Is church simply a building with a cross on top or is it something more? Can it be that many attend church, but few are the Church? Find out who the Church is and what it is called to do.
Why The Bible Can Be Trusted
Why There is Hope
Why The Church
Why Change is Possible and Necessary
Why All the Passion
Why There is the Law
Why the Jews
Why We Are Here
Why There is Evil
Why the Story You Live in Matters
I'll tell you what. There are no words that God would rather hear than you saying that. "It seems too easy to say 'Savior,' and you're too far away to call you God. What can I say to you to express my love and devotion for you?" What God wants to do, what he's trying to elicit, what he's trying to draw out from us is a heart. God has said, "I'm a lover. I love people. I'm a shepherd. I care for my sheep."
With all the metaphors that he's given us, what God wants more than anything else is a relationship with those who he created, because he is a loving God, compassionate, gracious, and slow to anger. If you were going on some Internet religious service to date a god, and you typed in the characteristics of the kind of god you were looking for, he's it. What he wants to do is to let you know him. All of history, as we know it, is God's effort to pull back the veil, to tell you it's not too good to be true.
"It's true. I am too good for you to understand, but I'm going to show it to you in every way that I can. The crescendo of which is going to be me humbling myself to become like you and bearing the weight of your rebellion against me, that I might build a bridge across this infinite chasm that has been caused by your turning away from me and leaving me though I was a perfect lover. But because I'm a perfect lover, I'm going to do all I can to draw you back, by building a bridge, by making a way."
Love, Wynonna has told us, will build a bridge. Love has built a bridge in the person of Jesus Christ. He wants you to fall in love with him. We are telling a story. We are saying that God has revealed to us is in the Book, the biblios, the book with the story that when you know the story and the author behind it, how he wrote himself into that story, how he has involved you in that story for the purpose of drawing you into relationship with him, the author, you'll understand that every question you've ever asked is answered in the context of this story.
Truth always, we said the very first week, has its anchor in the context of a story, of a worldview of a concept, of truth and reality. God is saying, "This is truth, and this is the story that it's anchored in. I'm going to substantiate that to you." We started off by saying why your story matters, and why what you frame your reality with shapes everything about you.
We then went on to talk about where evil came from, and why there is evil in this story if God is good and all-powerful. We answered that. We answered the next question that philosophers continue to debate because they reject the story, reject the author, and that is this. "Why are you here?" Then we answered the question, "Why are the Jews, why is the nation of Israel, so significant in this story? What did they do to deserve the leading role? Why the Jews? What's the big deal about the Jews?"
Then we answered the questions, "Why all the passion? Why the love? Why the sacrifice? Why did God do this horrific thing that we saw Mel Gibson put on screen for two hours and four minutes? Why all that passion? What's the deal?" Then we talked about, "Why the change? Why the radical transformation in the lives of those who are responding to the passion of drawing men back into relationship with him?"
Today, we're going to pick it up, and we're going to talk about why the church, why you're here, why we're here, why we are significant, why we matter so much to God, who has already talked about how the story is going to end. He's now going to tell you today why you are pivotal in the story and how he wants to use you. We're going to talk about the church.
A guy named Richard Halverson, who served our country extremely well as a relationally-driven, biblically-rooted chaplain of our Senate for a number of years. Richard Halverson was a great man of God who did all that he could despite the odds stacked against him because men are so easily corrupted by power to minister to those who sovereignly have been put in places to shape how we play out our story as a country.
This country was founded on the story of the Scripture. I didn't say that men who founded our country all knew the author intimately and personally, but they knew the story that the author of all creation has presented to us in the Book, and they believed it was the basis through which humanity must relate and function.
They said some things when they declared their independence. In the course of the human history in which they found themselves, they understood they needed to live and operate differently because a sovereign in another place was prohibiting them from functioning in the ideal manner in which the God who created us wanted us to function.
So they said, "We hold these truths be self-evident." What they were saying is there is no need to discuss this. All men are created equal. Where'd they get that idea? From the story that we're talking about. They said, "This truth is self-evident. We're not going to argue it with you. We believe it and hold it in our core and think anybody who's intellectually honest will also understand that."
