Allen Jackson - Step Out of the Crowd - Part 2
It's my privilege to be with you today. We're going to complete our study on this lesson of how to step out of the crowd. You know, not everybody that Jesus presented with an invitation had the courage to say yes. Some of them missed that opportunity. I don't want to do that with my life, and I don't believe you do either. So we're going to look at the Word of God and see if we can find some clues for how we can respond with boldness to God's invitations. Get your Bible and a notepad, but most importantly open your heart.
Do you understand the degree to which we've been co-opted into social services? We have spent a long time coaching the church to be little more than a civic organization that does nice things for people. And I believe we have an assignment to care for those less fortunate than ourselves. I'm not in any way denying that or stepping away from it, but that is not our primary expression of being God's people in the earth. We represent a kingdom, and the parameters of the kingdom are different. We would rather have a seminar on whether or not God still does miracles than get into the sloppy business of stepping away from the crowd and say, "Let's pray". You know the narratives. Are we willing to step away from the crowd to follow Jesus?
It's really important stuff these days, all sorts of realignments. We've seen almost a third of the people in the United States that were worshiping in churches four years ago are not. So there's been a lot of stepping away from some crowds. Are you willing to step towards the Lord? Matthew 27 there's another event. You know this one as well. It's nearing the end of Jesus's life this time, not so much centered on his friends but centered with his antagonist. It's one of the great opportunities ever presented to a human being. Jesus is on trial. His condemnation or his freedom is hanging in the balance. And we see one of the most cowardly responses that we have in all of scripture. It's not from a lack of awareness. It's not from a lack of reputation.
Jesus's miracles by this point, he's had three years of public ministry and thousands and tens of thousands of people have been affected by that. Enormous crowds have followed him. He's captured the attention of the nation and the religious leaders to the point that they're fully committed, fully on board to his destruction and that he's finally gotten, they've orchestrated an audience with the man who has the political power to condemn Jesus. And he's aware enough and astute enough to understand that the charges are false, he understands the jealousy and the hatred of those that are demanding that he sign the execution order, and he gets a personal, private audience with Jesus. And it's not included in our narrative, but he's even going to get supernatural intervention from God. His wife is warned in a dream and she comes and finds him. It's a fascinating story.
It's Matthew 27. "It was the governor's custom at the feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. And at that time, they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them", we're going to get to listen into a dialogue between the Roman governor of Judea and a large crowd gathered in Jerusalem from the population of the city. So the governor and the crowd, and there's a little back and forth. "Pilate asked them, 'Which do you want me to release to you, Barabbas or Jesus, who's called the Messiah?' For he knew that it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him".
So Matthew slips in a little backstory for us. Verse 19, "While Pilate was sitting on the judge's seat, his wife sent him this message: 'Don't have anything to do with that innocent man. I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.' But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas, to have Jesus executed". So the governor ask again, "'Which of the two do you want me to release to you?' And they answered, 'Barabbas.'" Can you imagine the shock? He took the most notorious prisoner he had, the most violent, the least likely to be embraced by the people, Charles Manson-esque, and he's got a Bible teacher, a miracle worker, a healer. In Pilate's imagination, it's not even close. This one's easy. "I'll be home for dinner with a clear conscience".
And the people said Barabbas. You can hear the confusion. "'What shall I do then with Jesus who's called your Messiah?' And they answered, 'Crucify him.' 'Why? What crime has he committed?' And they shouted all the louder, 'Crucify him.' When Pilate saw he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, and he took water and he washed his hands in front of the crowd. 'I am innocent of this man's blood,' he said. 'It's your responsibility.'" May I ask you a question? How do you think that played in heaven? Do you think Gabriel looked over at Michael and go, "Oh, he washed his hands? He's golden".
We have an incredible ability to rationalize our opposition to God. We could spend a good deal of time listing all the reasons why Pilate would make that decision: all the pressure points, all the opportunities that were bore before him, the point in his career trajectory that if he were to stand up and rebellion broke out in Jerusalem he might get busted down to dog-catcher in Rome, forfeit his retirement. I mean, it's just, there's a whole litany of things we could say, but what's very clear is Pilate understands he's innocent. He says it himself. "'I'm innocent of this man's blood. It's your responsibility.' And the people answered, 'Let his blood be on us and on our children.' Then he released Barabbas to them and he had Jesus beaten and handed over to be crucified".
