Allen Jackson - Grace and Disruption - Part 1
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It's an honor to be with you today. We've just completed our Easter weekend here on campus, and honestly, today we wanna share with you the message from that weekend. We were outdoors for the weekend. The weather wasn't always cooperating, but the Lord was present with us. The topic's "Grace and Disruption," and I think it's a very important idea for all of us to hold pretty closely right now in the midst of all the confusion. Our faith is based on the grace of God, a free gift he's given to us. But once we receive that gift, it is very disruptive. Jesus will change our patterns, our habits, it'll realign relationships, it gives us a different path to walk through the world. We are distinctive in our world, not because of the clothing we wear or our beverage list or our vocabulary, because what it means for Jesus to be Lord of our lives. Grab your Bible and get a notepad, but most importantly, open your heart.
The title for the message this Easter is "Grace and Disruption". And I'm gonna tell you on the front end, we're gonna pray our way through Easter. We're not just gonna have a prayer at the end. I'm gonna invite you to pray with me more than once. Prayer is an invitation to God into the midst of our lives. And I can't imagine facing the circumstances that we're confronted with this weekend without a desire to corporally invite God into the midst of our lives. The Easter story is an expression of hope, perhaps the greatest expression of hope in the history of humankind. God sent his Son, born in that vulnerable package in a barn in Bethlehem, and when he grew to adulthood, we crucified him. But death couldn't hold him.
The story of Easter is that life is greater than death, that good has triumphed over evil, that the Creator of heaven and earth has not abandoned us in our brokenness, but he has intervened on our behalf to change our destinies for time and eternity. So, no matter what the circumstances with which you arrived this Easter, no matter what problems or what heaviness in your heart, or what triumphs in your life, it's an important time for us to reorient our lives toward the Lordship of Jesus. I wanna begin in Matthew 28 in the 1st verse. Says, "After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and he sat on it".
I love the imagery of that. You know there are angels amongst us, right? You know, right now we're limited by our earth suit. You have those five senses that determine the information that comes to your brain through which we interpret our reality. We can see and taste and touch and smell and hear, but it's limited. We don't see all the spectrum of light, and hear everything on the audio spectrum. Our senses are limited, and I assure you that the spiritual world is just every bit as real as the physical world in which we live. We just don't have the tools for the awareness of it. And what the Bible invites us to is this heightened awareness, that we don't live our lives only one-dimensionally with our physical senses, but we live with hearts that are tuned towards an Almighty God that created this world and everything that's in it. His angels, the Bible says, are ministering spirits sent forth on our behalf.
Do you have an angel assigned to you? Don't worry about what Pastor knows about you. Think what the angels know about you. I gotta go. Verse 3: "His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were as white as snow. And the guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men". Smart guards. Can you imagine Roman guards playing possum? Only an angel could do that. "And the angel said to the women", he ignored the guards, "Don't be afraid, for I know that you're looking for Jesus who was crucified. He's not here, he's risen just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples. He's risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him. Now I have told you. So, the women turned away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples".
I wanna take just a moment with that eighth verse. It intrigues me. It's not what I would have expected. The women got up and went early to the tomb, long before anybody else was going. And they got there, and God sent them a special messenger, an angel, to explain to them what had happened and what they found. It's the description that Matthew gives us of how the women left in verse 8, the women turned away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and they ran to tell his disciples. They'd just had the most wonderful news delivered by an angel that they could see and hear and understand. "Jesus is not here, he's alive! Go tell his friends he's alive".
So, God has entrusted them with an angelic message of the best news that will ever approach a human being, and they turned away from the encounter, it says filled with joy and afraid. Do you have room for that? See, I think we've imagined that if we were cooperating with God and listening to God and maybe even receiving a message from God, even if it's good news about what God's going to do, sometimes we're left with the uncertainty. The future isn't clear to us. It's still a bit obscure. It's opaque. It's beyond our expectation and our imagination. We can't explain it. We don't know how to navigate it. So yes, we're joyful that God is moving, and he's invited us into the narrative, and he's opened the curtain for us to understand, and yet there's a little bit of anxiety.
