verse 7: respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Now, sometimes we attempt to do an end-run around this for politicians we don’t like by saying, “Well, so and so isn’t worthy of my respect.” She’s a godless pagan who is pro abortion and anti Second Amendment. She doesn’t deserve my respect.

My only question is, can you prove that from Scripture? Can you point to a place in Scripture where an authority figure was mocked or disKeep in mind that Paul is writing this to Christians who were living under Nero. Can you show me where Daniel ever dissed Darius? Or Jesus disrespected Pilate? Paul would say that they are owed respect and honor because of verse one. There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Now, they may not be owed respect because they are good leaders, but we owe them respect if we are to be good followers. So, not to keep beating a dead horse, but this should eliminate about 98% of all memes that you see on social media during an election year.

  • Fifth, and most important, we are to pray for our leaders. This one is not specifically in Romans, but Paul will say it to Timothy a few years after writing this:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Can I ask everyone to do this this week? Make a list of every politician that represents you. Barry Moore, second district of Alabama. Tommy Tuberville and Richard Shelby, our two senators. Kay Ivey, our governor. Maybe you like them, maybe you can’t stand them. Maybe you voted for them, maybe you can’t wait to vote against them. Doesn’t matter.

Add to the list politicians that are in leadership: Mitch McConnell. Kevin McCarthy. Chuck Shumer. Nancy Pelosi. Joe Biden. Kamala Harris. You may like them, you may loathe them. Doesn’t matter. Scripture says we are to make supplication, prayer, intercession, AND THANKSGIVING for them. That may be really hard for you. You may choke on those words. Doesn’t matter. The goal is that we live peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way (verse 3), and that all may be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (verse 4).

Listen, you may think a certain politician is the most godless, reprehensible person on the face of the earth. Every time you see his or her picture on the TV, you just want to throw something. You know what you do? You pray harder: “Lord, you desire all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Please… start with him!”

I’ll say this, too: there is a 100% chance that if you are praying for someone, you are not going to break into her home and attack her husband with a hammer.

So this is our responsibility to government. This is what we are to do. Now let’s talk about Why we do it. What is the reach of government? Or maybe this would have been better for your listening guide: What is the rationale for government?

First, let’s all agree that no government is perfect.  Winston Churchill famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” No government is perfect. Government has actually been around ever since Genesis 1, when God gave Adam dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28). Then family was introduced in Genesis 2. Woman was formed from man, so man is the head, and man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh. That’s order. That’s a system of government.

But as Albert Mohler has pointed out, there’s no time at all between the establishment of order and government in Genesis 2 and the fall in Genesis 3. So we have no record of how government is supposed to function in a perfect world.

But second, we can all agree that any government is better than no government? The absolute most horrific statement in the Old Testament is Judges 21:25: In those days, Israel had no king, everyone did what was right in his own eyes. So no government is perfect, but anarchy is horrible. So God gave Israel kings. Most of them were bad. Ultimately Israel and Judah were overthrown, the people went into exile. You get the stories of foreign kings like Nebuchadnezzar, and Xerxes, Cyrus the Persian and Darius the Mede. None of them were perfect. But here’s what Romans 13 teaches:

The source of their authority is God. There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Period. Full stop. Questions? None.

Do you remember when Jesus stood before Pilate? Pilate was astonished that Jesus wouldn’t answer him. He looks at Jesus and says,  

10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. 

Daniel 2:21 says that God is the one who removes kings and establishes kings. So even the Roman governor who signed Jesus’ death warrant was put there by God.

Now, in a weird way, our very system of government makes it easy for us to forget this. We get to vote for the people who represent us. So when someone says, “Well, who put so and so in office,” we either say, “I did,” or we say, “It wasn’t me. It was those idiot [fill in the blank with whichever political party you oppose].” So listen: Even though “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” is politically correct, it isn’t theologically correct. We might pull the lever for this or that candidate, but God, in his sovereignty, is pulling the strings.

There is a twofold reason Paul says government exists. Paul says government is to be God’s servant on earth for two reasons, to protect and to punish. Government is the servant for our good (verses 4 and 6), and the administrator of God’s wrath (verses 3 and 5) To protect the community and to punish the criminal.

By the way, if you are looking for scriptural support for capital punishment, here it is. The government bears the sword as an avenger of God’s wrath against the wrongdoer. Police officers are the government officials who fulfill these roles the most. And notice how Paul describes them: Twice he calls them servants. You’ll recognize that Greek word—its diakonos, where we get our word deacon.

TR, Josh, Mike, did you know you were deacons of the City of Prattville?

When is the last time you got pulled over by a police officer, and thought, this is a servant of God. [CH Spurgeon story?]

But Paul is intentional with his language here. Governing authorities occupy a divinely appointed office. We should thank them for enforcing the law. But I now make it my point, whenever I see a police officer, somebody in government, to thank them for their service.


So we’ve talked about our responsibility to government: what we do. We’ve talked about government’s responsibility to us, which helps us understand why we are to be subject to them. But now, let’s turn to the key question for our time: Is it ever appropriate to resist the government?

Resistance to Government: (Should We Ever Not Do It?)

Remember I asked you earlier if “being subject to” meant the same thing as obey? Well, it actually doesn’t. Martyn Lloyd Jones pointed out that there are other words in the New Testament that mean obey. The most common is hupakouo, which means “to hear under.” This is what was used when Jesus commanded the wind and the waves to be still, or demons to leave. That’s different from our word in Romans 13:1, hupotasso,  which is line up under.

So it is possible to be lined up under the authority of the government, or under the authority of a ruler without obeying that authority. This means you acknowledge their right to punish you for breaking the law, and you are willing to accept those consequences. This is what you see throughout Scripture. Shiphrah and Puah were the two Hebrew midwives who refused to follow Pharaoh’s order to kill all the male Hebrew babies. It’s what you see all through the book of Daniel, in all the stories of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They didn’t dispute the king’s authority to throw them into the fiery furnace .

This isn’t in your notes, but you see it in Esther, when she dared to come into the king’s presence without an invitation. What did she tell Mordecai? If I perish, I perish.

Peter and John, when they were told to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. “We must obey God, rather than men.”

You see it outside the pages of Scripture as well. There have been numerous times throughout history that Christians have opposed the state, knowing the consequences of doing so.

Do you remember what Benjamin Franklin said when he was signing the Declaration of Independence? “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately.” He was acknowledging that Great Britain had the right to hang them as traitors. All of the civil rights protestors in the Sixties recognized that the State had the right to take them to jail for sitting at a whites only lunch counter. They expected to get arrested, and they were arrested.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Germany in the 1930’s who dared to speak out against Adolf Hitler. Ironically, the majority of churches in Germany fell in line with Hitler’s policies, and used Romans 13:1 to justify it. So when the cross was replaced with the swastika in their churches, they went along with it, saying, “Well, we must be subject to the governing authorities.” Bonhoeffer said no. And in April, 1945, less than a month before Germany surrendered, he was hanged in a concentration camp.