All men are endowed by that Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness which this story defines as living in relationship with a God, who in his right hand has fullness of joy and in his left hand has pleasures forever. The one who is full of compassion and graciousness, who is slow to anger, and who to know him, to have his love, is better than life. That's happiness.
That's the God who says, "Would you love me for your sake? I'm going to be God whether you vote for me or not. But you will have to deal with me, and I want to deal with you in the context of a loving, good relationship."
Halverson said this. "In the beginning, the church was a fellowship of men and women who centered their lives in the living Christ. They had a personal and vital relationship with the Lord, and it transformed their lives and the world around them." That was the beginning when God finally reached out to a group of people. I'm going to show you where we fit in, and when he finally formed this group called the church.
If you hang around in certain circles where people called theologians hang out (lovers of the Word of God), they have this little area of study called ecclesiology, which combines a couple of ideas in the language of Greek. It takes the word ecclesia, somebody who is in an ecclesiastical position. Ecclesia is the Greek word meaning to call out, called out ones, men and women, who by God's grace, like the Jews of old, are called out today in this age to be delivered from the darkness of creating your own story, to walk in the fullness of life as God has revealed it.
When men were first called out by God to respond to him, when they saw why all the passion was there, because God is good and he wants to live in relationship with them, these called-out ones, it said, were radically transformed. They also transformed the world around them. Then Halverson says this.
"But then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. And then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. And then it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And now it has moved to America, where it has become an enterprise. We've got far too many churches and so few fellowships."
Let me add to that. Far too few people who live in a fellowship with God that is defined simply by, "Lord, I love you. I want to fall in love with you. I see that laughter you gave me as a child, the daisies and the roses, the stars in the heavens. I see that's no simple language. You're trying to tell me you are compassionate and gracious and good and slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. You want to know me."
Do you know that's what God is? I don't care where you've been, what you've done. I don't care what scar is on your belly. I don't care what darkness is in your closet. He's saying, "Would you let me love you?" He wants to use folks who by God's grace have been called-out ones who have understood how good he is to proclaim the excellencies of who he is. That's what we're doing.
The church is never a geography. It's never a place. It's never a building. We're going to build a resource and a tool that hopefully God will allow us as a local body of called-out ones to reach out, to proclaim the excellencies of who he is to others in our city and eventually our world, but we're never going to be defined by our building.
If somebody ever asks you where your church is, you should say, "Right here, and everywhere else anybody who loves Christ is today in this city. That's my church. You want to know where we meet? Right now, it's a high school. Hopefully, later it'll be on LBJ. We'll see."
I was with my kids, because I had a good time coaching my son, Cooper, in what was called Upward Basketball. It's a fantastic little program that was put together by a Baptist guy from South Carolina that has spread out to different churches around the country. One local body here in town, Park Cities Baptists, did a great job of making it available to the community. They had a bunch of guys who wanted to come coach kids and use sports as a means through which we could share with kids about the love of God.
I got to coach one of those teams with my first-grade boy. At the end of the season, they have an awards night where all the first- through fifth-grade kids come together and have a celebration. They did it in their church building in their sanctuary. I'm in there with my five kids and my little 5-year-old I'm bouncing on my knee.
We are in there, and they're doing this little deal and doing their little shtick and giving out prizes and have a guy up there who's telling stories and try to draw kids into it, this crescendo of the end of the season about the excellencies of his nature. My little girl, Landry says, "Daddy, where are we?" I looked at her. I said, "What do you mean?" "She says, "Well, where are we?" I go, "We are at Cooper's Upward Basketball awards night." She goes, "No, no, no, no. Where are we?"
She's looking around, and I go, "What do you mean where are we? We're at a thing for Cooper." "Where are we?" She pointed to the seat, and she did this. I go, "What do you mean?" She goes, "What is this?" I go, "Oh. This is a church." Now, I know a few folks on my team had figured out that I was a pastor by this point, and to have my little girl, who's five, sitting on my lap asking what this thing was that we were in, had to concern them a little bit. "Does he ever take them? Does he tell them what he does for a living?"
