Allen Jackson - Jesus' Friends - Part 1
So the title is "Jesus' Friends," but it's really Jesus-centric. And the truth is we're in the midst of a crisis. It was introduced to us with a pandemic, but COVID is gone. But the crisis, I think, has to do with truth. And I brought a verse that we've looked at before. It's Isaiah 59. Says, "Justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; and truth has stumbled in the streets, and honesty cannot enter". That feels like a pretty accurate description of the world that we look at.
Righteousness is not celebrated. Justice is not celebrated. Lots of discussions around it, but justice comes from God. There is no justice if you set aside the principles of the Word of God. They are empty words. They're empty promises. They're manipulative phrases apart from God. Human beings don't deal justly with one another apart from a transformed life. There is nothing in human history to suggest we will. And if you hear somebody talking to you about justice and they're not talking about it centered in a biblical worldview, you are being manipulated. You have to listen carefully. You wanna pay attention. You don't need to be angry, but justice comes from God, just as freedom comes from God and liberty comes from God.
Governments don't give out freedom and liberty. Governments accumulate power. "Justice is driven back, righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey". Now, does that sound accurate? It sounds like a pretty good description of contemporary American life. You stand in the public square and say you don't want anything to do with a biblical definition of evil, you're mocked. You're canceled. "The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice".
Now, that's Isaiah some 500 years B.C., so we're not facing a new problem. We gotta get over that. We're a little self-indulgent as if the things we're facing are brand new, the world's never seen them. It's the first time we've seen immorality, or perversion, or ungodliness, or wickedness, or deception, or manipulation. Not true. Not true. In Matthew chapter 24, Jesus was talking. He's preparing his disciples for the end of the age and he's also preparing them for the journey they're gonna have to walk. And he said, "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". The use of the word "many" is significant to me.
There'll be many false prophets and the outcome is they're going to appear and many people are going to be deceived. Deception is what's described in Isaiah. When the truth has stumbled in the streets and if you shun evil you become a prey, it's because people are deceived. They think evil is better than good. They think that falsehood is more fashionable or more effective than being truthful. That is the portrayal of deception. So if we see what Isaiah describes happening around us, well, I think we should understand that it's the fulfillment of what Jesus said. I'm of the opinion that we have a bit of a challenge in the contemporary church because as we see these things beginning to unfold, and the rapidity with which they're coming, and the scope with which they're being displayed, it's easy to begin to say, "It's the end of the age. Jesus is coming".
I'm asked that question probably as much as any question I'm asked, you know, where I think we are in that end times timeline. And we talk about that occasionally, and I'm willing to have an opinion on it, but I would like to caution you just for a moment on the rush to the end of time. Is this it? You know, is Russia and China, and you know, we begin to reach for our prophetic passages and we try to move the pieces around. Is this it? And there's a lot of emphasis on that, and you can get an audience in a hurry, and people will lean forward a little bit. You can have an E. F. Hutton moment, because I think we would all like to have that sense. But let me suggest a slightly different perspective, not one that is less focused, or less responsive, or requires less preparation, but I think it's one that is not only more sustainable, but will help us prepare better.
What if we imagine that what we are watching, it could be the penultimate set of circumstances, but what if we imagined it and what if we respond to it as if it's the pattern of the end; that the end is gonna look something like this. Maybe a bit more intense, maybe a bit more pervasive. There's some things that aren't in place yet. So I think it's safe to say that what we're watching could be understood as a pattern of the end, and therefore we should be watching and learning. This helps us understand how to be prepared, what's gonna be required of us, the responses we'll need, the awareness that we'll need, what to do when your sources of truth and information are disrupted. Do you know enough about the Word of God? Do you know him well enough to trust him? Do you have a relationship built with him that can withstand real stress or do you need a flat out God intervention in order to survive a minor disruption?
See, a part of maturing and growing up in the Lord is trust, and confidence, and some stability. We understand the process. Think about it with children as they grow and mature, and you begin to incrementally help them develop the capacity to process responsibility, to be responsible young people, to be responsible teenagers, to be responsible adolescents, to be responsible adults. That's an incremental process, and if they're not taught that and the discomfort that comes with that, I never volunteered for any experience that brought maturity. I wasn't up for a single one of those. Don't you want a job? Nope, I'm good. Well, you've got one. Didn't ask. Got one anyway. My friends don't. I'm not your friends' parent. At which point I'm mumbling something about, "And they're glad about that," but I was wise enough not to say it out loud.
Well, is it possible that God is trying to ask us to mature, to move beyond sitting in church in our favorite place, and coming and going? But the real effort of our life, the real investment of our energy, and our thoughts, and the things we've reached for, and dreamt about, and worked on, they weren't God. We tried to get our God business done so we didn't have to think about it. Most of us have spent far more energy and effort refining our interaction with whatever our favorite hobby is than we have with the Lord. And I didn't come to make you feel guilty, I'm just saying it seems to me that the world is changing and God is asking for a different response from his people. So rather than rush to the end and you dash back and forth from everybody that's gonna help you understand why the events of this week are a step further towards the penultimate thing, Jesus said, "Nobody knows the day or the hour".
