Allen Jackson - Back To The Future - Part 2
I wanna continue a theme I began in a previous session, talking about "When Revival Comes". And I struggle with titles more than I do sermons. And I'm not sure revival really incorporates it. It's a word that's too familiar and that brings some baggage, but God is moving in the earth, whether we call it an awakening or a spiritual stirring or revival. God is restoring some things to some places we have seen in the past. Thus the subtitle of "Back to the Future".
It isn't that God's doing a new thing that he's never done before. He's doing something that's new in our generation. There are many generations reflected both in Scripture and in the history of God dealing with his people, when we have strayed from the path, we have lost our bearings and we find ourselves a far, a bit too far in the weeds and God has to bring restoration. And in every case, it's an expression of his grace and his mercy and his kindness to his people. We're not the first generation to have experienced this, but we need to be certain that we had wandered a long way from what God called us to be.
We may have continued to sit in our churches and have our Bibles and to wear the label "Christian," but we had fallen far short of being salt and light in the midst of a dark and flavorless world. And God in his mercy is calling us again, and a couple of weeks out of the culture and back in the land of Israel, helped to bring some clarity to that. One of the things I took away and I've said this to you before but I saw it again with fresh eyes. I went to Israel the first time when I was a boy, and I've been in and out ever since, but because of the pandemic I hadn't been for almost three years, this past month. But God is still regathering the Jewish people and we looked at the verse. God's promise was he would regather them to the land of Israel but then he said he would sovereignly begin to change their hearts.
And I have many Israeli friends, dear friends, and I can tell you the hearts of the Jewish people are changing. The moving of God in the midst of the people in the land of Israel is most remarkable. It's unlike anything I've seen in the many decades that I have been engaged with the people of that land, in the midst of a very hostile part of the world. There's about 7 million Jewish citizens in the state of Israel, and they're surrounded by hundreds of millions of people who are sworn to their destruction and, in spite of the anger and the hatred and the resentment and the international hostility, tiny Israel flourishes. But more than that, the hearts of the people are changing.
You know, before the scene closes and the King returns, the Jewish people will once again be at the forefront of the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That's true. And I can tell you the enthusiasm they have for the things of God. The secular Israelis treat the Bible as if it's more real than the most religious amongst us. You know, Jeremiah to us is some shadowy figure from the Hebrew Bible and he may or may not be real, and depending on how much academic training you've had, you're quite certain he's not. To the Jewish people, he's like Uncle Jeremiah. I mean, they think they've probably got his picture over there in the album somewhere if they look far enough back. I mean, there's no question that he was a real character, and they talk about him in such a way and his home town and "this is where he lived," and "this is what he had to say," and "this is why we had to go to Babylon".
And God is doing something in the hearts of the Jewish people. You wanna continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. We don't take tours to Israel to help you be tourists or to help you become biblical scholars or historians. The real objective of traveling in the land of Israel is to learn to love the Jewish people, amen. Because we have been grafted in to the covenant that God made with them. We're not something apart from them or separate from them, we don't stand in condemnation or judgment upon them. The blessings of God that come to our lives come through the covenant that God made with the Jewish people way back in the book of Genesis. And the point of the redemptive work of Jesus of Nazareth is to make us, one, to take down the New Testaments as the dividing wall of hostility.
So if you've grown up in some tradition that tells you God rejected the Jewish people, you need to understand you've drifted into some goofy theology. Goofy's a Greek word. It means I disagree. The second thing I can tell you is so clear to me that God is doing is he's continuing to purify his church. A change of heart and a change of circumstance. God is working in his church. We're gonna talk more about that this morning. So many of us have lived in the middle. We've been in that lukewarm bucket, you know, and the most common expression I've heard in my tenure through serving the church is "I don't wanna be too far. I don't wanna go too far, Pastor. I don't wanna be an extremist. You know, I don't wanna be on the lunatic fringe. I just wanna stay in the middle of the road".
Well, I grew up in Middle Tennessee, folks. The only thing that stays in the middle of the road long-term is roadkill. I don't think you wanna be a dead possum, huh? If you're new to Tennessee, forgive me, but if you've had a busy week, that's Sunday lunch. Okay, dad joke. Another takeaway we talked about was that the unexpected, the way that God moves is unexpected and, rather than that be unfamiliar to us, I think we're gonna have to learn to develop a comfort level and a familiarity with God doing what we don't imagine. We built all these narrow boxes and then these comfortable systems and these imaginations of how God should work, to the point that if the worship style differs from what we imagined or somebody sits in our seat or parks in our space, it disrupts us to the point we can hardly enjoy our worship service.
