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Watch 2022 online sermons » Allen Jackson » Allen Jackson - Tale of Two Cities - Part 1

Allen Jackson - Tale of Two Cities - Part 1


Allen Jackson - Tale of Two Cities - Part 1
TOPICS: Tale of Two, Choices

The title for this session is "A Tale of Two Cities". A Tale of Two Cities. God is moving in the Earth in unprecedented ways. Please don't imagine that Russian tanks are a greater force than the Spirit of God. I assure you, they're not. The threats of petty dictators, no matter where they reside on the planet, do not intimidate our Lord. But they do create instability in our world and present challenges for us, and in those challenges, there are opportunities. That is the story of scripture, most of the heroes that we know were asked to step into the breach when there was a problem created, when there was a need that emerged. And I believe, for whatever reason, God has called us in this time and season, this generation of people, to a pivotal time in history.

I don't know the outcome yet. It's easy to point at the end of time and look at that, but between here and there, there are some things to be lived through. And I believe that what emerges in the immediate future before us will have more to do with the prayers of God's people and the attitudes of our hearts than the decisions of world leaders, because I believe God will impact the hearts of world leaders if his people will seek his face. Oh, the opinion that the Ukraine sanctions that we're watching the world put in place, actually, they're sanctions on Russia, but they've emerged because of their invasion of Ukraine. A very similar feel, to me, that the message we got when we were first introduced to COVID-19. We didn't know anything about it yet, and we were told if we would go home for two weeks and shelter in place, we could flatten the curve. Anybody remember that?

Well, the messaging we're getting these days feels a great deal like that to me. We now know that the CDC understood that two weeks would not end the COVID threat or resolve the problem. It was a rather convenient way for them to introduce a very extended season of disruption. Because there was so much unknown, we were far more responsive to their directives. COVID was seized upon to introduce many changes into our lives. Is it fair to say that from this vantage point? Far beyond going home for two weeks, and it quickly grew to be something beyond general healthcare concerns or a virus. Well, we now have a new crisis. The economic sanctions that are being imposed on Russia are not going to end this conflict or resolve the problems that we're currently confronted with. If they would have done that, then we would have been insane not to have done it 90 days ago.

There are more changes which are intended for introduction to us in the days and the weeks ahead, and my best counsel at this point is to continue to encourage you to watch and to listen, to think, and to be able to and prepared to act accordingly. It's not a new line, but it bears repeating. It seems to me that it's important that we think globally, but we have to act locally, because that's where we have the most influence. I don't have a great deal of influence in Ukraine, but you and I collectively have a bit of influence where we live. You know, I'm watching this unfold, and I spent this past week at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention interacting with people in Christian media from across the nation, and really, around the world, and I reflected a bit.

You know, it's been about 30 years ago, when I was doing some graduate work in the university, seminary graduate studies around theology, and in the finest theological schools in the country, or at least the most celebrated theological schools in the country, and I had the privilege of the participating in some of them, they were teaching the principles of what we label today CRT. They were teaching then at the elite theological centers in our nation CRT, gender confusion, new definitions of family and marriage, they were teaching that in seminaries. And it was so out of touch with mainstream culture and life that, you know, I watched it and I listened to it, and I thought, oh bother. Nobody would ever accept that.

I was remarkably naive because now, three decades later, our church leadership is heavily, and I don't mean this congregation, but church with a capital C: church leadership, even in Evangelical America, is heavily influenced by these ideas. So it's not surprising that a significant portion of the church has just embraced apostasy, stepped away from orthodox biblical perspectives on our faith, they were trained to do that. And because we respected the institutions and we didn't pause to think about it, they've been welcomed into leadership positions, and now they occupy some very powerful seats, and they're leading large groups of people along that path. What has captured my attention during COVID because of the schools were having to learn and study in some less orthodox ways, we had a little better window into what was happening.

I can tell you that today, they're teaching those same things that I heard in graduate-level courses a few decades ago. They're teaching them to our children in elementary schools, even in our Christian schools and universities. And I would humbly submit we better pay attention, because in the same way we have a whole generation of leaders in the church that have a great deal of difficulty distinguishing between the true and the false, we cannot yield our children to that. I was old enough and mature enough and had enough life experience to sort it out, but it's not fair to do that to our children. Under the guise of being prepared for the world, we introduce them to some of the most ungodly ideas.

We do it under the notion of diversity, and we want them to understand what's happening. This isn't a science experience. It's not a science experiment where you have to study the disease process to understand the solution. It's far more akin to suggesting that you want to lose five pounds, and in order to do that, you're gonna eat something with a heavy fat content every day just so you remember what good food tastes like. It's a very deceptive approach, and don't tolerate it. I remember sitting in university settings when the professors would come to the front of the class, and by this time, I had had some life experience. I went back to graduate education some years after my undergraduate so I'd have little bit of life under my belt.

