Jesus, Lamb of God

 

Introduction

I think it’s easy to underestimate everything that Jesus has done for us. I’ll go further – no matter where you are in your Christian walk, you and I have already underestimated and continue to underestimate everything the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords has done, is doing, and will do for you and me.

Today we are going to study Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Old Testament

We’ve been walking through the Chronological Bible this year, and we need to recap a little about God addresses sin. The first sin, of course, was in the Garden of Eden, breaking forever the unblemished relationship between man and our God.

God promised the serpent the sin would not go unpunished, in Genesis 3:15,

And I will put enmity
   between you and the woman,
   and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
   and you will strike his heel.

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As for Adam and Eve, whom He loved, God began the sacrificial system when God slew an innocent animal and covered man’s nakedness in Genesis 3:21,

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

Slide3.JPGFor the next several centuries, those who walked with God understood this concept of substitutionary death. Alters were built and sacrifices made by Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

But God’s sacrificial system was taken to another level while the Israelites suffered under bondage by the Egyptians. In this first Passover, 4 days prior to their exodus out of Egypt, each Israeli household was to choose a lamb without defect. The lamb was slain, roasted, and eaten on the night of departure.   The lamb’s blood was smeared on lintel and doorpost of each Hebrew home, signifying to the angel of death that death had already occurred in that home. God’s wrath would then “pass over” that home.

Slide4.JPGIn the 40 years of the wilderness, God still had a desire to be close to His people, despite their sin nature. The sacrificial system was expanded, and introduced a high priest and an altar, the holy of holies, and substitutionary sacrifices were made annually on the Day of Atonement.

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The Israelites lived their entire year in their sin, anticipating their Day of Atonement to be free of their sin, living in the light of this promise of redemption.   The sacrificial lamb saved them from their sins.

But as we learned through the books of Kings and Chronicles, the people of Israel continued to do evil in the sight of the Lord. Despite God’s instruction to observe Passover every year, this celebration lapsed. The people God loved would not cleanse themselves regularly to restore their relationship.

God began to lay out the prophecies of a messiah who would rescue them from bondage, none of them so clear as Isaiah 53 when we are told our savior would bear our griefs, carry our sorrows, be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.   And in Isaiah 53:7,

He was oppressed and afflicted,
   yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
   and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
   so he did not open his mouth.

God would send a savior to pay the price for our transgressions. God’s own son would pay the price for our sins. As fully man, Jesus would identify with us, be tempted like us, understand pain like us. As fully God, though, He would be able to pay for the sins of the whole world.   But prophecy also said that when the Lamb of God was sent, He would be rejected by His own people.

God’s people fell into bondage again in the hands of the Babylonians and spent years enslaved and compromising their beliefs. God became silent. He seemingly stopped intervening, instructing or interacting with His people for over 400 years. During this time, the rituals, laws and traditions took on even greater importance to the Jewish people – not because they fully understood their need for a relationship with God, but because it was the thing passed down from generation to generation. It was their defining characteristic. That rigid structure was something tangible they could control, and they used it to create systems, divisions among the people and hierarchies.

The religious texts promised that God would send a deliverer, but unlike when He sent Moses, this savior would set up a kingdom greater than any they had ever known. The scriptures foretold of a Messiah that would save the Jewish people from oppression, and they clung to their understanding of what that meant. Now under control of yet another invader, the Roman empire, the Jewish people longed for the day their king would come. They just didn’t realize their king would look very different from what they expected.

Lamb of God – New Testament

And in our Chronological study, we arrived a few weeks ago in the New Testament, and John the Baptist is baptizing with water at Bethany, and the Jewish leaders accuse John the Baptist of being the Messiah.

John replies in the book of John 1:23,

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

John is quoting from Isaiah 40. And just a few verses later in verse 29,

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

When John recognized Jesus, John announced Him according to prophecy that Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament promises of redemption. John understood that Jesus came to die as a sacrificial substitute, and that Jesus will rise from the dead to demonstrate God’s acceptance of Christ’s death as payment for guilty sinners. But not all prophecy had yet been fulfilled. Isaiah 53 had spelled out exactly how our Messiah must die.

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The Jewish leaders who had become powerful and wealthy based on their legalistic interpretations of Jewish law were horrified by the notion that Jesus was the foretold Messiah. The Jewish leaders wanted a kingdom to rule over the surrounding nations as had been done to them, but Jesus preached a very different kind of life. He encouraged the people to be meek and mild.   He preached that one should love even those who did not follow the commands they had been taught to fear. The more popularity Jesus gained among the people, the more the religious leaders set out to accuse and convict Him through both a Jewish trial and a Roman one – trials meant to execute Jesus and lasted less than a day.

Jesus is King

After the betrayal by Judas, Jesus was arrested in the dark hours of a Friday morning. He was bound and taken to Caiaphas, the high priest, and the ruling members of the Sanhedrin in what was really a preliminary hearing. Matthew 26:59-66 (Chronological Bible, November 2nd, pg 1409) –

Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none.

