Allen Jackson - The Fundamentals - Part 2
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It's a privilege to be with you again. Our topic today is "The Power to be Different". And we're gonna start with such a simple idea but it's profound. We need a Savior. Folks, sitting in church won't save us, joining the right church, the right denomination, reading the right translation. We need a personal Savior. We're gonna look at that in some detail so we can welcome Jesus into our lives afresh. Grab your Bible, get a notepad. But most importantly, open your heart.
Paul is writing. Paul has a very robust education in pharisaical Judaism. He's an expert on biblical rules and practices. Amongst those who were zealous, he was the most zealous of the zealots. He said, "I was an angry murderous person in pursuit of a religious objective". And then he's writing to a group of people in Philippi and he said, "I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things".
Church, we're gonna have to come back to this kind of a fundamental understanding of our faith. There is nothing that describes us or defines us or that we have acquired or accumulated or attained that in any way compares with the surpassing greatness of the understanding that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. Which means when you're having conversations with your friends or your family or wherever you may be, if Jesus is absent the conversation, the reasons, there's a legitimate reason to question the authenticity of that conviction. I don't mean you have to be annoying or a nuisance or condemning, but you can't segment your faith to a few minutes in a particular building. "I consider them rubbish," all of my achievements, "that I may gain Christ and be found in him".
Now, he's fully born again at this point, but hear his language. "I wanna gain Christ, I wanna be found in him". "Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith". We need a Savior. People don't just need a program. We don't just need immigration policy. We don't need to just clear up gender confusion. We don't just need to be more civil. We need a Savior. It requires an acknowledgement that I'm a sinner. If you're not a sinner, you don't need a Savior. If you're mostly good, if you can work it out on your own, if all roads lead to the same place, you don't need a Savior, you just need to keep traveling: all the roads go to the same place. But if there really is a Savior and we need one, then it begins with the acknowledgement that I am fundamentally a sinner and I can't save myself or I wouldn't need a Savior.
So your intellect, your education, your sophistication, your savoir faire, whatever that means, won't save you. You may be enlightened, you may be a citizen of the globe, you may be well traveled, you may know which utensil to eat with, God bless you. Me too, the plastic ones. But we need a Savior. You may be so poor you can't pay attention, you may have been born so far on the other side of the tracks we don't know how to find the place where you come from. You need a Savior. The government won't lift the quality of your life. Relationships, education, I've been places in the world but less so today but there was a time when much of the world that education would totally transform the quality of their lives.
Folks, we need a Savior. And if you know him, and you know who he is, and you know how to help people have a relationship with him, and you're not telling them, why not? What are we doing? "I work in an office and there's not another Christian". That's called a mission field. "It's like another culture". Yeah, that's how that works. "It's uncomfortable". Mission fields are. They eat weird things, they've had practices that you wouldn't consider okay. They're suspicious of you. That all goes with missions. "But I'd really rather work someplace where they're all Christians". Then that's called the hospital 'cause they're broken and hurting and in tremendous need. And you can't hide, if you stay in a hospital, you'll get sick.
C'mon, if you're healthy, get out of there. It's not a place for healthy people. We need a Savior. We've got to say that prayer together. You need to know it. It needs to be tucked inside of you. It needs to be ready. Have it on your phone. Let somebody say it with you. If you've never chosen Jesus as Lord of your life, today's your day. I'm not recruiting you to join this congregation. I'm recruiting you into the body of Christ, the kingdom of the living God. Into the eternal kingdom of the living God. God won't take anything away from you. You don't have anything he needs. God doesn't need my talent. Do you think the angels got together when I raised my hand and said, "Oh, thank God". I think it was more like, "What do we do now"?
You're not too old, you're not too successful. You see, we put our hope in so many other things. It's idolatry. We've been waiting for a program or an election or a policy change or some, stop it. There's a Savior. His name is Jesus. Now, you're intuitive enough to understand you can't lead an ungodly life and actually name Jesus as Lord of your life. So it means that you're going to have to make some changes. Now here's the good news. You get to keep making changes, yeah? It's like, how do you stay healthy? That's different when you're 16 and then you're not. Sixteen, you can have a diet of Oreos and ice cream and be reasonably healthy. Parents, forgive me. But you have a metabolism like a furnace. Wait a few years. Your metabolism will be more like a can of Sterno. We were gonna pray a prayer. Just bow your heads, close your eyes with me for a minute. Repeat this prayer:
Almighty God, I'm a sinner and I need a Savior. I believe Jesus is your Son, that he died on a cross for my sin, and that you raised him to life again that I might be justified. Forgive me of my sins. I forgive all those who have sinned against me. I set them free, and I thank you now that, through Jesus, I have been set free from every bondage. I'm a child of the King. I belong to the best family in the universe, I'm a part of the family of God, amen.