But I loved it. To Landry, this is her church. This is all she's ever known. She didn't know that's what a church looks like to some people. I had explained to her, "This is the deal." Now, it's really funny and cute because every time we drive by churches now, our kids know what's going on; that we're hoping to build a facility and a tool we can use to reach out friends. We drive by a certain church, and they go, "Daddy, we're not going to do one of those fancy things, are we? We're going to build something that is going to be like where we are. It's going to be [in their vernacular] cool."
Which brings me to what my 9-year-old said last week when we're leaving where we were at Irving Bible. Kirby was quiet as we were walking out, and she said, "Dad, I have to tell you something."
"What's that, Kirby?"
"Dad, I'm not going to be able to invite people to Watermark anymore because this Irving Bible is the place you have to go. This place is way too cool."
She was confessing to me that no longer was she going to be sending people here, but you have to go to Irving and check that place out. She was. It was so cute. That's one of the reasons we want to be there is to give you a vision of some of what a building, which is simply a place to use as a tool, can maybe look like today.
I'll tell you what, I think we're going to stand far on their shoulders and build something even more unique and more crafted to be effective for our friends today. But, we'll never be defined by our building. That's what I let Kirby know. "That building is great. It's a great tool, but that church isn't great because of its building. It's great because people in it love Christ. Just like that one," I told Landry.
There are many people at that one who love Christ, even though they're in a different shell than we are. If they know Christ and if they serve him and if they love him, the shell doesn't matter. Though, with wisdom, you should build the shell that can best serve the purposes of your day. So what is church? It's not a building, not a place. It's a people. It's application who are called out for a specific purpose. Let me tell you why we're here and how we fit in.
If you have a Bible, turn to Matthew. If you were looking through your Bible and were trying to figure out about church and you started in Genesis and read your way through, you'd make your way all the way to Matthew, and you'd still have really no concept of it, because all throughout the Old Testament the church is veiled. It is a mystery. It is hidden.
While you guys are in Matthew 21, let me show you something. In Isaiah 61, Jesus, the very first time he publicly spoke, said this. He was handed the scroll, and as a teacher, as a rabbi in a local synagogue, he was asked what he wanted to read. He turned to Isaiah 61, and this is what Jesus read. The very first message Jesus ever read.
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD…" Then it stops, and Jesus says right in the middle of verse 2, "He rolled up the scrolls, and he sat down."
It says, "The people were astonished and amazed at his teaching," because what Jesus did is he took this passage, which was given to the Jewish people as a promise that one day God would send them a deliverer from the oppression that they found themselves in consistently, to lead them out to a great time of celebration that those who are afflicted in their mind by the al-Qaeda of their day, by the occupying tyranny of their day.
That there would be one who would come and deliver them once and for all from all of that, and he would free prisoners, and he would mend the brokenhearted who were oppressed and separated because of wicked that was around them. Jesus says, "I'm the guy. I'm the one who's going to do this." He sat down right here.
Now, let me show you what he did not do. He did not continue at the end of verse 2 and say, " [I'm here] …to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn…" In other words, he said, "I came just to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. I want to love you. I want you to live in relationship with me. But there's going to be a day that I will come and execute justice. When I execute justice, those who mourn because they're oppressed by a lack of justice will be comforted, and it will be good.
But if you are not one who knows me and loves me, that grieves at rebellion and sin and that which is contrary to who I am, it will not be so well with you. So I'm here to tell you this is how you can know me so when I come, rolling up my sleeves and showing you I'm an awesome God who, by no means, will let the guilty go unpunished, you'll be ready to receive me."
The problem is, Jesus didn't look like they thought a gladiator should look. He didn't look like they thought a great deliverer should look. So they basically pushed him aside. What I want to do now is take you to Matthew 21 and show you a time in Jesus' mission when he started to say to people, "You are rejecting my perspective on who I am, and it's going to cost you dearly. If you don't accept me, you're rejecting who I am, which is God. Therefore, when I come, it will not be to comfort you but will be to state the case in order before your eyes."
That is the same for you and me today. Let me tell you who he is and where you're at, so you don't need him to show you face to face. Whether you vote for him or not, he is your Sovereign. Matthew 21. This is when Jesus made his way at the end of his life to the temple. "When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, 'By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?'"