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 Remember, the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin are legalistic and use the Law to elevate themselves in positions of power. Here they are using the rules from Deuteronomy 17 about how the court system should work, particularly Deuteronomy 17:6-7a –

On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person [who blasphemes] is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting that person to death, and then the hands of all the people.

The hands of all the people are to be involved in the death of Jesus, but the Sanhedrin are first trying to find 2 people who agree, so they march a line of false witnesses that don’t tell the same story so the Sanhedrin can’t make a case. But then, continuing in Matthew 26,

But at last two false witnesses came forward and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’ And the high priest arose and said to Him, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! What do you think?” They answered and said, “He is deserving of death.”

Based on this brief exchange, Caiaphas (the high priest) and the Sanhedrin find Jesus guilty of blasphemy. The goal of the Sanhedrin, though, was not to bring a religious indictment. The Sanhedrin lacked the power of a death penalty under Roman law, and the Romans weren’t interested in a religious squabble.   So the goal of the Sanhedrin was to bring a political allegation that would anger the Romans.   If Jesus claimed to be king, Caesar would have Jesus executed.   So ironically, the Sanhedrin sought to prove that Jesus claimed to be king so the Romans would get rid of him.

The book of Matthew also makes the case that Jesus is king, but for a very different reason.   Matthew spends 26 chapters making a case that Jesus was the foretold Messiah and fulfilled all the prophecies of the coming kingdom of God so that the injustice of His trial and ultimately His death would be seen as fulfilling scripture for the coming messiah, and how Jesus’ actions before and after the Sanhedrin fulfilled Scripture’s promise of a final, atoning, sacrificial Lamb.

Isaiah 53:7 – He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. Matthew 26:63 – But Jesus kept silent.

Matthew 27: 12 – …He did not answer.

Matthew 27: 14 – And He did not answer…

Jesus is Lamb

Later, that Friday morning as the run was rising, with their charges of blasphemy documented, the Sanhedrin then send Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor. The Roman trial begins, but look how the Sanhedrin twist the charges to inflame the Romans in Luke 23:1-2 –

Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”  

So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.  

Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”

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Pilate wants nothing to do with this. Pilate discerns that this is a religious matter and sends Jesus to Herod for interrogation. If Jesus claims to be king of the Jews, well, then Pontius will send him to the king of the Jews, Herod.

It says in Luke 23:8,

When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort.

Slide15.JPGHerod was happy to receive Jesus. Maybe he thought it would be great entertainment and see if Jesus would do some tricks. But Jesus stood there silently. So Herod questions Jesus and then mocks Him and sends Him back to Pilate dressed sarcastically as a king.

Matthew 27: 11-14 –

Now Jesus stood before the governor. And the governor asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.” And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing. Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” But He answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly. (Chronological Bible, November 3rd, p. 1411)

Pilate was amazed by Jesus’s willingness to accept the charges against Him.

Matthew 27:22-26 –

Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!” Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!” When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified. (Chronological Bible, November 3rd, p. 1413)

Though they knew he was innocent, the crowd demanded the blood of Jesus, thus fulfilling scripture.   Jesus was indeed the unblemished Lamb of God. The crowd wanted Barabbas instead to be released to them. Barabbas was known for leading groups of insurrectionists against the Roman government. The crowd chose Barabbas over Jesus. The crowd chose a “messiah” of their own design. The crowd chose one who tried unsuccessfully to overthrow Rome’s power over the true Messiah with the true power to save them.

Jesus is Savior

It’s only mid-morning on Friday, mere hours after Jesus’ arrest, but with the crowd’s decision, Jesus’s trials were over. Jesus was convicted, sentenced to be crucified at Golgotha.

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The scourging of Jesus was brutal. The crucifixion of Jesus was brutal. But yet again, Jesus fulfilled the scripture. Isaiah 53, remember, we are told our savior would bear our griefs, carry our sorrows, be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.

By the middle of Friday afternoon, the brutal crucifixion was nearing its completion.   Jesus would die by asphyxiation, unable to lift his body on the nail through His feet so He could draw His breath.   You may remember the last words of Jesus from John 19:30, “It is finished.”

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Which if you look at the original Greek, Jesus chose a unique final word. Our English translations use “finished” like it was the end of a race, which is true, but doesn’t convey the meaning I believe Jesus intended. Jesus chose an accounting term as His last breath. The word Jesus used was “τελέω teléō. Or two verses earlier, he uses the more commonly known form of the verb Τετέλεσται tetelestai, and the full meaning is that the debt is paid and nothing left is owed.

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It is finished.   Our debt is paid. We are freed.

And Jesus didn’t go out with a last gasp, a weak goodbye. Matthew 27:50 says the final words of Jesus were cried out in a loud voice.   They were the triumphant words of victory, it is finished! Jesus had completed what He had come to do – to be our King, the sacrificial Lamb of God, our savior.

