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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Allen Jackson » Allen Jackson - The Absence Of Spiritual Life Is Death - Part 1

Allen Jackson - The Absence Of Spiritual Life Is Death - Part 1

Allen Jackson - The Absence Of Spiritual Life Is Death - Part 1

It's good to be with you again. We're continuing our study on spiritual things. You know, for a long time in church world, we've imagined that if we could join the right group and read the right translation and worship with the right musical style, there really wasn't much else to sort out about our faith. Well, that's kind of a quaint reminder of another time and era. We're living in a world today where there's a spiritual battle that is raging in the streets around us, and there's an essential role for the church to play. We're gonna have to be more aware of spiritual things than we've ever been before. That means we're gonna have to learn and grow and open our hearts. We're gonna have to read our Bibles to understand and not just to be dutiful. It's an exciting time to serve the Lord. The Spirit of God is moving, and I wanna say yes to him. And I want to encourage you to join me. Grab your Bible and get a notepad, but most importantly, open your heart.

We're living in a unique time. The church is struggling. I hear the reports week after week. I talk to Christians across our country and Christian leaders across our country, and the church is struggling to find our way, and we have lived too far in the world with too little fear of God. And we've done it for so long that we've become remarkably uncomfortable in the presence of the Spirit of holiness. It's unfortunate: for the most part we're more comfortable in the midst of the spirit of the world than we are in the Spirit of holiness. We're on planet Earth to give expression to the purposes of God, period. Everything else is secondary to that. We are given a journey under the sun to give expression to the will of God in this earth. Jesus taught us to pray that way.

Now, our awareness and cooperation is essential or we will face judgment for the hardness of our own hearts. I would encourage you not to think of this as just something optional, like whether or not you're gonna have heated seats in your new automobile. We have treated God so casually, as if we can do our own thing and pursue our own agendas and chase our own heart's dreams and our own aspirations, and that somewhere along the way, we'll stop and say, "Jesus," and God will be pleased with us. We have been idolatrous. We have looked to wealth, education, power, pleasure, or even the government to secure our futures. Time and again, more times than I wanna spend the time enumerating, we approach elections with the imagination that this time a candidate will give us a better outcome. That God in his mercy might use our governmental system and/or an election even to provide deliverance.

To be candid, I'm no longer sure about the pathway, but I am certain that only God can secure our future and enable us to live with freedom and liberty for all. We have no pathway forward apart from the intervention of the Spirit of God. So here's the question, and it's an important one, and we have to answer it individually. Are we willing to change and cooperate with him? Because your answer to that question is what will bring clarity to our future. It'll take us towards one of two outcomes.

So we're back to this topic of spiritual things, and we started with 1 Corinthians 12, and I'll go back to that in this session. 1 Corinthians 12, chapter 1. I would remind you it's a letter to the church in Corinth, so it's written to a group of believers and it's a very spiritually active church. They speak in tongues, they pray for the sick, they believe in miracles. And they are sexually immoral. And they are drunkards and they are gluttons. And they're very divided. And they're bickering, and they have been occupied by false teachers. You've got to process all of that into the equation, that you can have expressions of the Spirit of God in the midst of some very carnal activity by God's people. It's an important component in this discussion because so often, we want to choose between the power of God or the character of God and you need both. You need both.

So Paul's writing, and in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, in verse 1, he says, "About spiritual gifts, brothers, I don't want you to be ignorant". I told you earlier that that's a little unclear. The word "gifts" is italicized, not to add emphasis but to give you the hint that it's not in the original language. It's been added by the editors. It's not added because they're mean-spirited. The Greek word doesn't have an English equivalent. The Greek word is the noun, spirituals, and we don't have that. So something has to be inserted to give it meaning there, and they chose, not inappropriately, the word "gifts". I just don't think it's overly helpful.

In the context of that passage, it goes on to talks about service or working or manifestations. We could just as accurately talk about spiritual service or spiritual working or manifestations of the Spirit. The underlying intent, I believe, of the sentence is: "About spiritual things, don't be ignorant". And if we can have a candid moment, we kind of are. And I grew up in the South. Who are you calling ignorant? Those are fighting words. If you're visiting us from someplace else, don't call the people next to you ignorant. It will not end well. And Paul said, "I don't want you to be ignorant, unaware," but it's more than unaware. "I don't want your hearts to be hardened to this".

So an openness to spiritual things. And I wanna pursue that a little more. We looked in the book of Revelation, and I ask you to wander with me through the visions of the throne room of God and begin to identify expressions of spiritual things in the book of Revelation. It's the most amazing. You know, we have little bitty, tiny portals into some spiritual things throughout Scripture. In Isaiah chapter 6, Isaiah says, "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on his throne and his train filled his temple". It's a little portal into the throne room of God. The book of Revelation, the curtain is ripped open, and the voice says, "Come up here, and look at this".

