Gotta Serve Somebody (Romans 6:15-23)

Good morning! Please turn in your Bibles to Romans chapter 6. It’s been a minute since we have been in the book or Romans. But I wanted us to jump back in this Sunday, and I think God’s timing on this is actually pretty amazing.

You know, last week, on June 19th, we celebrated Father’s Day. But we didn’t say much about another national holiday—Juneteenth.

Many of us, if not most of us, didn’t know much about Juneteenth until recently, and some of us may still not know. Because while Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of the end of slavery in the united states, it didn’t become a federal holiday until last year.

Juneteenth commemorates the day, June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger came riding into Galveston Texas and read General Order #3 to the people of Texas,

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves…

Even though Lincoln issued the Emancipation proclamation on January 1, 1863, and Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, slaves in Texas hadn’t gotten the word yet. For more than two and a half years, they had still been living as slaves, never knowing that they were actually free people

And I would imagine that there were a lot of slaves that didn’t hear anything beyond “all slaves are free.” What an amazing word that must have been. Free! You could understand if all those men and women, who had never known anything other than fulfilling the whims of their often cruel masters, stopped listening at that point.

But if all they heard was “you’re free,” they would have missed the rest of General Order Number Three, which read,

The connection heretofore existing between [masters and slaves] becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They will not be allowed to [gather] at military posts; and they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

Now, I’m bringing up this history lesson because I think it will help us understand today’s Scripture. What if those slaves who were freed on Juneteenth said to themselves, “Well, now that I’m free, I don’t have to do anything! I’ll never have to work again! I don’t have a Master anymore!”

And I’m afraid that a lot of people look at Christianity in the same way. They take verses like John 8:36

36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

And they think that because we are free in Christ, we are free to do whatever we want. We don’t have obligations to make any sort of change in our lives whatsoever. We can even go so far as to think that the only thing Christianity impacts is where we will spend eternity.

The people in the church in Rome had this misunderstanding as well. Last time we were in Romans, I introduced you to this big $5.00 word, antinomianism (it’s on the back of the listening guide). Antinomianism literally means “against the law,” and it’s the belief that because we are saved by grace, there aren’t any moral laws we are obligated to obey. We asked Jesus into our heart when we were five years old, so even though there is no evidence whatsoever that we belong to Jesus now, we know that we are going to heaven when we die.

So Paul deals with this In Romans 6. We talked about the first half of the chapter the last time we were in Romans. People had been saying, “well, if grace abounds because of our sin, then the more we sin, the more grace we get.” And Paul said, no, no—you’ve died to sin.

Now, in the second half of Romans 6, Paul shifts the metaphor. Instead of talking about being dead to sin and alive to Christ, he pivoted to talking about the difference between being a slave to sin and being a slave to righteousness. Let’s look at what he said together. I’m in Romans 6, verses 15-23. Please stand with me to honor the reading of God’s Word:

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,[c] you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Please pray with me. 

[pray]

Now, the question in verse 15 looks very similar to the question in verse 1. In verse 1, Paul’s dealing with people who are wondering if they should sin in order to get more grace—that grace should abound. And his answer is, “By no means.”

But in verse 15, Paul deals with the question of whether or not it’s ok to sin, since we aren’t under the law anymore but under grace.

And I really think that’s where a lot of people are today. “I don’t have to obey the law, because I am saved by grace.”

And that is partially true. It is not the law that saves you. You are saved because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. But freedom in Christ doesn’t mean that you have no master, but that you have a new master. Look carefully at verse 16:

16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

Paul uses the word slave here. The Greek word is doulos, and there’s a definition for it on the back of your listening guide. A doulos was one who was in subjugation to another person’s will. One who was totally obligated to serving another, to the disregard of their own interests.  

And this was a term that would have been very easy for the people in the church in Rome to understand. Historians estimate that the population of first century Rome was about one-third slaves. There was also a significant population of free men who had at one time been enslaved. So there’s a very good chance that over half of the members of the church in Rome either were slaves or had been slaves.[1]  

So Paul used a metaphor this audience would understand. In fact, Paul refers to slavery eight times in these eight verses. And never once does he say that the people aren’t slaves anymore. Look at it with me:

  • Verse 16—you are either slaves of sin or slaves of obedience
  • Verse 18: You were slaves to sin, but now, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
  • Verse 19: We are to present the members of our bodies as slaves to righteousness, leading to sanctification.
  • Verse 20: When you were a slave to sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What does that mean? It means that nothing you did as a slave to sin was working toward your righteousness before God, because sin was still your master. And I think this is really, really important for anyone who argues that “good people” go to heaven. As long as you are a slave to sin, the quote-unquote good things you do can’t count for anything, because sin is still your master.
  • Verse 22: you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God.

Be honest—are you surprised that the message of the gospel isn’t actually freedom? This may be the hardest thing to wrap our heads around about the gospel, and it is probably what puts us at odds with modern culture the most.

The message of culture is that you should be free to do whatever you want to do, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, and in some cases, even if it does. So I should be free to marry whomever I want. If I am a woman I should be free to decide whether or not I want to carry a baby to term or abort it. I should be free to end a marriage if my wife and I have just grown apart from each other.

And they look at Christianity and they say, no thanks. I don’t want any part of a religion that puts such limitations on my personal freedom. I want a religion that keeps me in the driver’s seat. It sounds like if I follow your religion I’m just exchanging one form of slavery for another.  

And the scandal of the gospel is that in Romans 6, Paul is basically saying, “Yup. That’s exactly what you are doing.

Write this down, because it’s going to bake your brain a little:

The call to follow Christ is the call to obedient slavery.

Look at verse 19:

For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

The language isn’t politically correct, and the message isn’t popular, but this is what the gospel boils down to.

Every human being is born into bondage to slavery. Jesus said in John 8:34 that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. And we know from Romans 3:23 that everyone has sinned.

And so Paul goes all in on this metaphor. Before someone turns their life over to Jesus, they are slaves to impurity. They present the members of their body—their hands, their feet, their eyes, their ears, their mouths—all the members of their body are given in the service of sin.

And I get it. You tell someone they are a slave to impurity and lawlessness, and you get a lot of pushback. They’ll say, “C’mon, man. I’m not a bad person. I’ve never killed anybody. I’m not a pedophile or a human trafficker or a drug dealer. I’ve never cheated on my wife.  I know the difference between right and wrong, and I don’t need god or church or your bible to judge me and tell me I’m going to hell because I don’t give my life to Jesus. I just want to be free to live my life the way I think is best, ok?

And that’s the human condition. Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They decided they wanted to determine right and wrong for themselves, rather than trusting God to determine what is right and wrong. In the book of Judges, the author described that time in Israel’s history as everyone doing what was right in their own eyes.  

But here is where Satan has pulled the wool over our eyes. He’s convinced people all through history that this is where you find true freedom—following your bliss, pursuing whatever makes you happy.

Look again at verse 16:

16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

Here’s the most simple way to put it, the most basic definition of slavery: You are a slave to whatever you can’t say no to. In the modern world, we call that addiction. It could be a substance, like drugs or alcohol. It could be a habit, like gambling or porn. It could be a a compulsion, like shopping or hoarding or over eating or over working. But you are a slave to whatever you can’t say no to.

Anyone who has battled addiction, and we have several who are here this morning that have been there—they know addiction by its true name: slavery. And if you are a slave to sin, it leads to death.

So the gospel is simple: Go back to verse 19: once you presented your members as slaves to impurity. Now, present your members as slaves to righteousness. Once, every part of your body – arms, legs, hands, feet, eyes, ears, heart, mind, and mouth, was given to sin. And you were therefore slaves to sin.

Now, take all of those members—arms, legs, hands, feet, eyes, ears, heart, mind, and present them as slaves to righteousness.

Jesus desires to be the one thing you can’t say no to. In Matthew 11, Jesus offered this invitation to everyone who was tired and exhausted from trying to serve sin. He said,

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

A yoke was what a farmer put over the neck of an ox in order to direct and guide the ox. A yoke was a symbol of slavery. And Jesus doesn’t say, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and take off your yoke of slavery. He says take my yoke. Learn from me.

My yoke is easy, because instead of saying yes to a thousand different masters and addictions and commitments and obligations, all you have to say yes to now is Me. I’ll direct your pursuits. I’ll set your schedule. I’ll help you break every other chain, and the only chain that remains is the one that connects you to me.

Jesus doesn’t want us to be confused about what it takes to follow him. Look what Paul says in verse 17:

17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,

We don’t have to be in the dark about what Jesus expects of us. He’s given us His word—the standard of teaching to which we are committed.

And God’s Word tells us all that we need to know to live a life of godliness. 2 Peter 1:3 was the memory verse for VBS a few years ago. Since we just did VBS, probably a lot of you can still sing it with me, can’t you:

His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.

Now, I want to bring this to a close by addressing what may be on a lot of your minds. And that is, why should I trade one slavery for another? You’re telling me this morning that freedom in Christ isn’t really freedom. It’s still slavery.

So let me leave you with this very offensive sounding, non politically correct statement:

There is a blessing to obedient slavery.

I know, I know. It sounds awful. But Bob Dylan was right. You’ve gotta serve somebody. It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody. So what is the blessing of being a slave to righteousness?

Well, first, there is better fruit. Verse 19 says that being a slave to impurity leads to more impurity. But being a slave to righteousness leads to sanctification. Sanctification is the process of a believer, over time, becoming more and more like Jesus.

Paul says in verse 20 that being a slave to sin means that you are “free” in regard to righteousness. You can continue on in your sinful patterns and have no obligation to follow God’s law. But then he asks,

But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.

The fruit of being a slave to sin is death. But look at the better fruit of being a slave to righteousness. And not just better fruit, a better ending. A better destination: Look at verse 22: Paul has just said that when we were slaves to sin we were “free” in regard to righteousness. And then he flips it:

22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There are really only two options:

Slave to sin, Free from righteousness, fruit is death

Slave to God, free from sin, fruit is eternal life.


[1] Hughes, R. Kent. Romans: Righteousness From Heaevn. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Press, 1991, p. 124.

Day 173: Living in the Sweet Spot (Proverbs 30:7-9)

7 Two things I ask of you;
    deny them not to me before I die:
8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
9 lest I be full and deny you
    and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
    and profane the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7-9)

This is an excerpt from a sermon I preached a few years ago, based on the book The Prayer of Agur by Jay Payleitner. If you’d like to watch to the whole sermon, you can watch it here.

Proverbs 30 is written by a guy that is easily overlooked. His name is Agur.  This is the only time he’s mentioned in the entire Bible. His prayer is the only prayer in Proverbs.

The buried treasure in Proverbs 30 is the three-verse prayer that delivers a shocking formula for trusting God, discovering his will for our life.

Four Principles from The Prayer of Agur:

  1. Be simple with your prayers.

Jesus warned us about long, drawn out, complicated prayers. In the Sermon on the Mount, he told His disciples:

7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)

Why is this such a good strategy for prayer? Well, it has to do with attention span. I’m not saying God has a short attention span. You could give God a list of a hundred million requests, and he would remember every single one. God’s attention span is limitless!

But ours isn’t. And if we have a personal prayer list that it would take hours to pray all the way through, we’re going to have a hard time tracking God’s response. But I think Agur’s example is an approach to prayer worth remembering.

Any time you can boil your prayer requests down to a small number of specific heartfelt desires you’re going to find yourself more aware of God working in you and through you to deliver answers.

