Allen Jackson - Spiritual Forces In Conflict - Part 1
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I began a new series in the previous session talking about spiritual things, and I wanna continue that. In this session, we're gonna look specifically at the book of Revelation for a bit. You know, I think we have a lot of language for spiritual things, but we have very little intent. You know, we are an interdenominational church, which means on a typical weekend we have people from more than 40 different denominations or traditions that will gather. Southern Baptists, and Methodists, and Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics, and Greek Orthodox, and Church of God, and people who've never been to church before. You see, it's not the label we wear that identifies us as God's people, it's the lordship of Jesus in our lives.
But I've done this long enough that I've come to the realization that no matter which tradition you come from, you have language around the person and the work of the Holy Spirit, but most of us have very little intent. Some of us even have beautiful liturgies, very formally written statements of belief and celebrations of public worship with high language around the involvement of the Spirit of God in our lives, but we're really not anticipating that. And I would submit to you, we've come to a time and a place where we can no longer not only flourish, I don't think we'll survive without the help of the Spirit of God.
Now, I've been saying to you for months, this part is not new. I've said it repeatedly that the problems that we face are essentially, fundamentally in nature, spiritual. We see the evidence of spiritual activity all around us. I think it's as clearly seen in any way I know as in the self-destruction of our society. We've had more freedoms, more liberties, more abundance, more opportunities than any people in the history of the world, and we are intentionally dismantling that. It's illogical, it's irrational, it's beyond self-destructive. I don't believe it can be explained other than something spiritual at its root. You know, economic plans, or new educational procedures, or even rulings from the Supreme Court, or new political leaders are not gonna resolve the issues that we face unless we have a heart change.
Now, if we have a heart change, we may get a different kind of leaders, and different kind of judicial rulings, and more effective output from those with authority over us. I think a great example of this has been the recent ruling by the Supreme Court on abortion. Change the law of the land, that didn't really change our practice yet, it just pushed it back to the states. But the change in the law hasn't really resulted in new attitudes. The data seems to suggest that it was the single most significant issue in the most recent election, with the majority of people who were voting, women, were voting in favor of abortion access.
So that the law change, or a Supreme Court ruling, really didn't change who we are, women and men still demand the right for a mother to end the life of a child. And beyond that, we've taken it to whole new levels, we are merrily mutilating children and cultivating gender confusion. And the response when questioned about it is, "Well, after all, there's no law against it". Well, no law that men have written. I'm gonna ask you a question. It's a bit of a simplistic question, but it leads us to a point. Would you rather live in a nation of good people with bad laws, or would you rather live in a nation of bad people with good laws? It's really not a hard question.
I would submit you'd rather be in a nation of good people because if we had bad laws, we could change them. If you have a nation of bad people, you'll destroy the good laws you have. You see, we don't need more laws, we need a change of heart and more people. We need more people who will honor God. We need to start with the people of God. That's our assignment. You see, the changing our laws or honoring the ones that we have, it's not a bad objective, but ultimately we have to have a change of heart. We need more people with a heart for God and his principles. Therefore, I come back to the original premise, fundamentally, we have a spiritual problem. And if we keep hoping to tinker with the political system, or the legal system, or the judicial system, and we think we're gonna guarantee freedom and liberty for all, we're confused, those come from God, not from governments.
And the church is God's agent in the earth, that's why Jesus said in Matthew 16, "I'll build my church and hell itself can't stop it". So we've thought of church in terms of a Sunday morning destination, or an architectural statement, or a theological form, or a preference on how we worship, but the church is the people of God from every nation, race, language, and tribe. We stand together under the lordship of Jesus and we will not be a triumphant church, we will not be an overcoming church, without the help of the Spirit of God. Jesus gathered his disciples just before he was to begin his suffering and he said, "I'm leaving and where I'm going, you can't come". They were beyond distraught. That was not the nature of the bargain.
Jesus said, "Follow me and I'll make you fishers of men". They left everything. They walked away from businesses, relationships. They identified with him when there was tremendous public pressure against him, sound familiar? They stood with him pretty much, and now he's gathered them together, they haven't yet abandoned him. The pressure hadn't gotten that great and he said, "I'm leaving, and where I'm going, you can't come". And they said, "That's not fair, we didn't agree to this". And Jesus said, "It's for your good I'm going away because if I go, I'll send you a comforter, and he'll never leave you nor forsake you. And the things I've been doing, you'll do even greater things 'cause you won't be limited to one place and one person. It'll be multiplied, it'll multiply exponentially. It'll take place all over the earth because the my spirit within you will go wherever you go. Now go," he said, "And preach this good news to all creation".