I tell you that because it's a different scenario, but there're some joyful things happening in our world. The Spirit of God is moving in unprecedented ways. There are hundreds and hundreds of you sittin' in the rain celebrating Easter. That's not normal, and I'm grateful. Normal doesn't bind us anymore. We found a new way to walk through life, and I'm thankful for that. And yet we recognize that even though God is moving in these remarkable, dramatic ways and in powerful expressions of his authority in the earth, we still can't see completely through what's in front of us. There're things that we don't like, we'd rather look away from. A tomb is not typically a joyful place. Roman guards guarding your friend's body is not really a celebratory scene. And so they're filled with joy, but there's some uncertainty in our lives, and we have some joy about what God is doing, but there's some uncertainty.
We're here to turn our attention to the Lord in a new way, to put him in a little different perspective, to reorient ourselves towards true north this Easter weekend. Look at 1 Peter chapter 1: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade, kept in heaven for you". Folks, if you know how to tell people where to put their resources so that they can never perish, spoil, or fade, you can name your price. We live in a world of uncertainty, and those that are certain that they know - don't. I love that promise. This is Peter. He was recruited by Jesus when he was a young man, most probably a teenager. He was a fisherman on a freshwater lake in the northern part of Israel.
You know it as the Sea of Galilea, but it's not really a sea, it's just a big lake. And this itinerant rabbi recruited Peter. He said, "Follow me and I'll make you a fisher of men," and Peter said yes, but he struggled. Peter had a malady that I occasionally suffer from: His mouth would fire off several seconds ahead of his brain. He almost drowned in that lake because of that. "Lord if it's you, I wanna walk on the water too". When they came to arrest Jesus in Gethsemane, Peter was gonna fight for him. He pulled out his sword. He was gonna cut off somebody's head, but he missed, he got the ear. That is not intimidating to your adversaries. Even Jesus looked at him. He said, "Just put your sword away, Pete. If we needed angels, we would call them in. You just sit there. Time out". But this isn't that young man.
This letter is written near the end of Peter's life. He has a lifetime of experience now. And he describes the journey, the decades that he's been an ambassador and advocate for Jesus as an expression of great mercy that has given him new birth into a living hope. And that's why we're here. The Easter story's not about history. I visited the garden tomb and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher dozens and dozens of times. Folks, the graves are empty in both of them. It's good news, but the better news is that resurrection means that you and I can have a new birth ourselves. Not a physical birth, but a spiritual birth. And in that new birth, there is a living hope, because the one who secures our future, the one who is overseeing our inheritance that we'll never perish, spoil, or fade, is alive. He conquered death.
When he saw John, his best friend, on the Isle of Patmos, John is an old man. Jesus has been gone for decades, and when he spoke to John, he said, "I'm the living one. I was alive and I was dead and I'm alive forever more, and John, I have the keys of death and hell". Jesus not only conquered death, he took the keys. He hasn't eliminated it from our journey, but he's taken away its sting. In 2 Corinthians chapter 5 and verse 17, it says, "If anyone is in Christ, he's a new creation. The old is gone, and the new has come".
Now, there's an important question that comes with that. What's it mean to be in Christ? Is it synonymous with being in church? Is it synonymous with being in the Word? If you read your Bible, are you in Christ? If you're in the worship service, are you in Christ? I don't think so. In fact, I don't think the label on the sign in front of the building makes that great of a difference. I don't believe your location on the weekend is nearly as critical as the condition of your heart. If you're skipping church, come back, but it begins in your heart. We need one another to grow up, to mature, to find the strength God created us to have, to accept the places he's called us to occupy. But we want our lives to be described, defined by being in Christ.
I don't want you to gather for an Easter service and not hear this at least once, and I pray understand it. What defines our future, what defines our eternity, is not sitting in a church. It's not your vocabulary or your beverage list or your wardrobe. I believe all those things will be impacted when your heart is changed by being born again. But it's being in Christ. It's that profession of faith. The Bible says that we believe in our heart and we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and we will be saved. There's a birth that takes place. It's the most powerful miracle that will ever touch a human life. Your eternal destiny changes. The authority over your life changes. Apart from Christ, apart from that new birth, your life is under the authority of evil.