What two things does Agur ask for? He has identified his top two personal weaknesses. The two things he struggles with most: Discerning truth and owning stuff. Let’s tackle one at a time. This brings us to our second lesson from Agur’s Prayer:

2. Be a stickler for the truth.

Agur prays, “Keep falsehoods and lies far from me.” You can almost hear Agur’s thought process as if he’s saying, I know the world is filled with lies, and they trip me up way too often. Father in heaven, please protect my ears from hearing lies that might lead me down the wrong path. And keep my lips from lying so that I might not deceive others.

And can I jump ahead a little bit to make an important point about this? The next part of Agur’s prayer is about moderation and balance—give me neither poverty or riches—I don’t need to live in a mansion, but I don’t want to live in a carboard box, either. But when it comes to discerning truth, Agur isn’t asking for moderation. He’s not saying, “give me a little truth, and a little shadiness. Help me to be mostly honest.” No. He says, “keep falsehoods and lying FAR from me.”

Beloved, we do not have to throw our hands up in the air and pretend we don’t know what to believe and who is telling the truth. We have the mind of Christ, and Christ has come into the world to bear witness to the truth.

So when we pray the prayer of Agur—keep falsehood and lies far from me, realize that is a two way street. We pray for

  • Discernment with what we receive. Not every news source is trustworthy. Having a Twitter account does not make you an expert. And just because something is shared or liked or retweeted six million times, that does not make it true.
  • Discipline with what we share. Truth matters, and it dishonors the name of Jesus if we pass on something we know to be false.

Agur recognizes God is the source of virtue and integrity. He wants to be on the winning team. That comes from hearing truth, discerning truth, and speaking truth.

3 Be satisfied with your stuff.

The first half of Agur’s prayer is universal. After all, everyone wants to know what’s really true. Even crooks and liars. They may ignore the truth, but they want to know it.

However, Agur’s next request is a stunner. He dares to pray for a life of moderation: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.”

Moderation? That’s not on anyone’s checklist. Especially in the twenty-first century. We are living in an age of extremes.

Did you know that in 2018, there were over 60,000 self-storage facilities in the united States? There are more self storage facilities than McDonald’s, Wendy’s Starbucks, and Dunkin Donuts COMBINED! We spent almost $5 billion in the construction of new facilities so that people would have a place to store all the stuff they didn’t have room for in their houses! This is a 344% increase since 2008.

On the flipside is another extreme. There’s an entire subculture choosing to live as minimalists. Maybe you know someone cutting up credit cards and clearing out clutter. They don’t want the latest gadgets. Their entire wardrobe fits in one knapsack or cardboard box. They live in micro apartments and tiny homes. They use Apple products. Marie Kondo is their prophet—if it doesn’t spark joy, throw it out!

Now, you are probably never going to hear a prosperity gospel preacher quoting Proverbs 30:8. They might agree with the first part—”don’t give me poverty” but not the second part—“don’t give me riches.” And the minimalist crowd would agree with the second half, but not the first half.

Agur is not endorsing minimalism. Nor is he saying wealth and influence define success. He endorses neither fast or slow, big or small, fancy or simple.

Agur is praying for the grace to live in the sweet spot. The perfect mixture of getting what you need and needing what you get. He sums it up nicely: “give me only my daily bread.”

Agur’s prayer for only his daily bread was written down almost a thousand years before Christ. Today, we recognize that phrase from The Lord’s Prayer delivered by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. “Give us this day our daily bread.”

The thing is, that’s not what Agur prayed. He added the word only. That introduces an entire deeper level of trust in the one who provides. It takes a bit of courage to pray, “Give me only my daily bread.”

Why, by the way, would anyone pray that way? We kind of want to say, “God, all I really NEED is my daily bread, but if you WANT to give me more— I’m not gonna say no…” Why would anyone pray that God wouldn’t give them more than just the basics?

4. Be Honest With Yourself

Agur identified his weakness. It was materialism. Stuff. He knew if he had too much, he would take the credit himself. “I don’t need God after all.”

If he had too little, he would steal and dishonor God. Agur was asking for his cash flow to be . . . just right.

To be clear, money itself was not the problem. It was Agur’s emotional attachment to money. The Bible doesn’t say “money is the root of evil.” It says, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).

Let’s applaud Agur’s self-awareness. He is praying, in essence, “Lord, keep me dependent on you. Having complete trust in you is the balance in which I want to live. I can’t do life without you.”

Agur’s overarching concerns were that he would neither forget God nor dishonor God. God’s glory was his first and only passion. For Agur, and for all of us, that is life in the Sweet Spot.

Three Bibles: A Funeral Sermon

Today we laid to rest a precious woman in our church. Ethel passed away at her home last Thursday. She did not show up to take a church member to a doctor’s appointment, and when we went to her house, there was no response. After getting permission to enter into our house, one of our deacons, who is also a police officer for our city, found her on the floor.

Ethel was very specific in her instructions. Graveside only. Nothing at the church. No music. And no more than 20 minutes at the graveside. At first, I was bothered by this, wondering if we had done something as a church to offend Ethel. But that truly was not it at all. Ethel simply did not want anyone to make a fuss over her.

Normally, I try to meet with the family to hear stories about their loved one as I am preparing a funeral. But I never was able to connect with them before hand. All I had to go by were three of Ethel’s tattered and dogeared Bibles. The first one was printed in 1945. The last one had our church’s bulletin from last week stuck between its pages.

I sat down at my desk and laid all three of Ethel’s Bibles in front of me, hoping to find something I could say about her life from the seventy years of notes she had made in these Bibles. Here is what I came up with.


This past Friday, I got a call from Mrs. Dorothy _______. I asked her how she was doing. She said, “I’m sad. I’ve lost my best friend.”

Dorothy is the one that Mrs. Ethel was supposed to pick up on Thursday for a doctor’s appointment. When Ethel didn’t show, that’s when we discovered that Ethel had died at home. It’s fitting, that for a woman who was absolutely committed to not drawing any attention to herself, the only way we came to know of her passing was when she didn’t show up to help someone else.

Because if Ethel wasn’t there, that’s when you knew something was wrong.

Because Ethel was always there. Pastors know that there are certain people that will be at church every time the doors were open. Ethel was one of those people.

Our church secretary shared with me that her first experience with Ethel was when Stacey’s family first came to Glynwood, and Ethel was the Sunday school teacher for the two year olds. Stacey’s two oldest children both had Ethel as their Sunday school teacher. And every Sunday, week in and week out, Ethel was there.

The Sunday school teacher for the two year olds is not a position in a church that gets a lot of attention, which is probably exactly why Mrs. Ethel found her place of service there. Stacey remembers how Ethel would feed her kids with treats she brought from home. And even when her co teacher would tell her, “Ethel, they are about to go to lunch! You don’t need to give them any more treats, Ethel would still slip them treats under the table.

Trying her best to make sure no one else noticed. Because that’s who Ethel was.

I have a feeling we aren’t going to grasp the full impact of all that Ethel did until a few months from now, when we at the church look around and suddenly notice some things that just always seemed to get done are not being done anymore. Ethel did so much, but she worked harder than anyone I know to make sure she wouldn’t get the credit for it. She would come in early for a senior adult lunch and put a little treat at everyone’s place around the tables. Then she would leave and come back so that anyone who saw her walk in would see her coming in empty-handed.

She was adamant that she not get credit or attention for anything.

God love her, that is why we are here for a graveside service only,  and not the sanctuary at Glynwood. That’s why we are only meeting for about fifteen-twenty minutes. Ethel did not want anyone to make a fuss over her.

Ethel lived her life in a way that would draw attention to Jesus. And so I will do my best to honor her wishes by spending the rest of our time together drawing your attention to the Savior Ethel loved so much, and in whom she put her trust.

The best testimony to a life well lived is a Bible, well used. I’ve heard it said that when your Bible is falling apart, it’s a sure sign that your life isn’t.

And so Ethel’s family was kind enough to let me borrow not just one of Ethel’s Bibles, but three of them. I kind of approached this like an archaeologist, trying to learn about a culture from the writings they left behind.

I’m pretty sure this is the oldest one, because it’s the only one that doesn’t mention Terry. On the first page her name is written as Ethel W____, with a five digit telephone number.

There are more than a dozen different scripture references written on the first few pages, but the biggest one is Malachi 3:8:

Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, ‘Wherein have we robbed thee?’ In tithes and offerings… Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing. 

And then, on the first pages of this Bible, which by the way was printed in 1945, Ethel wrote this chart:

  • Tithe: 10%
  • House Payment: 20%
  • Groceries: 20%
  • Utitlities: 20%
  • Insurance: 10%
  • Car Payment: 10%
  • Miscellaneous: 10%

I guess the miscellaneous was where Mrs. Ethel bought all the snacks for her two year olds.

But right under Malachi 3:8, Ethel wrote “Matthew 6:19,” and next to it, “My favorite verse in the Bible.”

Matthew 6:19 says,

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupt, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Doesn’t that by itself help you understand who Ethel was so much better? She was not someone who cared about earthly treasure. She cared about treasure in heaven. That is where her focus was.

I think this one is the next one. The name on it is Ethel W___. It was presented to her at the Water Avenue Baptist Church in September of 1982. Bob W_____ was Ethel’s first husband, who went to be with the Lord in 1993. The first few pages are filled with dozens of verse references. Two verses are circled and underlined, with the word TITHE next to them.

One is Genesis 28:22:

“And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house, and of all that thou shalt give me, I will surely give the tenth unto thee.”

And again, Malachi 3:8: Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.

This is the last Bible. I know this because there is a bulletin from last week’s sermon stuck in it.

There are more Scripture references. Again, she wrote that Matthew 6:19-21 was her Bible verse.

There’s George W. Bush’s birthday listed—July 6. In 2005, he was 59 years old.

There’s a prayer for Governor Bentley.

There’s a note about the day they bought their Hyundai Accent in 2008, for $6,000. Two years later, they sold it to Tonya for $4000.

There’s the day Ethel met Terry—February 27, 1997, at Hope Baptist Church.

There’s their first date—April 2.

There’s the day they married, three and a half months after their first date, July 19, 1997.

There’s the visitor’s badge for Prattville Baptist Hospital, dated January 9, 2021, the day Terry passed away.

Now, play archeologist with me: what would you deduce from a Bible that not only had verses highlighted, but had prayers for politicians, notes from purchases, when Terry was ordained as a deacon, how much they received for social security and the fact that the check was delivered on the third Wednesday of every month, and the visitor’s badge from the hospital from the day the love of her life passed away?

You would conclude that this was the book the person built her life on. This was the book she turned to in times of happiness and sadness, in times of national political crisis; for financial guidance, for spiritual growth.

You would look at these Bibles that are falling apart as evidence of a life that wasn’t.

Ethel once paid me the greatest compliment I think I’ve ever received from anyone. After a sermon where I went “off script” and just started quoting different passages of Scripture, she came up to me and said, “James, I think you must have the entire Bible memorized.”

Now that I have spent the last couple of days studying Ethel’s Bibles, I realize what high praise that was coming from her. Because she knew her Bible as well as anyone I’ve ever met.

So I’d like to close by speaking again from the heart.

Psalm 116:15 says “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

That always seemed like a strange verse to me. Does the Lord really count the death of any of his saints as precious? And the answer is clearly yes, especially in the case of someone like Ethel B_______. 

She is united again with Terry.

