Allen Jackson - People Get Ready
I wanna continue the theme we picked up last week in talking about bold faith. I think it's a season of preparation. Now, this lesson really grew out of the things that I'm processing in my own heart because I recognize it's a season to be prepared. The reason that preparation is necessary is the season has changed. I don't think the season is going to change. I don't wanna talk to you about some season that I anticipate is coming. I think we've already moved through the change of seasons. I just think there's some preparation I can still do and that you can still do. You know, we're transitioning seasons in Middle Tennessee right now. We're in spring. But somebody forgot to tell the weather patterns.
Yesterday felt like sprinter to me. It looked sunny and you stepped outside and you wanted your parka. And then we understand that the seasons in Middle Tennessee don't change because the date on the calendar changes, that there's something of an ebb and a flow to that. There's a give and a take, and it's a transition that takes place over a period of time until you finally recognize that winter has yielded to a different season. And even though we can see flowers growing and trees budding and the grass is growing, there's still some cold breezes, even some frost in the midst of this seasonal change.
So when I talk to you about a spiritual season changing in the earth, I'm not suggesting to you that somebody flipped a switch or that there's a day you can point to and say everything changed on that day. That's a little overly simplistic for me. But I would submit to you that the season has changed and we need to be prepared. If you're wearing the same clothing you were wearing 60 days ago, 60 days from now you're gonna be extremely uncomfortable, 'cause that wool sweater in the middle of August will be not only unpleasant for you, it will be unpleasant for everyone around you. And the same is true when a spiritual season changes. The way that you were conducting your faith, and you understood your faith to be sufficient, in the previous season will not be adequate for the season that we are in now.
Bold faith is gonna be required. Not crazy faith, not bizarre faith, not condemning or judgmental, but a faith that is more substantive. It's what I wanna unpack with you. I wanna start in Deuteronomy 30. Deuteronomy 30 is very near the end of Moses' time with the Hebrew people. In fact, it's kind of his concluding remarks, if you will. He's made a long journey. He's invested 40 years of his life, more than 40 years of his life in this group of people. After he had an encounter with God and a burning bush in the desert, he was on sort of a side trip. He encounters God and God sends him back to Egypt and he walks into these Hebrew slaves and he said, "I'm here to help you be free". And they were not impressed. They didn't like his resume, they didn't like his credentials, they didn't like anything about him and for 40 years they were a rather inconsistent group of followers.
But when Moses met them, they were defined by brick pits of Egypt. They knew the Egyptian gods, the Egyptian food, the Egyptian holidays, and when Moses is done with them, they are the covenant people of God. In their midst is the tabernacle, a place to worship. There are the rules of worship, a tribe prepared to lead them in worship. They have a social infrastructure. They have a set of boundaries that helped them imagine the holiness of God. That's a tremendous accomplishment for a lifetime, and now Moses is about done. And at the end of Deuteronomy, he's trying to put kind of a bow around the journey he has made with them because he knows they have to continue forward.
And that's what Deuteronomy 30 invites us towards. He said, "Now what I'm commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It's not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, 'Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?' Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, 'Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?' No, the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction".
Moses is trying to help them be prepared for what's yet to come, 'cause they still have the conquest of the Promised Land to make. They've still gotta face Jericho and the Canaanite city states and the battles that are ahead. There's some hard work to be done, and he said that the word is in your mouth. The word of faith that you need is near you. God has spoken it into your life. It's not too hard for you. It's not at the top of some incredible summit that you don't have the strength to make the climb. Nor is it in some distant land that's across an ocean too far for you to navigate. He said, "It's very near you, so choose life". He said, "God has done what God will do. You have a choice to make".
And I would submit to you the Church has a choice to make... I don't mean this church; Church with a capital C, if we're gonna be the people of God in this season or not. Now, some of you will read that verse and say, "Well, Pastor, that's Old Testament and, you know, I appreciate it and I know it's in the book, but I'm a New Testament kind of a person". All right, well Romans chapter 10. That would be New Testament. The apostle Paul is writing and he says, "What does it say"? He's referring to the Old Testament, by the way, and then he quotes, says: "'The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,' that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming". Sound familiar?
