Allen Jackson - True Church, False Church - Part 1
It's a privilege to be with you today. We're continuing our series on "Lessons From Peter". We're gonna talk specifically a bit about the true church and the false church. We are living in a time of tremendous turmoil and change, and I don't believe the solution's gonna come from the politicians. It's not gonna be about an economic upturn or some emergence of integrity that comes from the universities. I believe the church is essential to our future. If you care about our children and our grandchildren, it will be because we give a place to the church and a faith in Jesus Christ that we haven't given previously. Grab your Bible and get a notepad. But most importantly, open your heart.
I've invited you for the past several weeks to pay attention to the weekly releases from the theater of the absurd. Because what is happening around us really defies description. It certainly defies logic. And every week, there are new statements made or new decisions produced that have nothing to do with logic. They have a great deal to do with manipulation and control. But I really, I wanna take a little different tack, at least for a few sessions. You know, the darkness around us is only possible because of a couple of things. Darkness does not have the power to overwhelm the light. That defies physics.
The only way for darkness to intensify, it requires one of two things to happen: The light has to be removed or diminished. And it seems to me that we have been in the midst of the circumstances for so long that we have lost sight of what normal might be. We've accepted the recalibration so many times that it's the proverbial frog in the kettle. We are so far distanced now from what godliness and holiness and righteousness might be, that when we bump into it, it feels awkward, and when somebody says it's inappropriate, we go, "Well, that must be true". Simple things like the Bible, you know? We've accepted the idea that it shouldn't be a part of our public lives, it shouldn't be a part of our public schools, it shouldn't be a part of our government. That's not been the course through our history.
You know, during the American Revolution, the founders paid for Bibles to be published and be distributed to the people, because they understood that the moral fabric of the people was necessary for us to be free and independent people. We have come a long, long way from that. The Bible, for the majority of our history, has been part and parcel of public education, long before we needed SROs. And we're so far removed from that, I don't even think we believe it anymore. So I'm gonna share some little snapshots of points in time, from our own story, just to remind you so that maybe we will gain the courage to become men and women of faith and hand our children something beyond technological improvements.
You know, since I mentioned the Founders, I'm gonna start there. Most of us have learned in school that the Founding Fathers and that generation of people were a bunch of greedy, racist, hate-filled, self-absorbed, narcissistic nation-builders. And we've been taught to despise them, to hold them in contempt, to look for the worst parts of their lives and the weakest parts of their character. I would remind you that none of us would survive that kind of an analysis.
But I wanna bring you a bit of a different perspective, and I'll start with a conversation between Benjamin Rush, he was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, when he reminisced with a fellow signer, John Adams, about what had occurred on the day they had signed the Declaration. And the very real reality that they were aware of that they might all be hanged for what they were doing. In the midst of that little conversation, Rush reminded Adams Leviticus 25:10 is engraved on the Liberty Bell. Did you know that? You see, the degree to which Scripture is a part of our story as a people and an emerging nation has been very carefully deconstructed and hidden from us. That's wrong.
Leviticus 25, if you don't know, it says: "Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all of its inhabitants". But this was their conversation. Said, "Do you recollect the pensive, the deep and somber silence which pervaded the House when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of the Congress, to sign our names to what was believed by many at that time to be our death warrants? The silence and the gloom of the morning was interrupted, I remember, only for a moment by Colonel Harrison of Virginia. He was a very strong, a large man. And he said to Mr. Gerry, who was a very small man standing at the table, 'I shall have a great advantage over you, Mr. Gerry, when we are all hung for what we are now doing. For the size and weight of my body I'll die in just a few moments, but from the lightness of your body you'll dance in the air for an hour or two before you're dead.'"
He said, "The speech procured a temporary smile, but it was soon succeeded by the seriousness with which the whole business was conducted". While this comment temporarily lightened the somber mood of the day, they all understood that because of what they had done, death was a very real likelihood for each of them. They clearly realized that, as one historian noted, history was strewn with the bones and blood of freedom fighters. America would be fighting the mighty British Empire which had the greatest military power on the earth, and these men faced the very real possibility of losing everything they had. And in some way, they all suffered for their decision.