Folks, I promise you God is bigger than our routines. And we need his help in some ways we haven't needed his help in the past. So we're gonna have to be willing to open our hearts and understand that God is so much beyond us. In Isaiah 55, he said his thoughts aren't our thoughts and his ways aren't our ways, and so God's going to move in ways we're gonna go, "I didn't know God would move like that," or "I didn't know what that looked like," or you know, I think we've talked about revival or renewal or awakening or a moving of the Spirit of God, and we thought when that would happen that our enemies would be vanquished and that everybody we know would come and make a profession of faith and line up at the baptismal pool and everybody would cheer and everybody would be happy.
It would be universal and global. Where'd you get that imagination? Not from the Bible. I mean, when Jesus was here in his home town, they ran him off. They tried to kill him, in his home town. When he healed people, they said, "You did that on the wrong day of the week". Everybody objected expect the person who got healed. And that didn't just happen once; it happened repeatedly. You see that the way God moves, if you actually read the story and think for a moment, it's not at all what you would have expected. And I promise you, God is moving in the earth in an unprecedented way, but it's going to be in some unexpected ways. And then finally, I would submit to you that we're witnesses to some of the most powerful expressions of God's grace in many decades.
In 2 Corinthians 6 and verse 1, it is in your notes, it says: "As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain". The grace of God is the favor or the blessing of God that is unearned, undeserved, there's no merit attached to it. God's simply showing kindness to us. And what we have witnessed in these last few weeks, the adjustment of some of the laws of our land, they were some of the most heinous that have ever been on the books. It was not something we worked for, it wasn't something we voted for, it wasn't something that we had striven for. I believe it's an expression of God's grace. And it hasn't really changed the laws at the local level. Nothing's been forbidden.
It simply said that the mythical right that had been discovered in the Constitution truly didn't exist there. And now the states are going to have to decide which means your voice is of incredible importance. You're gonna have to be willing to talk about this around your kitchen table and with your friends, in your communities and at work, and our voices are going to matter if our children are going to be safe and secure. But I believe it's an expression of the grace of God. If something is unearned and unmerited and undeserved, how can we nullify that? Well, I believe the answer to that is when God's grace is expressed towards us, it requires action now.
If you go on and read in that passage, it says: "Now is the day of salvation. Now is the time of God's coming to you". And I think we have to acknowledge God is moving in our midst. And maybe we've been silent, maybe we've been immoral, maybe we've been ungodly. Maybe we've treated the grace of God rather shabbily, and the blood of Jesus too casually. And the boundaries in our lives have been too sloppy, but God in his grace has opened the doorway for a different kind of future for us as a people. Our children and our grandchildren can have a different legacy than the one that we will carry. And I believe that's God's grace. The outcome is still unclear. We have work to do. The opposition's pretty clear. The anxiety and the frustration and the bitterness, it's pretty clear.
It was almost unimaginable to be overseas and to hear the reporting that comes from the international news outlets and it wasn't very many years ago I was in Israel when the Supreme Court had another ruling and redefined marriage and I saw pictures in the international media of the rainbow projected on the White House. I remember weeping, thinking, "God, be merciful to us". So this is a different day. God's grace expressed towards us. So my question for the balance of this session is what do we do with that? How are we to respond? Not in anger, not in belligerence, not in violence, not in condemnation, not in criticism. We have to say "Yes" to the Lord in some new ways.
Are you ready for that? So we've been so focused on the fact that we were saved and we didn't care about the rest of it. We thought once we got saved, now all we needed was a fully funded retirement. That's the truth. We wanted our kids to get on the travel team where we wanted them to play and to get into the schools where we wanted 'em to go, and we wanted to drive a car with the label we wanted and shop in the stores we preferred, because we were saved and there really wasn't anything spiritual that mattered beyond that. We were deceived. And God in his mercy is awakening us.
I wanna start in Acts chapter 20. The beginning point for this session really has to do with obedience, with purposeful obedience to the Lord. How many of you know that being obedient to the Lord cannot always be easy? If you're training children, if you still have small kids at home and you're coaching them towards being obedient and first-time obedience, I bet you can share some stories and young people don't always prefer that. Have I got that right? Not just the kids I've been around, okay.
