Allen Jackson - God or Satan - Part 1
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The gospel is a declaration of power. It's not an invitation to become a theologian or a church person or to be more tame or polite. Those things may happen but they're not the heart of the gospel. The gospel is a declaration of power. When Jesus came and began his ministry, the first comments that were directed towards him, they said, "We've never seen anybody that speaks with the kind of authority that he has. The wind obeys him and the waves obey him and the demons obey him". And, folks, we have arrived at a point in the unfolding story of the church in the earth, where we have to return to the power of the gospel. We have wrongly assumed that a politician would save us or the government would work it out. Or we could outorganize evil or outthink evil or outspend evil. We need the power of Almighty God in the midst of his church.
And so in this session, I want to explore with you, specifically, an idea as to the authority that you imagine that you are living under. And there's only two options, there's no third option. There's not a gray area. You're either living under the authority of the kingdom of God or you're living under the authority of the kingdom of Satan. And just as kind of a spoiler alert, having prayed a prayer of acceptance of the Lord at some point in your journey doesn't mean you're walking under the authority of that kingdom. I'm not trying to cause you to question your salvation. We'll look at that in a bit more detail in a moment, but that's our topic. But I want to start with the idea that apart from a personal relationship with Jesus of Nazareth, you're lost. That humanity is lost. Not in the sense that you're disoriented, that your GPS isn't working. Lost in the sense that you have forfeited something.
You see, it is a forfeiture of a human life to spend your days under the sun, apart from a relationship with Almighty God. I want to say it again, there's a tremendous forfeiture in any human life who spends their days under the sun apart from a relationship with Almighty God. That idea is, for the most part, lost in our general culture. Our faith is seen as something of restrictive or inhibiting or diminishing, and it's a lie. It just isn't true. Darkness and evil will diminish you. Addictions will diminish you. The pursuit of hedonism will diminish you. The pursuit of greed and jealousy and envy and covetousness will diminish you. Honoring the Lord with your life will bring fulfillment and contentment and satisfaction that can't be achieved any other way. Apart from God, there's a forfeiture. We are lost.
And I want to borrow a familiar story. I chose this one because I don't think it needs much back story. It's the big fish story of the Bible, Jonah. If you've been in church at all over the course of your life, you've heard about Jonah. Even the secularists know about Jonah. He got swallowed by a whale and the skeptics say a whale can't swallow you. Makes it a bigger miracle to me. He got swallowed by a guppy, I don't know, I wasn't there. But he got thrown into the ocean and a fish delivered him to the beach. "I don't believe it," well, I'm glad you came to church. Maybe the Lord will touch your heart. The authority under which we stand is derived from the Word of God. But in Jonah chapter 2 it's Jonah's prayer after he's thrown overboard.
At that point, all hope is lost. Jonah would rather be thrown overboard than be obedient to God. You've got to process that for a minute. He's a prophet. He's not a pagan, he's not some wicked king, he's not some immoral someone or the other. He is a prophet. He knows the voice of the Lord and he would rather be thrown overboard than be obedient. Now, based upon that premise, may I be so bold as to suggest that there are those amongst us who would prefer not to be obedient. I don't think that was just a malady that was occurring in Jonah's day. So could we accept the idea that amongst those of us who fill churches and talk about God and have Bibles and even Bible studies, there are places where we have very little intention of honoring God. Thus the theme: which authority are you living under? Because if you don't intend to honor the Lord, you're deceived to think that you're living under the authority of the kingdom of God. You can't willfully choose disobedience. You can't. You can't practice it.
Now, we can struggle. We can face temptations. We can fall and stumble and we will help one another up but there's a difference in that and the willful, purposeful, intentional rejection of God's instruction in your life. Not what I think you should do or what I say you should be, but what you know God has convicted you about. We've lived in willful ignorance for too long. So from Jonah chapter 2, Jonah says a prayer. And that's what's in your notes. Says: "From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God". Well, there you go. "And he said: 'In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. And I said, "I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again towards your holy temple". The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.'"
I don't really think Jonah had a pen and a pad with him. I think these are his reflections. It made an impression on Jonah. I'm thinking you find yourself in a dark smelly place with seaweed wrapped around your head you wouldn't forget quickly. "'To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in for ever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God. When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.'"
And that's the end of his prayer. And then we get this little commentary, just one line. "And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land". I think Jonah felt when his feet hit the beach. Think he did a little happy dance? The very next verse, it's not in your notes. Says, "The Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time saying, 'Go to Nineveh.'" Guess what Jonah said? "I'd love to go. Awesome". Jonah was lost. He had forfeited something. Only the grace of God, only the mercy of God, gave Jonah another opportunity. Folks, we've all been there. We've all been Jonah. We've all been prodigals. I could fill, I could change the character. We've all played this role, but the components, I think, are important. Jonah understood he had a problem. He's not in the belly of the fish going, "God, you're not being fair it me. You gave me an assignment and I didn't like it. And now you're dealing harshly with me. How come I can't choose my assignments"? Because he's Lord and he is sovereign over our lives.
