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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Allen Jackson » Allen Jackson - Tale of Two Books - Part 2

Allen Jackson - Tale of Two Books - Part 2

Allen Jackson - Tale of Two Books - Part 2
TOPICS: Tale of Two

I started in Genesis 1:1 'cause it's a good place to begin. It says, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and the earth was formless and empty darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light". That's the opening salvo. Now you've got a decision to make. Do you believe what it says? And I'm not asking for an answer we're in church. Do you believe that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. We don't have the story of original creation. That's not given to us. We're told that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth but what comes right after that, it says the earth at this point is formless and empty and darkness was over the surface of the deep, but it's already here.

The sense is, something cataclysmic has happened before we even get to the beginning of the story, but we are told that God created the heavens and the earth. And I'll tell you, within the Christian Church, there is an enormous diversity of opinion about this. Outside of the classroom settings, where they talk to us about the power of myth and how important myth can be in helping us understand how to relate with the world in which we live. Of taking those exams. People watch the letters at the end of their names. I've interacted with many, many people through the years, you know, that would say to me, "Pastor, it's just really hard for me to believe in this creation that you know, with my education and all". I do know.

My college career started in the basic sciences. I know that God's the creator of heaven and earth is not the lead line, but you gotta decide what you're gonna do with this book. If it's, just a myth, if God as creator is a myth, what about heaven? What about rewards? What about redemption? What about a virgin birth? What about resurrection? You've got a decision to make. You see, if you remove the reader from the narrative, if you step away from it and it's not personal, then there's no real responsibility to believe or to respond. I'm just gonna read this as an outsider. I'm gonna read it as a disinterested observer, what a quaint thought. But if you'll approach it as the disciple, if you'll approach it with the humility to say, God, I believe you existed, I would like to know you, it changes entirely, it becomes a different book. It takes some humility.

One of the people that was a mentor in my life, as a young person. I remember listening to them, teach the Bible that I have this distinct memory of sitting and listening, I wasn't really interested in what they were doing, but I remember thinking, they believe that book. They treat it as if it was as real and as legitimate as if they were reading a cookbook. But I remember thinking what an odd idea 'cause most of us don't approach the book that way, we have another approach. You know, we'll take the parts that we like and the promises that work for us. Oh, I'm for that, we'll memorize it and circle it and make it our life verse. What's your life verse? I'm gonna give you give you another example, Mark Chapter 1. This is Mark, the gospel of Mark is the oldest of the gospels. Almost all the scholars agree that Matthew and Luke had Mark at hand when they put their gospels together.

So the oldest of the gospels we have in the very first chapter of Mark's gospel, there's no birth narrative. We get those from Matthew and Luke. Mark kind of just jumps into the Jesus' story, it says, "They went to Capernaum". So Jesus has already left Nazareth where he grew up, and he's moved to Capernaum where he started his public ministry. "When the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law". Jesus didn't teach, didn't respond to the books of Moses as if they were separate from him. He taught them with an authority as if they were a part of the narrative, but he didn't leave it as to something theoretical. "Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit, cried out".

Now probably the best translation was, he was possessed by an unclean spirit, but don't let the labels bug you. There's a man in the synagogue, if you'll allow the analogy, in the worship service, who has an unclean spirit and he cries out, "What do you want with us Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us"? That the unclean spirit is talking from the perspective of the unclean spirit, not from the perspective of the people in the synagogue. The people in the synagogue don't know who he is, they just think he's Jesus from Nazareth. That's Joe's kid. We remember him from the travel soccer team when they used to come to Capernaum. But the spirit in this man knows exactly who Jesus is. And he understands he has the authority to completely destroy what they're trying to do and he poses the question in public.

I know who you are, you're the holy one of God. It's gonna be months and months before Jesus' disciples figure out that, but this unclean spirit knows that at the beginning in the book of James, it says, you believe there's one God good for you, the demons believe that and shutter. The tale of two books. 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". Now, if you read the Bible and you stand apart from it, if you read it as if you're trying to make a diagnosis on something somewhat removed from you, you can read Mark chapter 1 and say, well, you know, the first century audience gave far greater credence to spiritual things. They were less educated, spiritual discussions were more a part of their everyday life.

So we shouldn't be surprised to see that kind of language taking place in something describing circumstance in 1st century Capernaum. And with that kind of thinking, you completely removed yourself from the narrative. As if unclean spirits would have nothing to do with us, that there would be no spirits that have any spiritual awareness or insight that would exceed our spiritual awareness or insight, and they certainly wouldn't be involved with people who would attend the worship service. Or, you could pick up the book and say, I've been to the synagogue in Capernaum and you might be able to squeeze 150 people into it, maybe. I mean, we know, that where the synagogue was that Jesus was in there's another one built right on top of it.