Well, in Acts chapter 20, Paul is speaking. He's in Ephesus. He's talking to some fellow believers and he said, "Now, 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 the Lord Jesus has given me, the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace".
Now, there's two statements in verses 22 and 23 that I wanna draw your attention to. In verse 22, Paul said, "I'm compelled by the Spirit". "Compelled by the Spirit, I'm going to Jerusalem". I'm not going to Jerusalem because I want to. I'm not going to Jerusalem because I want a falafel. I'm not going to Jerusalem because I like to be a tourist there. He said, "The reason I have set my face towards Jerusalem is I'm compelled by the Spirit to be there". So his will is not front and center. His obedience to the Spirit of God is. That makes perfect sense to me. I understand that part. To this point I have a 100% alignment with the thought of the verse. It's verse 23 where I begin to struggle. He said, "I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me".
Well, tell me, if you're compelled by the Spirit, tell me what you know about your trip to Jerusalem. "Well, the only thing I know," he says, "the only insight I have gotten, the only revelation that's been given to me, the only awareness that I have, is that hardship and prison await me. I'm compelled to go. But the only thing I know about it is when I get there, hardship and prison are on the other side of it. I don't know anything about assignments, I don't know anything about fruitfulness. I don't know anything about outcomes. The only thing I know". I woke up one day when we were traveling around Israel and this verse was just rebounding around inside of my head. "I only know, I only know".
Now, we have deviated from my comfort zone in following the Lord. That first verse, I was all in. I'm familiar with that. First thing I would acknowledge is that it seems to me a part of the lesson is we are asked to move forward with incomplete information. We serve a King. He doesn't serve us. We've deviated a long way from that. "O Lord, I'll be happy to tell anybody you want me to. You just show me on the front end who they are and what the outcome will be". You'll never move. You know, I'm amazed at God's faithfulness when I look back over my life, and bringing direction to my life. When I've been willing to move forward with incomplete insight and understanding, God's always been faithful. Hasn't always been easy. Oftentimes, I've done so complaining passionately. God can withstand your complaints about his poor job performance. Choose obedience anyway.
There's two things combined in this passage that we seldom combine. This compulsion of the Spirit to go, and the repeated warnings of hardships and prison. I'll tell you how that would play out in contemporary church world and I've spent my life in the church so I don't think I'm far off on this. But if you said to me, "You know, I felt compelled to go to Jerusalem but then the Lord warned me that when I got there, it was gonna be very difficult and was gonna result in an arrest, so I changed my plans. That's the point of the warning, right"? No, that's not the point of the warning. The warning was to prepare you that when you got there it was uneasy.
See, we've assumed that the nature of the assignment was it ought to be fun. I like to travel to Jerusalem. I've been there many, many times and I'd probably go tomorrow if I had half a chance. Or maybe Tuesday. But if you told me, "If you go, they're gonna arrest you," maybe I'll wait for another season. And in this particular passage, Paul said, "I'm compelled to continue to travel," so I have some questions to you and me about following the Lord. If God is gonna move in the earth in some ways, we need some realignments, we need some sweeping changes, we need some dramatic interventions of God, and that's not gonna begin with the pagans and the ungodly and the immoral. That's gonna begin with us.
So if we use this little passage as something of a narrative to inform us, I have some questions. Are we listening? Do we want to hear? Or do we just want God to listen to us? Are we responding appropriately? Are we using the warnings about the difficulty ahead to abandon ship and to become more quiet and more silent and to withdraw more? We don't wanna get caught up in the cancel culture. Have we imagined all warnings are given to us so that we can avoid difficulty? Maybe it's just a warning so that you can buckle your seatbelt? I've been in a lot of planes lately. I'm still a bit amused that they're explaining to us how to use seatbelts. I'm thinking after, worn seatbelts on planes now? Five decades? Been wearing 'em in our cars about that long, haven't we?
I'm thinking by this point, if you don't know how to make that seatbelt work, thin the herd. No, I'm kidding. Don't. I mean, the lights come on, there's some turbulence ahead, you need to be sure your seatbelt's fastened. There's a lot of back and forth and ebb and flow and awareness that you stay as safe as you can. So not all warnings mean to abandon ship. The seatbelt light comes on, you don't jump out the door of the plane. But that's kind of the mentality we've had in the church. If we had any warning signs, any hesitation, "Ooh, I'm not doing that. Might be uncomfortable". Like, we've almost avoided all discipline altogether. Financial discipline, physical discipline, emotional discipline.