"God, I'd rather go to a picnic than be asked to stand my place in a line". I didn't ask you to draft your role. I asked you to be faithful to one you were given. You see, Jonah understood he had a problem. Jonah knew he had rebelled. That idea is missing in so much of current evangelicalism in America. We think the problem is the wicked, the ungodly, somebody else. We have trouble reconciling the fact that it's been the weakness of the church, the dimness of the light, that has caused the darkness to be so gross. We have been rebellious, we've been secularist, we've been walking too far in the world. We've been filled with greed and jealousy, we've given our brain power and our intellect and we've given our hearts to temporary things, and we've relegated God to, like, a hobby. Oh yeah, we go to church, I mean, kinda. And Jonah knew he had rebelled. Jonah knew about judgment. He understood it was imminent. He felt the water closing in over him. He said, "I was sinking to the bottom of the pit with seaweed wrapped around me".
I read that because I don't believe we have that similar awareness. I think we imagine we're just gonna be able to keep doing what we've been doing. And I don't believe that's the case. I think we've got a dramatic shift in the hearts of God's people. What is before us is almost beyond imagination. Now, I trust the mercy of God and the grace of God. He will lead us through. I don't intend, my goal isn't to frighten you. I don't think it's a sad message. I think it's a sobering message. God used Jonah's life in a powerful, powerful way. But Jonah had to be willing to do something he didn't wanna do. And most of us think God is obligated to do what we want him to do. And when he doesn't do what we want and our life doesn't unfold in the way we want it to unfold, we're offended at him.
Then we begin to say, "Well, I'm not sure I'm gonna serve you. I don't know if I'm gonna follow you or not if you're gonna lead me on such a hard path". Folks, it's not a helpful attitude. God can withstand your rage about his poor job performance, I promise. We've all been there. I've been there. I've stood in a field and shaken my fist at God. But at the end of the day, I have to reconcile and say, "I'll follow you". And if you're in one of those seats, I wanna invite you tonight. Humble yourself a little bit. Say, "Lord, I'll follow you. This wasn't the plan I had or the path I had chosen, but I will follow you".
You see, we need a church willing to say Yes to the Lord, more than we want a church that is giving all its energy trying to get the Lord to say Yes to what we want him to do. Are you watching what's going on around us? Folks, the world is changing at such a rapid pace. In the last 30 days, just around us, in the places we live, we don't have to go to some foreign country and find some authoritarian someone or other, we saw a school board in a major American city say that student-teachers with a Christian worldview were dangerous to children. And when that was reported in the public square, there was very little said. The idea was left to stand which means it's much, much, much, much, much easier for somebody else to say something like that.
In recent days, we've seen children and adults in Nashville murdered because they were Christians. It's almost too difficult even to say. And in the light of that, the media coverage and the reporting around that Nashville tragedy has attracted, I'm sorry, has attached cause to a Christian worldview, that Christians brought it on themselves because we hold to a worldview, that we create violence because we won't deny our faith and betray our values. That is being widely said in the world where we live. Are you paying attention? And what makes it even worse, is the capitulation of those who say they wear the label "Christian".
Folks, some things are not left up to us. We're under the authority of Almighty God. He defines moral and immoral. We don't. We all understand that because we've all been tempted to be immoral. In fact, just look at the person on your right. Say, "I've often thought that about you". If you don't know them, you can apologize before you leave. God defined marriage. We don't do that. God said he created us male and female. We didn't imagine that. God created us as sexual beings. God's not a prude. He gave us a context for sexual activity. He said in that context it's holy and pure and undefiled. Outside of that context, he said it's immoral. Prior to marriage, it's immoral. No matter what excuse you attach to it, it's wrong. Stop endorsing it, stop winking at it, stop encouraging it.
If you know right and wrong, and then you encourage wrong, you have stepped out from under the authority of the King. Beyond marriage, it's wrong. Those aren't our categories. It's not about hate, or lack of love. It's not a lack of compassion. If you encourage people to live in an ungodly way, you're encouraging them towards judgment. The love of God is sharing the truth. We can share it kindly, we can share it gently, we can share it with mercy. We're gonna have to have the courage. If we deny the authority of Scripture and we deny the principles of Scripture and the biblical worldview, it's not the church. It's a false church and a false gospel. We don't have the opportunity any longer of pretending. It's changing too quickly. We're lost. We are lost. We are forfeiting things, freedoms and liberties and safety and security and hope.
The abundance of our lives is dissipating like the fog in the early morning, and it's because of the immorality of the hearts of God's people. We're lost. Ephesians 2 describes it. It's written to a church. Paul's reminding them of the condition they were in when they met Christ. He said, "Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ".