And so we spent a couple of sessions walking through the throne room of God and making some observations around that. And I want to come back to the ministry of Jesus and see if we can understand a little bit more. Why is it this is a struggle? Why do we care so little about spiritual things? Why are we so reluctant to embrace them? Why do we imagine that a physical solution is always the best one? Why do you always start with that? When you have, if everything else fails, pray. I think it's the exact opposite. I think before you try anything else, pray. But it isn't our intuitive response, and I think Jesus can help us. In John chapter 3, says: "There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council".

That's important information. He's a very influential Orthodox Jewish man. He's an expert in the law. By modern standards, he would be a PhD or a bishop or a person of high standing and great training, much respected. "He came to Jesus at night and said, 'Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who's come from God. No one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.'" So Nicodemus comes in some humility. Now, he comes at night, so he's still using the cloak of darkness. Doesn't really wanna be identified publicly with Jesus yet. But he said, "You're clearly a teacher. No one unless God helped him could do what you're doing".

And Jesus answers him, and by now you know the phrase. "In reply Jesus declared, 'I tell you the truth,'" buckle up. Nicodemus, I'm about to rattle your fillings. "'I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he's born again.'" He just blew Nicodemus's mind. And then it just leaks out. "How can a man be born when he's old? Surely he can't enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born"! And Jesus doesn't let up. He pushes harder on the accelerator. "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he's born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it pleases. You hear its sound, but you can't tell where it comes from or where it's going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit".

Poor Nicodemus. I mean, he is struggling, and it got recorded for us to read about. I mean, we're 2000 years later and we're still reading it and going, "Poor slow Nicodemus". But Jesus is making a point that shouldn't be lost on us. He said, "Without a spiritual birth, you have no opportunity to see the kingdom of God. It remains blind to you. It remains veiled in darkness". He said, "You need a spiritual birth, and it's no more visible than the wind. You can see the outcome of the wind, but you can't see the origins of the wind. You can see the wind move the trees and the wind stir the dust or the wind blow the rain sideways. But you don't know exactly where it came from. You can identify its direction, but you can't identify its origin".

And Jesus is making a parallel with the Spirit of God. You can see its power. We all understand the power of the wind. And Nicodemus says, "How can this be"? It's a pleading question. And Jesus, I'm telling you, he's not giving him any quarter. Jesus said, "You are Israel's teacher, and you don't understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify of what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony". Now watch verse 12: "I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things"? You see, this is not a new challenge: the struggle in your heart, the struggle in my heart, the struggle in the midst of God's people.

Jesus is in the midst of this audience doing remarkable things, miracles they've never seen the equal of, fulfilling dozens and dozens and dozens of prophecy. He came to a people who are steeped in the study of the scripture. And Nicodemus is a leader amongst them and he's willing to acknowledge the supernatural components of Jesus's life, but you can feel in him the tension. "How can this be"? How can it be that the way I've known to serve God is incomplete? How can it be that my experiences are this lacking? I have felt so good about the way I've known God. I've been so confident and so certain. I've been more correct than everybody else. I mean, there are the covenant people of God and there's everybody else. The Hebrew word is goyim and it's not a compliment. There's us and them. "How can this be"? Nicodemus says. And Jesus said, "If you struggle to believe what you're watching, how will you ever understand spiritual things"?

Now, I wanna submit to you that if Nicodemus, by every measure, a good man, a faithful man, a student of scripture, a desire to honor God, he's acknowledging Jesus in a unique way, and he is struggling with this topic, not to be dismissive yourself. Don't say, "Oh, I got this". It's not that easy. It's a bit more complex. Look in Matthew 15. This is Jesus again. This time, he's talking to religious leaders in Jerusalem, but the real target is his disciples. He says to the religious leaders: "You're hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain.'"

Did you know that you can worship God in vain? You can go through the activities and the motions and you can be in the right building and read the right book and sing the right words in your songs, and then this, the word "vanity" means futile, empty, useless, without fruit. "'But their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' Jesus called the crowd to him and said, 'Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean.'" He's just said that kosher rules don't make any difference. And you can hear them, the shattering of everybody's minds. Look at verse 12: "The disciples came to him". This is private. "They came to him and asked, 'Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?'"

This is pretty rich, the disciples had to, you know, they come to Jesus in private and go, "Psst, hey, Lord, could you tone it down a little? You know, you get a little ratcheted up, and you got some good things to say, but did you notice them? They were really not happy with you". So the disciples don't understand any better than Jesus, I mean, the people Jesus was talking to. I mean, and this is deep into Matthew's Gospel. They're following him. They've identified who he is, and they are struggling to get their heads around this thing. "Psst, they weren't happy with you. Did you notice"? Can you imagine thinking Jesus is clueless? Have you ever prayed prayers that explain to God like he's not paying any attention?