She did not suffer, she did not linger, she did not decline.

She was ready to meet her Savior.

She lived her life storing up treasure in heaven that will never corrupt.

And even though she hated drawing attention to herself, and never wanted anyone to know the things she had done for them, she could not avoid the words of her Savior, which surely came to her this past Thursday:

Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Thou hast been faithful over a few things. I will make thee ruler over many things. Enter thou into the joy of the Lord.

Three Models of Mothering (A Sermon for Mother’s Day from Exodus 1-2)

Summary: In Exodus 1-2, we see three great examples of what it means to be a mother. But only one is a biological mother. This Mother’s Day, whether you are mothering your own children, raising someone else’s children, or simply speaking up for the rights of children, we honor you today.

Good morning! Please open your Bibles to Exodus 2. Today, I’d like to preach a sermon specifically directed toward women who have a heart for children.

Notice I didn’t say “Mothers.” I hope today is a good day for Moms. That if your mother is still living, that you are finding ways to honor her today. If you are a new mom, or have a new mom in your life, you’ve been looking forward to this day. We’ve got a little of that gong on in our family. This is Trish’s first mother’s day as a grandmother.

And if your mom has gone on to be with the Lord, I hope today is a healing mix of sweet memories and appreciation for the lessons you learned from her. I know it’s been that way for me, as I am spending my first Mother’s Day without my own Mom. So there’s also some of that sadness for me.

Now, I’m also very conscious that there are some in our service today for whom Mother’s Day is uncomfortable at best and even painful at worst because they have tried, sometimes desperately, yet unsuccessfully, to have children. To them, Mother’s Day can be a reminder of unfulfilled dreams. And so I know there were some of you who struggled with whether or not to even come today, and others that may never even hear this message because they opted out of today’s service.

And so, to you, I would like to say welcome. I honor you for even showing up today. And I hope you are encouraged by one simple fact about this morning’s text: In Exodus 1-2, we see three great examples of what it means to be a mother. But strangely enough, only one is a biological mother. This Mother’s Day, whether you are mothering your own children, raising someone else’s children, or simply speaking up for the rights of children, we honor you today. This morning, we are going to look at three different models for mothering in Exodus 1-2, so I hope you will see yourself in at least one of them. Please let me pray for us, and then we will get into our study of God’s word.

[Pray]

Jochebed: Mothering by Biology

The first Mom we’re going to talk about is Moses’ mom. We are first introduced to her in Exodus 2.

To give you a little background if you aren’t all that familiar with the story of the Bible.

At the end of Genesis, a man named Jacob, whom God renamed “Israel” left the Promised Land with his eleven sons to go to live in the land of Egypt, where his twelfth son Joseph was the governor of the entire land. There was a worldwide famine in those days, and through Joseph, God made sure that his chosen people Israel wouldn’t starve to death. So Jacob and his sons and their families all packed up and moved to Egypt—seventy of them in all.

But then we get a time jump at the beginning of Exodus. Four hundred years have passed, and now the children of Israel have grown into a large nation—between 30,000 and 600.000, depending on how you read the Hebrew. And the new Pharaoh, the one who “knew not Joseph” was afraid that they would form an alliance with Egypt’s enemies and form an army against the Egyptians. So Pharaoh ordered all the Hebrew midwives to kill any male Hebrew the minute he was born. They defied Pharaoh, and we will talk more about them in a minute. But as a result, Pharaoh moved to his plan B, which was to authorize his own people to carry out genocide. Exodus 1:22 says that

22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”

So that’s the background for our first mom. Let’s read together what Exodus 2 has to say about her:

2 Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. 3 When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. 4 And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him.

Okay. From this passage, we don’t even know what her name is Honestly, if we stop here, we don’t even know what the baby’s name is. Most of you probably know that the baby they are talking about is the main character of the book of Exodus. His name is… [crowd respond]. Right! Moses.

What’s his mother’s name? Anyone know?

Well, this passage doesn’t say. Her name is given in two other places, Exodus 6:20 and Numbers 26:59. Exodus 6:20 only mentions her as the mother of Moses and Aaron, but the numbers passage adds Miriam’s name.

59 The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt. And she bore to Amram Aaron and Moses and Miriam their sister (Num. 26:59)

So we really don’t know much at all about her. She was most likely born in Goshen, Egypt. We know she and her husband both belong to the tribe of Levi. Her name means “The glory of Yahweh,” which is super interesting to me, since as far as we know, Moses was the first one to whom God revealed his personal name.

Before we make some applications from Jochebed’s life, let’s read the rest of this passage to see what happened next:

5 Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews' children.” 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8 And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child's mother. 9 And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him.

Don’t you love God’s providence here? God made a way for Jochebed to nurse Moses until he was weaned, which in this culture could have been as late as four or five years old! How much of an impact did that make on Moses’ identity as he was raised in Pharaoh’s household? The fact that in the very next scene Moses identifies as a Hebrew against an Egyptian tells you that Jochebed’s influence was considerable!

But here is something else I want you to think about this morning:

I had never thought about the fact that Jochebed wasn’t just Moses’ mother, she was also Miriam’s mother and Aaron’s mother. Miriam was most likely the oldest. She was the sister that stood watching from a distance to see what would happen to her baby brother. And we can guess that Aaron had been born before the edict came down to kill all the Hebrew boys, so he may have already joined the slave labor force by this point.

So let’s reflect on what Jochebed accomplished as a mom. She raised a daughter to take both the responsibility to watch Moses from a distance, and the initiative to approach Pharaoh’s daughter with a ready-made solution that would allow Jochebed to stay involved in Moses’ life. Later in Exodus 15, Miriam is called a prophetess, only the third person in Scripture (after Abraham and Aaron) to have this role. She was also the first worship leader in Scripture, leading the women of Israel in song after they cross the Red Sea. Jochebed raised a strong, assertive, spiritually attuned daughter!

What about her middle child, Aaron? We’ve already said Aaron was called a prophet (Exodus 7:1). But Aaron also became God’s mouthpiece to Pharaoh after Moses begged God to send someone else to Pharaoh (Exodus 4:14). And later, he would be ordained as the first high priest for the Jewish people, and every high priest thereafter would come from the line of Aaron.

And of course, there’s Moses himself, the future Giver of the Law. On any list of the most influential people in history, Moses is going to be near the top. Most of us parents are trying to figure out how to get our kids to read the Bible. Jochebed’s kid sat around writing the Bible!

What does it take for a mother to raise not one, not two, but three amazing children, each with their own gifts, their own personalities, and their own callings from God?

I would suggest to you this morning that every single child has gifts for leadership, music, speaking, writing, and spiritual discernment. But not every child has a mom who allows each of her children to grow and mature and thrive on their own terms. Jochebed seems to have been a mother like that.

Jochebed spared Moses from death as an infant. Instead of allowing him to be murdered under a royal edict, she coated the bottom of a woven basket with tar to waterproof it. Then she sat the baby in it and set it among the reeds on the Nile’s riverbank despite crocodiles, changing currents, and the risk of the basket capsizing.

And it “just so happened” that Pharaoh’s daughter was bathing in the river at the exact time the basket came to rest in the reeds. But do you really think that was a coincidence?

It’s possible that Jochebed simply walked down to a random spot at the river’s edge, at a random time, and deposited her child among the reeds.But I can’t imagine a mother who would go to all the trouble of making this basket and then leave everything else to chance. I think Jochebed probably scouted out a safe area first. She probably knew where Pharaoh’s daughter liked to bathe, and came up with a plan based around that schedule. It wouldn’t have been difficult to place him just a little upstream of that spot where the basket would be seen or his crying would draw attention.

So Jochebed was creative. She was courageous! She let each of her children grow into their own giftedness.

And then, she did the bravest, hardest thing of all. She let them go. She entrusted all of them to God’s care. This is most obvious with Moses, because she literally let him go to float down the Nile. But I think this was true for all three of them. And this can be the toughest thing to do as a parent.

So moms, where does Jochebed’s story challenge you the most? Is it her courage? Her faith? Her parenting style? Or is it her willingness to put her child into God’s hands, even when it’s dangerous or uncertain?

The world needs more Aarons. More Miriams. More Moseses. Which means, the world needs more Jochebeds who will let them go.

But one last thing about Jochebed. She was not the only influence on baby Moses. Let’s look at the woman who took him in, and adopted him as her own. Pharaoh’s daughter represents our second mode of mothering: The Adopting mom.

Pharaoh’s Daughter: Mothering by Adoption

Scripture doesn’t give a name to Moses’ adoptive mom, only that she was Pharaoh’s daughter. She may have been the Egyptian princess Hatshepsut, whom history describes as a woman with a strong personality and a bit of a rebellious spirit. Perhaps this was what it took for her to defy her father’s decree to kill all the male Hebrew babies. No matter what her name was, after Jochebed finished weaning her son, she turned the boy over to Pharaoh’s daughter, who raised him as her own and named him Moses because, as she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

And here we have history’s first recorded international adoption! And while Pharaoh’s daughter disappears from the story after this, consider how this act of selflessness has changed the world!

Sometimes a mother, married or not, in dire circumstances might have to consider placing their child for adoption or foster care. Like Jochebed, they should pray and trust God to find a loving home for their child. The heartbreak of giving up their baby can be offset by moms and dads who have the means and character to provide a good home for their baby. This is apparently what Jochebed found in Pharaoh’s daughter. She had years to watch her while she nursed Moses. I imagine she would have had lots of opportunities to change her mind, but she never did.

I praise God for moms and dads who are willing to adopt or foster children!

Several months ago, when one couple in our church was beginning the process of getting approved to be foster parents, they shared some statistics with me that have haunted me ever since:

  • Did you know that every two minutes, another child enters the foster care system in the United States?
  • On the average, nine children will enter foster care every single day in Alabama alone. In 2017, there were 365 kids in foster care in Montgomery, Autauga, Elmore, and Chilton counties. Yet there were only 63 licensed foster homes.
  • Now, think about this: there are over 300 evangelical churches in those four counties. If just one family in every church committed to be a foster parent, then nearly every kid in the system could have a loving, Christian home

So where does the story of Pharaoh’s daughter challenge you? Do you have the means to adopt or foster? We know there’s the opportunity and the need. I want you to think about this, especially as we look at the last mode of mothering. And that is mothering by advocacy. Our example for this mode of mothering is Shiphrah and Puah.

Raise your hands if you even have a clue as to who Shiphrah and Puah were? Some of you are like, “Yeah—I know where you’re going with that. Shiphrah and Puah were the meerkat and the warthog that adopted Simba in The Lion King, and that’s like adoption, right?

No. That was Timon and Pumba, not Shiphrah and Puah. To figure out who Shiphrah and Puah were, let’s turn back to Exodus 1:

Shiphrah and Puah: Mothering by Advocacy

15 Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. 18 So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong.

Shiphrah and Puah were two Hebrew nurses who helped the Israelite women give birth. They were most likely Hebrew women. However, in some manuscripts, the phrase the ESV translated as Hebrew midwives is translated as “midwives to the Hebrew women.” So there is at least a chance that they were Egyptian.

Shiphrah is a Hebrew word, meaning beautiful. But Puah is a Canaanite word that just means “young girl.”

So they may not have been Hebrew themselves. Regardless, these two women trusted God, at great personal peril, they chose not to obey the king’s command. They let all the Hebrew baby boys live. And God blessed them for it.