So just how much of that are you gonna chase? You need to understand the components. And I know there's lots of opinions and people are really... a lot of dogma, a lot of heavy emotion around those opinions. I'm willing to be wrong, I just want out of here on the first load up. But between here and there, I want to be caught being busy with the things of the Lord. I want the oil necessary, and I don't mean the physical oil. I want to be giving attention to the assignments that I've been given. I don't want to be distracted. I don't wanna be so caught up in buying and selling, and planting, and building, and doing all of the things that are a normal part of life that I don't really have any bandwidth for the things of God.
I want to be giving more attention to the Lord. So I want to just plant a seed that rather than try to decide just, you know, whether it's this week or next week, how 'bout if we're watching patterns of the end? Maybe you've seen the first tremor, the first... I've never delivered a child, but that first twinge. I've helped a lot of critters. I didn't call anybody here a critter, I've just watched a lot of different things be birthed and there's a process involved in that. I know 'cause it wasn't until we got into the process they needed the vet. They'd take any stand-in as long as we were just watching. Nope, not time yet. And maybe we're just watching some of the first minor contractions. We're certainly watching expressions of authoritarianism that we haven't seen in decades. We've seen them before, but we haven't seen them this pervasively in decades.
Again, it's not a new problem. In Isaiah chapter 1, "See how the faithful city has become a harlot"! It's talking about God's people. This is the Prophet Isaiah, commissioned by God, talking about God's people. "The faithful city's become a harlot! She was once full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her, but now murderers"! This isn't the first generation that's seen lawlessness explode. We're not the first generation that's seen murder rates grow exponentially. I have a feeling if we lived in Ukraine tonight, it would be very easy to have a theological position that said this is the end of the world.
Isaiah chapter 5, "The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. He looked for justice, but he saw bloodshed; and he looked for righteousness, but he heard cries of distress". Again, those passages are as descriptive of the world you and I are living in, not someplace else in the world, in the world you and I live in as they were in the days when Isaiah penned them. This is not a new problem so we've gotta get over ourselves a little bit. We've got to respond to it. We've gotta turn our faces to the Lord. And we very well, there are many things that suggest we are closer to the end, but don't miss the opportunity. There's work to be done.
I think it's safe to say there is some training in righteousness that we can engage in. You know what training is. It's participating in behaviors that would enable you to accomplish something in the future that you couldn't accomplish today no matter how hard you tried. So my question to you is, what are you training for? Christians confuse sincerity with outcomes. They'll say to me, "Well, you know, Pastor, I sincerely tried". Well, if you weren't adequately prepared and trained, I'm happy for you, but I'm not surprised you failed. Suppose you had to have brain surgery, and just before the anesthesiologist is gonna ask you to count backwards, the surgeon leaned over and said, "I felt like you should know, I've never really trained, but I'm going to sincerely try". I want off the table, don't you? 'Cause no matter how sincere you are, without the appropriate preparation, the outcomes are probably not gonna be great.
What have we been training for? That requires routine, and self-discipline, and sacrifice. It's gonna require discomfort. Any training I have done over time has required a reordering of my schedule, a reordering of my priorities. It's required different expressions of self-discipline. It's required a willingness to build new habits, and that's always uncomfortable. Sound right? 2 Timothy chapter 3, and verse 16, "All Scripture is God-breathed and all Scripture is useful for teaching, and rebuking, and correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work". Scripture is an essential element in our training. Not just reading it to check the box on the assignment for today, but to think about it, to meditate upon it.
Well, we began this by saying truth has been diminished. And when truth stumbles, an introduction is required. If truth isn't welcome in the public square, it needs to be reintroduced. This isn't so complex. It isn't that the solutions are beyond our imagination. They've been beyond our interest. And if truth has been diminished in the public square, it's diminished in the business world. It seems so quaint that there was a day when you did business on a handshake. Now you get 40 pages in a contract if it's not too significant. Some of you are old enough to remember when you used to get on an airplane without a metal detector and a security search. That hardly seems possible.
Some of you remember when you went to school and we didn't put officers in the schools. Some of you used to walk to school when you were children and your parents weren't terrified for you. We don't even trust the children to walk from the school to the car without multiple adult supervisors these days. With all of our blathering about children, and how much they matter to us, and how invested we are in them, no we're not. We were much safer in the past. Again, it's not about guilt. Truth has stumbled. An introduction is needed. John 14, and verse 6, Jesus said, "I'm the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me".
