Allen Jackson - Best News Ever - Part 2
It's good to be with you again. We're gonna complete our study on "The Best News Ever". We're lookin' at the four gospels, those beginning books of your New Testament. They tell us the story of Jesus's life, from his birth through his resurrection. I want to encourage you as you're reading them with us, and I trust you are, don't get caught up in the comparison. You know, they give us four perspectives on the Jesus story, and while they share similarities, they have differences. If four people watched this program today and I ask them what they heard, I promise you I'd get four different responses.
Same program, intelligent people listening, we see and understand things from our own perspectives. The gospels give us a chance to understand Jesus from the vantage points of different perspectives. Don't be frustrated by the distinctions or the differences, open your heart. The Spirit of God will help you. What we want is a revelation of Jesus. We're not collecting historical facts or building a theological system, we want a revelation of a person. He is our Lord and our King. We will see him one day. And in those four gospels, he's given us a story of his life. Grab a notepad and your Bible, but most of all, open your heart, enjoy.
There's four gospels, I brought you to just the introduction from the four, they're very different. Mark is the oldest of the four, it's the most brief. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very similar, they give a similar synopsis of Jesus's life, so they're usually referenced as the Synoptic Gospels. Most scholars think there was another document or two that we no longer have, that Matthew and Luke had in addition to Mark when they put their stories together. Several reasons for that, they're not necessary at this point, but Matthew, Mark, and Luke have a number of similarities. There are some smaller things that make them distinctive, but they tell the story in a very similar way. John is very different. The language is different, there's no parables, the perspective he gives on Jesus is very different.
You know, if you learn Greek, which technology's changed how we do that. Once upon a time, if you were a student of Greek in the academic setting, biblical Greek, you'd start with John because John's Greek is the simplest. Lord, don't start with Paul. Paul spent so much time in school, he's messed up. He has one sentence, sometimes it'll go a whole page. Only Jesus and the Holy Spirit knew what Paul was saying, and they interpret it for us. But each gospel introduces us to Jesus in a slightly different way. It's worth just a moment's note. Matthew 1, "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham".
Matthew will tell us the birth narrative of Jesus from Joseph's perspective. Mark, "The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God". Luke chapter 1, Luke's the one Gentile author, non-Jewish. "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye witnesses and servants of the word". He's interviewed the people. "Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent. Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you've been taught".
Luke authored one other book in the New Testament, do you know what it is? It's the Book of Acts. The Gospel of Luke that bears his name tells the story of Jesus's life, the Book of Acts tells the story of Jesus's friends after Jesus ascended back to heaven. It's a two-volume set, you'll want to get to know both of them. And then John chapter 1 in very different language and different words. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was God in the beginning and through him all things were made, and without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it".
Very different beginnings, but they're all going to tell you the story of Jesus's life. Most importantly, the last couple of weeks of his life. They describe Jesus's arrival in the earth, it's a big deal. The incarnation is the fancy religious word. The Bible opens in Genesis and it describes for us a fall, a rebellion, that humanity, the epitome of God's creation, Adam in particular, chose to side with God's adversary and reject what God had said to him, ignoring the consequences that God had clearly told him would come for such a rebellion. And when he did that, God came in and expressed judgment. Adam forfeited a great deal, and the authority over his life changed from the kingdom of Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth, to the kingdom of Satan and darkness. We call that, theologically, the fall, the fall from grace. But in the garden, God gives us the first snapshot of his intent to redeem humanity. He says to Satan that you have bruised his heel, but I will crush your head, and we know that there's a judgment coming on him.
You know, the cross of Jesus is that ultimate judgment, but the inexplicable part of Scripture, and there is no explanation offered anywhere in the Bible, is God's love for humanity. That in the midst of our rebellion, he launched a rescue initiative that required his Son to become one of us. To put on an earth suit and all the indignity, and the frailty, and the humiliation that came with that, to lead a sinless, obedient life, and then to offer himself as a sacrifice to exhaust the curse that was due our rebellion, so that we might have the blessings that were due his perfect obedience. A third of the angels rebelled against God and they are held for ultimate judgment. There's no restoration plan for the fallen angels. And nowhere in the pages of Scripture is there an explanation offered why God loved us that much.
So, the story of Jesus's coming is high drama. If you don't care, stay on your knees until you do, because if you haven't needed to know the power of God yet, there is a day in your future where without the power of God, there is not an acceptable solution. And it is very difficult to orient your life towards the Lord under the pressure of that moment. You wanna begin to sort that out when it doesn't seem as essential to you. Matthew 1 verse 18, "This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. And because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and didn't want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly".