So there are times when it is appropriate for a Christian to resist the state. Not just appropriate, but necessary. Christians can’t give up their voice in the public square. We vote. We speak out. We write our leaders. We educate ourselves on the issues so we can advocate where we need to advocate and oppose where we need to oppose. We accept that the state has the authority to punish, but we are willing to accept the punishment.

And as we get closer and closer to the return of Christ, we recognize that this will become more and more necessary. Here’s some homework for you. Go home and take your listening guide, where you have Romans 13 printed. But open your Bible to Revelation 13, and read them side by side. You’ll read in Revelation 13 that the Beast was given authority for 42 months to utter blasphemy. Romans 13 tells you who gave him that authority. You’ll read in Romans 13 that the state wields the sword. Then you’ll read in Revelation 13 that

If anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword he must be slain.

So how do you know when it is right to oppose the state. When are you required to obey God rather than men? Here are some questions to ask:

Questions to ask:

  1. Will obeying the government disobey a commandment of God?
  2. Am I being asked to do something immoral?
  3. Will obedience violate my conscience?
  4. Will my disobedience be consistent with my Christian witness (Can I disobey like a Christian?)

A good Christian is to be a good citizen until being a good citizen means being a bad Christian.

The Love Manifesto, Part 2: Love on the Outside (Romans 12:14-21)

I heard a story about two little boys—little third graders, playing on the playground during recess. So there they are, playing with their trucks in the sandbox, or whatever, when the prettiest girl in third grade walked past them. The two little boys watched her walk past, and one boy turned to his friend and said, “You know, whenever I stop hating girls, I’m gonna stop hating that one  first.”


I’ve got a question for you. Who is it you need to stop hating first? Now, I know that question seems harsh. Your first thought is, “I don’t hate anybody.” And that may be true. I hope it’s true. But the fact is, we all have some biases and prejudices and some outright contempt for some groups and some people that are outside the walls of the church, and today’s Scripture passage forces us to take a hard, honest look in the mirror and confront those attitudes. So I’m going to ask you again at the end of the message, “Who do you need to to stop hating first.”

We are in part two of looking at Romans 12:9-21, which we are calling the Love Manifesto. If you were here last week, you’ll remember that A manifesto is a radical statement of beliefs that call for visible action. Radical doesn’t mean out there or fanatical; it means fundamental, at the root of things. And “Manifesto” comes from the word “manifest,” which means visible. So a manifesto is a radical/fundamental statement of beliefs that translate into visible, obvious, demonstrable action.

This passage gives us four words, four attitudes, and four questions. The four words we covered last week, when we talked about our love for one another inside the church from verses 9-13.

There’s agape, which is Christilike, sacrificial, self-giving love.

Philadelphia, which is friendship or brotherly love;

Philostorge, or family love.

These are the ones that many of us who’ve been around church for a long time have heard before. But in verse 13 Paul throws out a bonus word for love: philoxenia—Love for outsiders. Love for people who are different from us. We don’t always think of it as love, because it’s translated as hospitality. But it sets the stage for this pivot Paul makes, from talking about love on the inside of the church to love on the outside. Let’s read verses 14-21 again. If you are physically able, please stand to honor the reading of God’s Word:

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Let’s pray

[pray]

You may be seated.

We touched on this last week, but its worth repeating: in these 13 verses, Paul gives us no less than 29 commands. Do this, don’t do that. 29  exhortations, all dealing with love, the very heart, the very motive of the Christian life. And these last seven verses deal with our relationships with people outside the church.

Paul begins with talking about four attitudes believers are to have toward those who have a general hostility toward Christians. They don’t know you personally, but they have formed an opinion about how “all Christians are,” and so they treat you accordingly.

The first is in verse 14: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.


Rome was becoming a hostile environment for believers. Paul wrote Romans in AD 57. Three years into the reign of Emperor Nero, who became Emperor at the age of 16 after the death of Claudius. Now, at the time, there was not yet widespread persecution of Christians in Rome. There was in other places. Paul himself had been responsible for a good bit of it. And Paul knew it was coming. Sure enough, just seven years after Paul put his letter to the Romans in the mail, a massive fire broke out at the Circus Maximus in Rome. It burned out of control for six days destroyed as much as 75% of the city. And while there is a lot of mystery over how the fire got started, Nero pinned the blame on the growing community of Christians. And from that time on, Christians were systematically rounded up and tortured. They were fed to lions, torn apart by dogs, and set on fire to light Nero’s garden parties at night.  

So what is Paul’s advice? What kind of attitude should Christians have toward those who are persecuting them? Paul says to bless those who persecute you. Bless AND do not curse them. It doesn’t say Bless “OR,” at the very least, don’t curse them. This isn’t like your mom saying, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone don’t say anything at all.” It’s bless AND do not curse. The word for bless is “eulogeo.” It means to speak a good word about them. It’s where we get our word eulogy.

How in the world are you supposed to do that? This is even a step beyond what you read in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” Now, it’s “Blessed are those who persecute for the sake of righteousness.” How in the world are you supposed to do that? How are you supposed to seek good for someone who opposes everything you stand for?

It’s not just difficult; it’s impossible. We can’t do that. What we can do is remember the example of Jesus. What was Jesus’ attitude toward the people who were nailing Him to the cross? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”

Listen, church: people who hate you because you are a Christian don’t know what they are doing. They either oppose you because they have had a bad experience with a harsh, unloving, legalistic, dogmatic, oppressive version of Christianity, or they oppose you because they have been so blinded by Satan that they think anyone who questions their choices or their lifestyle or their behavior is just trying to limit their freedom.

They aren’t your enemy. And if all they can take is your life, they aren’t even that much of a threat. It’s that perspective that allows us to say, father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.

Let me say it again. The Black Lives Matter activist is not your enemy.

  • The Pro choice Democrat is not your enemy.
  • The Pride Parade marching, rainbow flag waving, flamboyant member of the LGBT community Is not your enemy.

At best, they are fellow Americans who are just as patriotic as you, but they have a different idea of how to solve our country’s problems. At worst, they are not your enemy, but they are captives of your enemy.

You know what the most powerful prayer you can pray for someone who is captive to sin? “Lord, bless them.”

You’re like, what in the world? Shouldn’t you pray that they would feel the consequences of their actions so they would repent?

Well, that might be what makes sense to us, but the gospel isn’t about what makes sense to us. And the Bible says that it’s God’s kindness that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). So our prayer for the most militant atheist should not be, God, smite them, but God, bless them.

