Allen Jackson - The Courage To Lead With Faith - Part 1
It's an honor to be with you today. Our theme is "The Courage to Lead with Faith". You know, we have been educated, most of us, way beyond our level of obedience to the Lord. I believe what's been lacking, for the most part, in the contemporary American church is the application of our faith, to take it outside the church building, to take it outside of a Small Group, to take it beyond a Bible study, and begin to live it in our families, in our neighborhoods, in the places where we go to work, with our friends. Our faith has to be alive and vital, beyond the confines of a place where we receive information. Well, the Spirit of God is moving and I wanna move with him. Grab your Bible and get a notepad, but most importantly, open your heart.
I started a new study and I wanna continue it with you in this session with an invitation, really, to step out of the crowd. And in this session, in particular, I wanna talk a bit about the courage that it takes to have a living faith. Not an academic faith, not a historic faith, but to be a living expression of faith in Almighty God. Be certain of this: it will take courage. I believe you can go to heaven without having an appropriately formed systematic theology. I don't expect you to make heaven without courage. It takes courage to follow the Lord. Somehow, we've lost that in the church. We've become pretty timid. We're overly concerned about the opinions of evil and wickedness.
Too often I think we count the cost before we consider the opportunity. We're counseled by Scripture to count the cost, but we're to count the cost in light of the opportunity presented. It's not complicated. It's time for those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ to stand up with our faith, to be identified, to use our voices, to understand that there are risks involved. And I'll be candid with you, there are risks involved. But to act anyway. This isn't... again, it's not complicated. We have to pray, we have to serve, we just worked through a list in the last few sessions. We have to give. It's not about church budgets or the preacher's trying to separate you.
How you handle your resources is an expression of your discipleship as much as your prayer life. We've got to engage with people, we have to repent of our sins, we have to lead. I mean, the list just goes on and on. The question I'm asked so often is "What can I do"? It really isn't that complicated. It's just that we don't really believe that honoring God is enough. We're not convinced the gospel is sufficient. The only thing, it's been demonstrated, across the span of human history, all the civilizations, all the cultures, to bring true transformation to a human being is the power of the gospel. It changes us from the inside out. That's the truth. It seems to me that the application of our faith has faltered.
We have lots of books and lots of studies and we've heard lots of sermons, but it's the application of it where there's kind of this disconnect. We've been so convinced that if we're born again, we've been saved, and I believe in that, then that there's really nothing left to do. We've almost totally lost the imagination of what it means to be a disciple. We act as if God didn't mean that when he said that. Then I would submit to you it's essential. So this notion of stepping out of the crowd is the topic, and it's really an invitation to every one of us. And I'll start with the presentation of Jesus and crowds. Once, and for 30 years, Jesus lived a very private life. We only have a couple of windows. We get a little window in around his birth narrative, you know, Bethlehem and stables and angels and shepherds and, like, the Christmas pictures.
And we get another little window when he's about 12, because his parents lost him. They were on their way back to Nazareth and their phones went off with an Amber alert and, to their surprise, it was theirs. And they went back and when they got there, Joseph said, "He's yours. You go find him". It's biblical. But short of that, Jesus is really anonymous until he's 30 and he goes to be baptized and the Spirit of God descends upon him. Then he spends some time in the wilderness, seeking the Lord and being tempted. Did you know that if you determine to seek the Lord, there's a high degree of probability temptation will grow? Isn't that good news?
And he began his public ministry, and very, very quickly, within a matter of days and weeks, enormous crowds are gathering. And they will define the rest of his life. You can understand the Jesus story in terms of the crowds. We began that investigation a bit in a previous session. I brought you just a couple of passages. I tell you this 'cause there's an idea that's flourished in the church that the New Testament, really, is about little pockets, still tiny pockets, of Christians. You know, they'd fit in a living room. And you really have to ignore the Scripture to live with that notion. Jesus's ministry almost from the very beginning, is about these large crowds of people. In the first public presentation of the Jesus story after he ascended back to heaven in Acts chapter 2, 3,000 people raised their hand in Jerusalem and said, "I wanna be born again".
The New Testament church shook whole cities. There were riots because of the incursion that the gospel was making into the patterns of the pagans. It shook Ephesus and it changed Philippi and it changed Corinth. It certainly changed Jerusalem and the surrounding villages. The leaders in all of those communities that weren't onboard considered it to be a threat, amen. You know, our church began as a home Bible study, so I'm not opposed to those initiatives. We do a great deal of work to facilitate community in Small Groups, but I want you to understand that the gathering of people is a part of our story. In Matthew chapter 4, it's the beginning of Jesus's ministry and it said: "Large crowds from Galilee," that's the northern part of Israel. It'd be a bit like saying, "The Southeast".