Does that mean God approves of disobedience and lying to government authorities? No! Obedience to governmental authorities is the norm for Christians. Our government, no matter what we think of individual issues, has received designated authority from God and we are commanded to obey.

However, when the government defies God’s law—sanctioning the murder of babies, we are always called to obey God rather than man, no matter where our political affiliations lean.

Shiphrah and Puah feared God and saved Moses’ life, and the lives of many others as well. They advocated for both the unborn and the newborn, even at great personal cost and risk to themselves.

Now, what does that say to us today?

This has been an interesting week. As you probably saw or heard in the news, this past Wednesday a draft was leaked of a Supreme Court ruling that will in all likelihood overturn Roe V. Wade, the 1973 ruling that made abortion on demand legal in all fifty states. Which means that what millions of Christians have been praying for for fifty years now will come to pass. Abortion on demand will become illegal in Alabama, as well as in every state in an over 300 mile radius of us.

This is an answered prayer for so many who believe abortion is murder.

But the question that will face the Christian church in the coming years is, “Ok, now what?” We are a little like the dog that finally catches the car. What will we do next?

I can tell you what the world will be watching for. I have a friend from high school named Endsley who is part of the LGBT community. She and her wife live in the Atlanta area. She is intelligent, thoughtful, and she responds to people who disagree with her with kindness and level headedness.

She posted this on Facebook the day after the Supreme Court document was leaked. I won’t read the entire posting, but here’s the gist of what the post said:

The unborn are a convenient group to advocate for. They never make demands of you. Unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor, they haven’t made any poor choices that you object to. Unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare. Unlike immigrants, they don’t bring any religious or cultural baggage you dislike.

The unborn allow you to feel good about yourself without any obligation. All you have to do is talk about what you are against.

Best of all, once they are born, you can forget about them, because you’re an advocate for the UNborn. Advocating for the unborn doesn’t challenge your wealth, power, privilege, or security.

Prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The Poor? Widows? Orphans? Those are all groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible. But being an advocate for the unborn? That’s just so. Much. Easier.

Here’s the thing. My friend Endsley didn’t write this post. It was actually written by a Methodist pastor in Birmingham Alabama. No, Endsley is just one of over 13,000 people that have shared the post on social media. She is angry at the organized church. She believes that now that abortion is overturned, the church will turn all of its focus on overturning same sex marriage.

And maybe she’s right. I’ve already seen posts from Christians saying things like “We’re coming for you, next, LGBT!”

So here are some things we need to be prepared for as the church in a post Roe v Wade world. I believe that the next few years will see unprecedented hostility toward the Christian church.

But we will also see unprecedented opportunity to opt for something more than just easy advocacy.

How will our church respond when more babies are born in poverty? When more babies are born and put up for adoption? When more children are placed in the foster system?

Shiphrah and Puah did more than just easy activism. They stood up stood up for infants that could not speak for themselves, even when doing so could cost them their lives.

What about you? What challenges you about the story of these two advocates for children, even when they weren’t their own children?

There is something from today’s message for all of us. Maybe you don’t have children yet, or your children have grown, you can still commit to praying for and releasing your children. Maybe you aren’t married, or you are unable to have children. You can begin the process of adoption or fostering. You can walk alongside a new mom. You can commit financial resources to crisis pregnancy centers. You can be an advocate not just for the unborn also for the unexpected, the unwanted, the unloved. And you can pray for the witness and the reputation of the church in our world.

Happy Mother’s Day. Let’s pray.

The Word That Won’t Be Silenced, Part 1 (Psalm 19)

Summary: The first half of Psalm 19 deals with what we can learn about God from nature. The second half deals with what we can learn about God from His Word. This is part one of a two part sermon.

Good morning! Please turn in your Bibles to Psalm 19 as we continue our series summer in the Psalms. We talked last week about how Psalms is a book of practical poetry, and how almost all the great moments of life have a soundtrack attached. It could be “Happy Birthday” in front of a cake with candles. Or “Here Comes the Bride” as you are standing at the front of a sanctuary in a rented tux. Or maybe it’s “Sweet Home Alabama” with 100,000 of your closest friends at Bryant-Denny stadium. “God Bless The USA” as you are watching a fireworks display. We are wired to be moved emotionally by music. To remember things with music. So it makes sense that when God wrote to us, he had to include music!

There are 150 Psalms. It is the longest book in the Bible. Don’t worry, we aren’t going to talk about all of them. They were written by people from all walks of life, over a thousand year period. King David wrote half of them (75). Of the other 75, about a third are attributed to a specific author. There was Asaph, a priest, who wrote twelve of them; The Sons of Korah, which were a group of professional temple singers, kind of like Hillsong United, wrote ten of them. King Solomon wrote two. Even Moses wrote one—Psalm 90—which may make it the oldest piece of literature in the Bible.

So the Psalm we are going to look at this morning is a Psalm of David, and it’s classified as a Wisdom Psalm. That means it was specifically written to teach us something. So if you are physically able, let’s stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word, and listen for what God has to teach us this morning.

19 The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above[a] proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice[b] goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,

Skip down to verse 7:

7 The law of the Lord is perfect,[c]
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules[d] of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?
    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
    let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

So since this is a Wisdom Psalm, let’s ask God for wisdom together. Let’s pray…

Jesus, teach me from your Word this morning. Amen.

Psalm 19 falls really neatly into two halves. We are going to look at the first half this morning, and the second half next week (so if you were looking at all the blanks on the listening guide and wondering how we were ever going to get through all of them, you can rest easy. We aren’t!)

You can see this on your listening guide: verses 1-6 talk about The World God Created, while verses 7-10 deal with The Word God Communicated. And in both creation and the Scripture, God has revealed Himself to human beings. But he’s done it in two different ways. Theologians call those GENERAL REVELATION and SPECIAL REVELATION. Let’s unpack each of those terms.

General revelation refers to the general truths that can be known about God through nature. [Slide] Some would say God has also revealed himself through philosophy and reason, and I think there’s room for talking about that as well, but for this morning, we’re going to focus on nature, since that is what Psalm 19 focuses on.

Throughout creation, God has given us evidence of His existence . And it is a constant, ongoing revelation. All the verbs in verses 1-2 are either participles or imperfect. This means continuous, unfinished, ongoing action. The Heavens ARE declaring the Glory of God. The skies ARE PROCLAIMING his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech. Night to night reveals knowledge.

Have you ever stood on the seashore, or the rim of the Grand Canyon, or looked at a mountain range and thought to yourself, “How could anyone say there’s no God?” We all have. And that’s General Revelation. We can look at the perfect design of the Universe and know that there was a designer behind it. If I am walking through the woods and I come across an old wristwatch, I don’t think its the result of a random explosion in a machine shop. Someone had to have designed the watch. And the universe is the same way.

There are lots of websites that can give you facts about how the earth is just the right temperature to sustain life, and has the perfect tilt to its axis, and so forth. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of those figures. But what blew me away this week was reading some of those facts on non-Christian science websites. For example, at science/howstuffworks.com/life/EVOLUTION (!!!!) In 2000, a paleontologist and an astronomer collaborated on a book called “Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe,” in which they argued that the odds of finding another living world in all the cosmos were severely unlikely. They called it the Rare Earth Hypothesis, but they might as well have called it The Goldilocks principle

You can read some facts about how Earth fits the “Goldilocks principle” to sustain life. You remember Goldilocks, right? She stumbles on a house in the forest, and finds three bowls of porridge, three chairs, three beds, and only one is “just right?”

The right ingredients: A planet needs liquid water, an energy source and chemical building blocks like carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen for the life forms we’re familiar with to thrive.

The right crust: Gas giants and molten worlds need not apply. Luckily, Earth possesses the suitable distribution of elements to ensure a hot metallic core and a rocky mantle.

The right temperature: The necessity for liquid water also means that planetary temperatures must permit the substance to retain its liquid form in some regions.

The right moon: Our large moon ensures climate stability by minimizing changes in planetary tilt. If our planet didn’t have a tilt, it wouldn’t have seasons. Likewise, a severe tilt would result in extreme seasons.

The right star: The sun provides Earth with the energy for life and is thankfully rather stable. Imagine baking a pot roast with an oven that might suddenly surge in temperature, die or explode. It wouldn’t work for your pot roast, and it certainly wouldn’t work for life.

The right core: Earth’s solid inner core and liquid outer core play crucial roles in protecting life from deadly solar radiation. Differences in temperature and composition in the two core regions drive this powerful dynamo, emitting Earth’s protective electromagnetic field.

The right neighbors: Jupiter shields Earth from constant stellar bombardment. Without the gas giant in the neighborhood, scientists predict that Earth would endure 10,000 times as many asteroid and comet strikes [source: Villard].

But with all this, listen to the conclusion:

In short, Earth contains all the ingredients and environmental necessities for life to emerge, plus the relative safety for it to evolve unmolested for hundreds of millions of years on end.

How is that possible to look at all the evidence for a designer and still miss the truth? It would be as though Goldilocks believed that the “just right bed” evolved from some random mutation of trees and goose feathers!

Hold that thought. We’ll come back to it.

But creation doesn’t just give us evidence for God’s existence. It also gives us insight into His character.

Look at the nature of creation and you find out about the nature of the Creator. Verses 3-4 say…

3 There is no speech, nor are there words,?    whose voice is not heard.

4 Their voice[b] goes out through all the earth,?    and their words to the end of the world.

There are a couple of different ways to understand this, because the Hebrew is a little difficult to translate. Some say these verses mean that even without speech or language, creation speaks of the creator:

TRANSITION FOR EACH OF THESE

Niagara Falls whispers “There is a God who made me, and he is powerful.” I heard something interesting on the Weather Channel yesterday as I was watching the coverage of Tropical Storm Barry heading to New Orleans. And this is a direct quote from the reporter: “All the levees and locks and dams and gates are just man’s attempt to harness a power that cannot be harnessed.”

The moon whispers, “There is a God who made me, and he is romantic.”

The Milky Way Galaxy, 100,000 light years across, and one of one hundred billion galaxies whispers, “There is a God who made me, and he is BIG.”

The 300 species of hummingbird, 13,000 varieties of daffodils, 17,500 species of butterfly, ALL whisper, “There is a God who made us, and he is creative.”

The great white shark whispers, “There is a God who made me, and he is to be respected.”

Peer inside a microscope, and you’ll find a God who cares about details.

Hold a newborn, and you’ll experience a God of wonder.

Test the gravity he made by jumping out an airplane, and you’ll experience a God of excitement.

Jump out of an airplane without a parachute, and you’ll discover a God of absolutes.

Say this: “The heavens declare the glory of God.”

Now, there is a second way to look at verses 3-4, where it says “There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.” And that is to say that every single person on planet earth, regardless of what language they speak, or whether or not they even have a written language can know that there is a God just by looking at creation. This is what Romans 1:19-20 is getting at when it says

19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)

So when scientists (or anyone else for that matter) can look at creation and conclude that there’s no God behind it, they don’t have a knowledge problem, they have an obedience problem. Back up to the verse just before Romans 1:19. Verse 18 says, For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 

Remember the Goldilocks principle? This would be Goldilocks saying, look, I don’t want to admit that I’m breaking and entering. I don’t want to own up to the fact that I’m criminally trespassing.

So I’m just going to assume that this house, these chairs, this porridge, these beds are all just an accident of natural selection.