Now that sounds good on paper. But let me say this. That is impossible. Apart from being plugged into Jesus Christ. If you try to do this on your own, you’ll fail.

But here’s the good news. When you’re plugged into Jesus, you’re abiding in him, you’re connected to him, you have an endless capacity to show love. You’ll never get to a place where you go, I’m out of love. It just ran dry.

God pours his love into us, and that never stops, so that the love we pour out to others can never stop. We have an endless capacity to show love because we endlessly receive it from his capacity.

The Second Attitude is empathy for those who are different from you.

Verse 15: Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep.

I want to make sure you understand the difference between empathy and sympathy. Sympathy is feeling for. Specifically, feeling sorry for. It’s pity, but at the same time, there’s relief. “I feel so bad for her, but thank God that hasn’t happened to me.

But empathy is feeling with, instead of just feeling for. When you empathize with someone, we enter into their pain with them. Sympathy moves into problem solving. Empathy is problem sharing. 

And Paul says “Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep.

Now, how many of you, if you are being really honest, have an easier time weeping with those who weep than rejoicing with those who rejoice? (Remember, we are talking about our relationships outside the church). Somebody is suffering. Somebody is crying. Somebody is in anguish. It’s not a hard thing to walk up to them, put your arm around them, and I’m so sorry. Let me pray for you. It’s going to get better, and encourage them. Even if they aren’t a Christian, you generally don’t have a hard time expressing empathy for that person. And by expressing concern and compassion for them when they are grieving, you get an open door to display Christlikeness to them. So weeping with those who weep is actually pretty easy.

But what about rejoicing with those who rejoice? A coworker gets a raise, and you didn’t. The two of you are both wanting the same promotion. She gets it. You don’t. How hard is it to rejoice with them? What if it’s someone you don’t like? What if it’s someone whose lifestyle goes against everything you believe? What if it’s the obnoxious, hard drinking, dirty-joke telling, racist bigot that gets the promotion? How hard is it to rejoice when good things happen to them?

Here’s the reason it’s so important to rejoice with those who rejoice. Because God is much more concerned with what is happening on the inside of one of his children than he is with what is happening on the outside of someone who is not one of His children.

Here’s what I mean. When you hear of something good happening to someone that you don’t think deserves it, there’s two sin triggers that are tripped in your spirit. The first is envy: I want what he has. And I want what he has so badly that I would wish bad things for him in order for good things for myself. That’s envy.

The second is pride. “What did she do to deserve this?” I’m the one that been putting in the hours. I’m the one that never misses a day of work. She missed three Mondays in a row last month. And I know it’s just because she was hung over from partying all weekend. Doesn’t my boss see how much more deserving of this promotion I am instead of her?

You know, pride and envy are what got us kicked out of the Garden of Eden in the first place! Adam and Eve became convinced that they deserved more than what we were getting. They wanted what God had. And when pride and envy took root in Eve’s life, she was easy pickings for Satan to tempt her. Don’t you see how these sinful attitudes are so much more important than this other person’s circumstances?

So what if the command to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep is more about what God is trying to cultivate in you than whatever is happening to the people around you?

Here’s the third attitude: Harmony with those who disagree with you. (v. 16)

Verse 16: Live in harmony with one another. 

Raise your hand if you have any kind of musical knowledge whatsoever. I’m doing this for Mike, because he’s always recruiting choir members. Some of you aren’t raising your hands—you’re in the “make a joyful noise” crowd. I get that.

But even if the only musical instrument you play is the radio, you know the difference between unison and harmony.

Unison is what: When everybody is singing the same thing. So what is harmony? Harmony is when everyone is singing something different, but it sounds really good together.

Can you imagine how dull music would be if there were no parts? What if Simon and Garfunkel was just Garfunkel? What if there was just one Everly Brother? What if the Hallelujah Chorus was just altos? (Sorry, altos).

Now, remember that this whole section deals with how believers relate to people outside the church. So this isn’t really about agreeing with one another in the church. This is about how Christians will benefit from hearing and respecting the perspectives of people outside the church. I’m not saying you have to agree with them. That would be unison. But it is possible to live in harmony with people who don’t agree with you. In fact, I think it’s vital. Part of the reason our culture is so divided today is that its so easy to completely surround yourself with people who agree with you. Social media populates your feed with people that are watching the same things as you, going to the same places you go, voting for the same politicians you vote for. You choose news sources that confirm all your biases, to the point that when you hear a different opinion, your first thought is, “How could any intelligent person believe that?”

And verse 16 says, Live in harmony with one another. That doesn’t mean you need to agree with them. It just means you don’t have to be so quick to turn down their voice. Maybe don’t unfriend them right away. Maybe think twice about posting something where the language you use or the images you share are deliberately designed to provoke or offend people who don’t agree with you. Listen: if your sole motivation for posting or retweeting is to “own the libs,” then you are part of the problem. You are being disobedient to Scripture.

Verse 16 says “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” And that brings us to our fourth attitude we are to have toward people who have a general hostility towards us simply because we are Christians. We are to bless those who persecute us. We are to have empathy toward those who are different from us. We are to live in harmony with those who disagree with us. And fourth, we are to fellowship with those who have less than us.

The word haughty literally means to be “high minded.” It is the attitude of self satisfaction that comes from enjoying the success that comes from your own hard work. It’s what makes us want to yell “Get a job” to people we see asking for money at intersections. Or makes us self-righteously angry whenever people talk about student loan forgiveness. Or causes us to be suspicious of any immigrant asking for political amnesty.

I understand these are all hot button issues. I know we have problems with border security, and I know that there are people who can work but don’t work, and I know that somebody somewhere has to pay the bills whenever there’s talk of student loan forgiveness or anything else that looks like free money for people that didn’t work for it.

Still, Scripture says “Do not be high minded, but associate with the lowly. Don’t be wise in your own sight.” It’s worth remembering that none of us chose the color of our skin, or the place of our birth. There is nothing we did to not be born in Chennai, India, or Port Au Prince Haiti or South Central LA or the projects in Montgomery. All we have, we have by grace.

So what does it mean to associate with the lowly. “Associate” means spend time with, but it also means identify with. Even if you don’t agree with their politics, seek to understand. Seek to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Don’t be haughty, and don’t be wise in your own sight.

So those are the four attitudes that will help us deal with people who have a negative attitude toward Christians. Cultivating these attitudes will help build bridges instead of walls, and they will create more opportunities for gospel conversations. Because here’s the truth: You will never convince someone that Jesus loves them if they are convinced that you don’t like them.


But now let’s make it personal. What if someone doesn’t like you?  What if this isn’t about general animosity, but specific hostility? Let’s look at what Paul says about how Paul says we are to respond. I want to give you four questions to consider.