What Jesus was doing was going into the temple and flipping over the table to say, "You guys are making this a den of robbers, a den of thieves. You're not drawing people to me; you're oppressing people and feathering your own beds by these practices under the name of religion and holiness. You are driving people away from me. You are not light to the nations. You are not a kingdom of priests. You are a bunch of thieves who are hiding under religion to pilfer people and intimidating them with who I am."
Jesus said, "That system will stop." The men who were in control said, "Who gives you the right to do this?" Jesus said to them, "I'm going to ask you a question. If you answer that question, I'll tell you by what authority I do these things." "'The baptism of John [speaking of John the Baptist] was from what source, from heaven or from men?' And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, 'If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say to us, 'Then why did you not believe him?'"
What Jesus meant by that is who was John the Baptist? Was he somebody who was sent by God, or was he some wacko in the wilderness wearing camel's hair and eating locusts, telling people, "I was the lamb of God who came to away the sins of the world, telling people that I was the fulfillment of Isaiah 40, that I was the Isaiah 61, that I was the fulfillment of Isaiah 9, that I was the hope of nations"? Was John from heaven and, therefore, right or was John a wacko from man that you can ignore?
You see, Jesus is saying, "You want to know? You want to me tell you by what authority I do this? Let me ask you a question. By what authority did John do this?" Because when John came calling people to repent, change their thinking about God, the Pharisees, chief priests, and elders went out to John. They got baptized by John. Remember what John said to them?
He said, "You brood of vipers, who told you that judgment was coming? You can get baptized. Good for you, but God is not fooled because you make your way out into the wilderness. God is not fooled just because you go through some act in the water. You'd better bear fruit in keeping with your repentance. You bring forth a broken heart that's in love with God, that represents God to the world the way he intended it to, if you really want God to be impressed by your coming out to me."
These are men who went out to John and said, "John, we agree the kingdom of God is at hand. We want to prepare ourselves for our coming King." John said, "Well, here's your King. It's Jesus. Then Jesus got on the scene and did what he did, but because he didn't look like they wanted, they did not bear fruit in keeping with their act of responding to who Christ was. Are you following?
So Jesus said, "You want to know by what authority I continue to try and drive this message home, and the way you're going about representing me isn't right?" Who was John? This is how they responded. Verse 26, "But i** f we say, 'From heaven,' He will say to us, 'Then why did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'From men,' we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet."**
They say, "We can't say from heaven. If we say that, then we know by what authority he does this. If John is from heaven, then he's from heaven. But if we say he's from men, then we have a real problem, because the people think that John was not a man. The people think that he's a prophet. If we can't discern that he's a prophet when everybody knows that John is a prophet by the way he lived his life and conducted himself, then we're going to look like we're not the spiritual people."
So they said, "We don't know." Sound familiar? When people in positions of authority are asked a question, what do they say? "I can't recall. I don't remember. I'm not really sure." Verse 27: "'We do not know.' He also said to them, 'Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.'" But he's going to tell them a story.
"But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, 'Son, go work today in the vineyard,'" which is always an allusion of something that God creates that he expects produce to come from. If you planted a vineyard, what would you want to come from that vineyard? You're not making a baseball field there. You want fruit to come from that vineyard.
"And he answered, 'I will not'; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, 'I will, sir'; but he did not go." He Eddie Haskelled him right out of the room. "Which of the two did the will of his father? They said, 'The first.'
Remember who Jesus is talking to right here. A group of people who said, "We're not going to tell you who John is because we don't want to make a conclusion about who you are, because then we know the authority by which you're telling us we have to get our ducks in a row.
"Jesus said to them, 'Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him."
This is what Jesus is saying. "John said, 'Come, prepare your way for the coming King,' and what'd you do? You said, 'I will, sir, and you marched your little heinies out to the desert, and you went through this little act that suggested that you agreed there was a coming King. You even acknowledged when John pointed to me, and you heard the voice from heaven say, 'This is my Son in whom I am well-pleased.' But then you had nothing to do with me."
There were a bunch of folks who did not come out to the desert to see John. Tax gatherers, the wicked of the day, the very other end of the spectrum from the religious people, and prostitutes, didn't go out to John, and they didn't initially respond to God's call to come, but guess what has happened?