Conclusion

Jesus didn’t just die for a cause He believed in. He wasn’t just a martyr. God raised to life, overcoming death, demonstrating God’s acceptance of the sacrifice of His son. Jesus did not just die. He overcame death, hell and the grave. His earthly story ends with a miracle just as big as the one with which it began.

Matthew 28:1-6 –

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. (Chronological Bible, November 4th, p. 14151416)

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Over the centuries, there has been so much controversy around the question of who put Jesus on the cross. Did the Jews put Jesus on the cross? Saying that the Jews put Jesus on the cross is wrong and has fueled terrible acts of antisemitism over the years. But it is just as incorrect to say that the Romans put Jesus on the cross or even, as some claim, that “we” put Jesus on the cross – all of us for the wrong we do and the sin that separates us from God. None of those statements are accurate. None of those groups sent Jesus to His death.

Jesus put Jesus on the cross. Jesus died for the sole purpose of raising from the dead. He died willingly and sacrificially to save a world He loves who could not save themselves.

And not just the world – distant and unknown. He died for you. And me. His death is intimate and personal. It happened a long time ago in a place you may never visit, but it is personal and it matters. It happened TO Him, but it happened FOR you.

Yes, Jesus is King. Jesus’ death fulfills the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures concerning Messiah.

Yes, Jesus is Lamb of God. Jesus’ death satisfies the requirements for a sacrifice for sin.

Yes, Jesus is Savior. Jesus’ death is a substitutionary sacrifice for sinners. Jesus’ resurrection declares His deity and demonstrates the Father’s acceptance of His work on the cross.

But He is not just any king. Jesus is YOUR king. He is YOUR lamb, and He is YOUR savior.

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To God be the glory.   Amen.

The Keys to Happiness

I. Introduction

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Me, I wanted to fly a jet for the US Navy. Something about being at sea, landing on that aircraft carrier. Of course, if I understand it, they use a system of green lights and red lights to tell you when it’s ok to land. And I’m red/green colorblind. That would have been even more exciting.

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Doctors, lawyers, policemen. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, Business Insider ( https://www.businessinsider.com/american-kids-youtube-star-astronauts-survey-2019-7 ) did a survey of what today’s American kids want to be when they grow up. The number one answer? Youtuber.

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They want to be famous youtubers, be their own star of their own YouTube channel and be famous. Fame will make them happy. They see football sport stars, reality television stars, viral videos and think fame will make them happy.

And before we criticize them too much, we’re all guilty of seeking happiness from something worldly. Money, people, shopping, food, social media, toys. Of course we want to be happy. But these things don’t bring happiness. Even in the bible, Solomon was the richest and most famous king that Israel ever had. Solomon had wealth, fame, wisdom, his own YouTube channel… everything except happiness.

Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times somebody that’s going through difficult times has told me, “God just wants me to be happy.”   The most extreme version I’ve encountered in my life was a friend of my wife, who, 10 years ago desperately wanted a husband. And then she started dated a married man. She said, God told her it was ok because God just wants her to be happy.

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I know that God wants good things for His children, and good things make us happy. But way too often we go to God and tell Him to give us something we want that will make us happy. But that’s not how God tells His children to approach the problem of happiness.

God knows everything. He knows, better than we know, what will make us happy. God wants us to rely on Him, not on our ideas, on how to find happiness. Just ask God and He’ll tell you and me what we need for happiness.

In fact, He already did. And surprise surprise, He wrote down His instructions in the Bible for us to find. Today we are going to study the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

II.  The Beatitudes

The word “beatitude” is a weird word. It’s a kind of Englishized translation of a Latin translation of a Greek word, and it’s not even found in the bible. No wonder I don’t use it in everyday conversation. Matthew, author of our Good News today, wrote in Greek, and word he used was “makarios.” It means “divinely happy and supremely blessed,” or happiness that comes from the divine. Weirdly, the English word that is derived from this is “macro”, sort of like “I summed it all up” or “I’ve got everything.”

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Then one of the earliest bible translations from the original Greek into Latin translated this word into “beatus” which means “happy” or “blessed.”

And so Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, this first portion called The Beatitudes, are literally instructions on how to be happy. And just as we mistakenly believe happiness comes from fame or fortune, the Jews that were listening had their world upside down. They believed that Makarios, divine happiness, was based on material blessing and prosperity provided by God. They were also looking for a Messiah to rescue them from Roman occupation, physical happiness. Jesus turned everything upside down, challenging the people to reconsider their idea of blessed and happy by focusing on God’s desires. Moreover, this state of being blessed isn’t anything man can earn, but the result of a declaration from God.

III. Spiritual Bankruptcy

Matthew 5:3, Jesus begins,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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The word poor in the original Greek is “ptochos” which means having literally nothing, totally broke. It’s a recognition that everything we have – our jobs and our house and our family and the light of the sun and the air we breathe and gravity itself are all gifts from God. The world teaches that you can do it all, have it all, and you deserve it all.   But being poor in spirit means recognizing that we bring nothing into this world and we bring nothing out except the very soul God gives us.