The first question: What is honorable?

Verse 17: “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”

Revenge is fun. We like revenge stories. We love The Count of Monte Christo, and the Shawshank Redemption, and The Terminal List.  There’s a reason there was a popular series a few years back called Revenge, but there’s never been one called Reconciliation. We’ve all heard the phrase “Fight Fire with Fire.”

But God’s word says just the opposite. It says to do what is honorable in the sight of all. At the very least it means taking the high road and refusing to stoop to the level of those who are attacking you. But maybe it means not just “doing what is honorable” but actually showing the other person honor. Listen: you may have every right to be angry, or hold a grudge. And you might talk to your friends and they will affirm you that they would have done the exact same thing in your shoes.

But what if you sought to honor the person that was unkind to you? What if you acted in a way that was different from what everyone expected? If you act the same way anyone without a relationship with Christ would act, that’s just normal. I think sometimes God calls us to be weird.

Second question: What depends on me? Verse 18 says

18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

This is one of my go-to verses when talking about conflict resolution with people, because it acknowledges that sometimes it’s not possible, and it doesn’t always depend on you to live peaceably.

But your obligation as a Christian is to do everything possible to make things right with the person you are in conflict with. That starts with asking the question “Is this my fault?” Ask it to God. Psalm 139: Search me O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any offensive way in me. Take the conflict to God. Then, take it to the other person. Make the first move.

Sometimes you aren’t going to going to be able to make peace. But never let the possibility of reconciliation stay on your side of the fence.

Verse 19 and 20 says.

19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

What’s all this about heaping burning coals on the head of your enemy? Paul is quoting Proverbs 25:22, and there’s two possibilities that are given in the NIV study Bible about this verse. One is that it is talking about horrible punishment. In Psalm 140, King David prayed that “the heads of those who surround me be covered with the trouble their lips have caused. Let burning coals fall upon them.” So it’s possible that this is in line with Paul saying, do not avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.

Another possibility is that this may reflect an Egyptian ritual in which a guilty person, as a sign of his repentance, carried a basin of glowing coals on his head. This was meant to be a sign of public humiliation and shame, sort of like being put in the stocks in the public square. And the idea would be that when you feed your enemy and don’t seek revenge, you shame them, and it will be like hot coals being piled on.

Maybe it really is one of these. But maybe the idea is that the best way to deal with your enemies is to make them stop being your enemy.

[Les Miserables clip]

Fourth Question: How is evil overcome?

Verse 21: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

God’s strategy has always been to destroy his enemies. Sometimes it’s through judgment, but sometimes it is by making them not His enemies anymore.

Isn’t that what Jesus did? On the last night Jesus was with his disciples, did He know what Judas Iscariot was about to do? Scripture says he did. John 13 says that

During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 

And He washed His enemy’s feet. In less than an hour, those feet, having just been washed by Jesus, would carry Judas Iscariot to the temple courts, where he would arrange for Jesus’ betrayal, and then to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he would kiss Jesus—what was supposed to be a sign of love—but what was instead a sign to Jesus captors to move in and arrest Jesus.


Who will you stop hating first in the hostile world that we’re in?

The Pursuit (Romans 12:1-2)

October 2, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL. James Jackson, Senior Pastor

Good morning! Please turn to Romans 12.

This week I spent way more time than I should have watching greyhound races. Don’t worry. I wasn’t betting any money. But I had heard a sermon illustration that talked about what happened at a greyhound race one time when the rabbit malfunctioned. And I never want to tell you something in a sermon that isn’t true (unless its something I make up), so of course I had to hunt down the story myself.

Now, if you don’t know anything about greyhound racing, and its okay if you don’t, because we’re baptists, and we aren’t supposed to know anything about greyhound racing), the dogs are trained to chase this mechanical bunny. But the thing is, they are never supposed to catch the bunny. But one day, the mecahnical bunny malfunctioned. Watch what happened:

[show clip]

That was one thing, but as I got sucked in to watching all these YouTube videos about greyhound racing, I saw this one too. I apologize because the quality on this one is so bad, but these two videos together illustrate something that I want to make sure I get across to you this morning. So watch carefully—this one is only about twenty seconds long.

[second clip]

Ok, so in video one, we see what happens when the greyhounds finally caught what they had been chasing after. You see that once they did, it was game over. They didn’t know what to do. They lost all motivation for actually running the race. A couple of them flopped down on the track, others just chased their tails or ran around in circles. Once they caught what they had been pursuing, this racetrack just became a dog park.

Then, in the second video, we saw what happened when the dogs, who had been chasing after something fake, were suddenly confronted with the real thing. They lost interest in pursuing the fake thing. In fact, they left the track and started running in the opposite direction, in pursuit of the genuine article.

Now why am I bringing this up? Its because I think these two images, taken together, illustrate something about what we have been talking about all year long as we have studied the book of Romans.

There’s a lot of people that are like the dogs in second video. They’ve spent a good chunk of their lives chasing after things that won’t satisfy their souls. Whether that’s fame, or possessions, or popularity, or athletic achievement, or sex, or political power—all of those things are like the fake rabbit. And then they encounter the truth of Romans 1:16—that the gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, and they’re like—that’s the real thing. I’m gonna chase after that. And in the course of this year, we’ve seen people who have done that same 180 degree turn those greyhounds did. They stopped chasing after those things that have no power to save and started pursuing the real thing—a relationship with Jesus Christ.

But then, there are also some people who have sincerely been chasing after a relationship with Jesus, but they’ve been doing it with works-based religion, or legalistic righteousness, which is really no righteousness at all. Romans 1:17 says that in the gospel there is the righteousness of God for faith—not a righteousness that comes from ourselves. So they’re like those dogs that keep chasing the mechanical rabbit.

When you live your life pursuing religion instead of a relationship, then you are laser focused on running really fast, and trying really hard, and wearing yourself out in the attempt to please God.

And then they are confronted with the grace of God that we see in the book of Romans—that it isn’t our own righteousness that saves us, and it isn’t our righteous deeds that sustain us. Our righteousness is all about what Christ did for us, not on what we do for Him.

So now, its like they’ve caught up to the mechanical rabbit, and they’re like, “Now what?” If its all by grace and not by works, then does it matter how I live my life? Do I stop running? Do I stop striving? Do I stop pursuing?

And that’s where we are at the beginning of Romans 12. We are now in the fourth and final section of Romans. I could give you a pop quiz to see how much you remember, but I will be nice. I’ll have it up on the screen. This is also on the back of your listening guide.