I remember standing in front of the class and the professor walking up and saying, "We're here to deconstruct your faith". Well, if you hear somebody tell your children they're gonna deconstruct your faith, move your children. The purpose of parents is to construct the faith in the hearts of their children, and if you're not doing that, you repent and then you take that up as an assignment that's more important than teaching them to hit a ball. But don't tolerate somebody that wants to deconstruct their faith and suggest to your children that you are simple-minded or naive or uninformed or not sophisticated enough about the world to help them. Don't yield the children, that's our assignment. And it's not just your children, it's the children. We've been passive for too long.

I regret the times I wrote papers, I wanted the grades, I needed the grades to get out, so I'd write a paper that said, "Jesus was a socialist". He wasn't, and he's not. It's an exciting time, because when the enemy comes in like a flood, God's gonna raise up a standard against him. But it's a time of decision, and I don't simply mean a decision to accept Jesus as Lord of your life. That is certainly an important decision, and if you've never made it, I wouldn't wait for sunrise. But once you've made that decision, there's a whole myriad of choices that emerge from that, and the church has ignored many of them for too long.

We've pointed at our conversion, our salvation, the fact that we believe in the new birth and that we've experienced it, and we spent quite a bit of energy and time talking about how it can't be forfeited. And that's okay, but we are walking through a season where our decisions are going to determine the outcome of our lives and our immediate future. That's the topic of this particular session, "The Tale of Two Cities". We have a choice to make, we have a choice. The church of Jesus Christ in the earth, and particularly the church in our nation, has a choice to make. We've been given tremendous privileges, great liberties and great freedoms and great opportunities.

Doesn't mean everything has come easy to you. We still live in a broken, sinful world and the sin will touch you, but I've had the privilege of traveling enough, I can tell you that the experience of the American church is not normative, it's not global, we are blessed. But I don't believe our future will be similar to what our recent past has been if we don't choose wisely. Now, I don't say that as a threat, because I believe there's a greatest opportunity that we've ever seen in our lives. The Spirit of God is moving in a unique way, but it will require more of us than the status quo.

And I want to start with a comparison of two cities, I think you'll know them both, one better than the other, but they illustrate the polar opposites of the choice we have. And the outcomes for these two cities is very surprising, it's not what you would expect. Most of the significant moves of the Spirit of God don't begin within the organized, the most structured expressions of faith in the world. We typically organize God out of what he does. I don't want to do that. But we'll start with Assyria. The capital was Nineveh, you know the city of Nineveh? Assyria was an emerging world power at the time we're going to look at them.

They were moving to preeminence, they were certainly going to dominate the Middle East, that area of the Fertile Crescent from the Tigris and Euphrates all the way to Egypt. They would be the most influential social and political force in that region for an extended period of time. And if you were just a casual observer of current events in that window, you understood that. But it was also a pagan empire, and Nineveh was a wicked city. In fact, it was so wicked that it captured God's attention. God will tolerate a lot. Some of the judgments of God in scripture are exemplary judgments, which means he makes a unique example to set an edge, to make a point so that people will understand. Sodom and Gomorrah was an exemplary judgment. He doesn't judge every wicked city in that way.

In the New Testament, Ananias and Sapphira lied about a gift they had made for the believers in Jerusalem, and they were struck dead when they gave the report. They were given an opportunity to amend their report and they chose not to, and they died on the spot. Everybody that misrepresents your giving doesn't die on the spot, aren't we grateful? It was an exemplary judgment, that anybody that would read the scripture or was a part of the community in Jerusalem understood the seriousness with which God took the emerging story of his people. Well, Nineveh seems to have been tagged for their wickedness, their ungodliness, and their immorality, so God recruits a prophet. He gives them an opportunity. God delights in showing mercy, the scripture says, even to the wicked.

You remember the prophet he tagged to go to Nineveh? Jonah, it's the big fish story in the Bible. You learned about Jonah in Sunday school, I hope. Jonah chapter 1 and verse 1, it's in your notes, it says, "The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai and said: 'Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.' But Jonah ran away from the Lord". Now, you know the story, you know, it didn't work out very well, but he did. But it's worth at least noting the irony of a prophet, somebody called by God to deliver a message for God, running away from him.

See, I think most of us live with the imagination that we're just all thrilled about every God assignment, oh, yes! No, I think if you haven't had the Lord give you an assignment where you went "Oh no," you haven't accepted very many assignments from the Lord. And anybody that tells you they'd been thrilled about every God assignment they've ever given, I question them. Actually, I'd probably just don't pay much attention. Jonah ran away. You know the fish story, Jonah ends back up on the beach some days later. He needed a shower. And I put the whole third chapter in your notes, we may not read the whole thing, but maybe. Said, "Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 'Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim it the message I give you.' And Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord". You think, huh?