Since I have come, those who said they would do my Father's will, which is to respond to me, have not done my Father's will, while those who didn't initially come and said, 'We will not tend fruit for you, God,' have all of a sudden, left their wicked ways and come to me. So who's my boy? The one who piped up and said, 'Yes, sir,' and didn't do jack or the one who said, 'Forget you, Dad,' has a broken heart, and has come asking for the relationship to be restored and to live in a love relationship with me?"
Do you get the story? Do you see why Jesus is a master teacher? He says, "Let me tell you another story." It starts in verse 33. It says this. "Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who PLANTED A VINEYARD…" Get the idea? "…AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT AND DUG A WINE PRESS IN IT, AND BUILT A TOWER…" Everything that was necessary for this tract of land to be productive was there. It was protected, it was provided for, so it should produce.
"** … ***and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey* [he went away] . When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third." They were creative, and they were consistent in their response. "Let's not kill them all. Let's just beat the crud out of one. If the next guy still comes, we'll mow him down quickly, and if that doesn't work, we'll kill him slowly."
Jesus said, "Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them." They beat a few more, killed several others, and stoned a bunch. "But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, 'Surely if I send my boy, not some emissary, not some ambassador, not some worker bees, I'm sending my boy. Surely, he'll listen to my boy.'"
"But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance [we can be in control if we get rid of this guy] .' They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers? They said to Him…"
They didn't say, "We do not know." Because it's a story they didn't know they were the stars of, just yet, they were more than willing to answer. They gave this beautiful answer. "He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will [produce] ."
Jesus said, "Did you ever read the Bible?" I love this. How many times when God is talking to somebody he says this? You'll look at Jesus, and oftentimes when he's in a conversation with somebody, when they ask him a question, he'll say, "I'll answer that, if you answer this," because he wants to expose that they're really not interested in an answer; they're just playing some intellectual game.
Jesus says, "Let me show you. I'm not going to waste your time and waste mine, but just answer this question." Uh, can't go there. Then, in this particular instance, it says, "Do you ever read this book that you say is important to you?" One of the most often quoted words of Jesus is, "Have you not read…" It's that, and, "Fear not." He goes, "If you ever read your Bible? The Bible talks about me, and it says this."
"'"THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES?" Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.' When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them."
So they said, "I'm going to kill that storyteller. That ticks me off. He set me up. He had me deliver my own justice. He made me read my own sentence. I don't like that when people expose me that way." Yet, " …they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet [just like they did, John] ."
Let me give you some simple points right here, and I'm going to explain to you who that nation is that he will establish because this other nation has refused to represent him. Guess who it is?
First of all, God expects to receive produce from his people. There's no getting around it. He gives us everything that we need in order to produce for him. What is the product that God wants us to produce for him? Holy lives. He wants us to be individuals who, in concert with him, in dependence upon him, with a transformed way of thinking and living, we lean not on our own understanding, in all our ways acknowledge him, and we let him make our paths straight. We tell others about how good he is.
We say, "My flesh is pulling me this way. The world is pulling me this way. An enemy I can't even describe or see is constantly taunting me and telling me this is where life is. But it isn't about what I think, what my world says, or how I feel. It's about the truth that God has revealed to me and anchored in the context of history that I know is reliable. This is the story, and because I love him, I will walk in his ways. The product I will give to him is a heart that is surrendered."
God wants the heart. I will give mine to him, and I will say, "Lord, this is no simple language. In the goodness of your seeking after me, I want to love you. I want to know you. I want to live with you." God says, "Good. People who live with me have a life that is defined by certain things: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Things that are who I am and where I am.
So if I'm with you, and you're in love with me, that's what's going to start to come from you. A fragrant aroma that will smell of heaven and the divine." Is that the product of what's going on here? Is that the product of what's going on where you sit today? Some of you, maybe not, because you don't know yet that God is the one you want to fall in love with to produce that.
Secondly, people who are his people in his name only won't be his people when the owner comes. If I told you that story back then and asked who his people are, you would say, "The folks he given the vineyard to." Jesus says, "No, they're not my people. They're folks who should be. They've been put in a place to represent me, but they by no stretch of the imagination are representing me.