So we know the dimensions of it and it was not an enormous building. It wasn't as large as our nursery area. But if there's a man in a group of 150 people, that's struggling with an unclean spirit, what do you think the chances are when several thousand of us gather, that some of us might struggle with the influence of an unclean spirit? "Oh, well, I don't believe in that. Oh, well that changes everything". Which book do you read? Do you step away from it? Because you see, if you allow that to become personal, there's a whole set of questions that begin to emerge. Well, what would give an unclean spirit access to one of the covenant people of God, somebody that cared enough to come to a worship service, to present himself in a place where Jesus of Nazareth was gonna be teaching. That would be information that would be worth knowing.

Let me give you another example, Acts chapter 1. "After his suffering," the Bible has such a gift for understatement. Jesus was tortured to death, he was beaten to the point that he hemorrhaged so much, he couldn't carry his cross, which was a normal treatment for the people condemned to crucifixion but his beating was more severe. 40 lashes was supposed to kill a man and they gave him 39 but before they got to that, they took a crown of thorns and crushed it on his head and blindfolded him with their fists. He's beaten beyond recognition and by the time they're done, he's almost, he doesn't even look human. And Luke the physician says, "After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God".

Had a 40 day seminar with the disciples after his resurrection. How many of you think they took notes? I'm thinking you'd be pretty focused, right? You saw him put him in the tomb, you saw him after, and he showed you the nail bump, I'm thinking, yeah, I got this now, and he gave them this command. Command is a very forceful word. He didn't offer them a suggestion, a prompt, an idea. He didn't say, I wanna plant a seed. A resurrected Lord gives them a commandment. "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you've heard me speak about. John baptized with water, but in a few days, you'll be baptized with the Holy Spirit". It's a commandment. This is Peter and James and John and Mary it's the crew, a commandment. "So when they met together, they asked him, Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel"?

They're not really too interested in his commandment, they want a political change. It just strikes me how similar we are. We would prefer not to change spiritually we would just like a political change. You know, we'd like leaders that would honor the Lord in word and deed. Right? That'd be good, we're for that, it'd make life better, our schools would be better, life would be better. Or are you gonna throw the Romans out, those wicked rascals? And Jesus said, "It's not really for you to know the time or dates the father has set by his own authority". What's their second question? If we can't have a political change, our next question is when is Jesus coming? I can increase attendance 20% at any service, if I'll let it be known that the topics is we're gonna talk about Jesus' return. 'Cause I mean like, if you're gonna tell us he's coming next Tuesday, we're gonna make some adjustments.

And he said, "It's not for you to know the times or the dates, but you will receive power". He brings them right back to his commandment, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you'll be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. And after he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes and a cloud hit him from their sight". His last words, you'll be empowered to be witnesses for me. When are you gonna throw the Romans out? See, we'll listen to that and we'll read it and it's not really complex grammatically, it isn't complex in the text, Acts chapter 2 is the day of Pentecost. It's the fulfillment of what Jesus talked about. They speak in tongues, there's a revival that breaks out that changes Jerusalem, changes the lives of the disciples, changes all the surrounding communities, we'll read that and we'll act confused and bewildered, we'll step apart from the book and we'll decide.

I wonder what that means? As if it has no personal implications. As if the command that he gave to Peter and James, and John is not relevant to me it doesn't have anything to do with me. I can read it as a disinterested observer. So then I can decide whether or not I believe it, or it was a first century phenomenon and it shouldn't be a 21st century 'cause you know, the Holy Spirit puts so many things in the book that aren't relevant for you. I mean, like that list of 10 commandments, that's over there way, way, way back, like in the book of Exodus, surely by the time we got through Malachi, we could curve that down to what? Like two essential commands. Just love one another. Jesus said, "A new commandment I give you, just love one another".

Do you think he set aside the other ones? I hope not. He said I didn't come to abolish the law and the prophets, I came to fulfill them. But it says that Jesus was the end of the law as a means of righteousness that we can't earn it or deserve it but God didn't change his standards of holiness when we started with Matthew. That's why Paul said, don't be deceived, you can't live like this and inherit the kingdom of God that's deception. So when we read Acts chapter 1 and Jesus gives us a commandment, I would submit to you that if you make this book personal, then you begin to say, well, what does that commandment mean to me? What would it look like for me to not begin my God assignment until I've been baptized with the Holy Spirit? What would it look like to accept that commandment personally, that Jesus said to me and to you that we would be empowered to be witnesses? Do you think there was a greater need for the gospel to be communicated in the 1st century than in the 21st century?