But that would be intellectually dishonest, wouldn’t it? But don’t we do the same thing? Maybe you are here this morning and you haven’t wanted to acknowledge God because you know that if you did, you would be responsible for ignoring him. So you’ve kind of conveniently decided that He doesn’t really exist. Friend, you are the one that Romans 1:18 is talking about. By your unrighteousness you are suppressing the truth.

And then look at the last line of verse 20: SO THEY ARE WITHOUT EXCUSE.

It’s that last line that ought to make us stop and think.

But there’s good news. God didn’t just leave us general revelation that points to His existence. He gave us Special Revelation that points to His will for our lives. [SLIDE]

We go from General Revelation— the general truths that can be known about God through nature, to SPECIAL REVELATION, which is the specific truths about God that can only be known through Scripture.

The good news is that God has made known the gospel to us. I want to take you to one more verse in Romans. I know we are working backwards— going from 18-19 to 17, and now we are looking at 16, but bear with me. Romans 1:16 says,

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.

In God’s Word, we find out how to be made righteous before God. And that’s what we are going to talk about next week.

Let’s stand for closing prayer.

Dealing With the Desert (Psalm 63)

Summary: When God seems distant, can we still worship? A six point battle plan for how to deal with seasons in the wilderness.

Good morning. If you have your Bibles, please turn to Psalm 63. You know, we have had some awesome worship experiences over the last few weeks as we’ve worked through some of these Psalms. The week we talked about Psalm 100 was just an amazing time of worship. Last week, when we prayed through Psalm 103 and meditated on the character of God, I had a number of you tell me what a meaningful time that was for you as we simply prayed God’s Word back to Him. One person said it was almost as if they could feel God’s hand on their shoulder.

But if we are being honest, we have to admit that there are times when we don’t feel like rocking the rafters in worship. There’s times that God seems distant. When we don’t hear the brush of angel’s wings and see glory on each face. There’s times when faith is hard and doubt is easy. When frustration flows but God’s power doesn’t. When doubts grow and confidence shrinks.

And let’s be honest: if every week we come into this room and all we get is rah rah, pep rally, faith is the victory marching band, then we can walk out wondering if there is a place for us. Not just at Glynwood. In Christianity.

This month there have been two high profile defections from Christianity. A young pastor named Joshua Harris who made waves back in the late nineties with a book called “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” now says he is no longer a believer.

This was followed up this week by a social media announcement from Marty Sampson, one of the principal songwriters and worship leaders for Hillsong Worship (“What a Beautiful Name It Is;” “O Praise the Name”). Sampson posted that while he wasn’t renouncing his faith, he admitted that it was on very shaky ground. He writes,

How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.

How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.

I am not in any more. I want genuine truth. Not the “I just believe it” kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion. Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I keeping it real. Unfollow if you want, I’ve never been about living my life for others.

All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point..

And before you think that that’s just a problem “out there,” realize that I had been here for a week when a man from the church came into my office and told me he was no longer a believer. I’d preached one sermon. My first thought was, “My gosh—was it that bad?” And this man wasn’t leaving because he was caught up in some sin. His marriage wasn’t falling apart. He wasn’t (and still isn’t) a bad person. He just got to the point where he realized he no longer believed the words that were coming out of his mouth.

What do you do?

More recently, I’ve had conversations with parents whose kids are frustrated with how hateful and bigoted Christians seem to be. They have LGBT friends and they wonder why the church says the way they were born is sinful. And they wonder if our church—or any church—could really be a safe place to ask those questions.

What do you do?

What do you do when you don’t feel like praising God? Maybe you’re not at the point of renouncing your faith, but you’re kind of wishing God would give you a break. Maybe you’re like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof: I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?

Maybe you are in a season of doubt. You might even be here this morning and you’re about ready to give up on Christianity yourself. If that’s you, I am so glad you are here, and I am so glad that there are chapters in the Bible like Psalm 63.

I want you to turn to Psalm 63, and before we read it, I want you to notice the title. Psalm 63-A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. Now, you probably have some idea of who David is, but you may not know much about the wilderness of Judah. We here wilderness and we think trees and mountain streams and deer stands, and we think, man, that sounds great. But that’s not what David meant when he talked about the wilderness.

The wilderness of Judah was the dry, desolate area between Jerusalem, 2500 feet above sea level, and the Dead Sea, which is 1400’ below sea level. Its also referred to as the Negev, which means south country. And it’s just desolate. [picture]

Very dry, very barren. Now, you might be asking, how did a guy like David wind up in the desert? That’s a great question. There’s two different times in David’s life when he was forced to flee Jerusalem and escape into the Judean wilderness. The first was early in his life, before he was king. He was in the service of King Saul, and Saul became jealous of him and decided he was going to kill him. That story is in 1 Samuel 11-21.

The second was late in his life. He had been king for around thirty years, and his son Absalom became jealous of him, staged a coup, declared himself king, and formed an army to try to kill him. You can read about that in 2 Samuel 15.

Scholars are divided over which of these two times Psalm 63 is talking about. Personally, I think its talking about Absalom, mainly because David refers to himself as “king” in verse 11, and he never would have done that when Saul was alive. But ultimately, it doesn’t really matter to the point of the psalm. Either David’s mentor was trying to kill him, or David’s son was trying to kill him. Either way, man—that just sucks. It sucks even more if this really was the second time, because then David had to be feeling like, “Man, this is déjà vu all over again. I’ve been here before, and here I go again.”

So now, if this was you, and you were on the run from either the most powerful man in the country (not good) or your own son (worse), what would be on your mind? Let’s say this was the second time David was in the desert. Now he’s an old man, and he finds himself back in the same place he was twenty or thirty years before. What would you expect to come out of his mouth? Think about your answers to those questions as we read the Psalm together. If you are physically able, please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word:

63 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
    my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
    beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life,
    my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live;
    in your name I will lift up my hands.

5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6 when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.

9 But those who seek to destroy my life
    shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
    they shall be a portion for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God;
    all who swear by him shall exult,
    for the mouths of liars will be stopped.

[PRAY…]

So, let’s start by looking at Four reasons we might find ourselves in the wilderness:

Why we’re in the wilderness

• Sometimes it’s circumstances (1 Samuel 11). That’s how it was the first time David found himself there. David hadn’t done anything wrong. In fact, he’d done a lot of things right. The reason Saul was jealous of him in the first place was because he had killed Goliath and became a national hero.

• Sometimes it’s sin (2 Samuel 15). You can pinpoint the moment David’s life went off track. We talked last week about David’s sin with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11. And even though God forgave David of that sin, the prophet Nathan told David that from that point on, the sword would never leave his house. And that prophecy was fulfilled. David’s son that Bathsheba was carrying died. Later David’s son from one of his wives raped one of of David’s daughters from another wife, and her brother Absalom killed his half-brother over it. It was a mess, and it all related back to David’s sin with Bathsheba. We’ve talked about it before—God will always forgive sin, but He will not always reverse the consequences that sin sets in motion. And sometimes when we are dealing with those consequences, we find ourselves in the desert.

• Sometimes it’s Satan (Job 1-2, Luke 22:31) We can forget sometimes that there is always an element of spiritual warfare to our lives as believers. Remember Job.

• Sometimes it’s the Spirit (see Matthew 4:1) even Jesus spent time in the wilderness.

Something to keep in mind—David often did his best work in the desert. Sometimes it takes a desert season to help us realize that God is all we have. In his commentary on Psalms, Donald Williams pointed out how often God speaks to people in the wilderness.

It was there that Moses * and Israel received most of the Pentateuch before entering the Promised Land. It was in the wilderness that the word of God came to both Elijah * and John the Baptist *. Even our Lord himself, filled with the Holy Spirit, was driven into the wilderness (Mark 1:12). The wilderness strips us of our defenses and reveals our vulnerability; it quiets us before God. Now we are ready to hear Him and to do battle with ourselves, and with the devil.³

What we do in the Wilderness

  1. Define who God is to you at this moment (v. 1) David’s declaration had three parts: O God (Elohim); you are; My God (Eli)—first step to dealing with the desert is to determine that no matter what, God is still going to be your God.

O GOD: Acknowledges God’s existence. Hebrews 11:6 says whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that He rewards those who seek him.

YOU ARE: Not “You Were”

MY GOD: It’s personal.

  1. Desire God more than the things of God (v. 1)—Earnestly I seek You. My soul thirsts for You. More than water and food. More than comfort. More than healing. More than answers.
  2. Dwell on God’s faithfulness in the past (v.2,7): This one ought to be easy for Baptists to do, because we get accused of dwelling in the past all the time. The old joke: “How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? Change??? We Iiked the old one” . But this isn’t just dwelling in the past. It’s dwelling on God’s faithfulness in the past. David says, “I have seen you in the sanctuary (fun fact—when David talked about the sanctuary, he wasn’t talking about the temple, because that hadnt been built yet. He was talking about the tabernacle. When was the tabernacle built? In the wilderness!

In verse 7, David says, “You have been my help.” Remembering what God has done for you in the last goes a long way toward restoring confidence in his ability to help you in the present.

If you can remember a time when you had 100% confidence that God was with you, then realize that God doesn’t change. You weren’t delusional at that time. You weren’t using religion as a crutch. God was with you. And God doesn’t change. Maybe you’ve heard about the old married couple that was driving down the road in their 70’s Buick. The kind that had a bench seat. The wife said, “I remember when we first got this car, we use to sit so close together on this seat. What happened? And the husband says, “I don’t know. I never moved.”

If you don’t feel close to God anymore, who moved?

  1. Declare what is true even when it feels like it isn’t (v. 3, 5)

Verse 3: Because your steadfast love is better than life,

my lips will praise you.

What’s David doing at this moment? He’s running for his life. So read between the lines. On the surface, the most important thing is living to fight another day against Saul (or Absalom). But David says, no, your love is better than life.

Same thing in verse 5: my soul will be satisfied with fat and rich food. Really? You’re in a desert. Fat and rich food is in short supply. But David is confident that God will provide and that God alone satisfies.

This is not a name it, claim it theology. This isn’t “calling those things which are not as though they are.” Many people in the word of faith/prosperity gospel take that verse (Romans 4:17) completely out of context and say that all they have to do is speak a word of faith over their circumstances and they will be changed. That’s not what this is teaching. Romans 4:17 is talking about what God does.:

17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

[Illustration: Facts / Faith / Feelings]

On this table, we’ve got three cars of a model train. The engine—which has all the power to pull the train. The passenger car. This is where you live. Where you rest. Where you ride. And the caboose. This is where you put your baggage. The stuff you bring with you on the journey.

And I want you to think about this to help you understand the relationship between FACTS, FAITH, and FEELINGS.

FACTS: What you know about God. This is what pulls the train. You might be tempted to think that FAITH is the engine. But FAITH is only as strong as its object. R Kelly sang “I Believe I Can Fly” He couldn’t then. He sure can’t now.

So FAITH is gonna be where we live. It’s the passenger car. Its where we walk, sit, stand, move, rest, work, relax, talk, laugh. Sit back and watch the scenery.

So what do we do with our FEELINGS? Our feelings, as powerful as they are, can’t pull the train. There is no power in our feelings. And I think the enemy has convinced us in a lot of areas that our FEELINGS are where the engine of the train is. Or that our feelings are the passenger car. They aren’t. Our feelings have to stay in line with our faith, which in turn has to be pulled by what we know about God. FACTS. FAITH. FEELINGS.

