Allen Jackson - Seeing and Understanding - Part 2
It's an honor to be with you again. Our topic is "Seeing and Understanding". Now, we live in a season of tremendous turmoil and upheaval and change. It's coming at us so rapidly and of such a magnitude that it's disorienting. It's frightening sometimes. We need God's help in establishing perspective so we can navigate true north which is the direction we go. The ideas coming at us are often so illogical. They're so un-rooted from a biblical worldview that it's tremendously disorienting. We can't respond always with a logical answer to the craziness that's coming at us. We have to know what our foundation is in Christ. We're gonna look at the Word of God and see if we can interpret better what God is doing and how we can recognize his invitations before us. Enjoy the lesson.
Now, how does the Lord begin to give us insight? What would that look like if your insight, understanding, spiritual vision began to grow? What would you anticipate? Where would you think that that might begin to change in your life? Well, there's some words, and they're a little uncomfortable to us. Dreams, visions, Scripture, not as a burden or an intrusion, but if you'll give it an authoritative place, it will begin to define your reactions and responses to life. You don't read the Bible to decide what you believe. You allow the Bible to read you to see if you're compliant or not. Reading the Bible to decide what you believe is as nonsensical as reading the tax code and deciding what you believe. They will put you in jail.
You know how disrespectful it is to God to read your Bible and decide what you will and you won't accept? And then we have this language: "Well, that's just not how me and my people believe". Well, if you and your people are in charge of heaven and earth and everything under it, you rock on with your bad selves, but if we truly are under the authority of Almighty God, it might just be in our best interest to yield. So what's it gonna look like if we begin to gain some insight, dreams, visions, a new role of Scripture? The person and the work of the Holy Spirit is essential. Judgments. One of the ways to understand what God is doing and communicating is through his judgments. Judgment can be for you. It doesn't have to be against you.
One of the most helpful leadership principles I have ever come across is, if I can observe what God is blessing, I will do more of that. Aren't I clever? You know, if God seems to be adding momentum to that, I think, well, maybe we should do that a little more frequently. So God's judgments are a way of gaining insight. Look in Acts chapter 9. This is Jesus at the center of this chapter now, but he left Earth in Acts chapter 1, but he's not done with us. His earth suit left, but he's clearly back. Says, "In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias, and the Lord called to him in a vision". So Ananias has a vision, and he sees Jesus.
Now, Jesus was just on the road to Damascus in this same chapter, and he says to Ananias... did you know Jesus knows the disciples in every community? You know this. You've read it dozens of times where Jesus says, we stand before the Lord, and we say, "Lord, I did this and this and this," and he said, "I never knew you". Folks, you wanna live in such a way that the Lord knows you. He knows the people. We act like he's gone, he's not paying any attention, it doesn't matter that much to him. What has caused us to believe that lie? He died for his church. He said, "I will build my church, and hell can't stop it". I promise you, he knows his disciples. "The Lord called him in a vision, 'Ananias,' and he said, 'Yes, Lord.' And the Lord said, 'Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street.'" Put Judas's house in Google Maps. "There's a man there, Saul, from Tarsus. He's praying, and in a vision, he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight".
So this is a vision-intense chapter, and Ananias talks back to the Lord. Now, when I think of a vision, I think it's like maybe you're not asleep, but you have a scenario in front of you. It's like you're watching some digital presentation. He had a vision of the Lord, and "He was smiling at me". But, in this case, the Lord has a message for Ananias: "I need you to go to this house at this address and pray for this man". Well, this is what's fun to me. Look at what Ananias says: "Ananias answered, 'Lord, I've heard many reports about this man and all the harm he's done to your saints in Jerusalem. Just in case you missed it, he's come here to do harm to us.'" We're talkin' about something that wars against your soul. Ananias is a disciple of the Lord. The Lord knows him by name, and the Lord has appeared to him to give him an assignment, and Ananias is arguin' with him with a vision of the Lord.
"Yeah, I heard you. That house over there. Saul. But let me tell you about Saul. Dude is flat-out messed up, and he's got some serious authority, and he's here to do some serious damage to the believers, so I appreciate the vision and all, but no". Can we describe that as a war in the soul? Do you think that you and I are gonna receive a vision of the Lord, an understanding of further obedience with the Lord and go, "Oh, this is gonna be wonderful"? I don't think so. We didn't get that perspective from reading our Bible. It's more likely gonna elicit a response where he goes, "Whoa, wait a minute. I knew another crackpot that took a response like that, and it didn't work out so well".
You see, we haven't heard, we haven't understood, we haven't seen more because you weren't willing to engage in that internal challenge. "Oh, I'm born again. I've been baptized. I read my Bible most days. I go to church a good bit". Watch what the Lord says: "The Lord said to Ananias, 'Well, in that case, just skip it altogether.' 'This man is a chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles, and I'll show him how much he must suffer for my name.'" Are you willing to have a revelation, an insight, an understanding that might make you feel vulnerable, that might even lead you towards a pathway that was defined by more suffering than if you didn't have the vision or the insight or the understanding?
