Allen Jackson - The Power of The Cross - Part 1
It's an honor to be with you again. Our title today is "The Power of the Cross". We're working through this series on the "Truth Be Told," the truth of God's Word that brings freedom and liberty to our lives. God's power for you and me was demonstrated on the cross through the redemptive work of Jesus. You know, it's fashionable these days to question God's power or authority. In fact, many will say, you know, he's more myth than he is reality, that our faith is more for those who are weak than those who understand the strength of the one we worship.
Well, I want to assure you that Almighty God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the Creator of heaven and earth. That he's the Father of Jesus of Nazareth. That Jesus died on a Roman cross and was raised to life again, and that God the Father sent his Spirit back into the earth to help us. We're not alone greater is the one who is within us than all of those things arrayed against us, and there's nobody who threatens or challenge God that intimidate him, I promise you that. Lift up your head, lift up your hands, and thank God for his power and his authority that has been expressed on our behalf. Enjoy the lesson.
We're working through a series under this is general title of "Truth Be Told". Jesus said in John 8 that we would know the truth and the truth would set us free. There is freedom in truth, we understand that. If there's freedom in truth, the opposite would be true, there's bondage in deception and deceit. So, you don't want to practice deception. You don't want to participate in deceit. If you do, you invite darkness into your life, and we need the clarity on that. There's a phrase that Jesus used in the gospels, that's recorded in the gospels almost 80 times. It's translated a little bit differently between the gospels, but the underlying words are "truth be told". In fact, in the Greek it's amen, which they just took the Hebrew word and transliterated it, brought it into the Greek alphabet.
In John's gospel, they translated it truly, truly, in most of the translations. In Matthew's gospel, it's "I tell you the truth". But behind each of those phrases, Jesus makes a statement that is so remarkable, so dramatic, that he has to begin the statement with, "I'm telling you the truth or you wouldn't believe it". And I would submit to you that God has a truth for your life and mine that is so dramatically beyond what we can create for ourselves, that if we didn't have the Word of God to affirm it, we wouldn't dare to believe it. So, my title for this particular session is "The Power of the Cross," and the premise is really very simple.
In Scripture, in the New Testament, in the gospels and throughout the Book of Acts, and even the epistles that make up the balance of the New Testament, there is no presentation of the gospel without a demonstration of the power of God. It is not primarily a rational argument to convince skeptics to change how they think. The presentation of the gospel is a demonstration of the power of Almighty God, and that is equally true in the Old Testament, that when God presents himself, or calls his people, or is intervening in the life of a person, there's a demonstration of his power to cause an individual to change course. That our change of thought doesn't usually emerge just from a rational discussion, it emerges from a demonstration of the power of God.
If you think through Jesus's life in the gospels, there was a consistent demonstration of God's power, from speaking to storms, and the wind and the waves, to seeing the deliverance of demonized people, to physical healings, to miracles. I mean, he interacted in a variety of supernatural ways. From the Mount of Transfiguration where he was transfigured and had a dialogue with with Moses and Elijah. It's a demonstration of a power beyond our physical selves, and that carried right on through in the Book of Acts with the disciples, with those that Jesus recruited and trained, to the point that it was a threat to their adversaries, and those who did not embrace it were jealous of the power they demonstrated.
I didn't bring you all the references, but in the Book of Acts, it says that those who orchestrated Jesus's execution were jealous of the disciples, because in their demonstration of the power of God, that larger crowds were following them than had followed Jesus. And it created such persecution, that eventually they had to flee Jerusalem. I say those things to you to say we have exchanged the power of God for a Bible study. Now, I'm an advocate for study. I've given my life to learning, and I hope to continue doing so, but I will not relent or turn loose of the imagination that God intends for his power to be demonstrated in the midst of his people. It makes us a bit uncomfortable, because it's beyond us, we don't control it, and to imagine that the power of God, there's been a bit of a perversion of the discussion of the power of God.
I grew up in the segment of the church, or spent many years in the segment of the church, that talked a lot about the gifts of the Spirit, and the supernatural, and the miracles. I believe in all of those things, I'm all in. But they tend to be presented in terms of alleviating difficulty in your life. That the power of God is only so that your life will be easy. It's kind of a first-world perversion of the gospel. Because when I read my Bible, the people of God, who were the most frequent conduits for the power of God, also faced challenges. The Apostle Paul could pray and see people raised from the dead, and then be beaten almost to death himself. It's hard for me to reconcile that, 'cause in my imagination, if you knew God well enough that you can see the blind eyes opened, or the dead raised, nobody would be touching you, you're Iron Man. And we have recreated what the Scripture gives into some sort of a romanticized, and it's illegitimate, it's error, into some sort of a superhero that has no challenges.
The people of God face challenges. Elijah could pray and fire would fall from heaven at the appointed time. And he would have the courage to take the life of the hundreds of false prophets, But would be so overcome with fear that he would flee from the threats of the queen. And we have to reconcile both of those. So, welcoming the power of God into our lives doesn't mean that we will avoid walking through challenges, but it means we are on an assignment to demonstrate our citizenship in another kingdom. And in order to make that impact in the world, those who are skeptics and standing apart from the kingdom need to understand the reality of that kingdom. That we don't simply serve the Lord because he makes our lives easier, we serve him because we believe that he is, and that he will ultimately reward those who serve him, and we believe that his love for those who don't know him is so great that he will make his power evident so that they will believe in that eternal kingdom.