In Isaiah 66:1-2,

“Thus says the LORD, “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? “For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD. “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”

What do you think you have that God didn’t give you?

Who do you think you are that God didn’t make?

One of the keys to happiness is learning to stop depending on yourself, and realize God already did everything. Poverty of the spirit is the most important of the beatitudes.   It is how you compare yourself to God.   Do you look at God as a power that can assist you in your goals? Or do you look at God as sovereign ruler of all and how you can assist God in His goals?   To experience true happiness, recognize that God is greater than anything you are, anything you can do, or anything you can imagine.

IV. Comprehension of Sin

The second beatitude, Matthew 5:4,

Blessed are those who mourn,

   for they will be comforted.

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You’re probably thinking I’ve lost it.   The 2nd key to happiness is to be unhappy.

Well, that’s not exactly what this verse means. Certainly there is sorrow in this world, and Revelation says every tear will eventually be wiped away, but remember, the beatitudes are teaching us not to tell God what makes us happy, but to ask God what makes Him happy.

This verse, then, is about spiritual mourning. Maybe we don’t think of God as having emotions – except anger, maybe. And love, for God so loved the world. But God mourns when His people turn away from Him.

Do we mourn for the lost? Do we mourn when God’s will is ridiculed? A lesson I seem to be learning when, as I get older, is that we don’t live forever on this earth. I know, I just found out. But when people die, there’s a great deal of emotion around the loss.   But usually those emotions are for us – we’ve lost someone – or for others – they’ve lost someone.

When somebody dies without accepting Jesus as their savior, God has lost someone. God gives them what they’ve always wanted, a life without God, and God mourns. I think of the story of Jonah I taught earlier this year, especially at the end when Jonah was upset when God didn’t wipe out those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Ninevites . And God taught Jonah that God gave them life and nurtured them and while God agreed that they were terrible, horrible, no good, very bad people, God mourned that He would never have a relationship with them.

Sin separates us from the love of God, paid for only by the shed blood of Christ. And you know God grieved when His son paid that price for us, but today Jesus is resurrected and sits at the right hand of the Father. And we, too, mourn over the sins that separate us from God, but we will be comforted that our sins are washed away so that we have fellowship with our heavenly father in a way we can barely comprehend today.

So the 2nd key to happiness is to mourn over our own sins and failures, the sinfulness of the world, and that God is not given the glory and honor due Him.

V. Humility in Outlook

Then Matthew 5:5, beatitude #3,

Blessed are the meek,

   for they will inherit the earth.

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The Greek word used by Jesus in 5:5 is “πραΰς“ or “praus” which means ‘mild, gentle, humble, kind, forgiving’. It is an attitude toward others of compassion and gentleness. Jesus used this word in Matthew 11:29 to describe himself:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Our daily challenge to meet this beatitude is also illustrated in Philippians 2:5 –

‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who … made himself nothing.’

That’s what we are – ‘nothing.’   Apart from God we are nothing.   We depend on him for our physical existence and for our spiritual life. To be ‘meek,’ to be gentle, is to live with an awareness that Christ lives within us. We want no glory for ourselves and we are therefore willing to be nothing in order to provide good for others.

“Meek” does not mean spineless or weak. Jesus, the Lord of Glory, was meek, and yet, He was tougher than nails. Being meek is deliberate, not passive, actively looking to be kind and good to others. Meek is Jesus, Almighty God, becoming man. Meek is Jesus, the King of kings, permitting the Roman soldiers to hammer the iron nails into his hands, and refusing to call down legions of angels because He loves us. The key to happiness is the gentleness of Christ being evident is everything we say and do.

VI. Need for Righteousness

Ready for beatitude #4? Matthew 5:6,

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

   for they will be filled.

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To be happy, we hunger and thirst for righteousness. There are two parts, a) hungering and thirsting, and b) righteousness.

It’s not enough to enjoy righteousness. It’s not enough to admire righteousness. To be happy, we hunger for it with a consuming passion. To be happy, we don’t seek happiness. We don’t seek fame or fortune or power or beauty or sexuality or anything else. We must understand the first 3 beatitudes of our spiritual bankruptcy, our sin nature, and letting the meekness of Christ live with us, and hunger for it. We should strive to know how far short we fall and hunger for His righteousness.

Too often, this hunger is misplaced.   We hunger for the righteousness of men.   We hunger to be accepted. We see society preaching at us to accept the immorality of the world in the name of loving our fellow man, and we want to be accepted, so we say yes. And this yearning for acceptance leads to destruction of lives and families because our hunger is for the wrong things.

Or we understand the need for righteousness, but it’s a passing thought. We have our busy lives. Who has time for righteousness when we’re looking for a new job or trying to find that perfect outfit to wear Friday night? And when there is no hunger for God’s righteousness, there’s no righteousness at all.