Again, we have perverted the gospel. I'm not in any way opposed to the blessings of the Lord. They are abundant, and his mercies are new every morning, but I don't follow the Lord just because it's easy every day, or I don't want to. Acts chapter 20, it says this is Paul: "Compelled by the Spirit", he's on his way to Jerusalem, and every place he stopped, somebody tells him not to go. And he says, "Now, compelled by the Spirit, I'm going to Jerusalem". So what's his compulsion? The Spirit of God. He says, "I'm compelled by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem". So this isn't just like, this isn't on his bucket list: "I've always wanted to get back there. I know the best falafel stand on King David Street". He says, "I'm compelled by the Spirit. I'm going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task that the Lord Jesus has given me".
The warnings that he's receiving are legitimate. They're truthful, they are informed, but they're to enable him to be prepared, not to dissuade him. The warnings aren't coming to initiate an avoidance of the conflict. It's to enable him to be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepared. Paul's awareness of the purpose of his life provides the context for understanding the message. If you didn't have his sense of purpose, if you didn't have the context, the message would just dissuade you and would've interrupted the purposes of God. So a part of seeing and understanding beyond our physical senses is a commitment to the purposes of God. John the Baptist, "I have to decrease, Jesus can increase".
We have to be serious about this in a different kind of a way. You see, I believe that what is in front of us is less likely that you can navigate successfully the life you would like to have apart from the help of Almighty God. We've lived through a long, extended season of relative calm and opportunity and abundance, and then you've been able to negotiate, for the most part, with just some modest interventions from the Lord. I don't believe we will finish this age with that pattern. I think we're gonna need an understanding, an insight, a vision beyond what we've had. Look at Mark 10: "They were on their way up to Jerusalem, and Jesus is leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those following were afraid".
Have you got the context? They're headed to Jerusalem. There's already been tension in Jerusalem. Jesus can't really go in public in Jerusalem any longer. There's so much anger against him. Do you have that? All these people that say Jesus was all about love, there was so much loving for Jesus that he couldn't go to Jerusalem. They didn't love him. "He's leading the way," it says. You can see him. It's a long walk from Jericho. It's about 18 miles from Jericho to Jerusalem. It's uphill all the way, and Jesus, I can see him on that dusty, hot road, and the disciples are astonished that he's going back, and the rest of the people in the entourage, they're just flat-out afraid.
"And he took the 12 aside, and he told them what was gonna happen to him. 'We're going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They'll condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him, spit on him, flog him, and kill him. Three days later he will rise.'"
Now, I would submit to you, that is about as clear of a message as you could have. There's no big words. There's no theological subtlety. It's just the facts, and Joe Friday would've been proud of that delivery message. And it's delivered from a credible source. Jesus is the one that said it to them. It wasn't a donkey. It wasn't an angel. It wasn't written on a wall. This is the most remarkable person I've ever known, speaking to them in the plainest of language.
Is it possible that our own preferences and our own desires and our own ambitions could cause us to be spiritually blind and deaf? Yes, it's possible, and when we do so, we're unprepared. We're not like Paul headed for Jerusalem with an awareness of what's coming. We're more like Peter, totally oblivious. We're caught up in the stream of what's happening, being swept along by it, and by the end of the run, we'll be weeping and broken. Now, Jesus restored him, but his lack of insight, his lack of understanding put him at a deficit. I wanna suggest to you that we can begin to see more as Jesus did. He said we could do the things he'd done.
In fact, he said the things that he had done would be exceeded through our lives. I'll give you just some examples, it's not easy, in Mark chapter 1, in verse 23. This is Mark chapter 1. Help me out. That's very near the beginning of Mark's Gospel. Like, this is the opening chapter. Jesus is in the synagogue in Capernaum. "There was a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil or equally literally an unclean spirit, a man in a synagogue with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, 'What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.'" The unclean spirit has more spiritual awareness than anybody else in the synagogue except Jesus. Nobody's identified him as the Messiah yet.
Again, but part of this lesson really hinges on your conviction that your willingness to believe that there is life beyond what your five senses help you understand. "Without faith," the Bible says, "nobody can please God". It tells us that faith is seeing what we cannot see. "There's an unclean spirit, and a man in the synagogue says, 'I know who you are. You're the Holy One of God.' And Jesus said sternly, 'Be quiet, and come out of him,' and the evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek". We would've seen the synagogue. We would've been evaluating architecture, decoration, Scripture portions, the abilities of the musical presenters, and Jesus saw an unclean spirit. We typically think of those as being reserved for developing places or expressions of evil that are so gross that even ungodly people would go, "Now, that's evil".
But this is a person in a synagogue making an attempt and an effort to worship the Lord, who is troubled by an evil spirit. You see, we've had the wrong imagination that evil is present always because of evil intent on the part of a person, but one of the things that influences your life and mine are unclean spirits. It's much more convenient to say, "Oh, I just don't believe in that". Oh, well, bless your heart. I would point out that Jesus did, and the fact that you're a child of God doesn't remove you from the harassment. If Jesus is harassed by an unclean spirit in a synagogue, I think it's safe to imagine that you and I might suffer some disruptions by unclean spirits.