You may imagine that by the force of your character and diligence and paying attention to who has eyes on, that you can somehow navigate that, but folks, we are under the authority of evil apart from the person of Jesus of Nazareth. It's the Good News of the Gospel. If you wanna ask me in a sentence what is most necessary to transform the direction of our culture, it's the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not a compromise gospel, not a watered down gospel, not a gospel that's centered in tolerance. Jesus is intolerant of sin. Amen is the word you're searching for. But it's okay. You don't have to be afraid. If you say Amen, I won't preach longer tonight. I'd rather worship with CeCe.
I wanna give you an opportunity. I'm gonna invite you to say a little prayer with me. We're gonna make a profession of faith in Jesus of Nazareth as Lord, Christ, and King. You may have done that. You may have done it as a child, you may have done it throughout your life. Doesn't mean you meant it. I stayed in church for many years, and I wasn't a Christian. My whole family went to church, and we were as lost as goose. Although geese usually know where they're going. We did not know where we were going. We were lost. And then a friend told us that you could be born again, and that Jesus could be Lord of your life. And it made such a dramatic change in our lives. We've never been the same again. And I wanna invite you to that.
See, we don't come to the cross because we're good or perfect or our past is so wonderful. We come because we're broken and we need help. If you've never prayed that prayer, in a minute I'm gonna invite you to pray with me. If you've prayed it a hundred times and you meant it every of them, a hundred and one won't hurt you. So, I'm just gonna ask you all to pray with me. I want you to just close your eyes, forget the people around you for a moment. This is not the altar call, don't try to sneak out. Pray this with me:
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 saved. Forgive me of my sins, and I forgive everyone who has sinned against me. Jesus, be Lord of my life. All that I am, all that I have, all that I'll ever be, and I thank you now, that I belong to the family of God, the best family in the universe. In Jesus's name, amen.
Hallelujah! But the story doesn't stop there. Your faith doesn't stop with a new birth, any more than a life ends at the nursery in the hospital. It's a beginning point, and the church has misunderstood this. We tell our birthday, but we don't like to talk about our growth pattern and our maturity, and as grateful as I am for every person that puts their faith in Jesus, I'm even more thankful for every person that is determined to grow up in that faith.
Look with me at Romans chapter 8 and verse 1. It's an amazing statement. It says, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death". No condemnation from Almighty God. That's almost unimaginable, because if every one of us were just a little bit honest, we have multiple reasons to be condemned.
So, what is that message? No condemnation for those who are in church at World Outreach. There's especially no condemnation if you sit in the rain at church. No, that's our interpretation, but what it actually says: "There's no condemnation if you're in Christ Jesus". You see, the Jesus narrative is about a power and authority for a new kind of a life. And if you're in Christ Jesus, there's no condemnation. But here's the punchline: You cannot be in Christ and live the same way as the people who aren't! It's not that we earn our salvation, but we can't receive that great gift and then live as if we didn't receive it. To be in Christ, free of condemnation, we have to have the intent to honor him with our lives.
Will we do it perfectly? Never. Will we do it flawlessly? Not a chance. We'll have to help one another, and encourage one another, and sometimes remind one another, sometimes caution one another. I started up this ramp over here tonight, and somebody said, "You don't wanna walk up that ramp, it's slick". I said, "I always go up that ramp". And I stood there a minute. Somebody else walked up and said, "Pastor, there's stairs on the other side". I said, "Yeah, I'm walkin' up the ramp". Finally, one more man walked up, and he said, "Pastor", he hadn't heard the other two. He said, "There's a lot of debris on that ramp. There's a lot of water. I don't want you to fall". I said, "Lord, I have an idea. Why don't I take the steps"?
We need help from one another. If you see a brother or sister struggling, making ungodly choices, getting momentum for something where they could slip and fall, use your voice! They may ignore you, I did. Tonight. But even my thick head recognized at the third messenger, perhaps I should pay attention to. No condemnation in Christ. You have to choose the new life. Every one of us, we have to choose it day after day, week after week, or we'll step back into an old one. Some of you know this. You've made decisions to lead healthier lives. That's not a one-time decision. That's a decision every time somebody shows you a donut. I mean theoretically.