All right, we're doing some fundamentals. We need help. We need a Savior. Here's the third one. God, intervene. We don't save ourselves. We don't bootstrap this, folks. You know, we wanna act like that. We wanna treat unbelievers like, you know, the entrance into Christianity is kind of like hazing. "Yeah, I used to drive fast cars and run with happy people and eat good food and then I became a Christian. Don't you wanna be one too"? And all the clever people are going, "No, I'm good, thank you". And we feel, like, you know, every new arrival, they should have to suffer adequately. God intervene. We don't save ourselves. John 3 may have the best or the most frequently quoted verse of the New Testament. We start in verse 14. Says: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up".
Lifted up is a expression used multiple places in the New Testament, typically referring to Crucifixion. You be put on that cross, you'll be lifted up in the air. A public display of shame and humiliation while you're tortured to death. "So the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life". Where it says God loved the world, he didn't love the landscape or the sunset. He didn't love a ball of matter hurtling through space. It's abundantly clear he loved humanity. We're the image bearers of Almighty God. He loved people regardless of our skin color or our sex or the accent with which we speak or the length of our nose or the color of our hair.
God loves people. That's why God hates sin: it destroys people. And God loved the world so much, he loved people so much, he asked his Son to become one of us. It's that "Seek and to save the lost" thing Jesus was talking about to Zacchaeus. "I left heaven to become one of you because you needed a Savior". Somebody had to meet the righteous requirements of Godliness. And we couldn't do it. So God recruited his Son. Look at the next verse: "God didn't send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him". The Jesus initiative is not a message of condemnation. If you start your Jesus story by being angry at people, you're not paying attention. It begins from a plate of compassion, from a place of understanding. They need a Savior, the same way I needed one and you've needed one. They don't know the truth, they don't understand it. They're rejected it, they pushed it away, they've been distracted. They've had bad encounters.
"God sent his Son to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him isn't condemned, but whoever doesn't believe stands condemned already because he hasn't believed in the name of God's one and only Son". So how do you escape condemnation? By joining the right church, by reading the right translation, by preferring the right worship style? No, it's your choice around a person. His name is Jesus of Nazareth. We've got to get over ourselves for bringing division into the people of God over secondary, non-essential issues. You'll be held accountable for that. Let's not be those people. "This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil". That's a very serious sentence. Light has come into the world. Light has broken the darkness. But we have loved the darkness because we preferred evil.
You see, if you're reluctant to yield your life fully to the Lord, if you're still trying to sit astraddle the fence or you have a face for church and a face for work and a face for business and a face for when you're recreating, and you think you can move in and out of all of those places, having compartmentalized yourself, the only real biblical explanation for that is you like the deeds of darkness. So you have to keep parts of your life out of the light. I would encourage you to stop that as a practice. It's very destructive. If you think you can recite a prayer and live the majority of your life in the dark, you're deceived. There are no perfect Christians. There was only one of those. We killed him. He put too much pressure on us.
But there's a difference in the struggle with sin and the practice of sin. And if you're practicing sin and hiding it from the light, you're not fooling God. Church, we're in this condition because of an anemic church. We're not in this condition because the darkness is so powerful. We're in this condition because the light is so dim. We're not pointing our fingers anywhere but into the mirror. Let's finish the passage. "Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light". Is it surprising that truth is held in such low esteem these days? It shouldn't be. The weakness of the church, the vacillation of the church, the apostasy of the church, the reluctance to hold up the truth.
We don't wanna talk about it at our kitchen table, we don't want to talk about it at our holiday table. We certainly don't wanna talk about it at the bleachers while we're watching the kids and the grandkids. We don't take it to the workplace. We've taken it out of our public school systems, we've taken it off of our college campuses. We don't want the truth to be a part of our professional sporting events. We just wanna play sports. What a bunch of baloney. Why do you wanna engage your time and attention in something that rejects and denies the truth of the light that you believe? What has happened to us, church? So you can bet on it? So you can play your fantasy sports in the dark? Have we really descended to that place? That we can sit in a building for a few minutes and step back into the darkness and we're pretty content with it?
"Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God". My time's about up, but I wanna go back to that first sentence, that first verse. "Just as Moses lifted up a snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up". He's drawing a parallel between a rather seemingly minor event in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, not minor if you were there, but I mean, it's not a Red Sea parting. I put it in your notes. I'll look at it really quickly. It says: "They traveled". This is the Exodus group, the slaves. They haven't made it to the Promised Land yet. They're still in transit, and "they traveled along the route and around Edom. And the people grew impatient on the way".
