Allen Jackson - Truth Over Deception - Part 2
Hey, it's a privilege to be with you today, the beginning of a brand new year. I always enjoy the beginning of the year. It's as if we get a fresh calendar, a fresh start, an opportunity for a whole new set of outcomes. It's an exciting time. This year in particular, I think, is important. It's an election year. Our topic today is "Truth Over Deception". That seems very appropriate in the midst of what we're facing. We need God's truth to break into the public square to impact our lives, perhaps in a way we've never seen before, and only God can bring that outcome. Our prayers together and our trust in God will make the difference. Get your Bible and a notepad, but most importantly, let's invite God into our lives at the beginning of this year.
I want you to spend just a minute... I've tried to choose some characters that were familiar to you, and one that we know from the Christmas story predominantly is Joseph. We don't know a great deal about Joseph. We know a very limited window in his life. He steps out of the narrative early, seems to suggest he died a premature death. He wasn't there when Jesus was on the cross. Jesus assigned responsibility to Mary to John. But Joseph was a central, pivotal character in the beginning of the narrative. So I pulled a couple of passages. I think they'll help us understand a little bit of this tension between God's truth and deception and what it means to live that forward.
Spoiler alert: we've got to stop collecting truth as if it's something that's theoretical. We've collected biblical facts like we are building hard drives for the Kingdom of God. God knows the names of the 12 tribes. And while I think it's worthwhile to study and learn, I've spent most of my life doing that, I'm far more interested in giving expression to the Truth of God than just assimilating it. I want to live like it's true. Now, we struggle that within every area of our life. It isn't just our spiritual lives, our physical health. We probably know better than we do. We'll talk about that another time. Matthew chapter 1: "This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came аbout: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit".
Matthew writes that like it makes sense to us. Oh, of course I understand that. "Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and he didn't want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly". He didn't want to add to the humiliation that was going to be involved. "But after he'd considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph, son of David, don't be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She'll give birth to a son, and you're to give him the name Jesus, because he'll save his people from their sins.'" Now that's where the angelic message ends. That's where the quotation marks are, closed quotes. The next verse Matthew inserts, "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they'll call him Immanuel, which means 'God with us...'"
I ask you a question. Do you think Joseph knew the prophecy? Really? How many do you know about what's gonna happen? We attribute to Joseph a better knowledge of the scripture, and yet the scripture was written on scrolls that were maintained in the synagogues, and private individuals or homes or families didn't have copies. I happen to know that Nazareth, where Joseph lived, did not have Wi-Fi. I know that seems terribly unfair. He was educationally disadvantaged, but God recruited him. I don't know if he did or didn't. The next sentence is remarkable, "When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel the Lord had commanded him and he took Mary home as his wife".
Let me suggest that truth broke into Joseph's awareness in the middle of that night. See, I'm suggesting a little different attitude towards God's Truth. What I find in my own heart, and I suspect it might exist in yours, is this temptation to wanna stand apart from it and to review it as if we're Olympic judges, or quality control experts, or some sort of a position that we're a little bit above it, not as if we are subjected to it. That when we see the Truth, our response is to say, "Yes". We're not done with Joseph yet. Matthew chapter 2: "When the wise men had left," they have this crazy visit from these crazy people, "When they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. 'Get up,' he said, 'take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.' So he got up, he took the child and his mother during the night and he left for Egypt".
I mean, the implication from the language... words have meanings. And I believe if you parse that out, he has a dream with an angel speaking to him when he's awakened from the dream, that night they leave, "where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'Out of Egypt I called my son...'" Now you're beginning to get a sense that Matthew has a pattern, a literary device, that when he tells us about one of these supernatural interventions, he's going to follow it with a prophetic passage. Again, I think it's a relevant question. Do you suppose Joseph knew the prophecy? I don't know. But I would submit a second time, truth has broken into Joseph's awareness. But this time it's a different kind of message, maybe not much less bizarre, take the baby and run! And stay in Egypt until you get further notification.
Can you imagine that? He shakes Mary awake, "We're leaving". "What? Where are we going"? "Egypt". "What? How long are we going to be there"? "I don't know". That was probably as much fun as that donkey ride from Nazareth to Bethlehem. I mean, by now he's used to travel dialogue. "Herod's gonna search for the baby. He wants to kill him, we gotta move, let's go". "Well, who's gonna text my parents? They were coming to see the baby". I think it's worth pointing out that in the midst of the supernatural arrival of Jesus, the incarnation, the greatest expression of the grace of God and the power of God that humanity will know, it's being challenged, it's being redirected, it's on a collision course with the purposes of God. There's corrupt government, deception, self-serving leaders, and they're killing children. All of that's in the story of Jesus's arrival. So while the truth of God, the living truth of God is breaking forth into the earth, and the skies are filled with the angelic host announcing the arrival of the King. All of those other things are a part of the narrative, all of Jerusalem, the scripture says, was troubled.
