Allen Jackson - The Triumph of Truth - Part 2
Hey, it's a privilege to be with you today, we're going to complete our discussion on the triumph of truth. We're going to look a bit at John the Baptist. You know, the Bible describes John as a voice crying in the wilderness, a voice of one. He wasn't a chorus, there wasn't a great deal of support. He received some remarkable affirmation from Jesus, but John's assignment was difficult. Ultimately, he landed in prison, it cost him his life, but he had the courage to speak the truth to the world in which he lived. It's not a popular assignment in the contemporary church. Most of us have decided that we would rather be overlookers than overcomers of evil. But I believe God is preparing a people, he's awakening us to the circumstances in which we're living, and giving us an assignment that will make a difference so that the generations behind us can gain strength and hope because of your courage. Let's face this new year with the boldness to choose the truth and to share it with love to the world around us. Get your Bible and a notepad, but most importantly, open your heart.
Matthew makes a statement that I don't want you to miss, it's verse 16. He said "When Herod was outwitted by the Magi," not to be disrespectful of Matthew, but I think that's an incomplete explanation. It wasn't just that the Herod was outwitted by the Magi, they didn't have a superior intellect, they weren't more cunning. The Magi had resources that Herod didn't imagine. God led them. It's important, folks. We need to live with the imagination that God will help us. Not because the overwhelming majority agree with us, but because the creator of heaven and earth is directing us. And that if we will yield to his objectives and pursue his agenda and be willing to stand for his truth, we can imagine his assistance, not the removal from conflict, not the absence of difficulty, but that we can trust him. God led them in a way, now they had to be willing to forfeit another trip to the palace. Some of us like the palace. God was watching over his purposes, fulfilling his plan.
Time limits us a bit. We could go through generation after generation after generation from the biblical narrative where we see this pattern. The prophet Elijah stood against a wicked queen and king hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus. Their hatred for him was so intense that he had to hide. He called fire from heaven, but he had to hide, I have trouble reconciling that. It's not easy for me, I'm thinking if I'm good enough to call fire from heaven. But Elijah spent much of his time in hiding, until finally prompted by God, he said, "It's time to do this in public. Let's see where the real power lies. You bring your false prophets and I'll join you on Mount Carmel".
You know the story, he taunts them until it's his turn and fire falls from heaven. He murders them. Before that conflict, the people would not answer. He said, "You have to decide whom you'll worship". And they were silent, they wouldn't say a word. After fire falls from heaven, they had a little bit of an attitude adjustment. But the story isn't over, because the queen doesn't repent, she's not sorry. She doesn't say, "Oh, I was misled, I had it wrong. Clearly there's a God". Not at all, she says, "By tomorrow I'll have your head". And Elijah's in hiding again. And this time, his spirit is diminished. God sent angels to feed him. And God came to see him and said, "What are you doing"? You remember the story?
And Elijah said, "I'm the only one left". Now he's tired. "I've been zealous for you and I'm the only one left"! And God said "Oh, nonsense Elijah, there's thousands. Get up son. We're going to anoint a successor and anoint a king that will replace these knuckleheads. There's work for you to do". That's the living Bible, but that's what it says. You see what the Magi faced isn't new. You would think if you could call fire for heaven, the whole nation would repent. I've been waiting for that breakthrough of truth where it would be so clear in the public square that the great massive majority of people would go, "Oh, absolutely. That's the right way". I don't think that's what the scripture holds out to us. Shouldn't diminish us, shouldn't diminish our enthusiasm. We're still in league with the creator of all things.
I'll give you another example, same period of time. Matthew chapter 3, John the Baptist, you know him. Just for the record, he didn't start the denomination. He just spent a lot of time baptizing people. Not trying to pick a fight. Matthew chapter 3, "In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.' This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: 'A voice of one calling in the desert, "Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him".'" The prophecy from Isaiah intrigues me. A voice of what? Bummer. It seems like the message would have been more effective if there had been a voice of a hundred. Maybe we could have had one for every region, maybe every city. There was one voice. It's pretty easy to discount one voice.
Who is he? He's that crackpot out in the desert. Who's gonna pay any attention to him? No one would. He's not attached to any institution, he doesn't have authority of the temple in Jerusalem; all the religious activity takes place in Jerusalem, the daily sacrifices. Three times a year they're commanded to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to seek the Lord, and John standing out in the middle of the desert, a voice of one. "John's clothes were made of camel's hair, he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts," not bugs. Grows on a locust tree, "and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River".