Imagine that. Imagine God's people getting impatient. That just seems so unrealistic, doesn't it? We don't ever get impatient. We wouldn't park our car in an island, no. That's the Presbyterians that get impatient like that. I'm kidding. Forgive me. "They spoke against God and against Moses, and they said, 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There's no bread! There's no water! We detest this miserable food!'" For real, they've been slaves for 400 years and they're complaining about the cooking. This is the brokenness of the human condition. Gratitude, you think gratitude might have held on for, what, 90 days? Nah, "Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them".
The Lord did, not the devil. Not the demons. "The Lord sent venomous snakes among 'em; they bit the people and many died. And the people came to Moses, said, 'We liked the menu better and we sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.' So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, 'Make a snake and put it on a pole; and anyone who's bitten can look at it and live.'" How long's it take to make a bronze snake? I'm thinking it takes longer than it does to, like, microwave a baked potato. It's gonna take a bit, and there's people being bitten and dying and you're, like, "Moses, could you work faster"? "No, I'm union. It's a 4-hour day. We've been working from a home for a while. Supply chain's been interrupted, there's no bronze available". "So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole. And then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived".
Now, this is the passage that's being quoted in John 3, right there around John, right before John 3:16, so then in the same way the Son of Man's gonna be lifted up. So there's a direct parallel being drawn between that story. The whole thing of the snakes amongst us reminds me, 'cause we're just right on the heels of it, of the plagues in Egypt, the frogs and the gnats and God has sent something amongst the people. He's trying to get their attention. It's working. Do you think God might be trying to get our attention? People came to Moses and asked if the snakes would be removed please? "Please, please, sir? Pray for us".
And Moses prayed and he received instructions from the Lord. God provided a way of deliverance, of healing. It's not the first time he's provided that for the people. He told them way back in Exodus 15 if they would be attentive and obedient to everything he said, he'd put none of the diseases on them, he'd put on the Egyptians. He would be their physician, literally. But now they've grumbled and rebelled and complained and there's a problem again and God's giving them another expression of deliverance. Understand, God's people consistently need deliverance. We don't just need salvation. We need to understand the delivering power of God. They've already been delivered from Egypt. They've already been delivered through the Red Sea. But they've grumbled and complained.
I would point out just in passing, there's no mention of the snakes disappearing. It says after Moses got that bronze thing worked out and put it on that pole, and lifted it up, if you were bitten you'd be okay. See, I would have written it differently. I would have rather just the snakes all went away. Apparently, they traveled with snakes. I'm not suggesting handling them. Please, no new rumors. But you see, I think our desire, the way we want to present our faith and the way we would imagine it goes, is that once we have experienced God's deliverance, once we've made it through, though, the water of the Red Sea and the baptism, we think, you know, all the problems are gone and the challenges have disappeared. But we have to continue to turn our attention to the cross. That's our point of redemption.
Folks, it's fundamental. We don't come past it. It doesn't become unnecessary. The effectiveness of the blood of Jesus and the authority of Jesus's name is our point of deliverance. The people got their affection misplaced. We get to 2 Kings 18, Hezekiah is king, and they are worshiping the snake that Moses made. In the list of ten, in the top two, "no graven images". And they're worshiping a snake. We have to guard our hearts; we'll worship something other than the Creator. We'll worship some aspect of his creation that we think will make us free, will make us whole. We'll worship science, follow the science. I wish we said "Follow God" as often as we said "Follow the science".
I wish as Christ followers, we would say, "You know, that just doesn't make any sense to me. From a biblical worldview that's completely illogical". As ready as we were to say that doesn't make any sense to me from a scientific standpoint. I don't know how many people have said to me, "You know, Pastor, with my education and with my intellect, it's just very difficult for me to believe in God". I look forward to hearing the people of God say, "Well, you know, with all the experience I have with God and with all I know of his Word, it's just very difficult for me to imagine practicing something that ungodly". We gotta turn the tables. We've lived too far in the world. They worshiped the snake. We shouldn't be surprised we get to Romans 1 and he says that we will lose our freedom because we will worship and serve created things rather than the Creator. Folks, God is moving in the earth. He is preparing a church for his purposes.
You know, sometimes, we fall into the trap of thinking that the next election cycle's gonna fix this, or if we could just get the right leader or the markets would go the right direction we could get enough resources accumulated, we could secure our future. Only God can secure our lives. And when we've trusted in other things, we've been idolaters, even if we sat in churches and read our Bibles. Let's pray:
Father, forgive us for putting our trust in other places. We turn our faces to you today. You and you alone are our salvation. We put our hope in you, our faith in you, our trust in you. We're looking to you to secure our lives, in Jesus's name, amen.