To be happy and blessed, we hunger and thirst for His righteousness. God knows what will make us happy, better than we know ourselves.   In Matthew 6:33, Jesus says,

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

To be happy, hunger for God.

VII. Empathy for Others

The next instruction for happiness is in the next beatitude, Matthew 5:7 –

Blessed are the merciful,

   for they will be shown mercy.

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This is not the same as the earlier beatitude of being meek and gentle toward others. This is a recognition that we live in a fallen world full of sin, in ourselves and in others, and to practice forgiveness.

Because we all sin and stumble in many ways. And when we sin, besides the separation from God, it can cause injury to others.

And when someone injures or insults us, of course there should be justice. They need to pay. They should be punished. But you know what? Not by us.   God promises to make everything right, and leave all vengeance to Him. Our job is to forgive.

When I hear about somebody offering forgiveness in an extraordinary way, it’s powerful. This week I heard it from a story in Dallas, you may have read about the trial. Officer Amber Guyger entered the wrong apartment and says she mistook it for her own.   Botham Jean was sitting on the sofa, watching tv and eating ice cream, when Officer Amber Guyger shot him and killed him, thinking he was a burglar. A jury disagreed and convicted her of murder.

But this next part is where I see Matthew 5:7 in action.

The victim’s brother, Brandt Jean, begged for permission to hug the defendant. He told Officer Guyger, “I forgive you. I love you as a person and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”   Afterwards, shocking many, the judge also hugged her, presented Officer Guyger with a bible, and the 3 of them prayed together.

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Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Because we all sin and stumble in many ways, and we all deserve punishment from God.   But thank our Lord Jesus Christ that He has mercy on us and that we do not bear the punishment for our own sins.   Jesus calls us to share that same forgiveness with everybody that sins against us, the same way He forgive us for our sins. In fact, He puts it this bluntly in Matthew 6:15 –

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

So let it go. You’ll find that the forgiveness you give is the happiness you receive.

VIII. Align with Christ

Matthew 5:8 –

Blessed are the pure in heart,

   for they will see God.

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Who can claim to be pure in heart?   We all know that we are not pure, we have thoughts, attitudes, desires which are not pure. We may hide it from others, but we cannot hide it from ourselves or from God.

And ‘pure’ is an absolute term.   You cannot say a heart is ‘purer’.   Being pure means that it is not defiled, polluted or mixed with impurities.

There are so many impurities that we may think will make us happy, but they don’t. They are empty, dead ends, failures. But true joy and happiness is realizing this world has nothing to offer, and Jesus offers everything.

So, how can we make our hearts pure? It is beyond our ability. It is God who initiates, sanctifies and perfects the heart of man who put his trust in Him. It begins when we realize that we cannot do it on our own. Throughout our life, we go through the process of sanctification that will be perfected when we are glorified in Christ Jesus.

This sanctification is a difficult process. Gold has to go through the furnace to be perfected, to burn off the impurities.   1 Peter 1:6-7 –

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith, of greater worth than gold which perishes even though refined by fire, may be proven genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

So, how can we be pure in heart?   By constantly seeking an active fellowship with God through daily personal time with God in His words and prayer, allowing God to purify us though His Holy Spirit in us.   Philippians 1:6,

Be confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

IX. Identify with Others

Two more beatitudes to go.   Matthew 5:9,

Blessed are the peacemakers,

   for they will be called children of God.

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Jesus said that to be happy, be a peacemaker. This statement would have shocked the Jews in the crowd. Jews were looking for a military messiah to overthrow the Roman Empire and establish an earthly kingdom. But Jesus supports peace and encourages the peacemakers. Once again, Kingdom of Heaven defies the norm of earthly kingdom, which is established by power and wars.

What’s interesting about peace is that the foundation of peace is the love received from God. But what about our enemies who hate us? Jesus says in Luke 6:27-28 –

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

It sounds counterintuitive, like many things from heaven, but to find happiness, don’t just find peace.   Create peace. Actively love our enemies.

The reward for peacemakers is very unique. “They will be called sons of God.” That would bring me happiness, to be called as one of God’s children.

X. Do What is Right

This last beatitude is the most contradictory of all the beatitudes. How can we be happy when we are going through insult, persecution, suffering, even death for doing what is right? Matthew 5:10 –

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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Jesus very clearly proclaims happiness for those who are being persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Now, two different ways we can be persecuted for “righteousness” –

[1] Gospel righteousness, by which we have ceased to trust in our own performance and depend solely on the righteousness of Christ, is offensive to both the nominal believer and the unbeliever, because people do not like to think that salvation is free. Somehow it must be earned.

Every religion of man tells them they have to, and can, earn their way to heaven. But Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship. And it is not about man trying to earn his way into heaven, but about our incredible loving God paying for our way to heaven. Gospel righteousness is therefore a threat to both human pride and human religion.