What's the truth that needs to be reintroduced into the public square? That Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Because from that acknowledgment will come the boundaries for family, and marriages, and life, and the value and the sanctity of human life, those things that we have pushed to the side. And the more of Jesus in the public square, the more justice we will see. In Acts chapter 5, and verse 41, it says, "The apostles left the Sanhedrin", Sanhedrin's the group of people that orchestrated Jesus's execution, "rejoicing because they'd been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name". They weren't just arrested and threatened. The word they use is they were disgraced. They're no longer welcome in polite society. They're going to be left off the invitations list. They're outcasts. They've been branded. The word matters.
You think, "Oh, they were arrested". No, no, no, this isn't like somethin' where they took their picture and their mugshot's gonna get them invited to parties. They've become untouchable, pushed to the periphery. And it says, "They left that place rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name". How many of you would consider making a stand for Jesus in our community that brought disgrace? And then would you rejoice at the opportunity or would it be a, "Woe is me," thing? Well, I never thought I'd have to do that. "They leave the Sanhedrin rejoicing that they had been counted worthy. And day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah".
Day after day, in the temple courts, in public places, and from house to house, they never stopped. Day after day, from house to house, they wouldn't hush. What are they doing? They're introducing truth. It changes the city of Jerusalem. It changes the surrounding regions. The next time they're arrested, they're not arrested simply for their theology. They're arrested because the leaders are jealous of them. There's so many people being stirred by their message. You ready to be a part of something like that?
Now, Jesus gives us a revelation. The reason we tell his story is he brings revelation to the human heart. He helps us to understand things we will not understand apart from him. We're not gonna study our way into the kingdom of God. And I'm an advocate for study. Spent most of my life learning. I hope to continue learning. I feel in most respects like a beginner. But the revelation that Jesus brings to a human life is beyond the normal learning process. It's an understanding. It's an insight. It's as if the curtain is pulled back and something that wasn't clear to you, you believe.
When you have a revelation of Jesus, there is a point of belief that comes in you that is beyond your ability to articulate logically. Say, "No, I believe this now. I'm not sure I believed that before, but because of these circumstances, or because this happened, or because of something that came alive on the inside of me, I believe it now". And somebody'd say, "I don't believe," and you go, "Well, I'm sorry you don't, but I do believe it". Jesus brings revelation. We need a Jesus-inspired revelation in the hearts of person, after person, after person, after person, after person. But we've got to be willing to introduce the truth. We know the way, the truth, and the life. It's not us.
We're broken, and fragile, and inconsistent, and they probably got pictures, but I can introduce you to the one who is the way, the truth, and the life. And if you'll begin to think about him, if you'll invite him into your thoughts, and into your life, and into your behaviors, you can have a revelation of Jesus and you could believe. You don't have to live in the skeptic seat. Hebrews chapter 1. This is from the Message. The language is a little more contemporary, but I liked it today in this passage. "Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries. Recently he spoke to us directly through his Son. By his Son, God created the world in the beginning, and it will all belong to the Son at the end. This Son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God's nature. He holds everything together by what he says, powerful words"!
The more precise translations say that Jesus is the exact representation of his Father; that in the past, God spoke to us in many ways. He spoke to us through prophets. He spoke to us through miracles, and signs, and wonders, and all sorts of interventions in our lives. But he said in these last days, he's spoken to us through his Son. He sent his Son to put on earth suit that we might know the character of God. It's unimaginable. Why would God do that? He didn't do it for the angels. Jesus put on an earth suit so that we could see what God amongst us would look like. And it's really not what you would expect. We kinda have a processed Jesus. Jesus came to show us the way to the Father. He showed us the way to live, which would enable the very best of the kingdom of God to come to our lives.
We've just finished several weeks of spending more time in the gospels with that revelation. Jesus warned us about all the difficult places we would encounter. He was very candid about it. He told us what we shouldn't worry about. Well, if we weren't worried about it, he wouldn't have talked about it. He understands the things that plague our hearts and our minds. And then finally, he paid the price that was necessary that we could be admitted to the kingdom because we didn't have the resources or the ability. There was no way for us to gain access, and Jesus said, "I will pay the price".
That's the point of the cross and the resurrection. Kinda the fancy word we use for it is the redemptive work of Jesus, but it was, in its simplest terms, Jesus was paying the price so that you and I could be in his kingdom. We don't deserve it, Lord knows. That's the message we have from house to house, in the temple courts, every day without stopping. You can be in the kingdom of God. Why would I wanna be that? Because the kingdoms of this world are unraveling. Have you noticed? Truth has fallen in the streets. And if you try to do the right thing, somebody'll make fun of you. You're naive, or simple, or old-fashioned, or quaint, or uninformed.
Father, I thank you that you have called us out of the dark into the kingdom of your light; that you have washed us, and cleansed us, and justified us. Forgive us for our attitude of complacency. Father, we've been willing to sit in a space at a specific time and imagine that we were interacting with the Creator of all things. Forgive us for our indifference. Ignite a passion within us to know a Living God, that we might yield our days to you beginning with each morning. In Jesus's name, amen.