It's a movement! It's inexplicable apart from the spirit of God. No power, no committee, no PR. Luke gives us a little more insight. Jesus is speaking, but it's John's message. Luke is relating to us what John had to say to the people. "The ax is already at the root of the tree, and every tree that doesn't produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire". That's not a happy message. That's really not a motivational message, unless you have a heart for the Lord. He's not promising you things are gonna get better. He said, "You're gonna get cut down, burned up". The response intrigues me because Luke is typical with him, he writes with some specificity. "The crowd ask of John, 'What should we do then?' And John answered, 'The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.'" You should practice generosity. Well, "The tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they ask, 'Teacher, what should we do?'"
So John's gonna segment the culture, the people in general said, "What should we do"? And John says, "Be more generous with your lives". And then he took perhaps the two most hated segments of the community, and Luke relays for us what John said to them, the tax collectors. They are the part of the local population, but they betrayed their friends and they're collecting taxes for the Romans and they're collecting excessive taxes under Roman authority to make themselves more prosperous. And the tax collectors came and they said, "What should we do"? And John said to them, "Don't collect any more than you're required to," then some soldiers came, they're really hated. "What should we do? 'Don't extort money, don't accuse people falsely, be content with your pay.'" They're having a truth outbreak. They're doing more than studying ancient stories. He's talking to them about how to align their lives with the direction of scripture.
See, there's a powerful temptation amongst the people of God right now to do Bible studies about things that have happened in history, and avoid any discussion about what God is doing in our world. Because the implications for us are uncomfortable, it makes our holiday meals awkward. Because we've been sponsoring and facilitating all sorts of ungodliness and immorality and all sorts of stuff, and so we'd rather have a historical discussion.
Verse 15, "The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might be the Messiah. And John answered them all, 'I baptize you with water. But there's one more powerful than I who will come, the thongs of whose sandals I'm not worthy to untie. He'll baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he'll burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.' And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them. But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch," the governor, "because of Herodias, his brother's wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison".
I've said it before, but in this context, I think it's more apparent to you. John would have led a much longer life if he would have avoided commentary on current events. He could have talked about the prophets. He could have talked about Moses. He could have talked about the Red Sea being parted and the plagues upon Egypt. He could have talked about a deliverance from the Assyrian army of Hezekiah's sundial being affected by the power of God. John could have done many, many things, but he had the courage to take God's truth and say, "We're not honoring it in the places where it needs to be honored".
And Luke simply says, "Herod added this to his sins". The suggestion is not subtle. He's going to be held accountable for what he's done. Know this, that if you stand for the truth and you're mistreated, the God who created heaven and earth takes note. I don't imagine that I'm inviting you towards a path that's always easy. It will not always result in applause. There will be times you'll be excluded, and some other things, but the one who created heaven and earth takes note. We have to decide whose approval we want the most. It's not an easy decision, and it's not a one-time decision. In my life, I find it's a decision that I have to make repeatedly.
Now chapter seven gives us an insight that's essential to this narrative. Remember the goal is what's it look like to cooperate with God, to follow God. Do we expect the resistance to melt? Do we expect our antagonist to be swept away? After all we have a God message, even John's conception is supernatural. He's a Nazarite, he's lived his whole life with some special vows to God. You would imagine those who would oppose him would be swept away. I would imagine that, but I don't imagine that from scripture, I Imagine that because I've watched too many Marvel comics. Well, in John 7, after John's arrested, his disciples come to Jesus. It isn't implicitly stated, but it seems very clear to me what the objective is, get our friend out of jail.
This was Jesus's comment, "Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me". Why would you fall away on account of Jesus? What possible reason? Because there'll be pressure because of your alignment with him. You'll fall away because you'll say, "Jesus, who? What church"? You think, "Well, you know, there was a lot of pressure in the moment. I was about to forfeit something, an opportunity, a deal, an invitation, something that mattered to me". Jesus said, "Blessed is the one who doesn't fall away on account of me". That's worth taking to heart. Verse 24, "After John's messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John," we're gonna get Jesus commentary on John the Baptist. This is pretty important for those of us who would like to honor him. "What did you go out into the desert to see"?