Look in Luke 6: "On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue", now, he's not in the bar. He's not in some wicked place. "He's in the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus," not for a reason to support him, not to determine if he was telling the truth. They're just looking for a reason to accuse him. Please don't spend your life in the skeptic seat.
You know, there's a whole class of us that are churched folks, and we have been coached and trained and invested in ourselves in being skeptics. Took me a while, but I finally found the weakness. They almost got me to believe. These people are in the synagogue where Jesus is teaching from the Scripture, and it is of absolutely no value to them because of the condition of their heart. They have no vision, they have no insight, they have no understanding, and they don't care about it. They're not engaging in that war in their soul. They wanna maintain their place and their privilege and their prestige and their resources and the good address that they believe they have.
So they're listening to Jesus, trying to find a reason to accuse him, and Jesus, "so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath," 'cause that would be a bad thing. "And Jesus knew what they were thinking". I love that little thought. "Jesus knew what they were thinking". Folks, there are realities beyond your five senses. "And he said to the man with the shriveled hand, 'Get up and stand in front of everyone.'" He's not gonna do this quietly. Jesus could've met the man outside the synagogue after service. He could've sent him a text and say, you know, "Meet me by the shore of the lake later today". He was having none of that. He has him stand up in the synagogue.
"'Get up and stand in front of everybody.' So he got up and stood there. And Jesus said to them, 'I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath, to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?' He looked around at them all, then he said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand,' and he did so, and his hand was completely restored. And they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus".
You know, there's so much there, and our time's about gone, but if Jesus's objective was a long life, if he wanted to live to be deep into his 80s, if he wanted a ministry that stretched across decades, if he wanted to establish the brand, if he had wanted more public approval, he would've never ministered to that man that day, at least, not in the synagogue. He knew what his antagonists were thinking. He understood it was a very tense situation. He could've been silent, and no one would've known what was forfeited that day. He could've just taken a pass. You couldn't have criticized him. He didn't heal everybody he met. Not every sick person in Israel got well. Not every sick person in the synagogue got well. Jesus could've been quiet.
I'm reading that and thinking about it, and it changes my heart. I'm thinkin', "God, one of the reasons my vision is so limited and my understanding is so incomplete is I'm not willing to take, if you showed me, I'm not gonna do anything". We struggle over a one-sentence prayer. "What will people think"? Who cares? I want 'em to think I'm a nut for Jesus. You know, let's talk. "You mean, you want me to have a spiritual conversation? I don't know my Bible. I'm not an expert". No kidding. Have you been listening to the experts lately? "No mask, one mask, two mask, three masks, everywhere, nowhere, you little people, old people". And there's some truth in there somewhere, somewhere. And you and I won't talk about our faith because we don't understand everything?
That's not why we're not talkin' about it. We don't like the exposure. "What will they think? What will they say? I don't wanna be judgmental. I certainly don't wanna be critical. I don't wanna forfeit an opportunity. They might have another faith". We've spent decades, we have drunk very deeply from an idea that, if one person is offended by your perspective, that you should keep your perspective to yourself. That has dominated academia. It's dominated the corporate setting. It's dominated most of our social settings. Is that true? We have drunk so deeply from that idea until now we stand where there are worldviews being expressed that I am diametrically opposed to, and they're telling me to be quiet. Not only they're not willing to be silent. They're telling me they're just gonna shut me up.
Is it possible that we didn't see, and we didn't understand, and we're complicit? I think so. Jesus says to the man, "You just stand up in front of all these people". And I think, when he's sayin' it, he's lookin' his adversaries right in the eye. "Yeah, you stand up over there". They got their phones up. They're gonna videotape the whole thing. "Stretch out your hand". The people are overjoyed, the man is thrilled, and his adversaries are angry. Jesus chose to act, to extend an opportunity for freedom, knowing that it provided fuel for his critics and his adversaries. I think it's safe to say he wasn't seeking to negotiate a peace. "I'll meet you on Sunday, and we'll pray for you".
He was more determined to invite the willing into a new kind of a life, and he still is. I wanna see in new ways. I wanna understand with more depth than I have understood. I want there to be a purpose for my life that extends beyond politely attending church services. I wanna participate in what God is doing in this very unique season in human history, and I believe you do too. I brought you a prayer. Why don't we stand together. We can pray this prayer together. We're gonna keep workin' on this. If you found the prayer, it's on your notes. I'll put it on the screens. If you're watching online at home, just let the Lord show you. I'm kidding. Let's say it together:
Heavenly Father, nothing is hidden from your sight, you know all things. Open our hearts to understand and our eyes to see so that we may walk in the fullness of what you created us for. Give us the courage to choose truth and to walk uprightly before you. Give us our daily bread, deliver us from evil. Yours is the power and the glory forever, amen.