That's our assignment church. So the changes that need to be made have to start with us, not with our politicians, or the educators, or whomever you think the root of the problem is. 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and verse 1, you have it in your notes. Paul's writing to a church in Corinth. It's a church that has a lot of spiritual dynamics there. They pray for the sick, they speak in tongues, they prophesy, a lot of spiritual activity. So you can have a lot of spiritual activity and not be particularly spiritually aware, because Paul writes to them in chapter 12 and verse 1, he says, "Now about spiritual things," or "Spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant". "Well wait a minute Paul, we prophesy, we gather together, we worship you. We even speak in tongues". And he said, "Listen, I don't want you to act like you're so ignorant".
You know, in the south that's fighting language. Some folk say, "You're ignorant". "Who're you calling ignorant? Didn't your mama teach you anything"? "Now what you bring my mama into it for? You're calling my mama ignorant? We're about to go". Paul called a church, filled with spiritual activity, he said, "You're ignorant of spiritual things". Then I would submit to you respectfully, we know a good deal about forms of worship in church and what Baptists believe, or Church of Christ believe, or Charismatics believe, but we are woefully uninformed on spiritual things. Now the English language isn't particularly helpful here, where it says spiritual gifts.
If you use the older translations, if you read King James or something, you'll notice there's certain words that are italicized, but usually if we're writing italics adds emphasis. Well, that's not what it means, italics in those cases means it's a word that the editor added. It's not a part of the original text, and in the original Greek that the New Testament's written in, the word there is spirituals. It's a noun in Greek, we don't have an English equivalent. So the translators have to find a word that goes there and they use several different ones depending on the translation you picked up, but what Paul says about spiritual things, about spiritual gifts, about spiritual manifestations, "I don't want you to be ignorant. I want you to know about these things".
So I wanna walk with you through at least the opening chapters of the book of Revelation. I'm not gonna try to interpret with you the seven seals, or the seven bowls, or what the second horn on the third head of the fourth beast, that's a worthwhile endeavor, I don't mean to diminish that, that's not my goal today. I wanna look at the book of Revelation with you, at some principles about spiritual things that are so apparent there. So the book of Revelation is the most avoided book of the New Testament. People say it frightens them, they don't understand it. And there's a whole litany of reasons why we don't read it. I would submit that fundamentally, it gives us insight and understanding into spiritual things, and we're so uncomfortable with that, we're so ignorant of that. Just the book is awkward.
So that's the target. We'll start in Revelation 1, and verse 1. My outline is a little different, I'm gonna give you five, I hope to, we'll see. I have a whole lot more than five, I cut it down so you'd have hope. I'll quit on time no matter where we are in the outline, how about that? But the outline is structured a little differently 'cause I just wanna walk with you through those opening chapters. Revelation 1 and verse 1, "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John". That's a very interesting introduction. This is a revelation that God gave to Jesus.
You know, there are some things that will happen on planet earth that God has held to himself. Before Jesus ascended back the earth, the disciples had a question about timing, God's timing on restoring Israel. And Jesus said, "That's none of your business. That's none of your business". The Bible tells us that no one knows when Jesus is returning. So if somebody tells you they know, you know one thing for certain, they don't know. Don't argue with 'em, just smile, turn around and then sprint in the other direction. I don't find it overly fruitful to argue with stubborn people. But this is a revelation of Jesus Christ. This book is an unveiling of Jesus, which God gave him to show to his servants.
God said to Jesus, "I want your servants to know more about you". And Jesus said, "I know just the person to give it to. I'll send an angel to John". How would you like to be so trusted by God that if he had an insight or an understanding that he wanted distributed, he'd send an angel to you? That's just amazing, that one verse to me captivates me. See, we know so little about Jesus from the gospels, we basically have a slice into a three year window of Jesus's life. And yet the Bible tells us that Jesus was present at creation, he was a part of the creation narrative. Jesus met Abraham when he was coming back from the victory over the kings of the north. Jesus met Joshua on the plains outside Jericho before they started the conquest. Jesus interrupted Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road after he descended back to heaven.