Some people think that the Christian’s assurance of salvation is actually ‘self-righteousness’ and therefore accuse believers of either hypocrisy or pride. But it is not self-righteousness that allows me to proclaim that I am saved. It is righteousness in Jesus and the trust in His promises that allow me to proclaim that I am saved because He is Lord.

[2] The practical righteousness or goodness which Christians demonstrate in their lives is threatening to the ungodly; it accuses them and exposes their ungodliness and guilt.   This persecution because of Gospel righteousness is the evident background to several of the New Testament letters, where those who trusted solely in the righteousness of Christ were persecuted by those who wanted to base their relationship to God with their own performance of law and ritual.

We find it difficult to grasp rejoicing in suffering because we have not seen the complete picture. Even among many Christians, there is a growing tendency to focus on earthly blessings.   It is not to say that we should not desire good in this life, but Jesus and His disciples always focused on future hope and glory.

There are parts of the world, where people are being persecuted for Christ. For them, following Christ means suffering, rejection and even death. They are blessed and privileged to share in suffering with Christ.

We may not go through physical persecution or suffering, but we all feel being constantly chased after by the enemy of Christ. When we pursue righteousness, we may find being constantly running or fleeing from the spiritual forces, who are after us to knock us down.

It is not in the suffering or pain, we rejoice, but it is in the hope of God’s glory to be revealed. We Christians rejoice in suffering for righteousness, because we participate in the suffering of Christ, that we bear his name, and that we will be overjoyed when Christ’ glory will be revealed in us. It is our privilege to suffer with Christ.

XI. Conclusion

So what are the keys to happiness?   Don’t tell God what will make you happy. Let God tell you what will make you happy.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
   for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
   for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
   for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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To God be the glory.

Always on Mission

I. Introduction

We are finishing our study of Acts this week, and Paul is visiting with the Jews of Rome and pleading with them to open their hearts to the good news of Christ. Which is interesting to me because many of these same Jews have been trying to kill Paul for years.

II. Acts 20-25: Ephesus to Jerusalem to Caesarea

To understand Paul’s final words in Acts 28, we have to back up a long way. When I last taught from Acts 20, Paul is saying his goodbyes. He knows his time is short, and we talked about what it meant to live a good life. The Holy Spirit has compelled Paul to return to Jerusalem before Pentecost, Acts 20:16,Slide2.JPG

For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

As Paul sails past Ephesus, he calls the church elders from Ephesus to him, and in Acts 20:22-25, Paul tells them that he has been bound by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem, and the same Holy Spirit tells Paul that trials and tribulations await, and that despite the fact that the church elders will never see Paul’s face again, Paul is still preaching the good news and finishing his life’s race with joy.Slide3.JPG

“And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face.”

But then the trials and tribulations prophesied by the Holy Spirit catch up to Paul. Paul makes it to Jerusalem and begins to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, the Good News of Christ to the Jews.

The Jews hate this message and want to kill Paul. But the Jews couldn’t kill Paul themselves because Israel was under control of the Romans. Only the Romans could put Paul to death legally. It’s the same conundrum the Jews had when they wanted to kill Jesus; they had to use political and devious methods to convince the Romans to crucify Jesus. Now the Jews are hearing the gospel from Paul and they think Paul should die for blasphemy.

The Jews in Jerusalem accuse Paul of defiling the temple with his words, and they seize him and begin to beat him, and Acts 21:31 says the Jews were trying to beat Paul to death, but then the Romans hear about the uproar and show up. You might remember Jim’s awesome retelling of this uproar and how Paul spoke Aramaic to the crowd and the crowd became silent. Paul begins telling them that he used to be Saul and persecuted Christians zealously, but then he met Jesus and now wants to tell everyone that salvation is at hand. The Jews listen for a while but then the uproar begins again.

The Roman commander tries to find out what started the fight, but the roar of the crowd was so loud, the Romans couldn’t get to the truth. All the Roman commander knows at this point is that Paul is somehow involved, so he arrests Paul and takes him to the Roman barracks.

And here’s one of those thought processes I don’t understand in Acts 22:24,Slide4

the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way.

We don’t know why they’re mad at you, so we’re going to rip your skin off and see if that helps us find the truth. Fortunately for Paul, the Romans find out he’s a Roman citizen and release him. But then the Jews go into an uproar again, and the Romans arrest Paul again in Acts 23. In the Jerusalem Roman barracks, Paul hears from the Lord, Acts 23:11,Slide5

But on the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.”

Paul is in Jerusalem, but now he knows he’s headed to Rome. How wonderful to know your final destination. I know mine; you can know yours, too.

The Jews now try a different tactic; their plan is to request the Romans bring Paul to the Jewish council, and the Jews will try to ambush Paul when he’s out in the open.

But the Romans have had enough of the Jewish shenanigans, so under heavy guard they escort Paul to Caesarea and present him to the governor there named Felix.

Now Governor Felix holds some private discussions with Paul, and of course Paul shares the gospel with Governor Felix. Acts 24:24-26a,Slide6

But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.” At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul.

