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Allen Jackson - Tenacious Faith


Allen Jackson - Tenacious Faith
TOPICS: Tale of Two, Faith

It is a privilege to be with you again. Our topic today is, "Tenacious Faith" and I've been in academic settings, and I've heard professors say that Jesus was a pacifist. I don't believe that's an accurate representation of what we see and hear in the Gospels. There were times Jesus coached us to turn the other cheek or to go the extra mile, but Jesus did not live his life to avoid confrontation. Quite the contrary. He often orchestrated circumstances and addressed confrontation very directly, whether it was Sabbath rules, or it was rules about kosher, what you should eat and how you should eat, or the the way you worshiped, or how you have elevated things in the wrong place, very confrontational, very challenging, very engaging with the world he lived in. I don't believe the Christian church should be argumentative, or belligerent, or hateful, or critical, or condemning, but I do believe we have an assignment to hold up the truth, and that will take courage and boldness and the love of God. Grab your Bible and a notepad. Most of all, let's open our heart and see what God has for us today.

Not too many decades ago, we lived in a nation where, in our public schools, we prayed in Jesus's name as a matter of course, where the Ten Commandments were part of our public postings, where prayers in Jesus's names were a part of our official gatherings, from ball games with our students, to convening courtrooms, or surgical procedures in the hospitals. And today, we have difficulty deciding on how we would define family. So there has been quite the decline, and I don't think the patterns of the past are sufficient to address the challenges of today and what's ahead of us. So I think a tenacious faith is the best description I have at the moment. It's going to require a bit of an attitude adjustment. I don't want us to be angry, or embittered, or violent, or aggressive, but I do think a bit of a more assertive response will be necessary.

And we can pick any number of topics, but I chose one that's kinda prevalent. It's hard to watch a television program or be in front of any media outlet for very long without having some perspective on this. I would submit to you that masculinity is not toxic. I reject the premise. For that matter, neither is femininity. I had to practice saying femininity. There's a lot of syllables in that word. You know we have been duped, manipulated if you prefer, and tragically deceived into believing that the biological circumstances of our birth are insignificant. I would submit to you there is a God and that he's the Creator of all things, and he knows us before any human being ever does. The greatest fulfillment available to a person emerges from knowing and serving the Creator of all things.

So I would assert again that our faith is relevant and the idea that Almighty God created the heavens and the Earth is essential to that faith in the same way that our biological sex has been weaponize to diminish our lives, and I don't think there's any question that it has, so has our perception of faith. We have been coached to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was a pacifist, or perhaps a reluctant Messiah, or certainly a timid soul with an aversion to conflict or self-assertion. Now it is true that Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek, or to go the extra mile. That is true. But it's far more reflective in his life and teaching to hear him challenging leaders who diminish holiness and his people or confronting unclean spirits with the authority of an unseen kingdom. Be certain of this, Jesus did not avoid evil. He gave his life to totally and completely defeat evil. He offered himself as a sacrifice to once and for all gain a victory for all people, and our assignment as Christ followers, as the people of God, is to declare this good news to the entire world. He has commissioned us, empowered us with his Spirit, and promised never to leave us or forsake us.

So, hello, 2022. We have an assignment. And it's not to cower in fear, or to wring our hands, because we don't like the ideological perspective of whomever. We have a message for the world, and it is not a theoretical message. It's it's reinforced by the reality of our life experience, of our own brokenness and the power of Almighty God to bring restoration and healing and renewal to us. We're not here just on a fact finding mission or to gather a theological creed. I believe we need a more tenacious faith. I would submit we need a different response. COVID 19 arrived almost two years ago now from Wuhan, China. We didn't know much about it at the time. We've learned a lot. There had been an abundance of missteps with plenty of fingerpointing and complaining, enough to go around from every side of the debate. It's enough already. Stop. Stop being angry and belligerent, unforgiving. It isn't helpful.

Here's our reality. Business is not as usual. It just isn't. Normal is what we will make it. Normal is not what our habits once were. And to be completely candid with you, if you're living in the world, and you can do that and attend church with a great deal of regularity, but if you're living with your heart in the kingdoms of this present world order, my best advice would be to have the courage to say, "I wanna be ungodly". Don't waste your time pretending. It isn't helpful. Fooling pastor or the people you sit next to at church, or whomever, is not the objective. On the other hand, if you want to honor the Lord with your life, find a bold God-honoring response to this year. We have a new calendar. We have a new start. Our circumstances haven't shifted dramatically, but God is present.

There's a verse in 1 Timothy chapter 4. I'm back to your notes. Isn't that good? Says, "Take pains with these things. Be absorbed in them so that your progress will be evident to all". And in its context, Paul is coaching a young man about the momentum of his faith, and I couldn't think of a single verse that said it more directly or more succinctly. "Take pains with these things. Be absorbed in them so that your progress will be evident to all". A time for a casual faith, a peripheral faith, the faith of modest import is gone. It may have served us in another season. It will not in the season that's ahead of us. We're gonna have to take some pain with these things. We're going to have to be absorbed in them, and our progress towards the Lord will have to be evident to those around us. We're gonna have to be willing to publicly identify as the people of God. That'll bring some realignment. It'll bring some "Yay, God's" and some "Oh, me's," but it's worth it.

