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.

Take Part in Missions

Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew. I remember my grandfather saying to me that my “eyes were bigger than my stomach”. He was referring to the way I’d heap food on my plate and then be unable to eat everything. My eyes were bigger than my stomach.

Home remodeling projects can easily be underestimated. Diane and I shared last month about our plumbing issues. I thought we had a little leak, an air conditioning pan with a plugged drain. All we have to do is clean out the drain, right? And by the time it was raining in the master bathroom, wallpaper soaking and sagging, sheetrock being torn off the walls, ripping out old galvanized pipe to replace it with copper tubing, and three large sweaty men carrying old water heaters out of the attic… at some point I realized I had seriously underestimated the project.

I’ve discovered that following Christ is a lot like underestimating a home remodeling project. When Christ says, “yoke is easy and His burden is light” (Matthew 11:30), He means it. Picking up the yoke is easy. But as we give more of ourselves to the Spirit, we find that the home remodeling requires a lot more work than we first thought. Turning away from our surface sins, sins we could easily see, was easy. Turns out there was wood rot underneath that we didn’t know about, with termites happily munching away. Learning to lean on Christ, loving our enemies, turning from pride and materialism… that requires more time and energy.

I think about those South Korean missionaries in Afghanistan from time to time; they didn’t get a lot of media coverage, probably because Taliban fundamentalists executing peaceful Christians wasn’t a topic the news media found interesting. The missionaries certainly found the task far more than they expected. They were beaten and threatened by gunpoint to convert to Islam or die. The pastor, Bae Hyung-kyu, was executed first, and his last words to the remaining missionaries were, “Overcome with faith.” Later, they executed another man, Shim Sung-min. They remaining 21 hostages, 18 of them women, were later freed, but only after the South Korean government agreed to ban further missionary work in Afghanistan.

You know who my compassion goes out to most? Not the pastor Bae Hyung-kyu or the missionaries; their eternal destination with the Lord awaits, where there is no pain or tears. My compassion goes out to the Afghan children that will now be raised by barbarian murderers instead of being exposed to the love and peace of Christ Jesus.

Q: What are Christian missions and who are missionaries?

Our lesson begins today at Matthew 9:35-38, and Jesus tells us why followers of Christ should spread the Good News.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Jesus, of course, sets an example for us; Jesus is on the very first “mission” trip to spread the word that the Son of Man has come. Notice that Jesus went through all the towns and villages. It requires effort to spread the word; you’ve got to get up off the sofa. Jesus does three things here –

– He teaches; what do the scriptures say? How shall we live?
– He preaches; this is different than teaching; the word can also be translated “heralding.” It’s an announcement of something important.
– And he heals. Taking care of the sick and wounded shows compassion on those who need it most.

The crowds were like sheep without a shepherd; those that have not heard the good news, that we can enter heaven without being perfect, that Jesus paid the price for us, are lost. Sometimes they know they’re lost; most of the time they don’t. I know I didn’t. I only know that now I’m found.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” I mentioned Afghanistan earlier, but there are many, many places where the good news hasn’t been heard, or if it has been heard, the word is confused or distorted. When we went to Kenya a couple of year ago, one thing that struck me was the lack of bibles. A teacher from one of the other classes donated enough money to buy hundreds of Swahili bibles; they were almost devoured hungrily when we gave them away, people that had given their lives to Christ but were now left without knowing what Christ wanted from them. There are so few missionaries with so few resources, and the need is so great. Things haven’t changed much in 2000 years; the size of the harvest is still huge, billions of people, yet so few people sharing the Word. Who owns the harvest, who is the Lord of the Harvest? And who are the workers in His field?

We are the workers. Fred and Joanna are on their way to Damascus in a couple of weeks; Michael & Aura are just back from Honduras; care to share what you saw there?

Once upon a time in our lives, we were called by Christ to follow Him. We experience the love and forgiveness and the peace and joy that comes with giving our lives to Christ. We grow, we become sanctified through Him, we become greater by becoming less. Then what? Think about this – somebody went out of their way to share the joy of Christ with you at some point in your life. Your parents, a friend, an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, a stranger. Isn’t about time you returned the favor and shared that joy with the lost? You are one of the workers in the field. You know the phrase, “they pay isn’t much, but the retirement benefits are out of this world.”

Matthew 10 begins with Jesus’ instructions to his twelve disciples. Not all of this is entirely applicable to us today; for instance, in verse 5 Jesus tells his disciples not to go among the Gentiles or in Samaria. Verse 6 tells them to stay among the lost sheep of Israel. Why the unusual instructions? Part of it was that the experience of the disciples here was limited; perhaps Jesus felt they were not yet equipped to witness among the Gentiles, especially since Jews and Gentiles didn’t get along all that great. Also, time was limited here; Jesus had a mission that would end on Calvary, and in order to use his resources efficiently, Jesus limited this mission to Israel. Also, the Jews were God’s chosen; it only made sense for God to reach out to His chosen people first. I think we can learn from Jesus’ instructions to use time and resources wisely. It’s also worth noting that it was only this first mission that was limited to Israel; later, Jesus himself went into Samaria and Jesus healed among the Gentiles. The Great Commission tells us to go to all nations.

In The Message, Matthew 10:5-8 says,

Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.

We think of missions sometimes as going off to some far off land; but sometimes the most rewarding mission is right here in our own back yard.