  1. Determine to focus on God (v. 5-6): I will meditate on you in the night watches.

So during the dry times, what are you meditating on? Let me just speak a word of caution: when you are feeling dry and distant from god, I promise you that if you aren’t careful, the enemy will lead you to meditate on things “in the night watches” that will leave you feeling even more dry and more distant.

Rick Warren—if you know how to worry, you already know how to meditate. Christian meditation isn’t clearing your mind and achieving perfect nothingness. It’s clearing your mind so you can make room for God.

  1. Express confidence in God’s ultimate justice. (9-11)

David expresses his confidence both in what God would do to his enemies (vs. 9-10) and what God would do for him. Those who seek his life will lose theirs (as did both Saul and Absalom).

In stark contrast to those who lie with their tongue, David and those like him, who are satisfied in the Lord, honor God with theirs. The mouth of God’s enemies will be stopped, but the mouth of God’s servants will shout and sing forever, never to be silenced throughout all eternity.

How many times do I see an “enemy” and tell God to sit it out? He won’t be mean enough to satisfy my need for justice. He won’t do anything. Justice will not be served.

But David declared that he would wait on God. Waiting was worship.

Andrew Brunson was an American missionary in Turkey who was imprisoned for his faith in 2016. He spent 735 days in prison and was finally released after President Trump threatened economic sanctions against Turkey if he wasn’t released. He wrote a book about the experience called God’s Hostage.

Earlier this year, Pastor Brunson spoke at the Southern Baptist Convention pastor’s conference. I’d like to play about two minutes of his sermon, and I want you to listen for how Brunson defined who God was to him: [play video]

Copied from Sermon Central

The Why of Easter (Romans 5:1-11)

The Gospels tell us the “what” of Easter. Movies like The Passion tell us the “how.” But in Romans 5, Paul tells us the why.

If you have your Bibles, please turn to Romans 5. You might be a little surprised to be back in Romans, but a kind of weird thing happened. I went back to Romans this week because I wanted to get a jump on next week’s sermon, since I’m going to be out of town for a lot of this week, and so I was reading from where we left off in the series, which is Romans 5. And I realized, Romans 5 is the Easter story. I know it’s not the narrative of the women coming to the tomb, and finding the stone rolled away, and the angel saying “He is not here, He has risen, go tell the disciples.” That’s the “what” of Easter, and if you’ve grown up in church, or even if you only come to church once or twice a year, you’ve heard the “what” of Easter.

It’s also not the “how” of Easter. This past Friday a bunch of us got together and watched The Passion of the Christ, and for over two hours we saw a brutal depiction of how Jesus was beaten and whipped; how he was put on trial; and how he was crucified and died.

And Romans 5 doesn’t tell that part of the story either. What Romans 5 tells us is the why of Easter.

Why did Jesus go through all that He did for us? Why was He put to death? Why do we have to believe that Jesus really, literally, truly rose from the dead? Couldn’t that just be a metaphor, and as long as you understand that Jesus was a great teacher and we try to live our lives according to His principles, that would be enough?

The answer to all of those “why” questions, I believe, is found in Romans 5:1-11. So if you are physically able, I invite you to stand in honor of God’s word, and read this with me:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

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

[Pray]

  1. Because of the cross, we have peace with God (Romans 4:24-5:5)

The first “why” of Easter is this: Easter had to happen so that we could have peace with God. Romans 5:1: Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God.

We talked a lot about justification when we left off our study a couple of weeks ago. And if you need a refresh on the definition, it’s on the back of the listening guide. Justification is declaring that someone is just before God. It is the Judge, declaring once and for all, that we are no guilty.

All of Romans 4 was about Abraham being justified by faith and not through keeping the law. Paul says in 4:16 that the promise of righteousness rests on grace and is guaranteed to all of Abraham’s offspring.

But then he begins this incredibly radical redefinition of what it means to be Abraham’s offspring. In 4:23-25, he says that it isn’t just the Jews, but it’s anyone who believes in Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

This is what is counted to us as righteousness– what does  “counted” mean?  iIt means to confer a status that wasn’t there before. Righteousness is credited to our account if we believe that Jesus was “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” And because righteousness is now credited to our account, we have peace.

Imagine that you are deep in debt. You literally have no idea where the money is going to come from for your next house payment, or doctor’s bill, or even next week’s groceries. You are checking your bank account to see if there is enough of a balance there to even keep the lights on. And then, suddenly, a credit of ten million dollars pops up in your account. Would you feel peace? Would you feel joy? Of course you would. Not only are all your previous debts paid, but you are not going to be in debt ever again. That is the peace we have because of the cross.

But this peace Paul is talking about goes way beyond just financial security, or a state of contentment or serenity.

Notice that Paul says we have peace with God. In other letters, like Philippians, Paul talks about the peace of God—that feeling of calm and well being we are promised no matter what the circumstances.

This is peace with God. Peace with God means that the state of hostility that exists between holy God and sinful human beings is now over. It is an objective reality that doesn’t depend on how you feel. You can be stressed out or anxious, suffering hardship, broke, sick, homeless, unemployed, but that doesn’t change the fact that if you have trusted in the power of the gospel for salvation, you are at peace with God.

That’s why Paul is able to say, in verse 3, that we can actually rejoice in our sufferings. Even though there may be chaos all around us, it does not change our standing before God. We still have peace with God.

Because of Easter. The first why—Jesus had to die on the cross so we could have peace with God.

But let’s ask another “why.” Why should God care whether or not we are at peace with Him? God is complete in Himself—Father, Son, Holy Spirit. He doesn’t need a relationship with us.

And he’s the God over a billion galaxies, right? So if we disobey or rebel against Him, no problem. He could wipe us out and just start over on a different planet.

So why go to all the trouble of sending His son to die on the cross for us? Paul gives the answer in this passage.

In verse 5, Paul introduces a new word to our vocabulary. If you’ve been keeping track, we’ve built up a pretty impressive dictionary already, haven’t we? Paul’s talked about justification, righteousness, propitiation, and wrath. But in Romans 5:5, you see a word that hasn’t shown up yet in Romans.

Let me read it to you, and see if you pick up on it. Remember, you are looking for a word that hasn’t shown up at all yet in the book of Romans, and it’s a word that explains why God sent His son to die for us.

5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Did you see it? That’s right. The word is love. And maybe you’re like, oh, hey! A new word! Let’s see if there’s a big, serious, theological definition on the back of the listening guide, like there’s been for all these other words we’ve come to in Romans.

Nope. No definition. Paul doesn’t define love in the book of Romans. The truth is, the rest of the Bible doesn’t do a lot to define love. 1 John 4:8 says that God is love. That’s not a definition.

1 John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that God has loved us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Again—not a definition. You can’t define a word with a word.  

So instead of defining love, God demonstrates love. Look again at verses 6-8:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

There it is again—the first and second time the “love” shows up in Romans is in verse 5, where God pours his love into our hearts, and then verse 8, where God demonstrates his love by sending his son to die for us while we were still sinners.

In these verses, Paul tries to get us to imagine the circumstances in which you might be willing to die for someone. How would you answer that?

Most of you would be willing to die for your family, right? I get that. I think we all would give our lives to save someone in our family.

All of you who have served in the military or are currently serving have taken an oath that says you would die for your country.

If you are a firefighter or a police officer, you put your life on the line every day to serve the people of our community.

And we hope that if there was an innocent stranger that was drowning, or stuck in a stalled car on the train tracks, we would do everything we could to save a stranger. Would we die for them? In our best moments, most of us kind of hope that we would in that situation.

But what about if the person in question wasn’t innocent? What if the person stuck on the train traks was a convicted murderer? Or a drug addict? What if it was the politician you despise the most? Would you die for them?

And that’s what Paul is saying in versess 6-8. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine someone giving his or her life for a righteous person. Paul says that for a “good” person (whatever that means), someone might dare to die.

But God demonstrates his love in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Verse 6: while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

Why was that the right time? Other translations say “helpless,” or “powerless,” or “without strength?” Why is that the right time for Christ to die?

Because at any other time, we could convince ourselves that we had something to do with it. Think about human nature. If we make any contribution at all to something, we tend to take credit for it. Maybe you’ve seen the meme about contractors—that if you are a plumber, or electrician, or any other part of the construction trade, you’re going to point out every single house you ever worked on. You can’t help yourself.

And God won’t let us do that with our salvation! Imagine if you could! You’d be walking around heaven, and you’re showing off your mansion to someone, and you’d be like—“You see that foundation? Yeah—those were my good works.”

You like the custom hardwood floors? Did those myself. I put in a lot of hours volunteering for my church to get those put in.

What do you think of the Italian marble in the master bath? I did all that. That’s what four years of seminary education will get ya. I learned Greek and Hebrew. I read all these theology books.

And on and on it would go. Paul says it was while we were still powerless that Christ died for us.

Allistair Begg is one of my preaching heroes. He’s Scottish, which means he could read his Wal-Mart shopping list and I’d be motivated to go fight the English. But this sermon clip from Allistair Begg has been making the rounds on social media this week, and its worth watching:

[Allistair Begg clip]

He’s right. That’s the only answer. Let me tell you what happened to me this week. I’m working on this sermon. I’m doing what I always do—I’m looking up all my Greek and Hebrew words, and I’ve got two commentaries and three theological dictionaries spread out on my desk. It’s Wednesday, and I’m scheduled to meet Doug Burkhalter and Will Smith after Bible study to shoot their testimonies for these baptism videos.

And they both show up for Bible study and prayer meeting. And I’m sitting next to Doug for the prayer time. And Dave Johnson comes over and sits with us. And Doug looks at us both and he’s like, “Man, what is this? What are we doing?” And I’m like, “We’re praying.”

And you heard his testimony in the baptism video. And then you heard Will. And Will is at the other end of the spectrum.  Will spent his life up to this point searching for answers from an intellectual/philosophical perspective. And both of these men have come to an understanding that Christ died for them.

While we were still weak, Christ died for the ungodly.

The man on the cross in the middle said I could come. And the man on the cross in the middle says you can come. This is how God demonstrated His love for you.

Without the cross, we are enemies against God (5:9-11)

Here’s where we land the plane. The why of Easter is because we needed to have peace with God, and the blood of Christ provides that.

The why of Easter is that God loves us, and the death of Christ demonstrates that.

The why of Easter is that we must be reconciled to God, and the death and resurrection of Christ accomplishes that.

Look at verses 9-11:

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

[reconciliation is one way—not two ways. Talk about this if there is time]

Funeral for An Addict (Ecclesiastes 7:2; John 11)

Today was hard, Lord. I was asked to preach a funeral service for someone I had never met; the daughter of one of my church members. She died of a drug overdose last Friday night. It wasn’t a suicide, at least not in the traditional sense of someone who deliberately takes their life with one intentional action. She had made plans to see her father during Easter. By all accounts, she loved life. It just so happened that she took a drug that was cut with Fentanyl, and she died on the spot.

So Lord, it wasn’t a suicide in the sense we usually use the word. But she did take her life. She was 37, and had been in and out of rehab since she was thirteen. She leaves behind a daughter in college and two sons, the oldest of whom is in third grade, I think.

I walked into our sanctuary, and there were pictures of her everywhere. Pictures of her softball team. Pictures of her with her sister. Pictures of her holding her daugther.

I don’t often get emotional when I preach someone’s funeral. I usually mean it when I talk about that we are gathered to celebrate a life well lived.