I want to take the moments we have left, or the time we have left and walk with you a bit, just a portion, through the Gospels. We're gonna look at two particular characters. I wanna look at Jesus's life and ministry a bit and John the Baptist for a moment. I want to try to give you... see if we can gain a sense of perspective on their attitude towards the world of their generation. I think there's some confusion about how we should be, and how we should respond, and the attitude that we should carry, and we're told in Philippians chapter 2 that our attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ. So it matters to understand our world and how they responded to it.

Luke, chapter 3, a couple of passages around John the Baptist. You know John the Baptist, Jesus's cousin? His public ministry preceded Jesus, prophesied about, anticipated. He invited the people to repentance away from the temple in Jerusalem. Very significant point that the temple in Jerusalem was the center of religious life for that 1st century Jewish community and it had been for a long time. It was their national Bank. It was the seat of governance. It was the physical expression of God's abiding presence in the midst of his people. And when John the Baptist began to call people to repentance, and multitudes of people responded to his message, he didn't ask them to be baptized. There were dozens and dozens of places right around the temple where they could have been baptized. On the day of Pentecost, that's what the disciples used. But John called them to the Jordan River, 20 miles into the desert, a hard walk, a difficult journey away from the temple.

So it was physically demanding. It would have been very disruptive to their schedule. You couldn't have done it quietly or secretly, and he was drawing their attention away from the established practices and traditions. So with that little bit of background, in Luke 3, it says, "When John rebuked Herod the tetrarch". Herod was the Jewish ruler, one of the governors over a portion of the land. "Because of Herodias his brother's wife". Herod had taken his brother's wife. "And John publicly rebuked him for that and all the other evil things he had done". What intrigued me was Luke's commentary in verse 20. Herod added this to them, them being all the other wicked things he had done, including his immorality with his brother's wife. He added to the list of wicked things he had done that he locked up John in prison.

That intrigues me that Almighty God takes note of what we do to the point that he's gonna hold Herod accountable for putting John in jail. I just set up a little straighter when I read that. I thought, "We're pretty casual with God". You know, it's as if he created the clock and he wound it really good, and then he stepped away from it, then he'll check on it occasionally, but he's not paying that close of attention. Herod you'd have been better off not to have put a hand on John. He'd better off to have dealt with the humiliation of the words he was speaking, but he didn't leave it there. Matthew gives us the rest of the story.

It says, "At that time Herod heard the news about Jesus and he said to his servants, 'This is John the Baptist. He's risen from the dead; that's why miraculous powers are at work with him.' For when Herod had John arrested, he bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, for John had been saying to him, 'It's not lawful for you to have her.' And although Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd because they regarded John as a prophet".

Do you understand the context? It's not complicated. There's no original language stuff here that makes it any more apparent. John is publicly calling Herod out for is immorality. And John has a large enough platform, enough people listening to him, that Herod just can't ignore it. I think it's worth noting, John talked about current events. He wasn't doing theoretical Bible studies, and there was a consequence for him because it would be inappropriate to make one acknowledgement without recognizing the other. There was a consequences. It took some courage for John to tell that truth. He could've looked away. He could've been quiet. He could have done many things, and you wouldn't have faulted him or criticized him.

"When Herod's birthday came," verse 6, "the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod so much so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, 'Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.' And although he was grieved, the king commanded it to be given because of his oath, because of his dinner guests and he sent and had John beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. His disciples came and took away the body and buried it and they went and reported it to Jesus. And when Jesus heard about John, he withdrew from there to a secluded place by Himself, and when the people heard of this, they followed him on foot. He went ashore. He saw a large crowd he felt compassion for them and he healed their sick".

It's an intriguing passage to me. It is not what I would have expected. Luke tells us that John put himself in a deficit with the Creator of all things by just imprisoning John. Matthew gives us a little bit of the fuller story and it says in the midst of a lustful party, Herod made a commitment that required him to execute John. And when Jesus heard about it, he withdrew to a solitary place. People followed him, and when the crowd gathered, said that he had compassion on them, and he did what? He healed all the sick. See, in my little brain that grew up in Middle Tennessee, if Jesus is gonna heal all the sick, he'd go get John out of jail. So I had to start with the courage of John, the willingness to deliver a message that he felt like God asked him to deliver in spite of the consequences, tenacious faith, confronting his culture, not just capitulating. He didn't make an argument about all the good things that could come if he could befriend Herod.