That's the message we have to the world. We have been without God and without hope in the world. And so you're trying to find something to give you hope with pleasure or success or education or something, and it never brings satisfaction. But when you find Christ, if you truly yield your heart to the lordship of Jesus, you find a peace and a contentment and a purpose that changes your existence. There's a new birth that takes place. I understand it when people say to me they feel like they're born into sin. We are, but you can be born again. There's a new future for us, a new hope for us. We don't, that's the message the church has for the world. And we haven't had the courage to deliver it. We're afraid somebody's gonna put a label on us or say something unkind about us or we're gonna lose an invitation or lose a business deal. God forgive us.
We've been talking about some fundamentals of getting to know the Savior, and I wanna continue building that list a little bit. Another fundamental and this is very appropriate to the contemporary church. I've spent my life in the church, so I'm not opposed to the church, I'm an advocate for the church, I've given my strength to it. But it also at least gives me an informed opinion. I don't know everything, nobody knows everything, about the church but I at least qualify to have an opinion. And if we miss, if we put our trust in the wrong place, it's more than just a bad decision, it opens the door for destruction. I can support it biblically, I believe.
Look with me in Luke chapter 3. This is John the Baptist. He had a ministry that Jesus applauded. That's a pretty high bar, wouldn't you agree? This is a part of John's message. He's talking to the people. These are the people that have come to be baptized. They've made a difficult journey, all the way from Jerusalem to the Jordan River, 20 or more miles into the desert and there weren't a lot of buses for them to use. He said, "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the tree, and every tree that doesn't produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire".
That is not a warm cuddly message. He said you need to produce fruit of this change we're talking about and do not say to yourselves, "Abraham's our father". Don't do a comparison with yourself and the surrounding peoples and imagine you're superior because you worship at the temple, or you make the pilgrimage feast to Jerusalem on a regular basis, or you keep kosher, or you know the Torah, or you have the right DNA. He said it won't help you. You're trusting the wrong thing. That's a startling word to a group of people that are certain they have a unique place because of their DNA. I wanna ask you before we're done, to consider what it is your trust is rooted. I know we're in church and the answer is Jesus, but when you leave here, in the quiet place of your life, where is your trust rooted? And I'll tell you how you get to that.
When you think it might be threatened or limited, what makes you most anxious? You'll find what you're trusting if you can answer those questions. In John chapter 8, this time it's Jesus, and he's talking to the religious leaders and they said, "'Abraham is our father,' and Jesus said, 'If you were Abraham's children, then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you're determined to kill me, a man who's told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham didn't do such things. You're doing the things your own father does.'" In a very direct way, Jesus told them they're illegitimate spiritually. And they are deeply offended. You understand that is not a group hug message. That is a very, very difficult message to have to deliver. And they are appropriately offended.
"'We're not illegitimate children,' they protested. 'The only Father we have is God himself.' And Jesus said to them, 'If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I've not come on my own; but he sent me.'" He said, "If you were Abraham's children". It's a very important, that little preposition, "I-F," small word, big implications. They have the proper genetics but not the proper spiritual heritage. Jesus said, "I don't care about your biology. I don't care about your DNA. Your spiritual condition disqualifies you as a child of Abraham". That should capture our attention because if we're asked about our faith we almost invariably talk about the congregation where we sit or the denomination we've joined or the translation we prefer or some story from our past. We trot out our spiritual résumé.
John said, "I want to see the fruit of your life". Jesus said, "If you were Abraham's children, descendants, you wouldn't be treating this way". We imagine that we have checked all the right boxes for faith. Again, just a question for your own reflection. Does your life, does my life, do our lives give evidence of that? Your response to Jesus will determine your future and your faith. Here's what we can tell from those passages we're reading: Jesus's audience had very little self-awareness. Very little self-awareness. They had some combination of things that had left them spiritually blind. It's not fully spelled out to us so we're left to try to understand that to a degree. Some combination of pride or self-righteousness or worldliness or greed or legalism or covetousness or immorality.
Again, they're not identified by category, but they are spiritually blind. They're talking to the Messiah who is working miracles and speaking the truth to them, grounded in their Scripture, and they don't recognize him, 'cause your struggle in the midst of the people of God to recognize truth is not new. And we are very, very reluctant to acknowledge that about our current generation. We just wanna act like we don't notice. We wanna look the other way. We wanna cover our ears and just say, "It's not that big a deal". It is a big deal, if we deny the authority of Scripture. It's a big deal if we deny a biblical worldview around human sexuality and morality. It's a big deal if we deny a biblical perspective on marriage. It's a big deal if we ignore God's commentary on how we deal with our time and our treasure. Folks, we've had a designer faith for long enough. What's that gotten us?
I wanna pray a very specific prayer with you before I go, that we will repent of any time we have misplaced our trust and we haven't put our faith in God. Are you willing to do that with me? Let's pray:
Father, we come in humility. We don't want any God before you. We don't want any place of trust or authority before our trust in you. Forgive us when we've imagined other things could secure our future. Lord, we repent of that and we come in humility to acknowledge you as the one who provides, who cares for us, and watches over us, in Jesus's name, amen.