John chapter 8, it's a fascinating story. I'm not gonna read the whole passage, but look at that first verse: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery". I'm pretty sure that's more than a single-person event, but they brought the woman, and "They made her stand before the group and they said to Jesus, 'This woman was caught in the act of adultery.'" And then they began to tell Jesus the punishment that the law says. They could care less about the woman. They had no compassion. No mercy. They had no interest in her except as a way of putting political pressure on Jesus. And Jesus, can you imagine the audacity to challenge Jesus? I mean, can you imagine inviting Jesus into a debate? I tell you that because sometimes we tend to be a little timid.
Somebody says, "Do you really believe God created the heavens and the earth"? Yeah, I do. I really do. What do you believe? Something came from nothing? Bless your heart. They didn't care about the woman. They came to trap Jesus. "And Jesus for a moment played in the dust, wrote some things in the dust, and they demanded an answer, so he stood up and he said, 'I'll tell you what. Let the one of you that has no sin, you throw the first rock at her.'" Then he bent back down and began to play in the dust a bit, and the crowd dispersed until they were all gone. And I wanna draw your attention to what he said to the woman. It fascinates me. "Those who had heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left. The woman was still standing there. And Jesus straightened up and said, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?'" And she said, "No one, sir". And then, listen to Jesus's response to her. "Then neither do I condemn you".
That's where Paul got the idea for Romans chapter 8. There's no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. He said, "I don't condemn you". Now, unfortunately, the church often puts a period there and closes the book on the narrative. No condemnation if you're in Christ. You need to hear that. But you need to hear the next phrase as well. "Go now, and leave your life of sin". You can't have the first part without the second part. There's no cheap grace. It requires a new life. A leaving behind of behaviors. We're still leaving behind behaviors.
Tonight, I was leaving behind a little stubbornness, a little pride. Climb that stinkin' ramp. It's just a little water. I thought, "If I don't walk up there, my nose is bloody. It's gonna be hard to explain that I ignored three messengers". We can chuckle about it 'cause we all have done it in ways that are far more significant than something that simple. "Go now, and leave your life of sin". It's the second prayer I wanna invite you to.
If you came to an Easter worship service, I wanna commend you for the effort that that takes, for honoring God on the significant day that Easter weekend is to us, but I wanna ask you to do something else with me. I want you to purposely make a decision to say, "The intent in my heart is to stop accommodating ungodliness. I'm not gonna excuse it in my life anymore". We've got all sorts of phrases. "Well, that's just the way my people are". Or, "If you know what I'd been through". "Oh, that's just my coping mechanism". Or you know, "Lemme tell you about when I was born again". Well, I'm grateful. I give validity to all those statements, but there's no excuse you could give to God that will cause him to side with you in your ungodliness. The biblical prescription is repentance. And repentance has two meanings: a change of thought and a change of direction.
So, there's an interior choice. "I'm gonna change. I've been thinking that was okay, and I've been excusing it and I've been justifying it, and I've been giving it all sorts of permissions, and I'm gonna change that thought pattern, but I'm also gonna change my physical behavior. It may mean some new friends. It may mean some new habits. It may mean some new ways to recreate. But I'm going to leave that behind. Easter 2023 was a line in the sand. I'm gonna choose God's freedom". I wonder if you'd pray one more prayer with me. Just close your eyes for a minute and let's forget the folks around us. All right, just say this prayer with me. Use your outdoor voice if you're outdoors. If you're indoors, you use your indoor voice, okay? Don't scare your neighbor, alright?
Heavenly Father, I thank you that through the blood of Jesus I have been delivered from the hand of the devil, that through the blood of Jesus, all my sins are forgiven, and I come to you today in humility to repent of my sins. Forgive me of my stubbornness, of my determination to have my own way. I have ignored your truth. I wasn't confused. I was rebellious. And I ask you now to forgive me, to make me clean, and I rejoice that through the blood of Jesus, I am justified, sanctified, made holy, set apart to God, and I worship you tonight for your grace and mercy. In Jesus's name, amen. Hallelujah.