Again, Matthew tells the story from Joseph's vantage point, the anxiety it brought to Joseph. Joseph is gonna have an angelic visit. Mark tells it a little differently. Mark doesn't start with the birth narrative of Jesus, Mark just jumps right into John the Baptist. Again, it's the shortest of the four gospels, the earliest of the gospels. "John wore clothing made of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey". Not bugs locusts, it's the vegetation on a tree that grows in the desert. John was not a grasshopper eater. "And this was his message, 'After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I'm not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he'll baptize you with the Holy Spirit.' And at that time Jesus came from Nazareth and was baptized by John in the Jordan".
John's baptizing in the Jordan. There's a very important clue in John's life. John ministered in the desert, in the wilderness. He didn't minister in Jerusalem. He didn't minister in the seat of power. He didn't baptize people in the mikvah, the ritual baths that were all around the temple area. He invited them to make a difficult journey of more than a day into the desert. There's already a movement just taking people's attention away from Herod's magnificent temple, turning their attention to an attitude of their heart that's more important than the building or the location where they worship. That's the predecessor, the one preparing the way for Jesus.
Now, Jesus will go stand in the midst of the temple, and speak the truth about them, and overturn the tables of the moneychanges, and call them to account for their hypocrisy, and their greed, and their manipulation of religious rules to enslave people, but John opens the dance. In Luke chapter 1, "In the sixth month, God sent the angel, Gabriel, to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph. And the virgin's name was Mary, and the angel said to her, 'You are highly favored and the Lord is with you". And I'm about to take your dreams and put 'em in the shredder, living Bible. Luke tells of Jesus's arrival from the vantage point of Mary, a young woman. Don't imagine you're too young or you're too old.
Folks, one of the great weapons the enemy uses against you is the season of your life. He will use any excuse you will accept. You're too young, you're too old, you're too rich, you're too poor, you're too skinny, you're too fat, you're too pretty, you're too ugly, your future is too bright or your future's too dull. Your family was too perfect, or your family was too broken. It doesn't matter, he will use any excuse you will accept. God is in the business of taking things that are not and making them something useful. Don't believe the lie. Mary had to surrender her plan. Do you have the courage to surrender your plan to God?
I'm saddened so much effort in Christianity in recent decades has been focused on how to get God to do your bidding. I don't want God to do my bidding, I wanna give my strength to his, I do. That's not easy, it requires a continual realignment of my heart and priorities, and a willingness to be out of sync with oftentimes my peer group or my friends, and that's not easy. Simple things, it took me years to make peace with working on Sundays. Now, you'd think if you signed up to go to the ministry, you would know that Sunday might be a work day. I mean, I'm just sayin,' you know. Somebody answer, but you know, I had spent, up unto that point, my entire life, Sunday afternoon was downtime, personal time, refreshing time, reflective time. And for decades, I spent Sunday afternoons at my desk, and it took me not a week, or a month, or a year, it took me years to understand that my goal wasn't to be in sync with everybody else, so they were goin' to the game, or the lake, or whatever.
Okay, I'm going to go meet with the Lord. Are you willing to allow God to align your life? We've got to stop the foolishness. We've wanted tickets to get out of hell, but we've had really no interest in God's kingdom, or very marginal interest. Well, I'm not committing gross sins, and if I have, I'll say I'm sorry sometime later, and God's kinda merciful, and we'll work that out, and maybe he'll grade on a curve. That kind of a sloppy attitude has landed us in this fine mess, Ollie. Where was I? Luke and Mary, John chapter 1. "The next day, John saw Jesus coming towards him, and said, 'Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.'"
John just jumps right into the deep end of the pool. It's the Lamb of God. To a Jewish audience that's used to celebrating Passover and the Day of Atonement, they understand the central role of a lamb, and the sacrifice, and the atonement for sin. It would have been difficult to have used an analogy that would have had a more powerful impact on the awareness or the people than the Lamb of God that will take away the sin of the whole world. John just puts it out there early in his story. Now, Jesus's arrival is greatly anticipated by a small group of people, and in Galatians it says that God sent Jesus at just the right time. For all of my complaining about it, God's timing is impeccable.
You know, for Jesus to come, even the location to which God located the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that little strip of land at the end of the Mediterranean is a land bridge between the most powerful empires in antiquity. To the south is Egypt, and to the north is Assyria and Babylon, the Tigris and the Euphrates, and Israel is just the land bridge. They're gonna come under the authority or the autonomy of whichever empire is the strongest. The armies have to march through Israel, it's why the Jezreel Valley, it's the only pass through the Rift Valley. It runs from the center of Turkey to the center of Africa and there's mountains along both sides.
The Dead Sea is the lowest place of that Rift Valley, and there's only one place that thousands of miles along that fissure in the earth's crust, there's only one place where there's a level pathway through the mountains, where you don't have to take your armies over the hills, guess where it is? The Jezreel Valley, right in the heart of Israel, the busiest battlefield in human history. It's the place where the Battle of Armageddon will take place. So, if you wanted to put a message out that the whole world would hear, you'd wanna put it at the crossroads of the world. And then you'd wanna put it there at a time when there was a means of transportation that expedited travel more than anytime before in human history, and the Romans did that with their roads and their transportations. They put stone mile markers along the roads they built, much like we put mile markers along our interstate. They've found them all over the Roman world.