Just because they're in a building with a cross on top doesn't mean they're my people. Just because they're in a nation that has been given the books of my law, just because they're a group of folks I've tried to reveal myself to and given positions of privilege and honor doesn't mean they're my people."
In fact, you'll see throughout Israel's history, God will say at times to Israel, "Say to this people…" meaning, "Say to Israel, this people I don't know," even though he said, "I called you to be my people. Because of the way they acted, he said, "They're not my people. They're this people, this group of rebels over here."
Do you know there are some people who do what I do for a living, people who sit where you sit on a regular basis who God would go, "Who are these people?" The world is continually frustrated and put off because folks in places who gather to talk about the excellencies of his nature and name act in a way that isn't holy and consistent with who he is. God is not going to check attendance rolls or job descriptions. He's going to say, "Whose heart has been mine? Who loves me?"
Some of the people who we think are his people when the owner comes are not going to be shown to be that way. It's not my job to see through you to figure out if you're his people or not. It's my job to see you through to greater fruitfulness and productivity. That's the same job you have for me. To spur me on to love and good deeds.
Thirdly, Jesus is the stone you can either build on or stumble over. You can make it the foundation for a holy life and a transformed beginning, or you can trip over it and say, "What's a guy who lived 2,000 years ago have to do with me?" But you have to deal with Jesus because he says, "I'm coming back."
Lastly, if you let your fear of what others think dictate your response to God, then you are dictating your future based on the fear of the wrong thing. Let me say it to you this way.You're going to have some folks who are going to tell you, "You're taking this Jesus thing a bit too seriously." Turner would tell you this is the faith for idiots, but Ted Turner doesn't have a heaven, and Ted Turner doesn't have a hell.
You might have family members who are going to tell you, "You need to tone this sucker down. You're getting a little too extreme in your radical surrender to this Jesus. You're getting a little bit too attached to this idea that God wants to use you to make a significant difference in this world, and that isn't the way the world works. You have to get out there and grind it out and make a living."
God says, "You're not here to make a living. You're here to make a difference in concert with a relationship with him. If you bow to the world because you fear their opinion of you, if you bow to others, then you fear the wrong thing." Jesus said this to his disciples. At one time, he said to them, "I want you to go out and make a difference. I want you to know that when you go out there, you're going to be like a sheep among wolves."
There were a few shepherds in their lot, and they whispered around. "Do you have any idea what that metaphor means? We are sheep among wolves? He's sending us out there. I haven't ever seen a sheep jiu-jitsu a wolf down. We're in trouble." Jesus could see the fear in their eyes and said, "Hey, over here. Do you want to know who to fear? You fear me. You fear the one who has the power and the authority to cast a soul into hell for eternity. That's who you fear. Let them destroy the body, but don't jack with me because I'll do more than deal with the body."
Here's the deal. In Exodus 19, this is what God had in plan for the nation of Israel. It says this. "Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, 'Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself.'"
"You have seen my great works of power, how I delivered you by my own effort. You stood by and did nothing. I took you from bondage to freedom." Just like in the New Testament where we do nothing to deliver ourselves, we stand there and watch, while God does what we need to be moved from bondage to freedom. He says to them,
"'Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel [those who God strives with] ."
"Tell them they are to be a kingdom of mediators between me and the rest of the world that I love." But Israel said, "No. We're not really into your program. We're into ours," so for thousands of years, God reached out to them, calling them back saying, "You have to get it."
Finally, after he'd sent waves of prophets, waves of righteous men who they beat, stoned, and killed, he said, "I'll send my Son. Surely, they'll listen to my Son." When the Son got there, they said, "We don't like the way he operates, and if we get rid of him, maybe this will take care of this constant nagging about changing how we operate this business." Jesus says, "Have you never read? Don't you know who I am? This stone that you trip over will be a crushing stone to you because I'm not asking for your vote. I am your King."
Jesus told another story in Luke 19. He told a story here that was familiar to them. Herod died just a few years before Jesus came on the scene in earth's history. When Herod died, different sons got different regions. A guy by the name of Archelaus was going to take over the Judean region.
He had to leave Judea to go to Rome in order for Caesar to lay hands on him and get commissioned in a formal way. It was already given to him, but it was the agenda of the day, and it was the manner of the day, for a king to go get the blessing from the sovereign to come back and reign in the place that is his.