Overall theme of Romans: The Righteousness of God

  1. The Wrath of God (1:1-3:23)
  2. The Grace of God (3:24-8:39)
  3. The Plan of God (9-11)
  4. The Will of God (12-16)

It’s in this last section of Romans that Paul moves from doctrine to practice. Beginning in chapter 12, Paul is going to talk about how we continue to pursue God—not in order to obtain a relationship with God, but because we have a relationship with God. Paul’s laid out 11 chapters of heavy, heavy theology. If you’re a Greek scholar, (which I’m not, but there’s lots of smart people that have pointed this out), you notice that the first 11 chapters of Romans are full of indicative verbs. The indicative mood presents true information. These things are certain. These things happened. I ate pizza for dinner. The wrath of God is poured out. All have sinned. The free gift of God is eternal life. There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The Indicative mood. Is what is certain.

But in the last four chapters of Romans, there are lots of imperative verbs. If the indicative mood is about what is certain, the imperative mood is about what is required. We’ll see lots of imperatives in the last four chapters of Romans. Let me give you a road map of where we are going between now and the end of November. No promises, but my goal is for us to finish the book of Romans before Advent begins. This is also on the back of your listening guide:

  • Loving your church with your service (Romans 12:3-8)
  • Loving Your Church with your attitude (12:9-16)
  • Loving Your Enemies (12:17-21)
  • Loving Your Government (No, really!)  (13:1-7)
  • The Law of Love (13:8-14)
  • Loving through our differences (14:1-15:13)
  • PS: I love you (16)

Now, when you look at that road map, you probably notice one word that pops up over and over. And that is no accident. Listen: if there is one big idea I want you to come away from this sermon with, it is this:

Our pursuit of God is motivated by love, marked by love, measured by love, and expressed with love.

So with that in mind, let’s look at Romans 12:1-2. We’re just going to be looking at those two verses, and so I’d like you to stand, if you are physically able. And since it’s only two verses, I’d like us to say them, out loud, together. They’ll be on the screen, or you can read them from your listening guide:

12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers,[a] by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.[b] Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

[pray]

Paul begins with “I appeal to you therefore.” Therefore is one of those transitional words that help you make the connection between everything Paul’s about to say and everything he’s said up to this point. The cliché they teach you in Sunday school is that whenever you see a therefore, you have to back up and see what it’s… there for. So how far back does he want us to go?

Notice that it’s “I appeal to you therefore, by the mercies of God.” Another translation says, “in view of God’s mercies.” JB Philips, in his translation, put it this way: With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers…

So, “therefore” Could refer back all the way to the beginning of the book. Chapters 1-3 are all about the wrath of God, and the section ends with that verse we all have memorized—“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

But what’s the next verse? If you’re going to memorize Romans 3:23, you have to memorize Romans 3:24 also:

24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

So Paul says “I appeal to you “by the mercies of God, not the judgments of God.”

This tells you right away that our motivation for everything that is about to come—all the imperatives—is not because we are worried about God’s judgment, but because we are grateful for God’s grace. Our obedience won’t be motivated by fear of God’s punishment, but gratitude for God’s grace.  

In view of God’s mercy… With eyes wide open to the fact that you have been saved from God’s wrath: that’s one of the mercies of God.

In view of God’s mercy… With eyes wide open to the fact that God has poured out his grace on you. That there is no condemnation of you. That nothing can separate you from him. All those are the mercies of God.

In view of God’s mercy… With eyes wide open to the fact that God grafted the gentiles into his family tree, without rejecting the Jews completely.

All of these are God’s mercies. And so in view of God’s mercies, what do we do?

  1. Offer our bodies. Not just our minds. It would have been typical Greek and Roman thinking to separate body and mind. Greek philosophy was about dualism:  were convinced that since the flesh was corrupt, it didn’t matter what you did with it anyway. Your entire spiritual life was about your mind. Now, how many of us live with that same kind of dualism today? When we talk about the difference between our “spiritual” lives and our everyday lives, we are buying into the same kind of dualism. And really, there is no division between spiritual and everyday.
  • As a living sacrifice: I’ll say this for Paul. He was an equal opportunity confuser. If the Gentiles were stumped about why God wanted our bodies, the Jews were flummoxed about what a living sacrifice was supposed to be. They had all seen sacrifices being offered at the temple. Sometimes there were birds, sometimes there were bulls, sometimes there were rams, sometimes there were lambs, but they all had one thing in common. They were DEAD. So I’m sure the Jews were going, “how would that even work? If the sacrifice is alive when you offer it, isn’t it going to keep wriggling off the altar?”

To which Paul would say, “Exactly!” That’s the challenge of living for Jesus. We get all excited at a revival, or youth camp, and we give ourselves to God. “Lord I offer my life to you… everything I’ve been through…”

And then life happens. And the glow of youth camp fades away. And we get busy, or distracted. And then youth camp comes around again and we are right back at the altar, to rededicate our life.” Well, if you dedicated it, why are you rededicating?

Because living sacrifices have a way of crawling off the altar.

You know, there are some people God will call to die for their faith. It happens every day. In fact, according to a study done by the Catholic church in 2000, twice as many Christians died for their faith in the 20th centuries than in the previous 19 centuries of the church put together. So I’m not saying God will never ask you to die as a martyr.

But it is much more likely, especially in the United States, that He is going to ask you to live as a martyr. You’re like, what? Martyr means “die for your faith,” doesn’t it? No, it doesn’t. The Greek martus simply means “witness.” When Jesus told the disciples that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth, it didn’t just mean that they would die for their faith. It meant they would be witnesses of their faith.

And listen, that can be a lot harder. To be a living sacrifice means that you are putting yourself fully at God’s disposal. It means to be willing to obey God in anything He says in any area of your life. All day. Every day. For the rest of your life.

 For serviceHere’s how John Stott puts it in The Message of Romans:

We are to offer different parts of our bodies… to God as ‘instruments of righteousness. Then our feet will walk in his paths, our lips will speak the truth and spread the gospel, our tongues will bring healing, our hands will lift up those who have fallen, our arms will embrace the lonely and the unloved, our ears will listen to the cries of the distressed, and our eyes will look humbly and patiently towards God.”[1]

Do you see now why I would say being a living sacrifice is tougher than just being a sacrifice? If you’re a Hamilton fan it reminds you of the line when George Washington says to Alexander Hamilton “You’ve got a head full of fantasies of dying like a martyr? Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder.”

Paul says our living sacrifice is to be characterized in two ways. First, it is to be holy. Holy means to be set apart for service. We don’t just repent of sin, we renounce sin. We refuse to be ruled by sin any longer.

Second, our living sacrifice is to be acceptable. An acceptable sacrifice met all the requirements of a sacrifice. If it was a grain offering, it was to be the firstfruits of the land—not the leftovers. This is where we have to ask the question, are we offering to God the best of our time, or what’s left over?