Truth and deception. Again, I've had this idea that when God's truth breaks forth, it'll be like such an overwhelming thing that we'll all be unified and locking arms going, "Oh, that's God's truth"! What do you think the shepherd said when they heard they ran to Egypt? I bet they had some, "What do you think about that"? "I don't know". "We saw a lot of angels". Joseph got up. He took the child, and he left from Egypt. What I'm trying to work into my own heart is a different response to God's truth. I wanna become obedient in a better way. It'll only emerge from a knowledge of the character of God and the Word of God. But I'm not done. Matthew 2: "After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph," I'm thinking by this time Joseph does not like dreams, "He's in Egypt. The angel said, 'Get up, and take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life were dead,'" close quotes.
That's the message. The rest of this is either description or the author's insertion. "So Joseph got up, he took the child and his mother, and he went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea," Judea is the region around Jerusalem, which would include Bethlehem, "in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee," Galilee is the northern part of Israel, more diverse population, "and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: 'He will be called a Nazarene,'" not a Nazarite. John the Baptist was a Nazarite, didn't cut his hair, and he had a beverage list. Jesus is a Nazarene. He comes from the village of Nazareth. But once again, God's truth breaks into Joseph's awareness.
Truth encounters, how much time have I got? I got a little bit. I know there's not much hope we're gonna finish that outline. I don't know. Time's the next service? John chapter 8: "Jesus is teaching, and he said to the Jews who'd believed in him," so it's an audience that is somewhat affirming, "Jesus said, 'If you hold to my teaching, you're really my disciples,'" so the characteristic of a disciple is someone who holds to his teachings, not has heard them, isn't acquainted with them. "Then he said, 'if you hold to my teachings, then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.' They answered him, 'We're Abraham's descendants and we've never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we'll be set free?'"
Well, we know for a fact that not everyone in Jesus's audience found freedom. Not everybody that heard Jesus teach aligned themselves with what they heard. Not everyone accepted the truth. It is so important in his audience and in our lives, in our generation, that we choose what we choose to do with the truth. We can put it on a shelf in our minds. We can assimilate it into the facts that we store 'cause we're really good at Trivial Pursuit. Can we play the biblical version? "Bible for a thousand please, Alex". Or do we put it into action? In John 18, we get to listen in on an intriguing conversation. We've looked at it in some various ways in the past, but it's Pilate, the Roman governor, a Gentile, non-Jew, with the political authority over Judea. Jesus is being really political on this particular day. He's got a meeting with Pilate, "Pilate went back inside the palace, and he summoned Jesus, and he asked him a question, 'Are you the king of the Jews?'"
It's a relevant question. It's the one thing that would cause you great trouble with Rome. "And Jesus said, 'Is that your own idea or did others talk to you about me?' And Pilate's annoyed, 'Am I a Jew? It was your people and your chief priest who handed you over to me. What is it you've done?' And Jesus answered him, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now,'" it's a timing word, "he said, 'Now my kingdom is from another place.' And Pilate answered, 'You are a king then!' And Jesus, 'You are right in saying I'm a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of the truth listens to me.' And Pilate asks," we don't know the emotion with which he asked or the tone with which he asked because it makes all the difference, but Pilate's sentence is recorded for us. "'What is truth? What is truth?' With this he went out again to the Jews and he said, 'I find no basis for a charge against him.'"
I find no basis for a charge against him. I find no basis for a charge against him. He's innocent. I know he's innocent. "'But it's your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release 'the king of the Jews?'" I think Pilate was the most surprised person that day in the group. "They shouted back, 'Not him! Give us Barabbas!'" Now, in a very similar way, perhaps in a more dramatic way, in a more profound way, in a way that would be more easily received, truth has broken into Pilate's awareness in a similar way that truth broke into Joseph's awareness. Joseph had a dream about his betrothed being pregnant as a result of the Holy Spirit's involvement. Pilate has a conversation with a man, and truth breaks in. "I find no basis for a charge in this man. Do you want me to release him to you? You could have him. I'm not gonna hold him. You may have him".
Pilate didn't accept the truth. He became a part of the deception. You see, we have a choice to make. And I think a part of what we're all waiting to see unfold is whether the people of God will choose the truth. I can give you a dozen ways right now where there's a battle in the world around us between truth and deception. It's a child. It's a lump of protoplasm. How we understand marriage. How we understand sexual morality or immorality. It's not really confusing biblically. It's not as if it's mystical or mystified. The truth is apparent to us. We are struggling. And I say we, I mean church with a capital C. We're standing in that place pilotless. We've got clarity. We've heard the words. We know the answer. I don't really find anything to charge him with. But there was tremendous political pressure on him. Tremendous political pressure.