If it feels good, why shouldn't I do it? Makes me happy. I feel entitled to it. And I can promise you that God is asking us, as his people, to walk some pathways that will not always be fun, comfortable, convenient. Not everybody that hears the message will applaud. Is it possible that some things must be accomplished through difficulty? It's not only possible, it's biblical. Could adversity be included in your assignment? "I will serve the Lord when he gets me out of this mess". So then the only thing necessary to neutralize your effectiveness for the kingdom of God is to assure that there's some messiness in your journey. Oh, maybe that's not the best option. Will you accept such an assignment? Acts chapter 21, it's the very next chapter. Says: "Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea".
Now they're within Israel. Caesarea's the primary harbor at that point in time. "We stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. And after we'd been there a number of days, a prophet came down from Judea. And he came over to us, and he took Paul's belt". Judea is the region around Jerusalem. If you prefer, it's the county where the city of Jerusalem is located. That's a bit, "And he said, 'The Holy Spirit says, "In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles."'"
It's another affirmation, another warning, by the Spirit of God. "And when we heard this, we and the people pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. And Paul said, 'Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I'm ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.' And when he wouldn't be dissuaded, they said, 'The Lord's will be done.'" Even within amongst those closest to him, there wasn't consensus. It was not a lack of love. There wasn't a break of fellowship. There wasn't an argument about orthodoxy.
Paul understood the Spirit of God was saying, "I have to go". And in place after place, he was told "This won't be easy". And true enough, when he arrived in Jerusalem, he's falsely accused. A riot breaks out. He would have been murdered in the temple area of Jerusalem if it hadn't been for the intervention of Roman soldiers. And then there's an assassination plot launched by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. But for the intervention of the Roman soldiers, Paul would have been assassinated by his own people. They moved him to Caesarea where, for two years, he's under guard in a prison. Put onboard a ship to be transported to Rome eventually, that gets caught in a hurricane and the ship is destroyed. He's shipwrecked. He's gathering firewood to dry out and he's bitten by a poisonous snake.
You can't make this stuff up. And I think on every one of those nights when Paul's trying to manage his emotions and his frame of reference, he's saying, "Well, you know, we talked about this in Ephesus and we talked about this in Caesarea, and Agabus reminded me of that. Lord, I know there's a purpose. If there's this kind of a resistance, there's a purpose on the other end of this". He makes it to Rome, the center of the civilized world at that point, to strengthen this emerging church that's there. For two years, we're told, he was able to stay at a house, under house arrest, but he was able to stay in a house and teach all who would come the redemptive story of Jesus.
God is moving in the earth. Are you willing to be obedient? Are you willing to say "Yes" to the Lord? Are you willing to move your faith from this personal salvation and I got my ticket punched to becoming a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth? I don't wanna diminish the emphasis upon conversion or salvation or the new birth, but I wanna invite you past that. It's deceptive to think that your only responsibility to the Lord is to recite a prayer, then live life on your terms. But I don't want you to face the King of kings with that idea in your heart.
I want you to be prepared to have offered yourself as a living sacrifice to the Lord, to be obedient to him on the days when it makes sense and on the days when it's confusing. I wanna encourage you to have the courage to be an advocate for the truth and to stand up for the truth, for a biblical worldview, a Judeo-Christian worldview. To talk about it with your friends and your peers, to talk about it in the marketplace and at work. I'm tired of being told we can't talk about it in the marketplace.
Now I see corporate America's standing up in powerful ways for ungodliness and immorality, saying they'll pay for transportation for their employees that want abortions or they will pay the bail cost if their employees are arrested for protesting a decision of the Supreme Court. And for decades, we've been told we shouldn't even mention our faith in those same arenas. I'm ashamed that I've been quiet. I'm embarrassed that I have been tolerant of ungodliness and wickedness, and now that I see in positions of authority and power they're using that authority and power to bully us into silence, we should not be silent.
God is moving in our earth. He's moving in our nation, and I pray he's moving in your family. So often, I feel like the apostle Paul when he said, "I don't know everything completely. I have a limited viewpoint, but I know that God is moving". I wanna pray for you that you'll complete the course that God has called you to. Oftentimes, we have an incomplete perspective. But the faithfulness of God gives us all we need to know.
Lord, I thank you for the honor of serving you in this most unique season. And I pray for those listening today that they will have the courage and the boldness to say "yes" to you. May not one person turn back or be turned aside or be distracted. But may we complete our course in Jesus's name, amen.