In other words, Felix says the bible sounds scary, but if you give me some money, I’ll let you go. How long did this last? Acts 24:27,

But after two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, and wishing to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul imprisoned.

Two years this goes on, with Paul witnessing to Felix the whole time. Then Felix is replaced by Festus, and the Jews petition the new governor Festus to execute Paul. When that doesn’t work, they ask Festus to bring Paul back from Caesarea to Jerusalem, and the Jews plan that same ambush along the way to kill Paul. Paul’s been imprisoned in Caesarea for 2 years, but this ambush plot to kill Paul is still alive and well.

Festus asks Paul if that’s a good idea, to send Paul back to Jerusalem. Paul answers for probably the millionth time that he’s done nothing wrong except preach the gospel, but if the Romans think there’s a problem with Paul, then the Romans ought to send Paul to Caesar himself in Rome. Festus thinks this is a great idea, he can wash his hands of this whole mess, he’ll send Paul to Rome to stand trial. The only trouble with this plan is that Governor Festus doesn’t even know what Paul should be charged with. When King Agrippa, the High Priest from Jerusalem, comes to visit Festus, and Festus tries to get an understanding why this man has been in prison for two years. Acts 25:24-27,

Festus said, “King Agrippa, and all you gentlemen here present with us, you see this man about whom all the people of the Jews appealed to me, both at Jerusalem and here, loudly declaring that he ought not to live any longer. But I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death; and since he himself appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him. Yet I have nothing definite about him to write to my lord. Therefore, I have brought him before you all and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the investigation has taken place, I may have something to write. For it seems absurd to me in sending a prisoner, not to indicate also the charges against him.”

What is this an opportunity for Paul to do? Share the gospel, of course. All of Acts 26 is Paul’s explanation of the resurrection of Jesus, and the High Priest King Agrippa listens carefully to Paul quoting from the scriptures, and then in Acts 26:28,

Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.”

Agrippa actually agrees that Paul shouldn’t be in prison. Festus doesn’t know why Paul is being held or what the charges should be, but he seems eager to get this mess behind him and decides to send Paul to Rome anyway, thus unknowingly fulfilling the scripture we read about a moment ago in Acts 23 when the Lord told Paul he would go to Rome. And besides, just releasing Paul would cause all sort of problems with those same Jews that have been trying to ambush and kill him for the last 2 years. Instead, Paul gets an all expense paid trip to Rome.

This was no small journey; Rome was a long way away, and the Holy Spirit had already told Paul this trip would be full of trials and tribulations. Here’s a map showing the distance.

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Winter is approaching, and the optimum time to sail has already passed. Paul tries to warn them in Acts 27:9, but the captain and the Roman centurion were set on leaving anyway. What could possibly go wrong, except the shipwreck in Acts 27:14? And being bit by a snake in Acts 28:3? The ship ran aground on the shore of some uncharted desert isle, with Gilligan… the skipper, too. All the while, Paul sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. It was three months before they were rescued and finally made their way to Rome, thus fulfilling the Lord’s promise that Paul should share the message of Christ with the gentiles of Rome.

Which brings us to our actual verses of study today in Acts 28, the final chapter of Acts. Paul is under house arrest, a single soldier guarding him, and who does Paul send for?

III. Acts 28:17 Love Your Enemies

Paul sends for the local Jewish leaders to tell them about the good news of Christ Jesus. Of course he does. Paul tells them starting in Acts 28 verse 17 that Paul is preaching the good news of the gospel to all Jews, despite the fact the Jews he speaks to all seem to want to kill him. And he’s headed for Rome, and being a Roman citizen, it won’t be Paul on trial, it will be Israel because Paul is a Roman citizen. But Paul has no plans to accuse Israel. Paul wants to save Israel. And the only way to salvation is through Christ Jesus.

Do you see the pattern in Paul’s life? Paul’s mission in life as given to him by the Holy Spirit is to preach the good news to the lost sheep of Israel, to let them know that the Messiah has come, to repent of their sins and accept the sacrifice of the Messiah. And that message is met not just with hostility, but the people he’s speaking to want to kill him. And yet, Paul isn’t mad, he doesn’t take revenge on his enemies, he doesn’t retaliate, nor does he shy away or run from his enemies. He stands his ground and repeats the Good News for all who will listen: the Messiah has come, the Messiah has died, the Messiah is risen and is seated at the right hand of the Father. In other words, Paul is showing us with his very life what it means to love your enemies. Jesus once said to His disciples in Matthew 5:43-48,Slide11.JPG

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I wondered as I studied this how well I was doing in my evangelism. I have a field to work in, provided by God, to share the good news. Do I share the message with those who will be openly hostile to the good news? I don’t think I do. I think I share the Good News with just those that are friendly to me. I have opportunities, at work, when I travel. And I know I often mention my faith when somebody asks, “so, what did you do this weekend?” But I wait to hear a friendly response before I share what it means to have eternal life. I’m much more likely to discuss, say, how many Olympic gold medals the USA curling team has won.