I assure you, there are far more unbelievers by number in the world today than there were in the 1st century. Which book are you reading? It's not a new challenge. You know, I'm not trying to hand you a sense of guilt and shame, I'm telling you, this is the struggle in every generation. Do we stand apart from God or are we willing to be engaged with God? Do we want God to do for us, and bless us, and listen to us, or do we begin to treat this book as if it really is a rule of faith in practice and it has some authority to speak to us. And when we don't understand or when we're confused or when the way forward doesn't seem obvious, we have to work a little harder to understand, we have to make a greater investment, we've gotta pay more attention.

I bet some of you have done like I have, you got something that had to be assembled, and it comes with directions, my pattern is to put the directions aside and put it together. And then if I've got some parts left over, I'll go look at the instructions 'cause we have to write those instructions write them in some foreign language, all right, slot a, bother, I can do this. And most of us treat God that way. Or we're embarrassed to say that we don't know, we treat God like we did school, we didn't pay attention for so long that you're far enough in the process, you hate to admit, you don't know. You know, you ignored the English teacher for so long and you get to some point along the way, you know, it's just awkward to admit you don't know what a participle is. How important gonna be after all? I ain't got no idea what that means, but I reckon it'll just be okay.

Matthew 23, in this particular passage, it's a group of people who are extraordinarily biblically literate, they're scholars. The scribes of Jesus day could tell you which letter was at the center of the Hebrew Bible. By count, they would memorize enormous passages of scripture, they didn't have it printed, there were precious few handmade copies. So they would spend enormous amounts of time committing the scripture to memory. Scholarship in a way that we don't even imagine it any longer. We don't have to imagine it that way. And Jesus is talking to them, Matthew 23, "Woe to you, blind guides. You say, if anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he's bound by his oath".

So what's Jesus exposing? That the gold in the temple means more to them than the temple itself. "You blind fools". That's Jesus. Jesus is looking at a group of people in public, religious people. "You blind fools". Well pastor, that's just not very Jesus like, Jesus was about love. Well he was and I think he loved them that day when he said, "You blind fools". He's trying to help them. When you have a serious physical problem, sometimes it takes a catastrophic intervention and sometimes when you have a serious spiritual problem, it takes a catastrophic intervention. "You blind fools, which is greater, the gold or the temple that makes the gold sacred"? He didn't wait for their answer, it's too obvious.

You also say, if anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift on it, well then he's bound by his oath. "You blind men, which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it, and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it". He's talking to biblically literate people and they're blind, they're deceived. They're standing apart from the Word of God with no intention of engaging it's meaning, because it's challenging to them, it's uncomfortable to them. It's not meeting their carnal selfish desires so they put up an arm and go, well, you know, it's not easy to decide what that means. We've all done it. A tale of two books, which one are you reading these days? It's a tale of two books.

If you would begin to read your Bible and when you pick it up for your daily time, say, "Lord, help me to see what I need to see". May I go back to the verse where we began? I'm about done. It said, "All scripture is God-breathed, and it's useful for teaching and rebuking and correcting and training in righteousness". See, my imagination is the majority of the people who are gonna expose themselves to scripture, are God's people. And those are the people who need trained in righteousness and who need correcting and rebuking and teaching. It's through our lives and through our behaviors and are willing to say, let's pray or let's talk or engage the world around us with kindness and generosity and compassion that we'll have an opportunity to share our God's story.

But it's the transformation of ourselves from the inside out, that is the canvas, that is the storyboard, in which the gospel is going to be displayed. Our preaching isn't gonna change the world, our lives will. But the transformation comes to us depending on how we respond to this book. Which book are you reading? Or do you just keep reading your favorite passages over and over 'cause you feel pretty compliant with those. We all do that to a degree, take the passages that are less comfortable and begin to say, "Lord, I would like to cooperate with you, help me to understand". You'll be amazed at what he'll do.

It's a bit unsettling to imagine that you could be biblically literate and spiritually blind. That those two things can live side by side. You know, Jesus was talking to a group of religious leaders, experts in the laws of Moses and in the scriptures and the prophets and he looked at them and he said, "You blind fools".

Again, they were very well educated, their entire lives were invested in religious activities, but they were spiritually blind. They couldn't recognize what God was doing right in front of them. Well, if it was possible in the 1st century, I promise you it's true in the 21st century. I don't wanna be that person and I don't want you to be that person either. So let's not cling to our traditions or the certainty of our correctness more than we develop a willingness to listen to the Spirit of God. I wanna pray for you that you'll have a receptive heart eyes to see and ears to hear. Let's pray:

Father, I thank you for your spirit within us. You're moving in the earth, it's a time of great change and realignment and we wanna follow you. I pray that our hearts will be open, we'll be able to perceive what you're doing and we'll cooperate. I thank you for it in Jesus' name, amen.

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