The best description I know is cowardice. He's a coward. Well, you can give your reasons, but if you condemn somebody you know is innocent because you don't want to take the heat, coward is the appropriate word. It's not political expediency. It's not maintaining your authority so you're in a position to make a greater difference on another day. Crowds are typically filled with cowards. The individuals who would not act on their own, they hide in a group. Like, I don't think it's unfair to say that cowards and cowardice in crowds are frequent partners. Crowds and cowards are easily manipulated. It's why authoritarian thugs like to gather crowds. They bait them with things that they think they would want in the moment so they can manipulate them. To step away from the crowd means you lead from the front, you set a pace, you give a response that's not anticipated, you take a risk that others aren't willing to take, but you hopefully will inspire others to step away from the crowd with you.
We've got this nonsensical idea, it's been echoed by some very powerful people, that we can lead from behind. For clarity's sake, the definition of that is manipulation. Leadership is being willing to walk a way, walk in a way that gives other people the courage and the willingness to walk that way as well. Pilate forfeited the opportunity of his life. Imagine the difference in his journey through time and eternity if he would say, "You know, if it cost me the governorship, I'll protect you".
Now, I understand the narrative. I know Jesus's mission. I'm not confused, but this is Pilate's life. Just imagine which would you rather have on your resume, politically astute enough to recognize the will of the people or courageous enough not to betray an innocent man? You see, if there is a just God, that's not an easy decision, but you have enough information to have an imagination of the way you want to go. Step out of the crowd. Doesn't mean we always do the easy thing. Doesn't mean we always do what's just comfortable. It means that we have the courage to say a prayer when the opportunity presents itself. We've talked about let's pray.
Folks, it's not rocket science. It's just a sentence prayer, but I meet people all the time, I've met people for a long, long time that whole idea came out of the difficulty we have in praying in public places. How easy it is to leave our faith on the church campus, or in a sanctuary, or with our small group, or with the Bible study where we go, and then we go out into the world and we act as if our faith is something in part of our life, it's important, but as long as we're not being grossly immoral, now we're just doing business, or now we're just creating opportunities for something, or it's better for our kids if we don't stand up right now or whatever, and so we step back into the crowd.
See, I don't think it's a lack of awareness. I think what's really in question is the realization that it's going to take a new response from us. We've been so indoctrinated, we've been so coached up on the fact that if you're born again, if you're saved, you know, you're good to go. Now, I'm an advocate for conversion and salvation. And if you've never made that decision and reordered your life to give Jesus first place in your life, by all means do that. If you've never been baptized, get in the pool. I mean, who cares? Step out of the crowd, but that's not really being bold.
You see, being birthed into the kingdom is the beginning, but now we've got to be disciples, now we got to follow Jesus, now we got to begin to live out that truth, and that's messy business 'cause we're broken. We're the cracked pots and we're living in a world full of them. And so how do we do that? How do we begin to do the simple things that you know? We've been talking about this for two or three weeks. Take your faith home with you. Pray for your kids. "Well, what if I pray wrong"? Keep praying till you get it better. One of the men in the church, I was in a group with him for a while. He told the story that one of his... he tried to take his boys to school in the morning. They were still early elementary age.
Man, it's a busy time and a hectic time. And he said, "I got to have", we gave out anointing oil one service around here. And he said, "I got the idea that I just anoint them every morning". I know in Tennessee you ride in the car seat until you're old enough to drive. I mean, kind of how that goes, right? I mean, the seats change, but that's pretty much the rule. So the kids are strapped in the backseat. And he said, "I'm driving, you know, through school". And then he said, "I got the little oil, and I'm reaching over the backseat, going on, you know". And he said one morning in all the busyness and it was hectic, he said, "I forgot. Then I pulled into the line of school and I dropped them out". He said, "I was getting ready to pull into traffic and I heard somebody knocking on the window". And he said, "I looked over. It was my little boy".
And he said, "I put the window down, and he said, 'Dad, you forgot.'" Step out of the crowd. It's not about talking to powerful people or being something sophisticated, theological. No. Pray at your home. Take Jesus to work with you. Stop compromising in those places where you know you've been willingly, willfully compromising. Stop standing up for wickedness. Again, this isn't beyond us, give. I know you're generous, but if that hasn't been into your portfolio, yes, it's biblical. "You just want all my money". No, I don't want all of it. I'm kidding. I want your blood too. We have blood drives. Practice what you know.