So that when you and I deny the power of God, so that we stay comfortable and we avoid those awkward moments. Well, what if God doesn't do anything? We are in essence hiding the kingdom from other people, and that's unacceptable. We don't want to be amongst that group. We don't want to bury our talents because we're afraid of the taskmaster. Do you remember what Jesus said to that servant? You're wicked and you're lazy. Take him from me and cast him into outer darkness. Don't want to be in that line. So, our topic in this session is "The Power of the Cross," because the power of God that's available to you and me is available because of Jesus's redemptive work on the cross. But we're gonna give it an application before we go, so I'm going to quit in time that we can give application. This is not about religious lectures. If we wanted to do that, we would call it a university and not a church.
I want to start in 2 Timothy chapter 3 with verses that will be familiar to some of you. Paul is describing the end of the age. He says, "Mark this," take note of this. "There will be terrible times in the last days". Literally, he said the times will be exceedingly fierce. And I think we're beginning to imagine that that could be possible. And then he gives us about 18 attributes of human character that will deteriorate, and they're really centered around a shift of what people will love. He says there'll be three great loves of humanity at the end of the age, and they're all perversions, they're inappropriate. Our love is focused on the wrong thing. Not all love is good. It says, "People will be lovers of themselves". Secondly, he says they'll be lovers of money, and the third one he lists, it's at the end of his list, they'll be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
But there's another 15 things tossed in, lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving. So many of these things are about the absence of something. They're boastful, what's absent is the humility. They're disobedient to their parents. Their obedience is lacking. Do we happen to see these things decreasing around us? They're ungrateful, they're not great, there's a lack of gratitude. They're unholy. There's not even the intent to be holy or pure. They're without love, they're unforgiving. There's a lack of forgiveness. We're intolerant, we're angry, we're slanderous, we're without self-control. To be without self-control is to be indulgent, to be entitled. Gee, that doesn't sound familiar. Brutal, not lovers of good. Treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
The next phrase is the most compelling to me in this whole discussion. It says, "They'll have a form of godliness". Those 18 characteristics will be fully evident in the midst of religious people. They'll have a form of godliness. They'll gather in buildings with religious architecture. They'll sing religious songs. They'll use religious words. They'll observe religious holidays. They'll have a form of godliness, but they will deny the power thereof. And then he gives us an instruction, "Have nothing to do with them".
Now, that describes the last days, so it's easy for us to imagine that there's some season ahead of us, or maybe some season that's begun to unfold, depending on how you want to walk towards that, where there'll be people that deny the power of God. And I think, is it safe to say we live in a season where it's pretty fashionable to deny the power of God? You know, I don't see the major media outlets, or the the headlines, or the major newspapers in our country giving affirmation to the power of God on display. If you're gonna be affirmed in the existence of the power of God, you're gonna have to gather in kind of a unique place, even with a unique group of people, because it would be possible to gather and a lot of church settings, and there'd be some at least ambivalence, some indifference towards the power of God. Because after all, imagination, if you joined the right group, and you get the label right, and you're a member in good standing, why would you need the power of God?
So, it's pretty prevalent, and I think it will increase in its prevalence, because that seems to be the trend at the moment, unless God intervenes. That there's gonna be an increasing pressure if you believe that God's power is engaged in the earth, you'll be looked at a bit askew. But what I want you to understand is that's not new. There's an arrogance that comes with every generation, it's not unique to us, to thinking that somehow we're unique and the challenges that we face or the accomplishments that we have, we tend to look back at history and think those poor, ignorant people. They weren't nearly as sophisticated as we are. There's a generational arrogance that comes with history. I wish I could take you to Jerusalem. I wish I could go to Jerusalem today.
One of the things we would do is we'd go visit the remains of Herod's temple. And Herod expanded the foundation of the temple. The Temple Mount itself wasn't large enough for the impact that Herod wanted to make, so he expanded it, and they cut enormous blocks of limestone. There are blocks of limestone that are as big as a bus, as big as a school bus. They were cut by hand, they were put in place, and they're fitted so carefully that there's no mortar, and you can't slide a penknife into the crevice between the stones. We don't have the skillset to do that today with all of our heavy equipment, and all of our lasers, and all of our stuff. Those poor, ignorant people. And we attribute the same thing to the challenges we face, to the darkness, and the wickedness, and the evil. Well, it's never been seen before. There's never been powerful people mocking those who believed in the power of God. That has to be new. That's just happened since we got social media.