"While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. So He said, 'A nobleman [like Archelaus] went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, "Do business with this until I come back."'"
"I am a businessman, and I want to see product. You take what I've given you, and you do with it what I give you until I come back." In other words, "I am King. I am going to go away and get coronated, and when I return, we're going to see how you've done." This is Jesus speaking to his disciples saying, "In light of the fact the Jews have rejected me, and you will see that played out in just a few days when I walk into the temple, and they go, 'Who are you? By what authority do you do this?'
I'm going to tell them a few other stories about two sons. I'm going to ask them about who John the Baptist is, and I'm going to tell them a story about a landowner in a vineyard. You're going to see that they reject me. So what's going to happen? What's going to happen is what I've already told you is going to happen.
I'm going to be delivered over to the chief priests, the scribes, the Sadducees, and the Pharisees. Rome is going to kill me, and my body will be buried, and it will be resurrected in three days. I will ascend to the Father. When I return as King, which I am, I will ask men to give me an account of what they've done in my absence.
I will not use Israel for a time, but I will use a new nation of people who I will call out from Barbarian and Scythian, circumcised and uncircumcised, male and female, Jew and Greek. I will ask them to be my people, and they ought to represent me. If they don't represent me, I will hold them to account, just like I'm going to hold Israel to account. There will be a day that I'll come back, and I'll draw Israel to me, primarily through the excellency of the way I bless those who respond to my Son. I will make the Jew jealous because we're dancing with their date."
I meet Jewish people. I love to look at them and say, "Do you realize I'm cutting in right now on your dance? I'd love to tell you there's plenty of room here on the floor because this is your date, and he is good."
If you want to take your Bible and write (in a Six Flags way when you look at a map), "You are here," it's right there in Luke 19. "Do business with this until I come back." You can write it right there. "I am here." God wants you to do business until he gets back. You have to ask yourself, "What am I going to do? I have to figure out who this Jesus is. Is he King?"
Notice there's not a vote. He says, "I'm going to campaign, and if you vote for me, I'll be your King. I am sovereign, and I am your judge, and I am your God, and you must deal with me and respond to who I am. I will hold you accountable for how you respond to me. Just because you go to church or get baptized or say certain things isn't going to fool me, just like the Pharisees who went out and participated in the baptism of John, but they did not bear fruit in keeping with that repentance as a sign that their hearts were not with them.
It is right that you are baptized. It is right that you are a member of a local body, use your gifts, and steward your resources, but you should do that not thinking you can push that to him in a way of an impressive résumé but in a responsive heart to the fact that he is God, and he loves you, and he is your King. Until he comes back, you want that kingdom to run the way he will run it when he comes back.
Do you see where you fit in? Do you see how significant you are in God's story? What God is doing right now, he says in Romans 11 and other places, is he is working through a new group of people to proclaim his excellencies to the world. Look at what it says in 1 Peter. If you have a Bible, quickly turn to 1 Peter, and I'll read you one little section of Scripture. You'll catch a better glimpse of it here, and then we're done.
In 1 Peter 2:1, "Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander…" In other words, like a new man. "…like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word[of God]…" **"You people who do not have the oracles of God that I'm about to give it to, come to me. Listen. Trust my word.""…so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord."**
Do you know how great this is that God is saying, "These folks aren't tending my vineyard which has a tower in it and a wall around it that is easy to tend. So I'm going to let you in, you vagabonds and rebels. Come over here, live with me, and please me"? Look what it says in verse 4.
"And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God…" They rejected the stone. Don't you? "… you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: 'BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.'"
Is Jesus your King? He'll never disappoint you. "This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, 'THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone,' and, 'A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE'; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed." Then watch this. See if this sounds familiar.
"But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…" That is who you are and where you are today. "…for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD…" You once were not a nation, but now you're a nation. "…you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY [because you are not a Jew] , but now you have RECEIVED MERCY."
Here's the question. What are you going to do with it? I give you this call. If you are here today, processing God, you have to ask yourself this simple question. How long are you going to put off the kindness of God in his reaching out to you in the context of the story that he has revealed that you can go back and test and verify?