But today was different, Lord. Today, I didn’t feel much like celebrating. Today, I looked at a room full of people that were the age of my own children, give or take a decade. Her friends. Maybe people who had partied with her. And God, I hurt for them. I hurt for so many that seek to fill the emptiness with a substance. That want the rush, or the numbness, or the euphoria– never realizing that your offer of abundant life is not just for the hereafter.

I’m posting my notes for this service because maybe there is someone else that needs to hear this. Jesus weeps when you weep. Jesus joins you in your brokenness. And if you have lost someone, Jesus is not threatened by your questions, your doubts, or even your anger. These are all natural expressions of grief.

I urge you, if you are reading this and do not have a pastor, a counselor, or a Christian friend; to find a faith community. Find a church that preaches God’s Word. And place your trust in the God who is worthy of it. Give your heart to the only One who will truly guard it.


Opening Statement, Prayer, Scripture

Good morning. On behalf of L___’s family, I want to thank you for being here today to celebrate the life of L___ C. L___ went home to be with the Lord on April 2.

Every funeral service we plan tries to do three things. We want to bring honor to L___. We’ll celebrate her life even as we grieve how it was cut short. We will share memories of L___, and just by being here this morning you are honoring her memory.

We want to bring comfort to L___’s family. Again, you are doing that with your presence here, but I’d like to remind you that this family will need you for a long time to come. Not just today. Family, you will need to lean on each other in the coming days and weeks and months and years, drawing comfort and strength from one another as well as from the community of faith that surrounds you.

Finally, we want to bring glory to Jesus. No matter how tragic the circumstance, no matter the questions we have, today is a day acknowledge that God is our refuge and our strength. He is a present help in times of trouble. L’s mom is holding on to a coffee mug she found in L___’s room that has Hebrews 11:1 printed on the side of it:

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.

This morning L___’s family has the assurance that she is in the presence of the Lord. She’s free from the addiction that controlled her life. She’s experiencing the peace and freedom and joy that no substance on earth can offer.

And this morning, we want to tell you about the Jesus that offers you that same peace and freedom and joy. And the promise that you do not have to wait until you get to heaven to experience it.

Let us pray,

[Prayer]

Eulogy

This past Thursday, I spent some time with L___’s family. Her mom and dad were there, and her sister, and her husband. Her boys were running around, being boys. And I simply said, “Help me get to know L___.” And for the next hour or so, the stories poured out.  Her family painted a picture for me of an athlete, an artist, a friend. A personality that lit up the room. A big heart. A fierce protector. Her sister told me that when they were growing up, even though she was the big sister, it was L___ that comforted her. That would lay down beside her at night when she got scared.

L___ wouldn’t let anyone say anything bad about the people she loved. Once, her sister called her because she was frustrated at something their momma had done. And she figured she could gripe to L___ and that L___ would take her side.

Nope. L___ was the one who gently but firmly reminded her sister to cut their mom some slack because she was going through a hard time too.

L___ was honest about her struggles with substance abuse. When she talked with people, she wanted to go deep with them. She was never content with letting things stay at the superficial level. She didn’t care much about what people thought of her. And one of her desires was to get clean so she could help other people deal with their own drug problems. One friend who was at the house the other day told me, straight up, “L___ saved me from killing myself.”

Sadly, L___ wasn’t able to save herself. But years ago, at Pike Road Baptist Church, she put her trust in Jesus Christ to save her from her sins. When I walked into her room at her mom’s house, there was evidence of her faith on every wall. Signs that said “Faith. Hope. Love.  Believe.”

He dad showed me a watercolor sketch L___ had been working on at the time of her death. In the picture, there is a dirt road leading past a gnarled and twisted tree. It’s not clear from the picture whether the tree is alive or dead. But you can see that its roots run deep. L painted the picture in such a way that you could see above and below the ground at the same time. Like I said, she wanted to get below the surface.

At the end of the road is a church. And before you get to the church, there is a sign that says, “Credence.”

I asked her family about that. Was Credence a place? They didn’t know. Was L___ a fan of Credence Clearwater Revival?  Not to anyone’s knowledge. So no one really knows for sure what the sign means.

But I can tell you what the word means. Credence means belief. It means putting one’s trust in the truth of something. And so we believe that L___ put her trust in the truth that Jesus was her Lord and Savior. She gave credence to the fact that Jesus could save her, and that he did save her. And that no matter how gnarled and twisted someone’s life becomes, there’s a road that leads you home. And L___ was on that road.

I’d like us to listen to a song that talks about the Jesus in whom L placed her trust– the one to whom she gave credence.

Sermon

I can’t tell you how moved I am that so many of you have come to show your love and respect for L___ and her family. Death is never easy. And when the circumstances are tragic, and a life of promise is cut short, it’s all the more excruciating. Your presence here has gone a long way toward helping this family in their grief.

Believe it or not, the Bible says it’s actually good for us to be here today. In Ecclesiastes 7:2, God word says that:

“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every person; the living should take this to heart.”

Whoa. It just got real. Today, this church is a house of mourning. Most of us would much rather be in a place like this for an uplifting worship service. And if we are being really honest, probably most of us would rather be at a really great party—a house of feasting—then in this place this morning, saying goodbyes to L___.

So why in the world would the Bible say it’s better to be here than at a house of feasting?

Because this is a time for us to remember the life God gave L___. It’s a time to share our memories and to encourage and lean on each other.

It’s also a time for us to say good-bye to L___. Saying goodbye is very important for us because L___ meant so much to so many people in this room..

And, lastly—and this is what Ecclesiastes says– this is a time to ponder our own mortality. Because one day all of us will die. “Death is the destiny of every person.” It’s not a matter of IF we’ll die, but only when.

Thus, this is a good time to ask ourselves some basic questions.

Questions like, “Am I ready to die?”

And. “Where will I go when my life is over?”

When it comes right down to it, a service like this is more for us who are living than for the person who has died. So I’d like to pray for us, that we ponder the truth of Ecclesiastes, and ask the questions it demands we ask. 

Did you know that There is no record in Scripture of Jesus performing a funeral? In fact, funerals had a way of ending whenever Jesus was around.

Whenever Jesus came to a funeral in the gospels, it stopped being a funeral. The dead rose from the grave. And when that happens, you know, the funeral’s pretty much over.

In John 11, the Bible tells a story about a funeral for a man who had been one of Jesus’ close friends. His name was Lazarus.

Lazarus had two sisters: Mary and Martha. And when Jesus arrived four days after Lazarus’s death, each of these sisters ran out to Him at different times and said exactly the same thing:

˜Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (verses 21, 32)

They were blaming Jesus for Lazarus being dead.

After all, Jesus could heal the sick. If he’ d been there Lazarus could have been healed and he wouldn’t have died.

At funerals – sometimes – there’s a tendency by some to blame God for death. We may not say it out loud, because we’re afraid we’ll get struck by lightning or something, but the questions are there:

“Lord why couldn’t you cure the cancer?

Why couldn’t You have stopped the oncoming car?

Why didn’t you prevent the overdose?

If you had been there, my sister… my daughter… our mother… my wife…would not have died.

Is it a sin to ask those kinds of questions?

Apparently, Jesus didn’t think so. He got the exact same question twice, and didn’t fuss about it once. Those of us who have a real relationship with Jesus have learned that it’s NOT sinful to question God.

It’s not out of bounds to ask why God would let the one we love die.Notice, Jesus didn’t scold the sisters for their words.

God’s a big God and He can handle your questions.

And you don’t have to feel guilty for wondering why God didn’t prevent L___’s death. Asking the question acknowledges that you believe God is powerful—that He could do something. And you’re willing to believe God is loving—that He should do something.

But the fact that He didn’t prevent it forces us to reckon with a third truth: that although God is all powerful; and although God is all good; God is not us. And we are not God.

The day will come when all of us will die. And we will die because we live in a world that has been damaged by sin.

What I find interesting about this story is how Jesus responded to his death.

We’re told in verses 33 and 38 that Jesus was “deeply moved. ” But that’s not a great translation. It would be more accurate to say that Jesus was indignant, or even that He was angry.

Please don’t misunderstand. Jesus wasn’t angry at the sisters for questioning Him. He wasn’t angry with the mourners for not believing in Him.

I think Jesus was angry at the disruption of death. Jesus was there in the Garden with His heavenly Father. He knew what His Father’s intention was for human beings– that they would live forever in unbroken fellowship with Him.

But sin screwed that up. Sin disrupted that fellowship. And to be honest, I think Jesus was ticked off by it. I think we all could stand to have a little indignation at a funeral. Especially one like this. Because we know that it isn’t supposed to be like this.

When Jesus came to the grave he could have said something extremely profound. But there’s no sermon, no powerful observations.

Instead, the Bible only tells us what Jesus DID:

Jesus wept.

John 11:35. It’s the shortest verse in all of scripture, and yet the most profound.

Here is Jesus of Nazareth, the world’s most complete, most perfect man attending the funeral of a friend, and weeping openly.

He weeps without embarrassment, and without apology.

And those standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!”

Some of you have wondered where Jesus was when L___ died. In your heart of hearts, you have wondered why Jesus didn’t do this or that.

But here, I think there is a very good indication of what Jesus did do. I think Jesus wept. I don’t think there is any degree of difference between how Jesus loved Lazarus and how Jesus loved L___.

And where Jesus wept over the sickness and disease that ended his friend’s life, I believe Jesus wept over the addiction that took L___’s. I think Jesus wished L___ could have found her joy in Him. That whatever demons and darkness that drove her to drugs in the first place could have been silenced.

I think Jesus wept because He knew it’s not supposed to be like this.

If you feel like crying today, it’s ok.

If it was OK for Jesus to cry, it’s OK for you to cry.

And I am 100% convinced that God weeps with you.

God knows your pain – He feels your hurt.

And if you will let Him, He will work inside you to comfort you now.

God knows what it’s like to feel hurt.

The Easter season reminds us that God lost a family member too, His one and only son.

˜For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever should believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”

This is a time – not just to remember L___ and what he meant to us – but to also remember that all life is fragile. One day – we are all going to die.

But do you remember what Jesus said to Mary and Martha?

He said, ˜I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.

Do you believe this?

No, really, Do you believe this?

Jesus wasn’t merely saying there was going to be a resurrection.

He claimed that HE IS the resurrection.

And He proved it.

Not long after raising Lazarus from the dead Jesus died on the cross, and 3 days later He rose from the dead. He did that so we would know that He could guarantee us that promise as well.

We often think of this life as the ˜land of the living,” and that when we die we go the ˜land of the dead.”

But the truth is exactly the opposite. This is the land of the dying. “Death is the destiny of every person.” says Ecclesiastes.

But Jesus rose from the dead to offer us an opportunity to live in the land of the living.

The place Jesus offers is described like this in Scripture:

˜God himself will be with us and be our God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, Behold, I am making all things new!

There’s only one requirement for entrance into resurrection life.

You don’t earn heaven by how good you are, or how many nice things you’ve done for others. You don’t earn heaven by getting clean from drugs, or by never doing drugs in the first place.

Jesus SAID: I am the resurrection and the life.

He who BELIEVES in Me will live, even though he dies.

Do you believe this?

CLOSING PRAYER

Let us stand for our closing prayer:

“Lord, we commit L____; our friend, our sister, our daughter, our mother, Your daughter, to Your loving care. Thank you for taking our questions seriously, and for taking our tears carefully. Please give this family strength, and help the rest of us know how to be the hands and feet of Christ to them.