What sort of response can we expect when we’re on a mission? Matthew 10:16-23 –

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me, but those who stand firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. “

Apparently, sharing the gospel is hard. The instructions from Jesus now have more concrete instructions to us today. What do you think the phrase “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” means?

Matthew 10:24-33 –

“Students are not above their teacher, nor servants above their master. It is enough for students to be like their teacher, and servants like their master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!

“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

“Whoever publicly acknowledges me I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever publicly disowns me I will disown before my Father in heaven.”

If sharing the gospel is hard, Jesus tells us why we should be reassured and comforted. Jesus warns us that we can expect persecution and danger when we proclaim from the roofs that Jesus Christ is Lord. Satan, after all, “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8). When you are spreading the gospel, when you are witnessing, you are walking into the lion’s den. It’s dangerous.

But do not be afraid. In Afghanistan, the pastor Bae Hyung-kyu discovered that Satan can destroy the body… but Satan has no power over the soul. Evil men can destroy the body… but evil men have no power over the soul. Only God has power over the soul.

As a Christian, remember this: you are a new creation. When you give your life to Christ, you are already dead. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Our earthly lives have been given up, and we have already begun our eternal lives. From an earthly perspective, we’re confused; we think we’re alive, and when we die, we go to heaven. That’s wrong. From a heavenly perspective, we’re dead. When we’re born again, then we go to heaven. We can’t live until we die.

One of my favorite songs on the radio is really, really odd, but I like really, really odd. I think it’s all about missions. The Newsboys in their song, “Wherever We Go,” sing –

Hands up, Holler back here
Let’s throw this party in gear
We brought the welcome mat
Wherever we go, that’s where the party’s at.

Yeah I know, they ended the sentence with a preposition. You know the song?

Hands up, holler back now
We don’t claim any know-how
We’re giving God all that
Wherever we go, that’s where the party’s at.

Wherever we go, the dumb get wise
And the crime rates drop and the markets rise
It’s a curious thing
But it’s just our thing

Bullies make nice, crooks repent
And the ozone layer shows improvement
It’s a curious thing
And it’s humbling

Wherever we’re led, all the Living Dead
Wanna leave their Zombie Mob
It’s a touching scene when they all come clean
God help us, we just love our job

It’s a great song, and it illustrates, I think, our lesson today. It’s shrewd and innocent, certainly, and says we’re being led among the living dead, and once they hear the gospel, they want to leave their zombie mob, too. Just like us.

Once we realize that this life is temporary and real life is eternal, then Satan has no power over us. All he can do is kill us, but we’re already dead. We live for Christ now. Why? Because He died so that we may live. God loves us so much that he gave us His son. So do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Our soul is worth more than many sparrows and the hairs on our head are numbered.

Is this scary? Does this make us afraid? To risk our earthly life, our material comforts? Recognize what’s at stake – those around us without the love of Christ are dead. By risking our lives for them, we’re following the example Jesus set for us. He, too, gave His life for us. Is it too much to ask that now our salvation is secure that we risk our temporary life so that others, too, may live? Somebody did it for us or we wouldn’t be here today. The fear is understandable, but remember; the opposite of fear is faith. Faith is not believing that God can. Faith is knowing that God will.

It sounds from our lesson so far that we are called to share the gospel in unwelcome places, but Jesus tells us that He wants us to share our faith publicly. “Whoever publicly acknowledges me I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever publicly disowns me I will disown before my Father in heaven.” But what about things we’ve all been taught about respect, about peace and love and harmony and getting along and diversity and separation of church and state? If Jesus is always love and peace, then we should only share the gospel only when we’re asked, right? If they don’t want to hear it, as peaceful loving Christians we should keep our mouths shut so that we can all get along, right?

That’s not what Jesus says. Remember, when we’re sharing the Gospel among those who don’t want to hear it, we’re bringing the Living Water to those who are dead. We are to love our enemies; sharing the word of God can sometimes make enemies. If we have to choose between Jesus and peace, what do we choose? If we have to choose between Jesus and anything, what do we choose? Look at Matthew 10:34-39 –

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn

” ‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
your enemies will be the members of your own household.’

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Jesus is quoting prophecy about the Messiah in Micah 7:6 which goes on to say

But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD,
I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.

Does this sound like the opposite impression of Jesus that our culture teaches us? That Jesus loves peace, he’s passive and never raises a fuss? Jesus own words tell us differently. Jesus is indeed the king of peace, but it is His peace. People are to love people, but they are to love Him more. Sometimes that separates people. I’ve seen first hand, as I’m sure you have too, that talking about Jesus can drive people apart.

God does want us to have a good life, and God does want us to be happy, but he wants us to have goodness and happiness from an eternal perspective. Obedience to God brings goodness and happiness from an eternal perspective, but it may mean risking our comfort in this life. Is this risk worth it? Let’s see what Jesus says in Matthew 10:40-42 –

“He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

Picking up your cross and following Jesus may mean a lot of hardship, may mean loss of comfort, may mean a loss of life. Does this mean we lose our joy? Now, we are joyous because we love Him who first loved us. Is it scary? Yes, certainly, but perfect love drives out fear. If we don’t risk our lives, do we risk our salvation? No, we are still children of God. But if we want to be disciples of Jesus and grow in the Spirit, we must learn to set aside our fear and our comfort. To love our neighbor is to want to have them in heaven with us, and the only way for them to know the love of Jesus and His perfect sacrifice is for somebody to tell them.

I think that somebody is you and me.