Paul is quoting Moses, and he is quoting the Book of Deuteronomy. He's quoting what we just read, those parting remarks from Moses, that summary statement. But now he's put it in another context and he said the word is near you, it's in your mouth and in your heart. When we read that, it's real easy to think, "He's talking about the Bible, that we've got the Bible, and we can memorize verses and put it in our heart, and it can come out of our mouth," and that's not an evil interpretation. but I don't think it's exactly accurate. He's quoting Moses. When Moses made those statements to the Hebrew people in the shores of the Jordan River, how much of the Bible had been published? None of it. It hadn't even been put down yet. The story wasn't told yet.
So when Paul quotes Moses in the Book of Romans, he isn't talking about the written Word of God; it's what God spoke into your life. What Moses was talking to the people about, he says, "God has spoken into your life. You know God's story, you have lived God's story. It is near you, it's in your heart and in your mouth". And Paul says the same thing. He said, "The word is near you". Now the next verse is far more familiar to many Christians. It's in verse 9, he said: "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it's with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it's with your mouth that you confess and are saved. The Scripture says, 'Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.'"
See, Paul's application is that what's in your heart is reflected in your words, and when you speak what God has spoken into your life, you give it authority over you. Bold faith. See, being a Christ follower is not where you sit for a few minutes on the weekend. It's not about crafting the appropriate systematic theology or reading the right translation or having the right dress code or beverage list or vocabulary words to use when you interact with other Christian people. It's about letting the truth of God emanate from your life. It changes your heart and it's expressed in your words. If you'll listen, Jesus said out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
If you'll listen to people, you can tell what their heart is really given to. Oh, they might fool you for a short conversation, but if you'll just listen casually, people will, it will bubble out of them what they've given their heart to. It's a principle. Bold faith is what we're talking about, preparing for the season that we're now in. I have smiled at the Easter stories that have come back to me. I'm amazed at the way you demonstrate your faith across our community. You do it in so many beautiful, beautiful ways. With your Easter invitations, somebody told me that a family took a carton of Easter mugs and invitations and got up early one morning and stood at the entry to their neighborhood, and as the cars were leaving the neighborhood to go to work, they distributed invitations to our Easter services, unless they recognized the person in the car as somebody they went to church with, then they wouldn't give them a mug. God bless 'em. Somebody else told me they went to Buster's.
Now, you probably have to be a Murfreesboro native to know Buster's. How do I describe Buster's? Local watering hole? Bar and Grille. And if you've been there, I know you were there for the grille. Buster's makes a great burger. And if you see me there, I'm there for the burger. Pass the mustard. But somebody told me they went to Buster's with the individual didn't, someone told me about them, that they took a carton of Easter mugs and invitations to Buster's and gave one to every patron of the grille. It had such an enthusiastic response that they got permission from the proprietor to leave the mugs and the invitations on the counter, that's a euphemism for the bar, so that anybody that visited Buster's the preceding Easter got an invitation, if they wanted it, to an Easter worship service. Bold faith. Makes me smile.
Christianity isn't just about where you sit for a few minutes on the weekend. It's a faith to recognize it's intended to permeate your whole life. There was a season not too many years ago when you could've perhaps relegated your public expression of Christianity to where you sat on Sunday morning. You know, you could put on your church clothes and your church attitude and you could get your family and you could go and you could all have your church, there's kind of a way you interact with one another in church that's different than how you interact with one another any place else. You're polite and kind and respectful. You expect your children to be that way; after all it's church. And you could, you know, you could land that for about 90 minutes on the weekend. Church.
But then you went away. And you had your, you know, you had the people you recreate with and the people you did business with, and how your family really was, and maybe it worked in a season, but it won't make it today, folks. Our faith has to be consistent across our lives. We're gonna have to take down the walls that have compartmentalized us and segmented our lives and let our faith permeate the whole expression of who we are as a people, or we won't make it through this season. If you're still wearing your wool sweater and your parka in August, you won't make it. It doesn't have anything to do with your intent. The season changed, and you've got the wrong equipment, and you're not prepared.