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I’m reminded of the great Billy Graham that went to be with the Lord this week at the ripe old age of 99. During his life, people would ask him why he didn’t do more for, say, racial justice. His answer? That’s not why I’m here. I’m here to spread the gospel. “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children.” He was friends with Richard Nixon after Nixon resigned, and people pressured him to stop appearing publicly with Nixon. Graham would respond, I’m sharing the good news of salvation.  For a while, there was a movement for Billy Graham to run for Senate. His response? That’s not why I’m here. I’m here to spread the gospel. Billy Graham never wavered from his message, the only message that ultimately matters.

Paul is bold. I like that. And it’s almost as though he completely ignores any animosity toward him as though it’s unimportant. And he’s right – compared to eternal life, well, sticks and stones my break my bones, but Jesus gives life forever. The Good News is not the most important thing: it’s the only thing.

IV. Acts 28:24 Not All Who Hear Then Perceive

When we ask, “what is our purpose for life?”, we should ask first if God has a plan for our life. And He does. Each one of us has a unique story only we can tell, unique abilities only we can fulfill, unique passions God has given to us individually. That’s why some are engineers, some are grandmothers, some are teachers, some are Olympic athletes.
But despite our individual uniqueness and our individual passions, there’s a plan for each of us that we all have in common.

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Our purpose in life is to know God and to make God known. But our job stops there; we share what we know about God. The job of actually convicting somebody of their sin, leading them to repentance, and giving their life to Jesus Christ is not our job. That job belongs to the Holy Spirit.

And I think too many times we tell people what we think the bible says, and not what it actually says. We give them our opinion of what they’re doing wrong in their life and what they must do to be a Christian, when instead we should be sharing the love of Christ with them, encouraging them to read for themselves what God will say to them.
I find it interesting that should one accept the gift of Christ’s sacrifice, all the glory goes to God for the salvation of a soul. But rejecting the Word, the fault lies solely on the sinner.

Paul was a terrific evangelist. He shared the gospel with everybody, with all his friends, acquaintances, and even his enemies. Frequently he shared the gospel with people trying to kill him. Paul shared the gospel with anybody who would listen. Acts 28:24,

 

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Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.

Again I say, It’s our job to share the gospel, but it’s not our job to convict. That’s above our pay grade. It’s the other person’s choice whether to believe or not, whether to respond to the Holy Spirit telling Him there’s a purpose for him in this life and the next.

There are many reasons why a person will not respond to the good news. Stubbornness. Selfishness. Even intellect, some feel they are too smart to believe and never understand the irony that they are finite beings that do not understand an infinite God, so they chose not to believe what they cannot understand rather that admit they are not all-knowing. All the excuses, though, come down to pride. In our sinful hearts, we want to do things our own way. But 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 puts it this way –

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And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Paul was 100% successful in sharing the gospel, but he did not have a 100% conversion rate. And neither will we. Of course, if we don’t share the gospel at all, we will have a 0% conversion rate. But we are to share the good news and leave the results up to God. He is capable. He is more than capable.

V. Acts 28:25-27 Quoting Isaiah

Paul knows that not everyone will believe. Some people are bound and determined to go to Hell and they’re not about to stop and ask for directions.

When some of the people turn away from Paul, Paul tells them that God knew in advance that many would reject God and turn away. As they turn away, Paul says to them,

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“The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, saying,
‘Go to this people and say,
“You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
And you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
For the heart of this people has become dull,
And with their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes;
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.”’

Paul quotes from the book of Isaiah, chapter 6 beginning in verse 9. This Old Testament scripture is quoted five times in the New Testament; it’s quoted by all four gospel writes, Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John, then it’s quoted by Paul. God is saying in this verse that His grace and healing is available to everyone, but many have closed their eyes and ears to the Gospel.

What do we do with such people? Exactly what Paul does. We tell them that Jesus loves them and gave His life so that they may have eternal life with Him. The Holy Spirit will compel them, but some people have become quite proficient at ignoring God’s call. But we go on sharing the love of Christ anyway.

VI. Conclusion

There is nothing more important than sharing the Word of God. Everything else in this life – houses, cars, spouses and children, money or power – is only temporary. We are only temporary stewards of what God has created. Only our eternity is eternal. Psalm 73:25-26,

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Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.
With Your counsel You will guide me,
And afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

We live in a lost world where many have closed their eyes and closed their ears, but the message we share saves eternal lives. Every person that is not yet reconciled with God remains an enemy of God. And every person reconciled is a cause for rejoicing in Heaven.

We are to know God and to make God known. We start first by reading the bible. That’s how we get to know God. The excitement of sharing the gospel comes from knowing God. If we barely know God, why would we want to talk about Him? So get to know God by reading His word.

Paul is an excellent example of sharing the gospel at all times with all people, friends and strangers and even enemies. That’s our job, too. Our earthly task is to know God and to make God known every day.

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To God be the glory. Amen.