The testimony that would come forth from that. John's courage, John didn't avoid the reality of events that were happening in his world. He spoke to them with a biblical perspective, and we are gonna have to have that same courage, not just me, you. We're going to have to stop and think about, wrestle with, what's a God perspective based on these set of values that are being pushed at our children, or our grandchildren, or into the public square. We are salt and light and we're gonna have to be willing to wrestle with that, not wait for someone else. If we wait for someone else, if we refuse to be salt and light, Jesus was very clear, he said, we only really have one purpose left, and that's to be thrown out.

So don't pray for someone else to be bolder or more courageous, or more wise or whatever began to ask, Lord what's that look like in the arena of influence that God has given to me in the people with whom I interact? Do they understand how I feel about a biblical worldview in light of our current culture? Let's push on. John, chapter 19, the tone really doesn't change. We're going to step to the end of Jesus's life. So we're gonna move forward a couple of years. We're gonna see Jesus in front of governors, religious leaders, Roman guards, variety of settings. It's worth noting his attitude. It's worth understanding his mannerisms, his responses. He is after all the one that we follow.

In John 19, he's before the Roman governor and now. He has the authority of Rome behind him. "Where do you come from?" he asked Jesus, but Jesus wouldn't answer. "Do you refuse to speak to me?" Pilate said. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or crucify you"? Strong words. I mean, we're sitting in the safety of a sanctuary and we're emotionally removed, but what Pilate said was true. He had the authority of Rome behind him. He could set him free or have him nailed to a cross. That's a very, very, very, I can't imagine how intimidating a circumstance that is. I've never had to stand in that place gratefully. I can free you or have you executed, tortured to death. You better say something to me. Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it weren't given to you from above".

Not exactly a terrified responds. In fact, I think we could suggest he's pushing the envelope a bit. "Do you know who you're talking to? You think Rome gives you power over me? The one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin". Could we call that tenacious faith? Think of all the things Jesus could have done. He could have taken a glass of water and made a cup of wine for Pilate. He could have told him stories that he didn't think anybody knew. Think of all the things Jesus could have done, and he didn't use the authority he had or the power he had to avoid the real crisis of the moment. He pointed it right back at Pilate. He said you have a decision to make.

Pilate knows he's in this and it's very clear from the text. He's looking for a way to set him free. He's trying to find a legal loophole that will allow him to dance out of this very awkward predicament. He wants the blessing of the Jewish leaders, but he doesn't want to condemn an innocent man to death, and he's looking for the loophole, and there isn't one, and Jesus points it right back at him. Matthew 26. We're stepping back just a few hours. Before he got to Pilate, he was arrested by the Jewish guards in the garden of Gethsemane and taken before the high priest. The high priest stood up and said to Jesus, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you"?

There have been false witnesses saying that he had blasphemed God in the temple. "Jesus wouldn't answer, but Jesus remained silent and the high priest said to him, 'I charge you under oath by the living God tell us if you're the Messiah, the Son of God.'" Well, there it is. That is the crux of the problem, the issue the debate. And Jesus replied, "It is as you say. But I say to all of you", that's the equivalent of, "I tell you the truth". "I say to all of you, in the future you'll see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven".

Again, there were so many things Jesus could have said to deflected the moment, to have avoid it, to have distracted. "And the high priest tore his clothes and said, 'He's spoken blasphemy! Why do you need any more witnesses? Look, now you've heard the blasphemy. What do you think?' 'He's worthy of death' they answered. And they spit in his face and struck him with their fists". This is the high priest and his associates. These aren't Roman soldiers. "Others slapped him and said, 'Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?'" Tenacious faith. Jesus isn't there because he has to be. He is there because he chose to be. And when the question was put to him, he told the truth. It seems to me that there's room for some adjustments.

Again, we don't want to be angry. Jesus isn't angry, or embittered, or hateful. He understands he has an assignment. We look beyond the Gospels and look beyond Jesus. It isn't just a messianic complex. Matthew 27. This time, it's the Roman guards. "The Governor's soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him". I read that and I just wanna whisper, "Be careful". "They twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head, and they put a staff in his right hand, and knelt in front of him and mocked him. 'Hail, king of the Jews!'" Where did they learn that? "From the high priest and his associates. They spit on him and took the staff and they struck him on the head again and again. And after they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him, and they led him away to crucify him".

It's safe to say he had some tenacious faith. You know, there was more than one occasion in his life where there was an angry mob that wanted to execute him, throw him off a hill, or to stone him, and it says that he would just walk through the crowd because it wasn't yet his time. So it wasn't in every situation where Jesus said something that was provocative. I'm not trying to create a roomful of provocateurs, but I think we have to understand that our assignment is to do more than always capitulate. We need the wisdom of God. We're gonna have to be led by the Holy Spirit.

Heavenly Father, I pray you'll give us a boldness and wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent, how to speak the truth in a way that it opens people's hearts and doesn't close their minds I thank you for your presence in our lives and for your confidence in us to put us in this place in history, in Jesus's name, amen.

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