It was Israel's job to do that. They didn't tend it well. God says, "I will sub them out, and I will get faithful in." That's exactly what he'll do with churches today. That's exactly what he'll do with leaders today. It's what he'll do with influencers in our culture today, and God will say, "I don't care if you take my name. I want to know if you're my people. I will sub you out and get somebody else in. Somebody else will have the privilege of representing me. All men will be held into account."
You will either hear, "Well done, my good and faithful servant," or "Depart from me. I never knew you." It's our job to help you as leaders here to look forward to the day when you have to give an account for your life. That's what we're here for: to serve you and help you anticipate that day and to stir your hearts in surrender to him. Our job today as a body is Israel's job then.
I see it that this Jesus will come back, and one time he'll reward us for taking care of that vineyard, and Israel's hearts will be opened, as Romans 11 says. They will reconvene their work as God intended for them to, but it'll happen as the church does what God calls it to do. The Scriptures are very clear.
We make them jealous that it is obvious that God is with us. Eventually, they go, "Excuse me, but I'm cutting back in with my date," and we say, "Absolutely." We all are there in the ballroom of the wedding feast of the lamb together. Our job is to obey God, love others, proclaim the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Some of you who have decided the Jesus is the chief cornerstone can do that in two weeks. When you stand up before our friends and family about five miles east of here and say, "Jesus is taking me from here and putting me there. I am called out despite my foolishness. I have never been a guy who wanted to pursue God. He pursued me. He has won my heart, and I want to live for him and love him, and he has done the work I needed done all by himself."
You proclaim his excellencies, as he tells you to, one time in public. You'll do it tonight at Raise the Mark. You proclaim the excellencies of his name until he returns through Communion. You'll do it in the way you love your wife, serve your kids, serve your community, steward your resources, and use your gifts.
Believers, I say this to you. You have to move off wherever you are. If you're a regular attender here for however long you've been a regular attender, it is time to move. Stand up and be counted. Profess biblically your faith in Christ. Make bold stands about whose you are. Move on in membership. Figure out where your spiritual gifts are. Steward your life. Use your resources. Ante-up, get on board, and tend the vineyard. It is time.
Discipline yourself in the study of God's Word. Avail yourself to the means of grace he's given you. Today is the day, and to whom much is given, much is expected. To this body, God expects a lot. We are strategically placed at such a time as this. God is subbing us in as a people, and he says, "Will my heart be embraced by you? Will your heart stay with me?" There is no end to what we will do for him, with him, as we give him all that he asks for. Will you join me in saying, "God be glorified"?
Father, I pray that we would. I thank you for my friends who sit here today, and I pray that they would understand why they matter so much to you. Why the church? Why did you call us in? Those who you called beforehand, as a means to draw us to you, where unfaithful. So you, yourself, came, subbed them out, and put us in to call them back. May we not be found wanting in our job as they were found wanting in theirs. May we have all the humility in the world knowing that we told you to stick it when you told us to come.
You pursued as tax gathers and prostitutes, and you want us back. There isn't a prostitute, a homosexual, or an immoral heterosexual in this room or this city or this world that you don't want to still call in to say, "Get busy today in loving me and letting me give to you not a burden of rules but a gift of forgiveness because I am compassionate and gracious and abounding in lovingkindness, slow to anger, and full of truth."
Father, there's only one way that we can respond to that, and that is by saying, "Have your way in me.Take my life and be glorified." Father, would you allow the excellencies of your nature to increasingly birth themselves in us and through us that the world might know that you are the Messiah, that we are your people?
The fragrant aroma will not be the smell of an animal sacrifice going up but the smell of our lives partnered with yours that will look like a redeemed people should look. Oh God, we have so much work to do with each other. We thank you for your patience, and we pray that we would spur each other on, but let us move. Be glorified. Amen.
We all love a great story...one filled with rescue, romance, and unrelenting love...one filled with courage, heroism, and ultimate triumph. Stories like this resonate with something deep inside all of us. Why? Because there is a greater story that we are all a part of. A story so embedded in our beings that we find even a shadow of it irresistible. It is a story that makes the most audacious claims in history, and a story which uniquely and powerfully provides hope, meaning and answers to all of life's great questions.