And I'm gonna give you a quote from a historian, T.R. Ferenbach. He wrote this: "Nine signers died of wounds or hardships during the Revolutionary War". These were signers of the Declaration of Independence. "Five were captured or imprisoned, in some cases with brutal treatment. The wives, sons, and daughters of others were killed, jailed, mistreated, persecuted, or left penniless. One was driven from his wife's deathbed and lost all of his children. The houses of 12 signers were burned to the ground. Seventeen lost everything they owned. Every signer was proscribed as a traitor. Every one was hunted. Most were driven into flight. Most were at one time or another barred from their families or homes. Most were offered immunity, freedom, rewards, their property, or the lives and release of loved ones to break their pledged word or to take the king's protection.
Their fortunes were forfeited, but their honor was not. No signer defected or changed his stand throughout the darkest hours. Their honor, like the nation, remained intact". Now, those signers have largely been forgotten today, along with the high price they paid for the liberty that we possess. As John Adams reminded the younger generation of his day, "The sacrifice made by the Founders should always be remembered and honored. Posterity, you'll never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you'll make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it".
Every generation has to make a decision regarding freedom. We're no different. We can enjoy the freedoms that others have paid for, others that have sacrificed for. We can gobble them up like entitled children and stamp our petulant feet and demand more. Or we can make sacrifices to defend the things that we believe are valuable and the generation who follows us will benefit from those. I don't think the answer's clear yet, because there should be no question we're engaged in a great struggle, and the future of our Republic, but more than that, the future of our children and grandchildren, is in the balance.
Freedom does not come from governments. Liberty does not come from governments. There is nothing in the history of civilization that suggests groups of human beings will extend freedom and liberty to other people. Governments grow increasingly oppressive until they find themselves in some sort of a totalitarian expression that extinguishes all liberty. It's only the faith in a living God that has allowed this experiment to work. And I pray, as the church, we will have the courage to turn up the light. An election won't do it, a political party won't do it, but a vibrant church comprised of men and women who believe that Jesus of Nazareth is Lord and Christ and who will yield themselves in obedience to him, will see that freedom and liberty are extended. I pray we have the courage to be that kind of church.
We've spent a few sessions looking at some "Lessons From Peter". In this session, I wanna talk a bit more specifically about true church and false church, but we're really gonna look at the letter of 2 Peter. There's two letters in the New Testament that bear his name. They're written near the end of Peter's life. Great persecution has broken out in the Roman Empire. Rome burned. Many scholars believed Nero was at the heart of that, but Nero wasn't about to accept the blame so he deflected it to the Christian community and the greatest persecution that the Christians had known broke out against them. They became the sport in the arenas from the Coliseum to the arenas around the Empire, hunted by animals, set upon by dogs. Nero coated them in tar and bound them to poles, lit them afire, and illuminated his garden parties with Christians.
It was open season on Christians. Peter would be caught up in that persecution and die a martyr's death. But recognizing what was coming, he wrote 1 and 2 Peter to his friends, and he gives them some life-coaching on how to flourish in the midst of the rising tide of hatred and animosity. I don't think it should be lost on us, Peter is recruited as a young man. When we meet him in the Gospels, he's very likely a teenager. Certainly, a young man. And an itinerant rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, invites him to follow and we follow him through the Gospels for 3 years. And Peter and the disciples are struggling mightily to keep up. They're often after, at the end of the day, will say, "Can you explain to us what you've been talking about? We have no clue".
And Jesus will once again explain to them the meaning of what he's been saying. Peter and James and John were favorite amongst the 12. They got unique opportunities. Jesus took them with him to the Mount of Transfiguration and they saw him transformed. Well, he had a conversation with Moses and Elijah. Are you kidding me? Jesus took them with him at the Garden of Gethsemane, closer to where he was praying, and asked them to pray with him. They struggled to stay awake. From time to time, Jesus would look at them and say, "Are you really that slow"? When we get to the book of Acts, after the Ascension of Jesus returning to heaven, it was Peter and his friends. Peter at the forefront, the first pastor of the church in Jerusalem, not the Pope, but the first pastor of the church in Jerusalem.
