Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Sermon: The Dark Night of the Soul - Psalm 46:10

For an audio version of this sermon click here

I didn’t really come into a full-fledged relationship with Jesus until about 2004, just a couple of years after getting out of college and working as a science teacher. I was spending a lot of time reflecting on what I was going to do with my life and what, if any, role God would play in that and it came to be that God spoke into my life and called me to turn everything over to him. I remember that in those first days the joy I experienced was overwhelming and my dedication to knowing God better was extreme. I spent hours upon hours reading scripture. I read through the whole bible in a matter of days and began reading it a second time. I spent many evenings teaching myself the Hebrew alphabet and praying for hours. On Sundays I went from service to service to service and would usually hit about three different churches. I volunteered, went on a mission trip to Guatemala, led two people to Christ that year, and began taking classes at a seminary close-by in Orlando. Before I knew her, my wife pastor Benita worked in the admissions office at the seminary, and later she told me she remembered my application, not in a good way, but because everyone in the admissions office wondered if they really should accept me because I seemed a little too crazy about God. Now as time went on, this spiritual high faded. In the past decade my relationship with God has never felt exactly the same as it did when I first fell in love. There have been valleys and mountains, intense dark and intense light, moments where  I could not feel God’s presence at all and others where I could not breathe without knowing God was there.

St. John of the Cross, a 16th century monk, “said that in the early days of spiritual life, the soul often finds delight in devotional activities: We love to read the Bible, we hunger for worship, we long to pray. We may think this is a sign of our maturity; it is really more a kind of honeymoon phase. ‘But there will come a time when God will bid them to grow deeper. He will remove the previous consolation of the soul in order to teach it virtue…”[1]

There are rhythms to our relationship with God, just like any relationship. The same way you have different seasons of relationships with children, spouses, brothers, sisters, and friends, there are different rhythms in our relationship with God as well. Sometimes, we’re in Hawaii on a honeymoon with God, basking in the sun. Other times we are in the dark night of the soul, a phrase first used by St. John of the Cross to describe these times when it feels as though God has withdrawn his presence from us. The dark night of the soul is when the spiritual practices that we’ve been preaching about in this series, the tending of our souls through prayer, through the reading God’s word, through worship, and through serving others all provide nothing and our mouths are left dry and our spiritual life empty. In the dark night our prayers feel meaningless and we continue to go through the motions of church, often thinking we must have done something wrong to deserve this. The dark night of the soul isn’t something we often speak about on Sunday morning or put on the sign out front and yet scripture speaks candidly of these times, sometimes moments, sometimes years, sometimes hundreds of years, where God withdraws his presence from his people.

There are both individual and community examples of God withdrawing his presence and leaving us in darkness. The Israelites spent four hundred years of slavery in Egypt without a word from God,  without any consolation, they spent decades in exile in Babylon, and the time between the last prophet of the Old Testament and the coming of Jesus was again roughly another four hundred years of silence. There are countless individuals who have experienced the dark night of the soul, this withdrawal or silence of God.

Elijah is one of the most renown prophets in the Old Testament. You may remember the story of Elijah, he’s the prophet who during a dark time for Israel challenges the false prophets of Baal to a prophet duel. This happens in 1 Kings 18. The 450 prophets of Baal versus the one prophet of God. The prophets Ball go first, they build an altar, begin praying and worshipping Baal in hopes that he would consume the altar and offering in fire. They do this all day and Elijah makes fun of them as nothing happens. He says “Shout louder! … Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” Then as evening approaches, Elijah builds his altar and digs a large trench around it and he has people pour jar after jar of water all over until the whole thing is dripping wet, the trench filling with water and he prays a two sentence prayer… and the entire altar and offering is engulfed in flames, all the water evaporates in an instant, and the people the gathered believe and know that Yahweh is God and that Baal is nothing. An amazing moment, a spiritual high, God shows up and yet often we don’t read the beginning verses of the next chapter. Elijah gets a message that the queen is coming after him and 1 Kings 19:3-4 says “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life…he went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a … tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. “Take my life…”

How is it that the day before you are standing in front of a multitude of people, God shows up in a miraculous way, people rally to him, you stare down 450 prophets who want to kill you, and the next day, you are in the dessert, dry, thirsty, and asking for death because you’ve had enough? This is just a moment in Elijah but sometimes the dark night of the soul lasts longer.