And what I wanna be certain in my own heart is that I'm prepared for this season. And at the heart of that I think is this notion that faith is not optional. I think, you know, we kinda think faith is somethin for, you know, we don't have to pay much attention to it. But that's not the biblical presentation. In Hebrews 11 and verse 6 it says: "Without faith it's impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him". Without faith, it's impossible. It cannot be accomplished, no matter how kind or generous or obedient or humble or benevolent. No matter what you do, if you don't have faith, you are displeasing to God. So faith has to be moved from the category in your heart of optional to essential. Because without it, you can't please God.
Look at Hebrews 11:1. It helps: "Faith is the assurance," some translations choose the word "substance" there, it's a little more helpful to me, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen". Faith has to do with what you can't see. Faith is what enables the unseen things to influence your life in a visible, tangible way, so that without faith, the unseen things that God extends towards you will not influence you as fully as they might.
Now, that's a biblical notion. When Jesus went to his hometown of Nazareth, the Scripture says that he could not do very many miracles there because of their unbelief. Their lack of faith inhibited what Jesus could do in their midst. Faith is the substance, it's a helpful notion. Think of it as something that can be held, managed, watched over, protected. We don't get it in great amounts. Jesus said a faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain. So you don't get a truckload of faith or a train carload of faith. You get a small amount of faith, and something that's small and valuable requires special attention, doesn't it? It could be easily misplaced, easily covered, easily diminished; faith is the substance.
2 Timothy 3 says, "Mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them". Eighteen words used to describe the deterioration of human character. Eighteen phrases. If you asked me to make a list of 18 characteristics of contemporary American culture, I'd have a hard time finding a list of words that fit better than those. Is that fair? The question I would ask you, if you want to diagnose if that season does seem to be emerging, does that list of things seem more prevalent today than it did 10 years ago? Does it seem more prevalent than it did 20 years ago?
If you've had enough birthdays, does it seem more prevalent than 30 years ago? I would submit to you the answer in every case is absolutely yes. I think you could summarize that list. There's three statements in there that it says people will be lovers of. Did you catch it? Says they'll be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, and lovers of pleasure more than lovers of godliness. It sounds like a pretty accurate description of our world, doesn't it? Disobedient. Treacherous. Rash. Abusive. It's the, the punch line is in verse 5. The part that's startling is that Paul isn't describing the immoral, the ungodly, the people apart from faith. He's saying this group of people will have a form of godliness but deny its power.
Now, in Paul's thought, the power of God is inseparable from the cross of Christ. Paul said to the Corinthian church, "I decided when I was with you, to know nothing except the cross and Jesus crucified, lest the cross be emptied of its power". For Paul, the cross and the power of God go together, so when he says they'll have a form of godliness but deny its power, they'll have religious architecture and religious books and religious music and religious words and religious furniture and religious clothes, and they'll have religious services and they will do religious things, but they will deny the power of the cross.
Now, the cross is centered in a person, a cross was a Roman tool of execution, of capital punishment. Thousands and thousands of people died on the cross. What made Jesus different was he was the incarnate son of God, that he exhausted the curse of sin for all humanity. So to deny the power of the cross is to deny who Jesus was, to deny that we're sinners. It's offensive to many circles these days to say that you believe in sin, that there's absolute truth, that there is right and wrong, that we have to choose godliness and holiness. It's offensive. Oh, they'll have a form of godliness. They'll sing a religious song, and they'll meet in a religious building, and they'll have religious clothing, but they don't wanna talk about Jesus being the incarnate Son of God, or the virgin birth.
Paul said there'll be a form of godliness, but they'll deny its power, have nothing to do with them. And I wanna suggest that in this season, you need to formulate in your mind and your imagination this category of true and false, so that we aren't deceived and that language doesn't cause us to be misled. Revelation helps us with this. The Book of Revelation describes the season immediately preceding the Lord's return and his return to earth. At the end of the Book of Revelation, the characters in that scenario meet God's judgment. That's where we step into your notes. It's Revelation 19 and verse 20. It says, "The beast was captured," the beast at this point is a term that's being used to refer to the antichrist, an individual who'll be a leader on planet earth. He'll be a leader of the nations of the world.