  • When we have a quiet time, do we sit down with God when we are at our most productive, or most exhausted?
  • Do we write our tithe check only after we make sure all our bills are paid, or before any other bill is paid?
  • What about our calendar? Do we look at travel ball, hunting season, finals week, project deadlines, water temperature at the lake, wind conditions at the golf course, and whether or not it’s a home game for Bama, and then decide whether or not we’ve got time to come to church? If so, then we aren’t giving God the firstfruits. We are giving God the leftovers, and it isn’t an acceptable offering.

What about if it’s a burnt offering? The Old Testament law was strict that any animal brought for sacrifice had to be without blemish. It couldn’t be lame, or bruised, or unclean. It had to be without defect.

And right now, you’re thinking, “What are you saying, Pastor?” Are you saying that I have to be perfect in order to offer myself to God? I thought this was about God’s mercy, not my sin? If I have to be spotless and blameless to stand before God, then I am sunk.

And dear friend, that brings us right back to the gospel. Where does your righteousness come from? It doesn’t come from yourself. That’s the fake rabbit. It doesn’t come from you trying to clean yourself up in order to present yourself to God. That’s legalism, or hypocrisy. That’s also impossible.

Hold that thought. I’ll come back to it in a minute. But let’s look at the last characteristic from verse 1.

Paul says “In view of God’s mercy”—that’s our motivation.

Offer you body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable.  And then he says, “This is your spiritual worship.” (ESV). In my opnion, this isn’t the best translation. The Greek word here is logicos, from which we get our word “logical.” So the KJV “this is your reasonable service” or the NASB “reasonable service of worship” is, I think, the better choice.

Our worship is reasonable, not ridiculous. It is the logical, sensible, normal, rational response to what has been done for you. It just makes sense.

Our worship of God doesn’t have to be weird. We don’t have to speak in tongues or handle snakes or run around the room or get slain in the spirit. We don’t have to have this mystical, out of body experience in order to have authentic worship.

We just have to respond to what has been done for us.

Tony Campolo told this story years ago at our seminary revival, and I’ve never forgotten it. He said that he was on a train once, and there were two men sitting in the compartment with him. Suddenly one of them had a seizure.

He shook. He rolled off the seat onto the floor. His friend quickly reacted, picked up the man and put him back on the seat. Took off his coat, made it into a blanket, rolled up a newspaper, put it in his mouth so he wouldn’t bite his tongue, and administered some medicine. The man shook for about a minute. And then he fell into a very, very deep sleep.

His friend said, ‘please forgive us. We were in Vietnam together. I was seriously wounded. I lost my leg.’ He pulled up his trousers, showed me an artificial leg. ‘My friend here, a hand grenade tore away half of his chest, and there was shrapnel all through his chest. He couldn’t move without screaming in pain. As we lay there, the helicopter that had been sent to rescue us was blown out of the air by a rocket and I knew we were going to die. Somehow my friend stood up. In agony he stood up. He moved with pain and he reached down and grabbed my shirt and he began to drag me through the jungle. Every step he took he screamed in pain. I yelled at him to Let me be. Go on without me. You’ll never get both of us out of this jungle. But he did. I don’t know how he did it, but he did.

‘A year ago, I heard he had this condition and I also heard that somebody has to be with him every minute of the day because we never know when these convulsions will occur and somebody has to be there to take care of him at that moment.

So I closed down my apartment in New York and sold my car and I came over and I’m that somebody. I’m with him every minute of the day. So that’s our story.

Campolo said ‘You don’t have to apologize to me, mister. This is a great story.’ I’ll not forget his response. He said ‘oh don’t be overly impressed. You see, mister, after what he did for me, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for him.’

For this man, moving to England to take care of his buddy was his reasonable service.

Let me close by circling back to the question I asked about acceptable sacrifices. If our sacrifice has to be unblemished and perfect, and if it doesn’t come from our trying harder, then how do we do it?

The answer is in verse 2:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect

I want you to notice something. Even though these are imperatives, and imperatives, as we talked about before, are all about what is required, these are passive imperatives. It isn’t what you do, but what you allow to be done to you:

Be transformed instead of being conformed. It doesn’t say “Transform yourselves.” The Greek word is “metamorpho”—metamorphosis. If Sandra Moore was here, I would have her talk about butterflies—how they are transformed, not how they transform themselves.

By the renewing of your mind, not “by renewing your mind.” Again, this is something that is done to you when you yield to God.

Then you will be able to discern God’s will. We don’t figure out God’s will in any other way but to let God transform us and renew our minds.

Closing: The title of this message is The Pursuit. And we started off by talking about greyhounds pursuing the rabbit. And at the beginning, the analogy was that we were the grayhounds, and the rabbit was that relationship with Jesus.

Now, allow me to flip it. What if we are the rabbit? What if Jesus is the one pursuing you?

This morning, let yourself be caught.

[Invitation]


[1] Keller, Romans 8-16 For You, p. 104

The Future of Israel (Romans 11)

Sermon preached September 25, 2022; Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL. James Jackson, Pastor

I want to warn you at the outset that this may be the most difficult part of Romans to wrap our heads around. Did you know that in 2 Peter 3:!6, the apostle Peter admits that sometimes Paul is hard to understand? I think he was talking about Romans 11!

This week I asked a question on Facebook to help me with this sermon. The question was, can you think of a movie, book, or play where the plot centered around one character pretending to be in love with another character in order to make a third character jealous.

The answers I got said as much about what a diverse group of friends I have as anything else.

I’ve got a couple of English major friends who immediately said things like “Much Ado About Nothing” by Shakespeare. Or Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and Leo Tolstoy.

Then there were folks kind of in the middle who suggested movies like Gone With the Wind, where Scarlett pretends to be in love with Ashley Wilkes to make Rhett Butler jealous.

Finally, then there were some more current pop culture fans, who referenced Harry Potter, High School Musical, every Hallmark movie ever, and a line from Friends— WE WERE ON A BREAK!

My personal favorite was from my buddy who said “The Empire Strikes Back. But that got weird in a hurry, because you find out in the third movie that Luke and Leia are brother and sister.”

Yeah.

But the point of that little Facebook poll was to show that this is a plot point that runs all through the history of storytelling. From Wuthering Heights to High School Musical to Bob’s Burgers (thanks, Jordan Bailey)! A man falls in love with a woman and pursues her. The woman loses interest, or the man gets distracted So the man starts showing attention to another woman, or vice versa, hoping that his first true love will realize what she’s lost and come back to him.

Now, I bring this up this morning because believe it or not, this is also a plot point in the greatest love story in history. It’s central to God’s plan for the future of Israel, and it’s the reason we Gentiles have a relationship with God in the first place. It may sound weird, but stick with me, because it’s right here in Scripture.

