Allen Jackson - Faith Under Pressure - Part 1
It's an honor to be with you today. We're gonna talk about our faith under pressure. Have you noticed, it seems to me, that there is a collision in the public square between truth and deception? Now that's a good thing, because truth is breaking into the public square, but it's colliding with these enormous blocks of deception we've been living with for months now. Well, the outcome of that is increased confusion, it's disorienting, and that brings a pressure to bear on our faith, which makes the foundation of our lives critical. Understanding what truth is, looking at our sources for truth, what we've chosen to rely upon, it's an important season for the body of Christ to lead with faith. Not just to lead with information, and certainly not to lead with fear, we need courage and boldness to walk through this season triumphantly. Grab your Bible and a notepad, most of all, open your heart. The Spirit of God is preparing us, and I wanna cooperate.
It seems to me if we lift our eyes to the horizon around us these days, that we see truth colliding with deception in the public squares. Does it feel that way to you? It feels like we're having truth breakthroughs pretty regularly these days, things that a year ago you would have been censored for, wouldn't have been allowed to say in the public square are being said and acknowledged as correct and right. But it's creating these random collisions with things that have been deceptive in the public square. And the result of all of that is a lot of confusion and increased anxiety. You know, when you have practiced deception, and by that you don't have to have been the initiator of that, you can simply have been silent while you knew something that was deceptive was being promulgated. When you have participated in deception, embracing the truth is not an adequate response. Just embracing the truth is not what restores trust, it requires repentance, it requires an acknowledgment.
Cornerstones of a deceptive narrative that we've watched be constructed around us month after month are crumbling with amazing rapidity these days. We've heard things like defund the police, it'll make our city safer, right? We heard reasonably-sane people saying that with a straight face, and you know, 18 months after that, we're watching how the outcomes of those kind of things be proven to be completely false. Those are breakthroughs. It's an awkward path. It would have been better if it had happened on day two, or it felt like to me it would have. But we see lots of those things being said, lots of those things being revealed and being walked back, at least in some quarters. We've heard endlessly, up until now truthfully, that open borders, at least on our southern border, is just an expression of compassion. Bologna, that's a Greek word it means I disagree. It really isn't compassionate.
Think of the devastation of the countries where all of those immigrants are exiting. It's a brain drain. Whole lot of reasons why that's a false narrative. We've heard over, and over, and over again that China is our friend. Or you've heard the line, "No one has a right to tell me what to do with my body," ad nauseum, until they did. Put a mask on it and keep it at home. And they had no problem at all telling us what to do with our body. We were told our police officers were dangerous. We were told that cloth masks would protect us from a virus, that the vaccine would make us safe, and that narrative has been altered enough times. It's getting closer to the reality of the value of the vaccine, I'm not saying there's no value, but there's been statement, after statement, after statement that was deceptive, or completely inaccurate, that had been cornerstones of a public discussion that are crumbling, just with a casual glance.
Now that's very good news, but it also foments, it creates or contributes to a lot of confusion, because the people that have been at the forefront of the deceptive cycle really aren't owning their role in it, they're just changing their narrative to get to a different objective and it's disorienting. And the church has had a role in all of this, Church with a capital C. We've spent recent years accommodating ungodliness. We have diminished conversations about sin, or ungodliness, or immorality, or self-denial, or personal sacrifice. Those just weren't topics we wanted to pick up. We have preferred things like self-fulfillment, or prosperity, or cultural approval. Well, I'm of the opinion, and it's my opinion, that God has initiated much of this season for the purpose of awakening his people. We're being disciplined, we're being prepared, we're being trained, if we choose to be.
If we will cooperate with God, I believe we'll be deployed, we'll be given assignments in new ways. It's a very important time to turn our attention to the Lord. So with that background, I want to go to Matthew 24. Matthew 24, and Luke 21, and Mark 13 are all parallel passages. Jesus is talking about the end of the age. It's a familiar passage to many of us, and I'm not gonna spend a lot of time on it, but Jesus is describing the world prior to his return. And we played with it a little bit in some earlier sessions, and I think we have been a little simplistic in our approach. You know, one of the characteristics that we're told is that when Jesus returns, it will be an event that is like lightning that flashes across the sky.
And I suggested that if when you see a lightning storm, you don't immediately fall to your knees and began to confess your sins thinking that Jesus is returning. That you understand it could just be a thunderstorm. Or it says that when he returns, there will be a trumpet blast, that there'll be an audible signal that will be global that the King has returned. But that every time you hear a trumpet, and don't imagine that Jesus's return is imminent. You have enough sophistication to know that it could just be lightning, and it might just be music.
Well, a similar way when you read Matthew 24, or those parallel passages, I don't think it's appropriate to think that if you see that thing happening, it means Jesus is coming right now. I think we have to be a bit more nuanced, a little bit better informed, and a little more aware when you see, because several of the things in those passages are sequential, and they represent a totality of occurrences that are necessary for it to be that season. You know, in Tennessee, we have rather irregular weather patterns, is that safe to say? You need to have more than one sign in order to know the season has changed, 'cause if it just got warm, it wouldn't necessarily mean it was summertime, you need to look at the trees.