Jesus, in typical Jewish fashion, begins his explanation about John with a question. "What did you go into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind"? What did you go in the desert to expect? Some timid soul? Someone lukewarm? They would have hidden in Jerusalem, under the layers of power and authority. They would have hidden in the bureaucracy. Standing alone in the wilderness, a voice of one. "If not, what did you go out to see"? Again a question, what did you go out to see? "A man dressed in fine clothes"? Did you go to be impressed with his sense of style? "No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see"? It's the third time he's asked the question, "'A prophet? Yes, I tell you, but more than a prophet.' This is the one about whom it is written: 'I will send my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way before you.'"
Jesus, I tell you, and you know the Bible well enough now, when it says I tell you, he's about to drop a truth bomb. "I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John". Not Moses, not Daniel. There is no one greater than John. "Yet the one who's the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he". His CV, his curriculum vitae, just amongst people, he said is "unmatched". But to participate in the kingdom of God exceeds everything else. That's why we will stand for his truth. Verse 29, this is in parentheses, so it's an insertion that Luke is giving us. "(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus' words, acknowledged that God's way was right, because they had been baptized by John.)"
Now, what's the line of demarcation between those that could hear Jesus and embrace the truth, and those who stood as antagonists? Those who practiced what they heard. Yes, in this case it was baptism, but I believe the point is larger than that. Embracing the truth, acting on the truth you know, is transformational. Assimilating information is not transformational, if it were, my computer would be the holiest thing on this campus. It's got 40 Bibles in it. It's when we act on the truth that we know that we're changed. Verse 30 gives us the contrast, but is a negative conjunction, we're about to change directions. "(But the Pharisees and the experts in the law,)"
Now, wait a minute, Luke just told us that all the people, even the tax collectors, acknowledged what Jesus was saying was right. The extortionists, the thieves, the most hated, the betrayers amongst us are changing. They're practicing repentance and gaining momentum towards the kingdom of God, "(But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God's purposes for themselves, because they hadn't been baptized by John.)" They hadn't cooperated with the truth that they knew. Again, truth will triumph over deception. It will be victorious. For you and me to share in the victory, we will have to choose the truth. Not just know about it, not just know of it, not even know just what the right thing to do is. We'll have to be willing to stand on behalf of those if we're not called to act, we'll have to support those who are. We will have to practice repentance. We will be the ones who lead the change. We will be the initiators.
I've said it to you hundreds and hundreds of times, our solution is not principally another election. If God's people's hearts were to change, we might see that reflected in some electoral process, but the change that we so desperately need is not coming to us because of an election. It will come because of a change in the hearts of God's people.
So I want to close with an invitation. Initially I thought I would give you an invitation to come forward, but I believe there would be too many respond. So I want to give you a different invitation, I want you to stand with me. I brought you a prayer, we're going to pray it together. It's a prayer of repentance, it's a prayer of acknowledging Jesus. We want to do exactly what Luke told us the Pharisees and the experts in the laws wouldn't do. They rejected God's plan, they didn't want any part of it. They knew the rules, they knew the scripture, they knew the prophets, they knew the God stories, they've got the right DNA. They sit in synagogue and temple all the time, their lives are embroiled in religious activity, but they've rejected the purposes of God.
That's the condition of the contemporary church. We have Bibles and worship services and programs, and we can espouse all sorts of principles, are we willing to embrace the purposes of God? If you're willing to say to the Lord, "I'm willing to change to the degree, I have not done that," I would like to do that. I'm gonna invite you to kneel with me that couple of caveats: if your health or your wardrobe make that unrealistic, you stand right where you are with the same grace that the person kneeling will have. We clear? No harm, no foul. But if you're capable, and you would like to say to the Lord, "I wanna cooperate with you". Wherever you're listening, whichever sanctuary on our campus, at home, in whatever state or nation, we're gonna kneel as the people of God and say this prayer together. All right? If you choose. Let's pray:
Lord Jesus, I choose You! I choose to live under Your authority, to accept Your will for my life. Forgive me for my rebellion. I have used my strength and my effort to pursue my objectives and I have avoided Your direction... I repent today. I will worship You with my life. I will pursue the purposes of Your kingdom. Holy Spirit help me to order my days aright, that I may walk uprightly in the sight of God. I choose the truth with my whole heart. In Jesus's name, amen.