"God, you know my neighbor, the one with the three dogs and the...right, drives that red Hyundai, God, you know that one"? Yeah, I think he knows. "'Did you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?' And Jesus replied, 'Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they're blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into the pit.' And Peter said..." Don't you know Peter thought he was about to burst forth with something spiritual? "I have a question," right? "Might you explain the parable to us"? It's right there. Jesus looked at him and said, "Are you really that dull"? No, I'm making fun of Peter but he's way ahead of us. He's left everything to follow Jesus. He's all in. He's burned all the bridges, he's burned the boats, whatever image or metaphor you prefer.

But he is struggling to get his mind around this because Jesus just rewrote the rule book. You see, when we talk about spiritual things, we think we can dovetail them into the routine of our lives, that we can do everything the way we've done it and believe everything the way we've believed it, and not reorient anything about it. And we'll just kind of casually invite the Spirit of God that brought order out of nothingness in Creation. And that everything's just gonna continue to roll along kind of unhindered. The decision to cooperate with the Spirit of God is a paradigm shift. It reorders things. It brings a different imagination of outcomes. It will stretch you. It'll realign your friends. Jesus said to them, "Leave them. They're blind. Don't follow them. Don't take counsel from them".

So I'm very conscious that I'm putting before you a disruptive invitation. But I'm willing to do it because I don't believe that we can navigate the path in front of us without the help of the Spirit of God. We have imagined we could out-organize, outwork, outthink, you know, we could just kind of ride through the storm and we're gonna get to an election or an economic cycle and things are gonna get better, folks, that's not the place we're in. We're past the tipping point. This isn't a self-righting catastrophe. We need a help beyond ourselves. We're gonna need a spiritual life. Look at Matthew 16. Next chapter, Matthew's telling a story: "When they went across the lake," this is Galilee, "the disciples forgot to take bread. And Jesus said to them, 'Be careful. Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.' They discussed this among themselves and said, 'Well, it's because we didn't bring any bread.'"

Aren't you glad that all of our boneheaded conversations aren't recorded for time in eternity? I mean, social media's bad enough. So it says that "Jesus, aware of their discussion, asked a question, 'You of little faith, why are you talking amongst yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand?'" What's the answer? No, not even a little. "'Don't you remember the five loaves for the five thousand?'" Uh, yeah. "'How many basketfuls did you pick up?'" Lots. "Do you remember the seven loaves and the", oh, yeah, "How many basket", lots. I edited it a little bit. And then back to the text, Jesus said, "How is it you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread"?

How is it you don't understand? Do you really think bread's a problem? Now, before you laugh at them, we saw, what? Forty snowflakes yesterday? How many of you bought bread 'cause, dear God, we might be snowed in for 3 or 4 hours. And we know the Lord can't provide, so we can forget those other little children that are hungry. I'm gonna go get every loaf of bread in the grocery store. "'Don't you remember? How is it that you don't understand that I wasn't talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.' Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread".

Well, it's good they understood it 'cause he's just said it. "But against the teaching of the Pharisees and the Sadducees". Now, they're caught in the midst of a culture that is not cooperating with the expressions of the Spirit of God. And when we read it from a little distance and we don't feel those same stresses, it's almost comical. But when we live in a culture that is facing the stress of being in contradiction with the Spirit of God, it's not funny at all. If I say that the Bible says marriage is between a man and a woman, the room gets quiet. Or we talk about the biblical roles that God assigns to men and women, we get quieter still. Or that God created us male and female and it really isn't confusing.

Now we're going like, "Well, now you're being political". No, really, we're being biblical. And what we're trying to do is understand what it means to open our hearts to the Spirit of God when it confronts the prevailing wisdom of any generation that is in opposition to God's truth. That's the role of the church. That's our assignment, not to be angry or belligerent. I mean, Jesus said, "Don't follow them. They're blind". I smile, people talk about some of our current political class who say "They're not nice". Have you read what Jesus had to say? "You hypocrites. You're whitewashed tombs. You search the world over to make a disciple and then you make him twice the child of hell that you are". In case you're not familiar with the biblical vocabulary, those are not compliments.

Believing in spiritual things is not easy. It wasn't easy for the disciples, it's not easy for disciples today. We will need God's help. Now, here's the good news. Paul prayed for the Ephesian church that God would give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him. We could pray that prayer for ourselves. Let's pray:

Father, I thank you for your Word, for its truth and authority and power, that you have called us to this point, this unique point in human history, to bear the name of Jesus. Grant each of us a spirit of wisdom and understanding that we might know you better. I thank you for it in Jesus's name, amen.

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