Now, Nineveh was a very important city. A visit required three days, it's gonna take three days to walk through Nineveh. That's about how long it takes to drive across Murfreesboro on a Friday afternoon. "On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: 'Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.'" What a happy message he had. Verse five is almost beyond belief, "The Ninevites believed God. And they declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth". Sackcloth was a visible expression of self-humbling, self-humiliation. From the greatest to the least, they believe Jonah, a foreigner, he spoke with an accent, he wasn't one of them, and he wasn't speaking to them from a position of power or wealth or influence. He couldn't affect their income.

He had no influence that he could exert over their lives in any way other than to deliver a message, "40 days and you're toast". It'd be so easy to go, "Who does he, who does he think he is? Arrogant foreigner, he talks funny. Have you seen his clothes? And he smells kinda fishy". Verse six, "When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, and covered himself with sackcloth and sat in the dust". I promise you he had an advisor telling him not to do it. "And then he issued a proclamation," this captured my attention, it's worth listening to.

Can you imagine the leader of a powerful city or a nation, a person of great influence, issuing a proclamation like this? "By the decree of the king and his nobles: Don't let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; don't let them eat or drink. But the man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Then give up their evil ways and their violence. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence". He didn't defend it, he didn't excuse it, he didn't justify it. "Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish". What do you suppose would happen if statements like that started coming from the most powerful and influential peoples in the land where we live? What do you suppose would happen if statements like that would just start coming from the hearts of God's people?

Verse 10, "When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and he didn't bring destruction, he didn't bring upon them the destruction he had threatened," wow. But you need the picture now, they have a reluctant messenger. He doesn't want to be there. He did his best to get away and God said, "Nope". And so he's there, but his heart really isn't in the message. "Forty days and you're done, forty days and you're done, forty days and you're done". It doesn't say he wept while he walked through the city. It doesn't say he pleaded with them. There's nothing in there to suggest there was any positive emotion coming from Jonah, "40 days and you're done". And it says when they heard, from the most powerful to the most humble, they believed it.

So it's possible, it's possible. We have the record of a place where ungodliness was over the top and the people chose to humble themselves. Don't wring your hands and say, "What should we do"? Be on your knees, saying, "God, give us a Nineveh response". It has happened, we're not the first generation of people to veer off course, what arrogance. It very well could be the end of the age, but that's not the primary components you want to keep on the dashboard of your life. God be merciful to us.

Now, I want to compare that with another city, a dramatically different city, Jerusalem. Jerusalem in scripture is identified as the city of the Great King. When Jesus returns to the earth, he's gonna rule and reign from the city of Jerusalem. At the time we're looking at Jerusalem in history, Solomon's Temple had been built there. It had been destroyed, but it's been rebuilt, and the second temple is standing there, a most elaborate structure. Herod the Great saw to that. Took 40 years to complete the project, one of the wonders of the ancient world. The inhabitants of the city and the inhabitants of the land surrounding it are the covenant people of God, the chosen people.

God said in Genesis, "I'll bless those that bless you and curse those that curse you," and he's watched over that for a thousand years or more by the time we get to the story. Jesus is speaking, not a reluctant prophet, he's the greatest of all the Hebrew prophets, but he wasn't reluctant to come. In Luke 19 and verse 41, it says, "As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it". He has a far greater investment in the city of Jerusalem than Jonah had in the city of Nineveh. He's done miracles there's, he's opened blind eyes, he's taught, he's instructed the people.

John the Baptist, his predecessor, invited the inhabitants of Jerusalem to repent. Jesus is weeping over the city, and he said, "If you had only known on this day what would bring you peace, but now it's hidden from your eyes. The days will come when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They'll dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. And they will not leave one stone on another, because you didn't recognize the time of God's coming to you".

Now, if you didn't know the rest of the story, if you weren't familiar with the narrative and you just read the passage I gave you from Jonah chapter 3 and you read that declaration from Jesus, I believe the expectation of the reader would be, well, the people would begin to repent. They put on sackcloth and ashes, they'd humble themselves. They don't have a grumpy prophet who smells like fish. They have a miracle worker, a great teacher, a healer, but they don't. They doubled down on rebellion.

Same gospel, Luke 13, this is Jesus again, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often have I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you weren't willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you'll not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" Again, very sobering words. Imagine if the Lord said, "Your children are gonna be dashed against the walls of your house". I want to believe we would begin to to kneel and pray with a seriousness that isn't normal. Their response was try to silence the message.

We're gonna pray before we go, but I'd like to set that up for just a moment. You know, our nation is in trouble, we're in serious trouble, and it's not a political problem. Don't imagine that a different set of politicians or a different political party are gonna solve the problems that we face. I don't believe that's true. It's gonna take a change in the hearts of God's people, and here's the good news, that's you and me, and we can choose to change. I don't want the outcome that Jerusalem had when they found the judgment of God. I'd rather humble myself in repentance and see the deliverance that Nineveh experienced. Will you pray with me?

Father, we come today not to point out the wickedness of others, but to humble ourselves and say that we need to be different. Lord, change our hearts, help us to see where we have stood away from you or resisted you. We want to say yes and cooperate. We need your help. In Jesus's name, amen.

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