If there's no leaves and the grass is still brown, it's just winter in Tennessee, and tomorrow it will snow. And we've had a little bit of that attitude where we've just ignored the passages altogether, or you sat in the skeptic seat, and you said, "Well, you know, there's just no way," or "That one thing happened and Jesus didn't return," and it's a childlike approach. It's really a childish approach. And I've suggested that it really isn't even so much about the sequence of the day when Jesus is returning, but that you want to live every day as if he's returning. You know, we could be wrong, maybe these aren't the last days, maybe we're wrong by a thousand years, but there are last days. If I'm wrong and Jesus is not returning for another thousand years, you won't be mad at me for 900 of 'em.
So, there are some lessons we can learn while we pay attention. And I wanted to go back to Matthew 24 to start, because there is something of a sequence in there, and there were two questions posed to Jesus by his disciples in private about the end of the age and the indications of his return, and that's what elicited this whole discussion. And I'll start in verse 8, and at this point, there's a sequencing change. Verse 8 says, "These are the beginning of birth pains," and prior to that, Jesus has identified seven things that would happen in the world, but they're mostly general things. He said nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. Those aren't just wars between nation states. The Greek word that's translated into English is "ethnos," from which we get ethnic.
So he said there'll be increasing ethnic conflict, but they're general statements about what you'll see happening in the world. And then the summaries around those, as Jesus said, these things are the beginning of birth pains. But then the narrative changes, and there's seven things listed, then they become very personal. He said, "All these are the beginning of birth pains". You see these things happening. There's going to be a continuation of these patterns, but it's going to intensify. "Then," it's a timing word, "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you'll be hated by all nations because of me. And at that time, many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and deceive many people".
We've talked about false prophets. Those aren't just religious characters. A prophet is someone who gives God's perspective to the people. And the larger understanding of that word is a perspective that we expect to be truthful. So, a false prophet is someone that's expected to tell you the truth, but they don't. I would say it's not a reach to say that false prophets are multiplying these days. "But they'll deceive many," Jesus said. "And because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold". There's multiple Greek words for love. The one that's used there is the love that's used for God's love. The love of God in the hearts of his people will grow cold because of the increase of wickedness. The most literal translation is the increase of lawlessness. Gee, we haven't seen that. "But he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come".
There's seven characteristics given that are rather personal about this escalating cycle, and then there's two assignments that are handed out. It said we'll be persecuted, we'll be put to death, you'll be hated by all nations because of Jesus. So, if you're a private Christ follower, or a secret Christ follower, you won't be included in that, but you also won't be included when Christ followers are identified before the Father, 'cause there's no such thing as a private Christ follower. If you think you have a private faith but a public life, you're deceived. You can't segment your life into that. It says you'll be hated and many will turn away. Not everybody's gonna stay the course. Betrayal and hatred, many false prophets, love will grow cold. Wow, all of that's on the runway before Jesus returns.
And then there's two things, he says the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. The assignment is to stand all the way to the end, so how you finish matters. And then he tells us there's an assignment rolled into that. He said, "This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world". We haven't gotten serious about that in a long, long time, we really haven't. We treat it pretty casually. I mean, we'd be happy if people hear the story, and we're happy if somebody else does it, and we're not necessarily opposed to it, and we'll even make some contributions towards it in kind of a tip-like manner, but we haven't really treated that as if it were essential, as if that were our life mission.
You know, just be kinda nice, somethin' to do. And I believe ahead of us there is a season where God's people will take that up with an earnestness that we've never seen before. Imagine if we all just gave a year to that. We just said we're gonna take a year of our lives and not ask somebody else to create a platform for us, or create, we're just gonna do whatever we can do, however we can do it, in whatever way. And maybe you take the revenue that would represent you and you'd say, "Look, just use whatever platform," a doorway, tell the Jesus story. Imagine the impact.
You know, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very similar, they're called the Synoptic Gospels, because they give us a synopsis of Jesus's life, and they're very similar. Mark is the oldest. Most of the scholars believe that whoever put Matthew, when Matthew and Luke wrote their stories, they had a copy of Mark and some other documents, it's believed. So, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are very similar, but John is a completely different narrative, different vocabulary. The Jesus story is told in a different way. It doesn't begin with the birth narrative. The parables aren't there in the same way. It's just a very different story. But as I've been reading them in much closer proximity to one another, I felt a tension in John that I didn't feel in the same way in the other three. The tension between Jesus and the audience of his day. There is an antagonism in John almost from the beginning of the story.
Now, there's other things to be seen there, but I want to start there because this escalating tension feels similar to me to what Jesus said we would see at the end of the age. See, I believe Satan and his kingdom opposed Jesus's mission, and I think as we approach the end of the age, in a similar way Satan will oppose the purposes of God. So, the parallels from the gospel or not surprising to me, that there's some alignment with what Jesus said would happen at the end of the age. And there is an irrational, illogical, inexplicable tension in these gospels. The Messiah has come to his people, a Jewish Messiah to the Jewish people, and he hasn't come in a subtle way, he's dancing on the water and making wine out of water. He's raising the dead, and opening blind eyes, and healing the sick, and calming storms. That will get you invited to the next party. And yet, there is tremendous resistance to Jesus. Even his hometown, they're offended by him.