All of a sudden, that bumbling, clumsy, impetuous young man becomes a rock. Simon means reed. He went from being a person who was swayed by public opinion to being a rock and he'd stand before the Sanhedrin that orchestrated Jesus's execution when they tell him, "Don't ever mention the name of Jesus again," and he said, "We have to obey God, not you". Wow! Peter that was always behind the curve. After the Day of Pentecost, he was in the moment. He stood up after the Holy Spirit was poured out. He talked to the people in the streets of Jerusalem about Jesus and he said, "You crucified the Messiah," and he quotes from the prophet Joel and multiple passage from the book of Psalms. The fisherman. He's a transformed person.
By the time he writes these two letters, he's seen many people reject Jesus or people hesitate to follow, both individuals and groups. He's got a lifetime of experience now. He remembers the rich young ruler that came. They all liked him. They thought he was a hero. He was gonna be a difference-maker if they could get him on the team. A high-priced free agent. He's gonna change our potential. But the young man thought it was the cost of affiliating with Jesus was too high so he walked away. He remembered Judas. He lived with us, amongst us. He was one of us, for 3 years, and he sold us out.
Do you remember Nicodemus? He was interested. He believed Jesus was a teacher from God, but he would only come when it was dark. He remembered the scribes and the Pharisees. Never mind the miracles, never mind the authority with which Jesus spoke. He was threatening their position and their power and they'd rather have position and power because if they had that, they could navigate life, they didn't need Jesus. He remembered the crowds in Jerusalem. The first ones that screamed, "Crucify him. We have no king but Caesar". But then he remembered the crowds that cried out on the Day of Pentecost: "What do we have to do? Tell us what to do". And they baptized 3000 that day. Peter knew Saul of Tarsus. Oh, he knew the apostle Paul but long before he knew him as the apostle Paul, he knew Saul of Tarsus.
Peter was there that day when the widows came and said, "We're not getting our food distribution. We don't like your leadership. The church is growing too fast. It was better before". Gee, we've never heard that before. "Church is too big, Pete". So the apostles got together and said, "We need new systems. We've got to change". And they appointed some men to help care for the benevolents, and one of them was Stephen. Peter knows the story well. Stephen got pulled into the debate in the streets of Jerusalem and the debate turned ugly. Imagine that, a public meeting going south. And Stephen is murdered in Jerusalem by an angry mob, and Saul of Tarsus is standing there, cheering for the mob as they murder Stephen. That report comes to Peter.
How do you think Peter, the one that said, "Lord, if it's you, I wanna walk on the water". Peter that said, "These other guys may deny you but I never will". How do you think that Peter felt about Saul of Tarsus? "I'd like to lay hands on him". Stephen's death was personal. So when the message comes to Peter and the others in Jerusalem, that Saul of Tarsus has had a Jesus encounter, you think trust might have been in short supply? "He wants to meet with you". "Yeah, we'd like to meet with him too. But we wanna meet with him without any authority from the scribes or the Pharisees or the ruling council". By the time we get to 2 Peter, his life has been tempered by a lot of experience.
I would submit to you he's a worthwhile coach. We're gonna move through this really quickly, really quickly. We're probably not gonna move through all of that. You know, they put a big clock right down here, like, counting down. I ignore it, week after week after week, so don't be too encouraged... That's not really true. The keeper of the children across the way will come for us, so. But I simply took 2 Peter and have separated it into some topics. It's easier for me to maintain it and I wanna share it with you that way. We'll start with just some general travel tips.
In 2 Peter chapter 1 and verse 3, it says: "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he's given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge". He goes on with his list, but it seems to me it's a very deliberate play on the Promised Land.
Peter's personal heritage, the heritage of his people and of his whole faith journey, was of God delivering them from slavery in Egypt and bringing them into a Promised Land, a land that flowed with milk and honey, where they would live in cities that had walls they didn't build and they would reap from vineyards they didn't plant and olive groves that they didn't start. And now he's turning that to the non-Jewish world and he said, "God has given us everything we need for life and godliness. And he's given us those through his very great and precious promises". We don't live in a promised land but we lead lives that are filled with the promises of God. That's our inheritance. And he reminds us that the Israelites occupied the land but they didn't make every effort.