It's just a region of the nation. "Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis," ten cities, the majority of which are in modern-day Jordan, so we're talking about a significant expanse of territory. Jesus's ministry wasn't some little regional anomaly. It wasn't a two-county thing. It wasn't just a citywide outbreak in Capernaum. If we use the modern-day map, people were coming from multiple countries and, if you're not familiar with the transportation network of the 1st century, bus routes and train routes were very limited. A lot of walking going on, a lot of donkey riding going on, so to come from... travel hundreds of miles was a very significant investment of time and energy and effort, and people gathered from all of these places: Jerusalem, Judea, the region across the Jordan, and they followed him.
Large crowds following Jesus in Matthew chapter 4. And they're gonna stay with him. They're gonna be a part of his story through the whole duration. Matthew 21, we're nearing the end of the story now: "When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus's parables, they knew he was talking about them. And they looked for a way to arrest him". Does the irony of that strike you? By this point in his ministry, the dead had been raised, the blind eyes had been opened, deaf ears had been unstopped. Enormous crowds of people have come and acknowledged the remarkable nature of Jesus's ministry. And when the scribes and the Pharisees recognize that he's talking to them, he's giving them a personal invitation, they have a choice. They could repent. When Peter recognized the uniqueness of Jesus, he said, "Go away from me. I'm a sinful man," and his life was forever changed.
But in Matthew 21, it says that the priests and the Pharisees, when he knew they were talking about him, "they looked for a way to arrest him". There's not a great deal that's changed in 2,000 years. When the Jesus story is made clear, it isn't a lack of understanding, it isn't a lack of information, it's not a lack of awareness or a lack of access, that causes the skeptics and the critics to remain on the sidelines. It's a refusal to submit. So I would encourage you not to camp in the seat of a skeptic. If you're skeptical, do whatever investigation is necessary to resolve the questions you have, but at some point decide to become a believer. Don't just hide in the crowd. "They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of," his security detail because they were well armed. "They were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet".
So where the crowd may have been a nuisance, there were times Jesus took great pains to escape them, to withdraw from them, to get ahead of them. There were times the crowd was a great protection for him. Well, my invitation through this series to you is to consider not hiding in the crowd. I don't believe we can any longer afford to simply imagine that we're gonna flourish in our faith with group think; that we can join the right congregation because we go to WOC, or we join the right denomination: "Because I belong to this group or to that group, I'm more correct than everybody else". That's a dangerous ploy. It's a biblical notion. I'll start with Jesus's teaching: Matthew chapter 7.
Now, this is Jesus's coaching for you and me. He said: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it". Now I don't know your response to that. That has my attention. Jesus said, "There is a broad road and a wide gate where the majority of the people are pushing through. And on the other side of that is destruction". But he said, "There's a small path and a narrow gate and few are entering that, and that leads to life".
So I have some questions about goals and objectives in our lives, the values of our lives. How are yours different from the people that you interact with, that you do business with, that your children go to school with, the people who populate your life? How are your goals and values differing from those who make no pretense of honoring the Lord? And if the primary answer is, "Well, I go to church," I applaud you. I believe there's value in attending church. I attend church a lot. So I don't wanna diminish that, but I would submit to you that's not an adequate answer. We need different aspirations, different dreams. Who is speaking into the shaping of your dreams and your ambitions? Who is forming them? Do they emerge from individuals that have yielded their lives to the Lordship of Jesus? Are you being coached by influencers on the social media? Are your heroes TikTok folk?
Well, we snicker, but it's infiltrating our lives in unprecedented ways. How are your ambitions different from a secular person's? Are you just hiding in the church group? Is your security grounded by identifying with a particular congregation or a particular denomination? Which path are you on? Don't show me your baptism certificate. It's not adequate. Don't misunderstand me, I believe in the new birth. I believe in the significance of baptism. The pools are going up this week. If you haven't been baptized, get in the pool. You can sign up online. "Oh, what will people say"? The smart ones will go, "Hallelujah," and the ones who don't, you shouldn't be caring about anyway. Whoa.
If I fall off the steps, you will laugh and then you can help me up. And as much value as I attach to baptism, if your baptism took place somewhere in the hazy past, the question is this week what was the expression of your faith? To do anything less than that, if you ask me if I'm healthy and I show you a picture of my 16-year-old self, "Absolutely. Metabolism like a furnace. I could eat a package of Oreos and a half a gallon of ice cream and lose weight. I could watch people exercise and get healthy". Today, it's a little different. In Luke 13, there's a similar passage: "Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. And someone asked him, 'Lord, are only a few people gonna be saved?' And he said, 'Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.'"
He has my attention again. Jesus said, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door". That's not the way we've presented the gospel. We've made it so simple: all you gotta do is say a little prayer. I've prayed those prayers with thousands and thousands of people, I'm not diminishing the reality of that. I'm telling you, it's not the full presentation. Jesus said, "Make every effort". Let me ask you a question about Jesus's life assignment. How many think it was casual, simple? Didn't require much? Anybody could do it. No, I think it took a complete commitment, don't you? Well, I can't imagine that he's gonna be satisfied with less than that from me. We're not gonna earn our way to heaven. I'm not arguing that.