There was a common law that enabled you to travel from Rome all the way to Caesarea, and know what law you would be under. There was a common language, so it made it easy to take an idea and to push it out across great breadth of civilization. At just the right time, Jesus came. I gotta, if I put a little bow around this section of it, Jesus's arrival was supernatural. It wasn't the result of human ideas or activity. It was timely, at just the right moment, it wasn't random or accidental. It opened doors of possibility for all humanity. I know the Jewish people were looking for their Messiah, and Jesus came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but before the story's done, the message will expand to be global in scope. The first multi-national initiative was launched by Almighty God.
Don't ever apologize for being a part of the church. Jesus came with some radical ideas, a new way of seeing and understanding. It's not normal stuff. When you're listening to him teach, a biblical worldview has so impacted us, our schools, our legal system. We act like it's normal. Folks, most of the world does not live like we do. Things like equality under the law. We've not always measured up to that perfectly, but we've had those standards in our law that have made those something we've continued to strive for. That comes from the Word of God, not from the hearts of men or women. And the further we step away from the Word of God in our public institutions, the further we will step away from equality. We'll start using other words that do not mean the same thing.
And then you should know that the Jesus story is divisive. It was when he was here and it continues to be until today, and Jesus told us that would be the case. He said you'll be hated, you'll be hated broadly because of me. You'll be mistreated because of me. It'll bring division within families, it'll bring divisions amongst people that you wouldn't imagine it would bring division. Now, it's true that Jesus prayed for unity amongst his followers, and that is our goal and our objective. But the Jesus story is a point of division through human history. You better sort it out. I'm not talking about sitting in church, or being polite, or kind, or tame.
Folks, being a Christ follower is anything but tame. In fact, I grieve what has happened to us. We have become so docile. The Spirit of God did not do that to us. Read your gospels, get to know Jesus. I want to say a prayer with you. I think we ought to say a prayer together. Why don't you stand with me? I want you to repeat a little prayer with me, it's just an invitation to the Lord to be Lord of your life. I'm certain most of you have prayed it before, but I want you to know how to pray it with somebody else. If you've never prayed it and meant it, tonight would be a good night. If you've prayed it a thousand times, a thousand and one will not harm you. That's a very good thing, bit of business to know, that you have made with God.
And if you've never prayed it and meant it fully, tonight would be a good night. I find it's a prayer I like to revisit. I don't want to presume upon it. I don't wanna act like I'm entitled to anything with the Lord, I want him to know the highest honor and privilege of my life is being included in his kingdom. To be asked to serve him is a privilege beyond any invitation that will ever be extended to me. I won't give you a nickel for playing church. I could care less about church.
My spiritual formation didn't take place in a church, I was baptized in the Atlantic Ocean. I accepted Jesus in a kitchen on 4811 Jackson Street in Hollywood, Florida. I saw organized religion more as an impediment than a facilitator of a relationship with God. God had to change my heart and my understanding before I could be engaged in the church. I love the church, but it took change in me. I'm not tryin' to play church, I want to see people get to know the Lord. That's my prayer for you. So, if you will, just repeat the little prayer after me, and then I'd like to pray for you and we will go, let's pray.
Almighty God, I'm a sinner and I need a Savior. I believe Jesus is your Son, that he died on a cross for my sin, and that you raised him to life again that I might be justified. Forgive me of my sin. I forgive those who've sinned against me. Be merciful to me. Jesus, be Lord of my life. All that I am, all that I have, all that I will ever be, I wanna honor you with the strength of my life. And I belong to the family of God, the best family in the universe. I'm a child of the King, washed clean, made righteous, justified, sanctified through the blood of Jesus, amen, hallelujah.
Father, I thank you for your word, for the ease of access we have. Lord, we have multiple translations, we have it physically and digitally. I thank you for those great blessings. Forgive us when we have been negligent or unconcerned. Give us a love for your word more than we've had a love for other things. Give us a passion for the Word of God and for its truth in the way that we have had passions and interests for other things. Let it come alive as we open it. Give us ears to hear, and eyes to see, and hearts to receive. Awaken your people. I thank you for what you're doing in the earth, that in the midst of the confusion and the disruption that you're calling a people towards yourself. And Lord, we would say with Isaiah, here are we, send us. Use our lives, Lord. We are willing. In our frailty, and our brokenness, and our inconsistencies, may we become difference makers for your kingdom. May our generation know that there's a God in heaven, that Jesus of Nazareth is his Son, and that he's alive, and he's coming back to the earth. May that message break forth in our hearts, in our homes, in Middle Tennessee, across our nation, and throughout the world, in Jesus's name, amen, hallelujah.