So, I brought you an example, 2 Kings 18. Hezekiah is the king in Jerusalem. He's a good king, a godly king, but they have a problem. The world power at the time is Assyria, and Assyria has set their sights on Jerusalem. They've destroyed every nation between their home to the north and Jerusalem, and now the commander of the Assyrian armies is standing outside the walls of Jerusalem, speaking in Hebrew so all the inhabitants of the city will be terrified. I just brought you a little sample. He says, "Do not listen to Hezekiah". This is the Assyrian commander. "This is what the King of Assyria says, 'Make peace with me and come out to me. Then every one of you will eat from his own vine and fig tree, and drink water from his own cistern, until I come and take you to a land like your own.'"
You can stay at home until I take you away. "A land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey. Choose life and not death". This is the invitation coming from a pagan king. "Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, 'The Lord will deliver us.' Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the King of Assyria"? What's the king of Assyria saying? What's his commander saying? There's no power to help you. Don't be deceived. Don't be diluted. So, if you turn on MSNBC and they mock you for believing in the God who created heaven and earth, it's not the first time. So, we gotta decide what we're gonna do. Are we going to embrace the deception, or will we say, "No, I believe there is an Almighty God who created heaven and earth"? Don't cower in that position and think, "Well, there's never been a generation that's faced as much darkness is we have".
Folks, that just reflects a lack of awareness, both of Scripture and of history. Watch what God says to this king. Next chapter, Isaiah have you heard of him? Isaiah was a prophet in Jerusalem. He's a court prophet. Amos was a farmer. Isaiah was the opposite. Isaiah is a court prophet. He served multiple kings. He's very much at home in the halls of power. He understands the intrigue that goes with that. He's served godly kings and wicked kings. Did you know you'll have to represent the Lord in good times and wicked times? Isaiah didn't just to get to be a prophet in Jerusalem when the kings appreciated him and honored him. He knew what it was to have his stock rise and his stock fall. Again, we've had some mistaken ideas about being willing to choose the truth, to be advocates for the truth. We have to be advocates for the truth when it's celebrated in the streets, we have to be advocates for the truth when it's denigrated and ridiculed.
"Isaiah, the son of Amos sent a message to the king. 'This is what the Lord the God of Israel says,'" not the King of Assyria. "This is what the God of Israel says. 'I have heard your prayer concerning the King of Assyria.'" It's a good thing Hezekiah prayed. "This is the word that the Lord has spoken against him. 'The virgin daughter of Zion despises you and mocks you. The daughter of Jerusalem tosses her head as you flee. Who is it you have insulted and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes in pride?'" The King of Assyria thinks he's done it to Hezekiah, perhaps to his generals, perhaps to the military establishment or to the national bank. And the response is, "You have raised your voice and lifted your eyes and pride against the holy one of Israel".
Now, I won't read you the rest of the story. If you want to go back and look at it, it did not end well for the Assyrians, 165.000 dead later, they withdrew, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem never put an arrow in the bow. The power of God was made evident on their behalf. Now, it put something in the mind of the citizens of Jerusalem that was dangerous. That every threat raised against them would be rebuffed by God. So, a few years later when the Babylonians are saying something very similar, and Jeremiah is saying you better pack your bags, the people listened to the false prophets. Again, God's people do not live without trouble. God disciplines us. He rebukes us. I assure you there were godly people in Jerusalem when Jerusalem was destroyed. You know some of them, Daniel, Ezekiel, you are familiar with some of them.
I don't know what the outcome of this current season is, but I would submit to you that the church with a capital C has lost its way. We have become so enmeshed in popular culture and thought that we have wandered from the truth. Remember our premise, "The Truth Be Told". You see, God has already defined marriage, he didn't ask for our vote. God has identified what is appropriate and what is sexually immoral. He didn't ask our opinion. He gave us those instructions. It was God who told us that he knew us in our mother's womb, so God actually has established the sanctity of human life. Now, I hope and I pray that our Supreme Court will uphold the biblical standard, but we should all understand that their decision and will not alter God's perspective, and we're still obligated to hold the truth. Well, not everybody will cheer. Well, that would be new in human history. We can pray that our laws will honor God, but we must choose to honor God, regardless.
Now, that's an awakening for the church that we have avoided, we've ignored. In fact, the general dialogue is, "Let's just not talk about those current events at church, let's study our Bible". We can't study our Bible in a vacuum. God's truth is intended to impact our world. We need God's truth to help us Monday through Saturday when we're not at church, so we have to talk about the context of our lives when we are at church. It's not about advocating for a candidate, it's frightening to deny God and his power. He's the Creator and the Judge of all. This is not the first generation of Adam's descendants to conclude that they are wiser than God. That has happened repeatedly through human history. It is our privilege to be ambassadors for the kingdom of our Lord. So we stand not in our strength and not in our wisdom, those are both very frail and fragmented. But we stand in his power and his majesty, so in the midst of our imperfection, and our flaws, and our weaknesses, there is an opportunity for the power of God to be made evident.
We're not the first generation who turned our backs on God, to have taken his blessings and imagined that we deserve them or even earned them. But we can be one of those generations that turns back to God in humility and repentance. Our challenge isn't the depravity of the wicked, it's the condition of our heart. Let's pray:
Father, forgive us. Forgive us for having been coopted by the world, by having our dreams, and goals, and aspirations be defined apart from you. Give us a love for your word and love for your truth that will write a new future for us, in Jesus's name, amen.