Please let's not start that debate. I'm telling you the intent of the new birth and conversion is to enable you to be birthed in a kingdom that you value like the pearl of great price and that you will trade everything else available to you for the privilege of being included in that kingdom. So when Jesus says to us, "Make every effort," he's inviting you out of the crowd. And then he goes on. He amplifies it a bit. "Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you'll stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.' But he'll answer, 'I don't know you. I don't know where you come from.'" You know the house, you know the owner of the house. You know the opportunity on the inside of the house. And you're locked out. "And you'll say, 'But we ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' And he'll reply," this is Jesus teaching, "'I don't know you or where you came from. Away from me, you're evildoers!'"
It goes back to that question around your ambitions and your dreams, and how you're pursuing them, and how they're distinguished from people that aren't serving the Lord. He didn't say, "Evil sinners". He said, "You're doing evil". "There will be weeping, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out". "Make every effort," Jesus said. "Many will come," he said, "and try to enter and not be able to". That phrase, "weeping and gnashing of teeth," is used several places in Scripture. It has an implication, as I understand it. It's used specifically for those people who were so very close to the things of God, but failed to enter in. And when the realization that the opportunity has closed comes upon them, the phrase that is used is there's "weeping and gnashing of teeth".
The invitation of the day and for a few sessions has to do with stepping out of the crowd, and I wanna just give you some examples from Scripture to try to fuel your imagination because those invitations come to every one of us in different ways. But those invitations come to every one of us. In Luke chapter 8, we meet somebody who has the courage to act, to actually do something with what they believed. It's a familiar story. I try to find stories that would be familiar to you because I don't think it's the details that are as critical and we just haven't paid attention to the big picture. "Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him".
There's such an enormous amount of people, he is in physical peril because of the push of the crowd. Have you ever been squeezing in to some event and people were pushing and shoving and you got uncomfortable, almost claustrophobic? They were a bit too anxious and they wanted in and there was some sort of a... Jesus is about to be crushed by a crowd. "And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, no one could heal her. And she came up behind Jesus and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped". And Jesus asks a question: "'Who touched me?' When they all denied it, Peter said, 'Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.'" "Dude, everybody's touched you. You've been bumped by hundreds of people. With all due respect, 'Who touched you?'"
And Jesus isn't willing to let it go. He's not willing to move along. He raises his own risk level by stopping. "Jesus said, 'No, someone touched me; and I know that power has gone out from me.' And then the woman, seeing that she couldn't go unnoticed, she came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people," this wasn't something she whispered. "In the presence of everybody, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed". She's not supposed to be there, by Jewish law. She's breaking the rules, she's transgressing, she's putting herself at risk. She's there but the reason she's there cannot be public or she would have been banned from the setting. And now she comes and tells the whole thing. "Then Jesus said to her, 'Daughter, your faith has been healed. Go in peace.'"
I would submit to you there's a lot of people in that crowd that wanted to see a miracle. They've heard about Jesus, crazy things happening when he's teaching. There were many people who were curious about Jesus and I promise you we have enough biblical evidence. There are many skeptics in the crowd and critics, looking for a reason to accuse and to criticize Jesus, but out of all of those people, there's one woman who stepped out of the crowd. She's different. She didn't come as a skeptic, she didn't come curiously. She didn't come as a critic. She's desperate. And she decides that all of the inconvenience, all of the push of the mob, the risk is worth it. She believes in Jesus, and she acted on what she believed.
She could have stayed home and said, "I believe he's the Son of God. I've heard he's the Messiah, and I believe it. Nobody could do the things he's doing if he weren't the Son of God". And she could have stayed home and missed her opportunity. But she said, "You know, if I could just touch his robe, I'll get better". And she distinguished herself from the crowd. I wanna put that invitation in front of you, to be more than an accumulator of information about God, to be more than an assimilator of biblical facts. To be more than the champion of Bible trivia.
I would point out at this point that miracles in the Scripture typically don't change the hearts of the critics and the skeptics, and if you're one of those people you think, "Well, if I just saw enough of the power of God," I disagree. John chapter 9 is one of my favorite miracle stories. It's the man who was born blind. Jesus put... it's not in your notes. "Where's that at"? It's in John 9, I told you. Right there. "John 8". It's in John's Gospel. And Jesus smeared mud on the man's eyes and said, "Go wash," and when he came home he could see.
Even his parents didn't have the courage to step out of the crowd. His parents said, "Well, that's our boy, but I don't know, you know, he was blind, he was born that way. That man can see and we're kind of confused and..." And John tells us why they said it because they didn't wanna lose their place in the synagogue. So I can tell you, if you're hanging on to your skepticism and your criticism, waiting for a greater expression of power, you are in danger of getting swept through that wide gate. This woman believed and she put some behavior into her belief and got the most remarkable outcome.