And you're reading along and you're like, "Well, that makes sense". No, not exactly. But I wanted to stay with John for a minute, we'll step beyond it, but the opposition to Jesus. Just listen, I'm not gonna spend a lot of time. John 5, "Because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him". Now, he's not stealing, he's not opening a competing business, he doesn't have a lemonade stand out on the corner, he's healing people, and he's being persecuted 'cause you did it on the wrong day of the week.
Let me ask you a question. If you're sick, I mean really sick, and you're healed, do you care if it's on Tuesday, Friday? "No, no, no, I only want to be well on Thursday". No, verse 17, "Jesus said to them, 'My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.' For this reason, the Jews tried all the harder to kill him". I mean, you read it, you understand the words, but really you're going, "Oh, they're tryin' to kill him 'cause he's healing people on the wrong day". John 7, "After this, Jesus went around in Galilee," it's a region, "Purposely staying away from Judea," it's a region to the south, "Because the Jews there were waiting to take his life". I can't go into that part of the country, 'cause they'll kill me if they can. Same chapter, verse 19, "Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me"?
This is not a subtle theme in John. Chapter 8 in verse 37, "I know you're Abraham's descendants, yet you're ready to kill me because you have no room for my word". I don't believe Jesus is speaking metaphorically, they intend to kill him. In fact, before the story's done, they succeed. So, when Jesus said to us in Matthew 24 there's a point ahead of you when you're gonna be hated by all nations because of your affiliation with me, maybe we should listen. Maybe it's worth paying attention. Is that antagonism towards people who say I'm for Jesus, and I'm for what Jesus is for, is that antagonism increasing or decreasing? Well, in my lifetime I would have to say it's increased.
When I was a kid, we used to read the Bible and pray in our public schools. When I went to college, college campuses, pretty much in a general way, they were still embracing a biblical view of marriage. They were still embracing the nuclear family. All of those things have diminished. Used to be that a nativity scene was welcomed in a public square, or the Ten Commandments could be posted in a public building, and you could give many more examples from your own personal experience, but with just a casual glance, you'd have to say the antagonism is increasing. Now, that's not the only thing in the list, but it's worth monitoring. But it doesn't make us unique.
You see, it shouldn't cause us to withdraw. You don't find Jesus going, "Oh, I'm gonna have to change my message. No more healing on the Sabbath". John 8:39, "'Abraham is our father,' they answered. 'If you were Abraham his children,' Jesus said, 'Then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you're determined to kill me, a man who's told you the truth.'" I mean, John just keep saying, Jesus keeps saying to us they're tryin' to kill me, and again, he's not robbing or stealing. John 11, "So from that day on, they plotted to take his life". They're not just angry, it's not just a fit of rage, it is an organized, intentional, systematic scheme to destroy him. You shouldn't imagine that the opposition to Jesus in the earth is random, casual, or accidental.
There's a force behind it that is not political, it's not ideological, it's not about a political party, this is not a political discussion. I look forward to the day where we have the choices to make from multiple candidates across more than one party who have a biblical worldview. What a wonderful opportunity. But we need to understand from the beginning of the narrative as it's introduced to us, there was significant opposition to Jesus. So, the question is well, why, what was he doing? We could talk about it in terms of power inequities, or challenging the authority structures of his day, and those are all legitimate avenues of discussion, but the behavior that Jesus was engaged in that was eliciting the anger, I think one way to see it is he challenge so many of their practices. And when I say challenged, he told them that they were wrong.
See, this is very commonplace today in American Evangelicalism to say, "Well, you know, Jesus is all about love. And if you're not giving an expression of love, you're not honoring Jesus". And what's extrapolated from that is if you're saying something that is not affirming or encouraging of everyone's behavior, you're not living in love. That a truly loving message would be to encourage and affirm everyone. Rough equivalent of that would be a doctor who always said you were healthy.
"Well, you know, my arm won't work". "Yes, but maybe that's just the way your arm is. You look healthy to me". Or a banker that always told you there was something in your account. Those would not be gestures of kindness, they would be very destructive. And it isn't always love just to capitulate, love is about truthfulness as well. And a part of Jesus's life and ministry was challenging things that were putting people in a spiritual deficit because they were caught in deception. See, deception is when you believe something to be true that in fact is not completely true, and then you order your behavior around that point of deception, and you're incredibly vulnerable.
I want to pray with you before we go. I'm going to ask God to give us a new boldness to stand for Jesus. When Jesus was on the earth, there was significant opposition to who he was and to what he did. And then he told us that that opposition would persist and impact our lives, and yet we're surprised. That's not helpful. Jesus told us it was a reality. We can see his response to it, that he was undeterred in his mission and his assignment, and we have to be the same. Please don't let fear of someone else's opinion keep you from being who you should be for Jesus.
Heavenly Father, give us the boldness to stand for your truth with courage and clarity wherever you open the door. I thank you for what you're doing, and I trust you and your protection, in Jesus's name, amen.