We are calling this part three of the Israel Trilogy that makes up Romans 9-11. We saw in Romans 9 that God chose Israel from the very beginning to be the people from whom Jesus the Messiah would come.

Then, in chapter 10, Paul lays out what it means to put your trust in Jesus for salvation, and he says it doesn’t matter whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, everyone comes to a relationship with Jesus the same way.

So chapter 11 wraps up the Israel trilogy by answering the question, has God permanently rejected the Jews? Are they still God’s chosen people? And what is His plan for their restoration?

The answers are,

  • No He hasn’t,
  • yes they are,
  • and God is going to use us—the Gentiles—to bring the Jews back to himself.

John MacArthur points out that we can know for sure that God isn’t done with Israel for the simple reason that all of His promises to her have not yet been fulfilled. “If God were through with His chosen nation, His Word would be false and His integrity discredited.” (MacArthur, 32).

if God had totally rejected Israel, that would mean that some of God’s promises had failed. And if there is a consistent message from Genesis to maps in the Bible, it is that God can be trusted.

So God has not ultimately rejected Israel. He has a plan for their redemption. And here’s the crazy part: we are part of that plan!

Now, get ready for the plot twist:  God’s plan for the restoration of Israel is that He is going to make Israel jealous by offering grace and a relationship with Himself to the Gentiles.

You thought you were just coming to church to hear a sermon this morning, didn’t you? You had no idea that you were a character in the most epic 80’s date movie in the Universe!

Let’s see how this plays out. I want to take you first to a couple of verses in chapter 10 that we didn’t really talk about last week. Turn back to Romans 10. Paul has just laid out how to be saved: If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved. That’s how its done. There’s not a different process for the Jews. The law can’t save you. Being a son of Abraham can’t save you. If a Jew puts his faith in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, they will be saved.

But in verse 16 of Romans 10, Paul acknowledges that they (Israel) “have not all obeyed the gospel. They’ve heard the gospel (verse 17), and they’ve understood the gospel (verse 19).  

But they rejected the gospel because they rejected Christ.

There’s a scene in Acts 13 where Paul and Barnabas have been preaching in the Jewish synagogue. This was Paul’s pattern. Everywhere he went, he went to the synagogue first. But in Acts 13:44, it says that the Jews [pay attention to the wording here] were “filled with jealousy when they saw the crowds.” And so in verse 46, Paul says,

 “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’””

Acts 13:44-47 ESV

And from then on, Paul considered himself the apostle to the Gentiles. I think its fascinating that Acts 13 says the Jews became “jealous.” Because as Paul points out in Romans 10:19, this is exactly what God, through Moses, said would happen.

“But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.””

Romans 10:19 ESV

So, what Paul wrote about in Romans 10 was first prophesied by Moses waaay back in Deuteronomy 32:21. Before Israel had even settled into the Promised Land, Moses prophesied that there would come a day when God would provoke the Jews to jealousy by establishing a relationship with a foolish nation.

Side note: You want to know if America is talked about in Scripture? The answer is yes, Here we are. We are the foolish nation that God’s going to use to make the Jews jealous.

So this sets the stage for Romans 11, where God lays out his plan for restoring Israel. Let’s pick up with the beginning of Romans 11. Let’s look at the first couple of verses. Verses 1-2:

“I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

Has God rejected his people? Paul’s answer is a Greek phrase me genoito, which means, “May it never be.” The most polite way we would say it today is “heck, no.” God’s rejection of Israel is not total. There has always been, and always will be, a completed remnant.   

Exhibit A is Paul himself. Paul was the greatest missionary of the Christian faith, yet he never considered himself as a Christian. Every time he describes himself, it is as a Jew. Here. Philippians 3. Acts 22:3. Paul always thought of himself as a Jew. And his message is pretty straightforward: If God didn’t reject me, then there is hope for my people.

Exhibit B is Elijah. Look at the rest of verse 2, and into the next verses:

…Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”

Paul is reminding his readers of the story of Elijah from the book of 1 Kings. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah has just single-handedly faced down the 450 prophets of Baal, but when Jezebel puts a bounty on Elijah’s head, Elijah has a little bit of a pity party and cries out to God, “Lord they have killed your prophets and demolished your altars, and I’m the only one left.” And God’s response is, “No, you’re not. I kept for myself 7000 men who didn’t bow the knee to Baal.”

So the point is, God ALWAYS preserves a remnant. Verse 5:

So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”

The point of all this is that God’s rejection of Israel is not total. No matter how bad things get, there will always be a remnant of faithful Jews. But don’t miss verse 5. They are chosen by grace, not because of their righteous deeds. God didn’t do a reality show called “Israel’s Got Goodness” and pick the winners. The remnant is chosen by grace. That’s an object lesson for the rest of us.

There is a believing remnant of Jews today—Jews who acknowledge Jesus as Messiah. The most common term for this group is Messianic Jews, although you may hear the phrase “completed Jews” from time to time.

But when we say remnant, we mean REMNANT. It is a tiny amount. If you go to Israel today, there are around 20,000 Messianic Jews in the country. That was as of 2012, so it may be higher now. 20,000 Messianic Jews in Israel. Which sounds great, but keep in mind that represents .0003% of the total number of Jews in Israel.

There are actually ten times as many Arab Christians in Jordan as there are Jewish Christians in Israel. Worldwide, there are about 300,000 Messianic Jews, compared to about 10-15 million Arab Christians.

This is stunning. Are you starting to feel Paul’s heartache from chapter 9, where he says he has “unceasing anguish” for his kinsmen?

If you go to Israel with me is, there is an almost 100% chance that our tour guide will not be a believer. Both times I’ve gone, our guide hasn’t even been a religiously observant Jew, much less a believer.  

Here are these incredibly intelligent guides who have gone through a rigorous training process to be certified as a guide. They know the scriptures backwards and forwards. They can tell us all about the life of Jesus and what happened here and what happened there.

But they aren’t believers themselves. How is that possible? I remember Janice Thayer saying to me, “How can they be around this truth all day, every day, and yet not believe in Jesus?”

And here is the answer in Romans 11:7-8

“What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.””

Romans 11:7-8 ESV

There is a current blindness on the part of the overwhelming majority of Jews today. And according to verse 8, God is the one who blinded them.

It’s been that way since Jesus Himself was on the earth. In Luke 19, right after the triumphal entry, Jesus stopped at a place where He could see the whole city laid out in front of Him. And verse 41 says He wept over it:

“saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.””

Luke 19:42-44 ESV

Sure enough, less than forty years later, the Romans came in and destroyed that city. They lost their temple. They lost their national identity for 2,000 years. They lost their land.