So I wanna wrap it up with a little bit of an action point. What we can do. I much prefer what we can do. What can we do is kind of a defeated statement. Well, what can we do? Nothing we can do. We're not very powerful. Stop it. Stop yielding the field because you're frightened. Stop conceding because you don't have the power to change it. You didn't have the power to transfer yourself, to deliver yourself from the kingdom of darkness. God did that for us. We didn't have the power to pay the penalty for our sin without giving up our lives. And God intervened and did that for us. What we're searching for every day of our lives is what we can do. God, what would you have us do? Where's the response you want? Because one glance from God changes the entire equation. We're not powerless. We're not overwhelmed. We may be outnumbered, but it's only because those that are for us aren't as visible as those who are against us.
Church, we have lost sight of who we are, who the head of the church is, The assignment we're on, the mission we've been given. What we can do, James 2, James remind us, James is the in your Facebook of the New Testament, don't read it on a bad day. Beat you up. You believe there's one God good for you. Even the demons believe that and they shudder. This next sentence is important. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? James has said, you gotta live your faith out. The fact that you have a t-shirt that has faith stamped on it does not mean you're living a life of faith. Truth revealed, truth made known is for the purpose of our acceptance of that truth so that we can act upon it. How do we overcome deception? By acting on the truth. We began in 2020, as I've said, to pray in some new ways.
One of the prayers we've learned together is let the truth be known. We've prayed that over many things and we have seen God answer. But I think we've been a little unsettled because God's answers have not been always celebrated universally. So some of us have stood in the shadows so that we could have the approval of Lord knows whom rather than to step into the light of God's truth. We've learned some things about prayers and how God answers them. First, they're not always answered immediately. I'd have been happy to have had that bucket of information on day two. Sometimes there's a period of waiting. And secondly, when God answers, we have to choose to accept the answer. It's been a surprise to me, the degree to which deception remains in place. But it doesn't diminish the truth.
Look at Acts four, Jesus is gone, the disciples are busy with their assignment. They're called in before the same group that orchestrated Jesus's execution. The disciples, It's not lost on the disciples that they can get an audience with Pilate. And they called them in again and they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, judge for yourselves whether it's right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard. We know the truth and we're gonna shout it from the housetops. So what we can do is exactly that. If you're a doctor, tell the truth. If you're a minister, tell the truth. If you're a teacher, tell the truth. If you're doing business, tell the truth. If you work in manufacturing, tell the truth. If you gather every day on job sites with different people, Tell the truth. If you work on a car lot, tell the truth.
When you go to the ball fields where your children play, tell the truth. Stop being quiet. Stop cooperating with the deception. Well, everybody won't like it. No kidding. But those on the side of the truth will. And more than that, I believe the King will. And we are servants of the kingdom. So I brought you up really a proclamation. We've done it here recently. I know it isn't new, but it never gets old. Like I grew up saying it every time we gathered for worship. I'm not ready to commit to that yet, but it's the Apostles Creed. It's a wonderful collection of statements that have been engaged by the church almost since its beginning.
You know, somebody stopped me, we read this a few weeks ago, and somebody stopped me on the way to the car and said, the tradition I grew up in, they don't consider themselves a denomination, so the tradition I grew up in, they don't consider themselves a denomination. So the tradition I grew up in, we don't believe in all those creedal things, we just believe in the Word of God. I'm grateful for everyone who believes in the Word of God. But it's difficult to quote Genesis 1 through Revelation 21 every time you open your mouth. And it can be very helpful to have a summary statement that is easily supported by scripture and has been embraced by 2,000 years of the church. So please open your heart. I want you to say it with me if you will.
Let's stand together. We're gonna close with this declaration of what we have chosen to believe. Because if somebody says, you know, I heard you go to that crazy church, they've got an ice rink. I had a meeting this last week with a man he'd never been on campus. Well, he had been on campus. I'd never met with him before. And he said, you've got everything here, but a monorail. And I said, I apologize, I'm working on that. If you'll keep talking about the Lord will give us two. Are you ready? We want to become world class at shouting from the rooftops what we believe. You know, if your team's playing for the national championship, you're shouting at any place you can hear. And if your team got left out, you've been crying. Why is it with our faith we're afraid somebody's going to be offended or we don't have to be obnoxious. We can certainly be grateful to the one who's delivered us from the kingdom of darkness. Here we go:
I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into Hades. The third day, he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and he sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.