And now, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; and the love of the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all, both now and throughout all the days of this, our short, uncertain pilgrimage. Amen.

The Donkey and the Palm (Matthew 21:1-11; 1 Kings 1:6-10, 28-40)

Good morning! Welcome to worship on Palm Sunday!

If you have your Bibles you can go ahead and turn to Matthew 21. Although the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is told in all four gospels, I want to look at it in Matthew this morning. Also, go ahead and find 1 Kings chapter one, and put a bookmark or an offering envelope or something there as well.  

Let me talk just a little bit about what’s coming up this week. This is the beginning of Holy Week—the most significant week on the Christian calendar. For thousands of years, Christians have taken the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday to reflect on the last week of Jesus life. His entry into Jerusalem. The last meal He shared with His disciples. His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. His torture, trial, and crucifixion. And His glorious resurrection.

On Good Friday, I’d like to invite you to watch “The Passion of the Christ” with me. I told you a few weeks ago that this is a tradition I’ve done by myself every Good Friday for the past several years. And I was planning to do it by myself again. But one thing I learned in the disciple making conference we hosted last week is that a lot of what it means to be a disciple maker is simply inviting the people around you to do life with you, and to invest in those relationships in order to lead others into a growing relationship with Jesus.

And so, if anyone would like to watch the Passion with me, we will be upstairs in the youth room, starting at 3:00 pm. We will watch the movie, and afterwards take some time to process and discuss the experience. I should warn you that it is a very, very graphic depiction of the suffering of Jesus. There’s a reason its rated R. And for that reason, if you are in the youth group and want to watch the movie with me, I need your mom or dad to text me and let me know you have their permission to watch the movie with me.

So that’s Good Friday, at 3:00, up in the youth room.  

Then on Easter Sunday, we will celebrate Jesus’s resurrection and come alive to His power to change our lives. Please be thinking about who you can invite to church that day! I hope you were paying attention to the invite video we showed during the announcements. Don’t underestimate the impact of a personal invitation!

Because here is the gospel truth:  The life we have in Jesus because of His death, burial, and resurrection is reason to celebrate! It is reason to respond to God’s open arms and His invitation to draw near to Him. We are going to begin our Easter Service in the waters of the baptistry, as we celebrate with one young man who surrendered his life to Jesus last week. And if there is anyone else that has been holding off on the decision to be baptized, let me encourage you to set up an appointment with me or one of our ministers this week, and let’s have a great baptism celebration next week!

Okay—enough preview. Good Friday—The Passion. Easter Sunday, Baptism.

But today, Palm Sunday. Your Bibles should be open to Matthew 21. Let’s read this together. And if you are physically able, let’s stand to honor the reading of God’s Word.

21 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
    humble, and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt,[a] the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

[Pray]

This morning, I want to talk about two of the symbols we associate with Palm Sunday. The donkey and the palm branches.

Now, you get what these have to do with Palm Sunday, right? Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, and the people cut palm branches from the trees and spread them on the road. By the way, I’m so thankful that my neighbor decided to trim back the palm tree in his back yard this week! That gives us an amazing visual going right down the center aisle!

But there’s actually more to these two details to this story than you might have realized, and so I want to look at each of them.

First, the donkey.

Verse 1 says that Jesus and His disciples “drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage.” This was a little village on the mount of Olives, a little over half a mile from the Temple Mount.

Jesus instructs two of his disciples to go into Bethphage and borrow a donkey and a colt. Which couldn’t have been a great assignment. They were supposed to just say “The Lord needs them” if anyone questioned them about why they were stealing these animals. But they do, and verse 7 says that Jesus sat on “them,” which has caused problems for commentators ever since, not to mention artists and movie makers, because nobody can figure out how Jesus sat on a donkey and a colt at the same time. One commentary I read suggested that Jesus used the adult donkey for the steep descent down the Mount of Olives, and then switched to the colt to go into the city. This makes sense to me. We walked down the path Jesus would have taken when we were at the Mount of Olives back in February, and the whole time I remember thinking, “Man—I feel sorry for that donkey!”

But why a donkey in the first place? This is the first record we have of Jesus not walking. So why would he choose a donkey? The top Roman soldiers of Jesus’s day rode on fancy, majestic horses—now those were a show of power and position. Those said power, strength, authority. The donkey? Not so much.

I mean, this is supposed to be the Triumphal Entry, right? Not the meek and mild entry.

But no, the meaning of Jesus riding on the donkey went above and beyond the immediate or the practical. Even this detail—and this lowly animal—was part of God’s bigger plan.

Way back in Zechariah 9:9, in the Old Testament, there was a prophecy that the Messiah would come riding on a young donkey. In verse 5, Matthew quotes Zechariah.

Jesus knew the Bible. So He specifically wanted a donkey because He needed to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. What might seem to us like a “plan B” practical solution to the immediate situation was actually a specific fulfillment of thousands of years of promise.

So while the donkey can represent the humility of Jesus, the ironic twist of the story is that by riding on this donkey, Jesus was also proclaiming that He was the Messiah, the King! The dedicated Jews gathering in Jerusalem at this time for the celebration of the Passover feast would have known this Old Testament prophecy. So this simple act demonstrated a connection to the past by fulfilling the prophecy. And it also pointed to the future of Jesus as king—not an earthly king as some imagined, but as the true King who would reign forever in God’s story of love, forgiveness, grace, and redemption. The Messiah, whom the Jews had been waiting for throughout the centuries.

There’s another link to the Old Testament. Notice that the crowds are shouting out, “Hosanna to the Son of David” in verse 9.

In 1 Kings 1, you have the story of Solomon, the son of David, being crowned as the King of Israel. Now, David had already determined that Solomon would succeed him as king. But one of David’s other sons, Adonijah, had put himself on the throne instead. And he did it with a lot of pomp and ceremony. In 1 Kings 1:5, we read that

Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king.” And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. 

Verse 6 goes on to say that Adonijah was a very good looking man. He looked like a king. His older brother Absalom was already dead, so he just figured he was next in line.

So look how he entered Jerusalem. Chariots! Horsemen! Fifty men running in front of him!

The only problem was, he was not who God had in mind to be king. God had already determined that Solomon would succeed David as king. So no matter how impressive Adonijah looked; no matter how many horses and chariots and footmen paraded in front of him to announce his coronation, he wasn’t the rightful king. Solomon was.

So David instructed Zadok, the high priest, and Nathan, the chief prophet of Israel, to take Solomon down to Gihon springs, right outside the walls of Jerusalem, set him on David’s own donkey, and have him ride into Jerusalem.

Then Zadok anointed him king, of Israel. 1 Kings 1:39 says that

Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, “Long live King Solomon!” 40 And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise.

Now let’s pause and think about this question: is there someone else seated on the throne of your life? Maybe you’ve put yourself there, like Adonijah did. Or maybe you’ve placed your trust in political power, or military might, or celebrity status. Listen—the one who has the right to sit on the throne did not have any form or majesty that people would be drawn to him because of the way he looked (Isaiah 53:2). He didn’t come forcing us to bow down to Him—announcing His arrival with a lot of fanfare.

Jesus comes into someone’s life the way He came into Jerusalem that day—gentle and humbly. He rode on a beast of burden because He came to bear our burdens. He bore our burden of sin all the way from the Mount of Olives to the Mount of calvary.

Now back to Matthew, and let’s talk about those palm branches. Go back to verse 8:

Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 

Why did they wave palm branches?  Well, palm branches were a symbol of victory. From about 400 BC onward, a palm branch was awarded to the victor in athletic contests.

The palm became so closely associated with victory in ancient Roman culture that the Latin word palma could be used as a synonym for victory itself. A lawyer who won his case in the forum would decorate his front door with palm leaves.[13] 

When Julius Caesar secured his rise to sole power with, a palm tree supposedly sprung up miraculously at the Temple of Nike, the Greek goddess of Victory.

So the people cut down palm branches and wave them while they shouted out Hosanna, which comes from a Hebrew phrase meaning, “Save us, we pray.” This was a deliberate challenge to the Roman empire, which at that time occupied Jerusalem and all Israel. The Jews hated the Roman occupation. They longed for freedom from Roman rule. And so, here comes Jesus. They’d heard about His miracles, His teaching, His authority over demons, His calming the storm. His walking on water. And so they thought, “This is the one we’ve been waiting for!”

They could almost taste their freedom. Finally—finally!—their Messiah, their rescuer, had come. Finally, He was going to kick some Roman tail and overthrow their oppressors and set up the perfect kingdom for the Jews. Right?

Let me try an illustration, and see if it helps you:

Imagine that for weeks your kids have been talking non stop about wanting to go to the Launch trampoline park. They are obsessed with it. Every day, they’re whining—Mom, Dad, we wanna go to the trampoline park” We want to meet Joey, the giant green kangaroo!

And so one day, you get in the car, and you start driving toward the trampoline park. And your kids are sooooo excited. But instead of turning in to the trampoline park, you keep right on going past it. You get on the Interstate. You go to the airport. You fly to Orlando, and you surprise your kids with tickets to Disney World!

In other words, you’ve taken their heart’s desire, and you’ve responded to it with more than they could ever ask or imagine!

That’s the difference between what the people wanted and what Jesus came to give them. Jesus wasn’t here to set up an earthly, political kingdom. Instead, He went above and beyond what the people imagined. He was a spiritual king, not an earthly one. And His victory—the ultimate victory over sin and death—would be more than freedom from their current oppression. It would be the victory that restored all of creation and made a way for every person to have a right relationship with God. He would throw off and defeat the oppression of their souls.

But none of them understood the magnitude of what Jesus was preparing to do. Even Jesus’s disciples didn’t get it. John told us in his account of the triumphal entry story that

John 12:16 (ESV)

16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.

And maybe this explains why the crowds were so quick to turn on Him. Only days later the same crowd that was shouting “Hosanna” would shout “Crucify Him.”

Turns out they would rather have the trampoline park than the Magic Kingdom. When Jesus didn’t swoop into town and kick the Romans out, they rejected him. They didn’t want an eternal kingdom. They wanted to set up their own kingdom.

And, oh, beloved church, how often do we do the same thing? How often are we more interested in building our kingdom and asking Jesus to be a part of it, instead of truly and wholeheartedly saying to Jesus, “Thy kingdom come! Thy will be done!” We want Jesus to join us in what we are doing, instead of saying, Lord, show me what you are doing, and let me join you there!

Jesus’s purpose was to offer the ultimate sacrifice—His own life—so that everyone and all of creation could worship God in new freedom and truth. Whether the people approved or disapproved, recognized or had no idea what was going on, Jesus’s purpose never changed.

Jesus’s life purpose was to bring God’s love and life to the world. His love bridged the gap and provided a way for us to cross over into the holy presence of the God of the universe, to know Him and relate with Him.

If you are here today wondering what this journey of Holy Week means for you, don’t miss God’s invitation. He loves each one of us and invites us on the journey through Holy Week and into relationship with Him.

Jesus came into Jerusalem humbly and gently, riding on a donkey. And in the same way, He doesn’t force Himself into our lives. Matthew 11:28-30 shows us how Jesus enters into a relationship with us:

Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

Just as Jesus entered that city to the shouts of “Hosanna—Pray, save us,” let’s invite Him to enter our hearts and lives. Let us shout Pray Save Us to the one who came as a gentle humble servant, yet won the ultimate victory.

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