And Jesus said that the way of peace “was hidden from their eyes.” Who did the hiding? God did. God’s plan all along was that Jesus would be the cornerstone that the Jews would stumble over. John 1 said that Jesus came to his own, and his own did not receive Him.

Why? Why would God do that? Why would God give His chosen people a “spirit of stupor and hardened hearts?”

Paul gives the answer in the next section. Read with me, beginning in verse 11:

“So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!”

Romans 11:11-12 ESV

Here’s Paul’s second “me genoito”: Did God make Israel stumble in order that they would fall— meaning, fall completely, and be totally rejected. And Paul says, Absolutely not. Israel stumbled in order that salvation could come to the Gentiles.

And why did salvation come to the Gentiles? Here it is: to make Israel jealous.

I know this bakes your brain a little— it did mine. But Paul says it three times: Once in Romans 10:19, once here in 11:11, and once more in verse 14, where Paul says, “I magnify my ministry among the Gentiles in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.”

That’s the part we play in the greatest love story in the history of the Universe. Our job is to make the Jews jealous.

Listen. Our job is to live lives that are characterized by grace and freedom in Christ. Lives where, when we sing songs like “Jesus Paid it All— all to Him I owe,” we really mean it. Where we realize at the very core of our being that our own righteousness isn’t what makes us right with God.

The gospels say it over and over: I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).

 If the Son of Man sets you free, you are truly free (John 8:36).

Paul says it over and over: “Sin shall not be your master, for you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14)

It was for freedom that Christ set you free (Galatians 5:1)

I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatias 2:20).

God’s plan is that His chosen people, the Jews, will one day look at us and say, “What is with these Christians?” They are joyful, all the time. They are secure in their relationship with God. They get along with each other. They are completely at peace.

Look at them! They’ve been set free from addiction! Their marriages are stable. They aren’t obsessed with trying to get ahead in the workplace. They love their families!

I want some of that!

Christian, are you living the kind of life in Christ that will make someone else jealous of what you have? Are you so obviously different from everyone around you that an unbelieving world says, “Whatever they’ve got, I want it too!”

Because that’s why God grafted us into His family in the first place.

In the next part of Romans 11, Paul goes into an extended analogy of how we non-Jews have been grafted into God’s family tree. It can be hard for us to understand, because most of us aren’t farmers, and we don’t live in a part of the world with a lot of olive trees.

But in verse 17, Paul starts talking about an olive tree as the symbol of God’s family. He says,

“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.”

Romans 11:18-20 ESV

Have you ever seen an olive tree? This picture is of some of the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. Some of them are over 2000 years old. Olives have always been a commercial mainstay in the Mediterranean world, it was a commercial mainstay. Even today, when you go to Israel,  you’ll see olive trees in production everywhere.

Did you know that olive trees can live for hundreds of years? And though the tree, the root, can live on and on, what happens is individual branches can stop producing olives. So you know what they do when those branches stop producing? Cut them off. They lop them off. And they take branches from younger trees, off the younger trees, bore a hole in the old trunk of the old tree, and graft in a young olive branch so that the older trunks can be restored to productivity.

That’s the analogy. And it’s a plain analogy. The old productive branches, the Israelites, were broken off. That’s the blindness that happened. And then branches from a wild olive tree– that’s us, Gentiles– were grafted in. It means we get our sap, our energy, our nourishment from the covenant promises God gave to Israel.

We are tapped into the root of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the others, not as a replacement of Israel, but as a witness to Israel.

All for the purpose of wooing God’s people back to Himself, by making the Jews jealous of what we have in Christ. Listen, don’t get hung  up in the word “jealous.”  (your translation might read ‘envious’) The brilliant theologian John Stott put it this way:

Envy is ‘the desire to have for oneself something possessed by another’, and whether envy is good or evil depends on the nature of the something desired and on whether one has the right to its possession. If that something is in itself evil, or if it belongs to somebody else and we have no right to it, then the envy is sinful. But if the something desired is in itself good, a blessing from God, which he means all his people to enjoy, then to ‘covet’ it and to ‘envy’ those who have it is not at all unworthy. This kind of desire is right in itself, and to arouse it can be a realistic motive in ministry.

 God desires for all his people to experience all His blessings. I will say it again: The very best witness we can be to an unbelieving world in general and to the Jews in particular is to be the most loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, and self-controlled people in the world. That’s the fruit of the Spirit Paul describes in Galatians 5:22. And that fruit is to be so much on display in our lives that the people around us will say, “How can I get that in my life? I want that! I am jealous for that!”

And the Jews especially will say, “You get all that from our Scriptures? You experience that because you’ve put all your trust in a Jewish rabbi? Whoa. I want some of that.

And at some point in the future, God’s going to open the eyes of His people, Israel, and they will put their trust in Jesus as their Messiah.

Look how Paul describes it in verses 25-26:

25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers:[d] a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved,

God has allowed “a partial hardening” to come upon Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in.” If you are reading from the NIV, it says, “the full number of the Gentiles.” The New Living Translation says “the complete number.” What does that mean?

It means that God has a number in mind—how many non Jews are going to respond to the gospel. There is a set number—the fulness of the Gentiles.

There is going to come a time, and I believe it’s going to come soon, when the last Gentile will be saved. The last person is going to walk the aisle. The last person is going to bow their head and surrender their lives to Jesus. It might happen in Vacation Bible School. It might happen at a men’s Bible study. It might happen under a tree in Honduras or a street corner in Chennai India.

But at some point, the last Gentile will be saved. And if you’re a premillenialist, you believe that at that point, the trumpet will sound, and the rapture of the church will take place.

Others say that the church will remain on the earth, and will have an integral part to play in the salvation of the Jews. I don’t know. What I do know is that according to verse 25,

And at that point, God will lift the blindness from the Jews, and those who are alive at the time will open their hearts to the gospel, and according to verse 25, all Israel will be saved.

So let me just say to any of you non-Jewish people out there who have resisted the Gospel this long. You might be the last Gentile saved before that happens. Could be. So do us all a favor. Give your life to Christ, like, now. Let’s get this show on the road.

Because on that day, (look at the rest of verse 26)

26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
27 “and this will be my covenant with them
    when I take away their sins.”

Salvation will come to the Jews in the same way it came to us. The deliverer will come from Zion—that’s Jesus. He will take away their sins. They will trust in Jesus as their Savior.

Listen—this is a heavy chapter. It is hard to understand. The apostle Peter himself said, in 2 Peter 3:16 that some things in Paul’s letters are hard to understand.

But look how Paul ends this section. He ends with this beautiful doxology!

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
    that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

We don’t have to understand in order to worship. And God’s plan of salvation—for both Jews and Gentiles! Is worthy of worship.

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