But we really only have this one three year window where the curtain is pulled back a bit, until we get to the book of Revelation and it's a revelation of Jesus. So now he has my attention. And then in verse 10, same introductory chapter, this is John. He said, "On the Lord's day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet". Now by this point in John's life, his peer group is gone. All of those that were recruited with him and followed Jesus with him have been martyred. And John himself is a prisoner working in copper mines on the Island of Patmos, he's just doing slave labor for the Roman Empire, because he had the audacity to be an ambassador for Jesus.
And it says, "On the Lord's day, I'm in the Spirit and I heard a voice behind me". His life is about gone. His strength is certainly diminished, his friends are gone. If you were to evaluate his life work at that point, you would say he was an abject failure. He's a prisoner, and he hears a voice, and he knows it's Jesus. I didn't put it in your notes, I knew I'd never get out if I put it all in there, but it said, "I fell at his feet like I was dead". And he put his hand on him and said, "I'm the living one. I was alive and I was dead, but behold, I'm alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and hell, John. I'm not subject to Roman governors anymore. I don't need the approval of the Sanhedrin. I got the keys, John".
I know it's popular these days to in some way cast aspersions on the value of church. But I'm telling you, the church holds a unique place, it's the only institution I can find that Jesus said he was committed to establishing. And revelation is given to seven churches, and I just briefly wanna draw your attention. The same phrase is used to address every one of the seven churches, and it's worth noting. Revelation 2, chapter 2 and verse 2, the first church is Ephesus, and it says, "I know your deeds, your hard work, and your perseverance". I would circle, if you're following with me, "I know". What I wanna be certain we don't miss is that heaven is aware of what's happening in the earth, specifically what's happening in the church. The angel comes with this message and he says to the Ephesian Church, "I know you".
Now, when we talk about spiritual things, one of the hurdles we have to get over, is we think spiritual things somehow lag behind the intelligence, the creativity, the magnificence of the human being. That they're kind of left over, that they're a little slow. And we impute those things to God as if he needs our help. Listen to the way we pray, "God, I wanna pray for Jane, my neighbor. You know the one with the picket fence and the Bassett hound and the three kids. She doesn't have much fashion sense". I mean, I listen to people pray and we explain to God like he doesn't know who it is we're praying about.
Folks, the Bible very clearly tells us that God is a being unlike us. He's just not like us. It says, for instance, that "The hairs on your head are numbered". I don't believe that's a metaphorical statement. I believe God knows the head hair count on every person. We go, "How could he know that"? He's not like us. When it says, "If a sparrow falls to the ground, God knows". I believe God cares about the bird's funerals. And then we act like, "Well, you know, God, I know you need me to explain this to you". Folks, he's not like us. He knows what you're doing. He knows your thoughts. He knows the intent of your heart. That's not a threat, it's a promise. "Cultivate a heart towards God, he'll come close to you".
If the intent of your heart is to honor him, the creator of heaven and earth knows, he'll come stand close to you. He's not like us. We've treated spiritual things like they're insignificant. They're not really as significant as power, or money, or influence, or a large social media following, or whatever. "I know your deeds". If that's a troubling statement, do you repent and change? It's not a threat, you can be free. He repeats it in Revelation 2:9 to the Church of Smyrna. "I know you". To the church in Pergamos in verse 13. I know it's not in your notes. "I know where you live," he said.
Again, this is very consistent with scripture. When Jesus is recruiting the disciples, he says to Nathaniel, "I saw you when you were seated under the fig tree". And he says, "My Lord". And Jesus said, "Oh, you're gonna see better stuff than that". Again, we've relegated God to church, or religion, or ideas, or rules, folks, that's not it. In verse 19, you have it in your notes, same chapter. He said, "I know your deeds". I know you. "Your love and faith, your servants and perseverance, and that you're now doing more than you did at first".
And I gave you a bit of the expanded message to that church in Thyatira. He says, "You've tolerated a woman amongst you, a spirit amongst you, an immoral person amongst you". Said, "I've given her time to repent of immorality, but she's unwilling. So I'll cast her on a bed of suffering and I'll make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds and I'll repay each of you according to your deeds".