You know, we are relational creatures, even the introverts among us. You may not talk to strangers easily, but you talk to your friends, and if you'll listen, if you'll just listen the tiniest little bit, people tell you so much. "How are you doing"? "Well, not great". They may not say any more than that or they may say, "You know, yeah, my back hurts, or work's been awful, or the economy's down, or interest rates are high, or my kids are sick, or getting the kids back in school is so expensive, or my kids are teenagers and I don't speak that language anymore".
And, I mean, if you'll listen, it'll come out of people, and now you've got a decision to make where you're really listening. If you're from the south, we don't listen. We ask how you are, but we don't care. If you're one of those people that are clogging our roads and have moved here from up north or from California because you think we are polite and we are so sweet and caring, bless your hearts. We say that because when we were little if we didn't, we got smacked, but with God's help we're learning to say it with some sincerity. And if you will listen just a little bit when somebody says that, you have a window now.
So here's the suggestion. Don't say to them, "May I pray for you"? Because the minute you say, "May I pray for you," you've given them all the authority to say, "Oh, I've heard about people like you". Okay? "'Cause, you know, I believe in prayer. I have oil in my pocket. My pastor speaks in tongues, and he has prepared me for you". None of that will help you, but if you will say, "Let's pray," now, here's your opportunity. When you say that, close your eyes 'cause they're not going to close theirs. They think you just morphed into something they've never met before. And when you... and this is so important. When you say, "Let's pray," you only get one sentence. For some of you, this will take supernatural help, okay? "Let's pray".
If they told you their kids were sick, "Well, I pray the children will feel better today. Jesus's name, amen". If they told you business is tough, "God, give us the wisdom we need to accomplish our task. Jesus's name, amen". If their home life, "God, bring peace to that home in Jesus's name. Amen". Just one sentence. Stop while you're ahead. It doesn't matter how great... Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb in three words. "Lazarus, come forth". Now, this is important. When you're done, when you say amen, we have a natural instinct. Particularly if you're a church person, you want them to affirm you. You want them to say, "I felt something from the top of my head to the bottoms of my feet. It was like something warm was running down my head". Right? 'Cause then you think, "Ah. Who's next"? But it isn't about us.
So when you say amen, don't give them that goofy, Christian look that is like that invitation for a response. Do you know what I mean? It's that nonverbal language that says, "I need a little affirmation 'cause I'm more afraid than you are". You with me? You know that... When you say amen, you move on as quickly as you can. "Don't you love fall in Tennessee? How about them Titans? Tennessee is going to hang 100 on those boys Saturday". Whatever you need to do. You have that line already in your head. Now, you've done two things. You have invited God into a circumstance where he wouldn't have been invited if you hadn't done that and you have given somebody an awareness that there's a person in their realm of influence that would pray. If you'll do that a few times, your life will get busy praying prayers.
Step out of the crowd. Have the courage to begin to honor the Lord in your life in a new way. Folks, it will change everything about the world we live in. It truly will. The people Jesus recruited were as messed up as we are. They argued about who was the greatest. Jesus looked at them on multiple occasions, said, "You're really slow. Don't you understand anything"? He rebuked them for their leadership style. One of them was a thief. I mean, they were messed up, and they changed their world.
So can we if we'll be willing to step out of that crowd a little bit. I understand it makes you feel vulnerable. Not everybody will cheer. You'll be put on some lists. You'll be excluded in some places. You'll go back and talking to the Lord, say, "That wasn't how I expected it to work". But I don't believe you will ever regret it if you honor the Lord with your life and your words and your actions. I brought you a prayer. I took this from Acts chapter 4. Jesus's friends, after he went back to heaven in Acts chapter 1, are trying to figure it out, and there's a lot of antagonism and there are some threats that have been offered and they've been arrested already. And when they're released, they go back and find their friends in Acts 4 and they offer a prayer. And God honors, it's at the beginning of the book of Acts.
So one way of understanding it is that prayer ignites what's coming. It's not the only component, but it's an important component. And so I adapted a prayer from Acts chapter 4, 27 to 30. I gave you the references, but I didn't have... I think I gave you the scripture too, didn't I? I forgot I found more room. That teeny-tiny prayer, that's a wonderful thing. But I want us to pray that prayer together, but I wanted you to know it didn't come from me. I just took what the believers in Jerusalem prayed in Acts 4 and gave it to the believers in Tennessee and beyond to pray in the 21st century. So why don't you stand together and we'll pray this together. You ready? If you're at home, you can say it with us:
Almighty God, our rulers have conspired against your purposes and the Lordship of Jesus. They have acted under your watchfulness. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your Word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and to perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. May his name be exalted throughout the earth. Amen.