God said, "Drive out the people in the land. If you don't, they will lead you into idolatry and ultimately, you'll forfeit your inheritance". They didn't drive them out, and they lost their inheritance, and they were removed from the land. And so, Peter makes a phrase that he's gonna repeat. We'll see it before we finish this. He said in verse 5: "For this reason, make every effort to add to your faith". God gives every person a measure of faith. But he said, "Make every effort to add to that". We looked in 1 Peter where he talked to us about growing up, desiring pure spiritual milk like hungry children. And now in 2 Peter, he's writing a follow-up letter and he said, "Listen, there's pressures coming. You're gonna have to make every effort". 'Cause to be candid, when I think about Christianity, I don't think about making every effort.
C'mon. In fact, one of the great reluctances I had when I felt God inviting me towards ministry was I didn't think of church or Christians as being good at anything. I thought the buildings always smelled a little musty, and the people looked a little bored. And whenever we worked together to do something the outcomes weren't something we were typically proud of. If we knew somebody that needed coats, we would say, you know, "Does anybody have a coat you don't want"? Or if you got a new appliance, I remember people saying, "Well, I'm gonna take my old appliance, I'm gonna take my old refrigerator and give it to the church".
Everybody's experience may not have been like that, but my imagination was church is where you went with your leftovers. If you didn't want it, if you didn't care about it, if it wasn't really an essential to you anymore, maybe somebody else less fortunate than myself, so I'm just gonna give God my leftovers. I didn't know my Bible well enough to... that God had said, "When you make an offering to me, you bring the very best you have. Don't bring me a lamb or a goat that has a defect. You bring the one that's the most valuable in the flock and you offer it to me". I didn't understand that. So I was very reluctant, I don't wanna give my life to something that's leftover. You know, you go to church if you don't have a better option. You didn't get tickets to whatever was happening today so, "Yeah, I guess I could go to church".
And then I read Peter. Near the end of his life he's not a beginner. He's not a neovite. He's not unschooled. He's walked with the Lord a long time and he's talking to his friends. And he said, "Make every effort". I wanna start with that today. Make every effort in the context of your faith. Make every effort in your home to bring your faith to bear. Make every effort around your kitchen table that the people that occupy those seats know about who Jesus is and why that's important and what his values are. Make every effort in the marketplace that before they know you as a competent professional whomever or whatever, that they know you as a person of faith.
Make every effort in your peer group. Before you wanna be approved or cheered for or included, of whatever that might be, make every effort that they understand you will stand for godliness and righteousness, even if it means the forfeiture of a friendship or a relationship or an opportunity. Folks, we've drifted a long way away from this. I read a story like that about those who signed the Declaration of Independence. We all sit up a little straighter and go, "Wow". We like to remember the story, but we're not sure we wanna be those kind of people. We get bent out of shape if somebody sits in our spot, if the parking isn't convenient, or "They changed our children's classroom and I had to go find where they were".
We're not really hiding your children. We want you to take them. Peter says, "Make every effort," because if you don't, there's a consequence. We've kind of lost any notion of consequences with God. We like to talk about a God of love and complete inclusivity and tolerance and grace and mercy. And I believe in those things. I really do. But they're only a portion of the character of God. God's not tolerant of sin. God's not inclusive of wickedness. He is not, and I don't want to lead you in an inappropriate direction. I'm afraid of the boss.
You know, life comes with more problems than I wish it did. In fact, most days it's just harder than I wish it were. And there's great hope in what Peter said to us that God has given us everything we need for life and godliness. Peter lived that out. You and I are in the midst of living that out. I choose to believe what he said. Let's pray:
Father, I thank you that you've provided everything we need for life and godliness, that there's nothing withheld, there's nothing hidden, there's nothing that you would keep from us. Give us understanding hearts to know how to receive what you have, that we might live victorious and triumphant lives, in Jesus's name, amen.