The first spiritual principle I wanna bring you from the book of Revelation is the choice of repentance. Very few things are more powerfully spiritually in your life and available to you than repentance. Repentance will break the authority of unclean spirits over your life. Repentance can bring freedom to you no matter how dark your choices or ungodly your path. It's better than any antibiotic or any antiviral. It's better than anything you would take to boost your physical immune system, and I'm not opposed to any of those things, I'm telling you, there's something more powerful available to you. Because if you have to own your transgressions, if you have no defense against unclean spirits, if you have no authority to ward them off, they'll not only destroy your body, soul, and spirit, they will destroy you for eternity.
You say, "I don't believe that". It doesn't matter. We have this rather naive approach, if we declare that we don't believe, it protects us. Smoke four or five packs of unfiltered cigarettes a day and say, "I don't believe in nicotine". It won't keep your lung function from being diminished. The choice of repentance. "I've given her time to repent". You see, God's grace is not infinite. "I've given her an opportunity," he said. Some of us have lived rather presumptive lives. There's an interesting phrase at the end of that passage, you have it. He said, "I'll repay each of you according to your deeds". Do you know that what you do matters? How you spend your time matters, that you're gonna be rewarded. This makes some people very annoyed.
I've had this debate with some very intelligent, very successful, very affluent people, very offended. They said, "No, I just don't believe that. I believe that if you're born again, everybody gets the same thing". It's not what the Bible says. Jesus talked to his disciples. They came and said, "We wanna sit on the throne on either side of you". And he said, "Well, you don't know what you're asking, it's a high price". And they said, "Well, never mind, we'll pay the price". And Jesus said, "Well, the price you will pay, but that assignment isn't mine to give, my father will give that". There's a hierarchy amongst the angels. There are archangels, angels have different roles, different authorities, different spans of influence.
Folks, we will serve God in his eternal kingdom when we are finished in time. And your role in eternity will be determined by your faithfulness in time. Works matter. Works matter. It's been so drilled into us that we're not saved by works that we've thought, "It doesn't matter how I behave, it doesn't matter what I do. It doesn't matter what I give myself to, there's no difference, it's my life, I can do what I want to with it". It is your life and you can do what you want, but God has said he'll reward you if you'll serve him. It's a spiritual principle. It's in the book. I smile, people say, you know, "I like to read the New Testament, it's all about love," but they didn't read that part of the New Testament.
Look at Ephesians 2 verse 8. This is the verse that is the foundation of that idea that we're not saved by works. It says, "It's by grace you've been saved through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast". That is not only true, it is the truth. We are not saved by our good deeds. You don't get to heaven like you used to save trading stamps, or green stamps. You really gotta be old to know what I'm talking about. It's not merit based, it isn't a meritocracy. On the other hand, it is necessary for you and me to do works in order for others to be saved. I wanna be sure you get that, we're not saved by works, but the scripture is very clear, it's necessary for you and I to do some work in order for people to get saved.
That's why Jesus said things like, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature and those who believe will be saved". Or in Acts chapter 1, he said, "You'll be empowered to be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth". Or he said of himself, "I came to seek and to save those who were lost". Or he comes to John the Baptist and say, "I need to be baptized by you". And John said, "No, no, no. I need to be baptized by you". And he said, "No, no. I need to do this to fulfill all righteousness".
Jesus came on a life assignment. In Philippians 2, it said, "He didn't consider equality with God something to be grasped, but he made himself nothing. He laid his reputation, and his glory, and his majesty aside, and said, I will serve the will of the king". Folks, we've lost this. It's just almost slipped through our fingers. We talk about our conversion, our salvation, our new birth as if we've been absolved now of serving the King. The King should serve us and give me what I want, and give me promotion. Your works won't save you, but we have work to do.
I think it's such an amazing revelation that God knows what's happening in our lives. If he knows when a sparrow falls to the ground, or how many hairs we have on our head, he knows the details of our lives. That's not a threat, that's a promise. What a wonderful thing. Let's pray:
Father, I thank you that we're not alone, or isolated, or separated from you, that you know the details of our days. We trust you with that, we trust you with our future. Help us, we need your help in Jesus's name, amen.