The world will deteriorate into such a chaotic place that they'll be desperate for leadership, someone to solve the crisis of humanity, and an individual will step forth so gifted, so remarkable, so capable that the nations of the world will invite him to lead us. And for a season, he will seem to be the savior of the world. That's why he's known as the antichrist. He will present himself as the world's savior. In fact, he will eventually demand that the nations of the world worship him. But not too long after he's given power, his true character will be revealed, and the Bible describes him as a beast. It's really a startling label.
If you think about the vile, hateful, evil expressions of leadership that we have known in our world, this individual will exceed all of them. When the Bible calls him beastly, it captures my attention. But Jesus will come back and deal with the beast. That's good news. Our Lord is not intimidated. Says that "the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed miraculous signs on his behalf". There will be a religious component to the authority of the antichrist. Now, Paul gave you a clue about it. He said it'll have a form of godliness but deny its power. "And with these signs he deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. And these two were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur".
God will ultimately judge them. But the Book of Revelation introduces us to these three great imitations. Satan is a great imitation of Almighty God. He was an angel, and he lost his place in heaven, because he wanted to be worshiped as God was worshiped, and he led a rebellion against God. And Satan and a third of the angels were cast out of heaven down to the earth. And he spent his efforts in the earth trying to occupy that place of God, to get humanity to worship him. Remember when Jesus did his temptation? He was in the wilderness for 40 days fasting and praying, and Satan came and tempted him. He said, "If you will bow down and worship me, I'll give you the authority over the nations of the earth," right?
Sin, the temptation of sin is Satan's attempt to get you to capitulate, to yield to his initiatives and to turn your back on God. And the reason it's always an imitation, what makes sin tempting is it can't deliver what it promises. Now, it's wrong to say that it isn't tempting. The promise comes, whatever the invitation, whatever sinful invitations you're most vulnerable to, they promise you contentment and fulfillment and joy and happiness, until you bite. And initially it may feel that way. It may seem to be delivering what it promised; but if you walk that path very far, it becomes bitter and destructive, doesn't it? We could all give our personal stories on that. It's a false expression of God. When you choose godliness and holiness and you cooperate with God, it leads you on a path that is transformational, brings you to a place of fulfillment and contentment and joy.
So Satan is the great imitation. He wants to be worshiped as God is worshiped. The antichrist is the imitation of Christ. He's a false Christ. He wants to be the savior to all of humanity's problems, and he's an imitator. He'd be the most beastly leader the world's ever known. The false prophet. Remember prophecy is a God perspective. The false prophet is delivering a God perspective to a false church. For there to be a false prophet, there has to be a false church. So you need in your imagination and your thoughts this category of true and false, and you need to have enough discernment, enough knowledge of the Word of God and the character of God to distinguish between the two, because in this season there will be expressions of godliness, but they will deny the power of it.
Don't be deceived. And when I talk about true and false church, folks, I'm not talkin' 'bout us and them, okay? Please don't confuse this. I'm not talking about us being right and the folks across the street being them, any more than I'm talking about your denominational preference or your worship style, or the time or the day of the week in which you choose to worship. At the heart of the true church is the person of Jesus and his redemptive work, the incarnate Son of God come to the earth, and his substitutionary death on the cross, and his resurrection for our justification.
All of that is necessary because we are sinners, and we can't save ourselves. We have a problem from which we cannot redeem ourselves. We need help and God provided that help in the person of Jesus. And any expression of religion, faith, worship that diminishes Jesus or his role or those credentials is false. I don't care how smoothly packaged, how cleverly articulated, how neatly delivered, or what supernatural attestations come along with it. It's false. Don't be deceived.
I brought you a prayer. We'll work on the rest of this tonight, or some more of this tonight. Why don't you stand with me? We are learning to pray, isn't that exciting? Thank you for that enthusiasm. "Just hush so we can go eat". Okay, let's read this together:
Heavenly Father, You are the author of life and my source of hope. My faith arises in my heart as I pause to listen to You. You are the strength of my life and your promises describe my future. I rejoice in your great faithfulness. Your mercy sustains me in days of distress. Deliver me from evil. I put my trust in You, my God and my redeemer. Amen.