John the Baptist, Jesus calls him a modern day Elijah, is the one who prepares the way for Jesus by telling people about the kingdom of God, baptizing them in the Jordan river.  He baptizes Jesus and witnesses a miraculous moment in which the Spirit of God comes upon Jesus, they hear a voice from God the Father saying “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” What a miraculous moment. What many of us wouldn’t give to be there to see Jesus being anointed, the beginning of his public ministry, the triune God present simultaneously as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and yet later John ends up in prison and he sends a message to Jesus asking “Are you the one?”  Seriously? John you were the one that pointed him out. You were there as the Father in Heaven proclaimed Him to be the one. In the dark night of the soul doubt pervades us and we can’t see beyond the four walls of our prisons. John spends the rest of his life in prison until he his beheaded.

Mother Teresa, whom many of us know for her dedication to the poor and to God, initially was set on fire by God but then went through a period of roughly fifty years of silence, of darkness. In those fifty years she felt that only once more did she hear from God. She confided to her spiritual director in 1957: 

“In the darkness . . .I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer . . . Where I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul.  Love — the word — it brings nothing.  I am told God lives in me [and how often are we told this Sunday morning] — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”[2]

Sometimes we feel far from God because we are the ones that have stopped listening, we’ve hardened our hearts to Him, but the dark night of the soul, what we are talking about today, is when God withdraws from us. It was not a lack of effort in the cases of Elijah, John the Baptist, St. John of the Cross, and Mother Teresa. So what do we do when we are in the dark night of the soul?  The psalms are perhaps the best place to go in Scripture to see the hearts of people, usually David, who feel the darkness and are crying out to God. Psalm 46 speaks about turning to God in our trouble, seeking him as our refuge, that His help will come at the end of the dark night of the soul with the breaking of the day and verse 10 says “Be still and know that I am God.”

The first thing to do when we are in the dark night of the soul is to do nothing. Be still in the dark. Psalm 37:7 says “[b]e still before the LORD and wait patiently for him…” Have you ever been spelunking before? Spelunking is just a weird name for exploring caves. When I was growing up I went to a place called the Cumberland Caverns in Tennessee and they have an overnight tour where you get to sleep in the caves. You may think you have experienced dark, but the kind of darkness you experience in a place where there is absolutely no source of light, where five inches to your right could be a precipice that drops miles deep, is a different kind of darkness than what we usually experience. It’s not the kind when you wake up in the middle of the night and your eyes adjust and you make your way to the bathroom or to the kid crying down the hall. It is utter and complete darkness. The loss of light is one of the biggest dangers for those who explore caves. You’re supposed to go with someone else and each of you should have three sources of light on you because if you lose your light, you can lose your life. In that kind of darkness you can’t run, you can’t move, there’s no sense of direction, or time,  and the danger is too great to blindly try and go forward. Yet when we enter the dark night of the soul, that’s exactly what we try to do. We try to stand on our own two feet, and not only move, but we try and run as fast as we can to get out of there when instead we are called to wait patiently on the Lord. To be still.

The answer, in the dark night of the soul, isn’t more prayer, more serving, more giving, more trying though that’s often the message we hear. Do more and you’ll feel better. In most cases those spiritual practices are helpful, but in this case we cannot work our way out. It is a different type of darkness. Instead we must wait for rescue. This is a time, a rhythm in your life, to ask for help, (and write this down because you may never hear it in church again) to do less, to resign from things, to rest more, and to ask others to pray for us.  I recently heard someone ask “Please pray for me that I would have a desire to pray again.” It’s an honest statement that we are often afraid to say in the church because we feel like we must have done something wrong to find ourselves in the dark night of the soul.

 It must be my fault that God has withdrawn from me and the fire in my heart has all but gone out. It must have been something that I did. We tend to respond, in times of suffering and in times when God feels no longer present, with a “I hate me” or “I hate thee” attitude. If we feel like we’ve done enough and that God should be blessing us then we I have a “I hate thee” attitude. How dare you, God, do this to me! I have been a good Christian, I’ve come to church, I pray and have a quiet time, I am coming to the congregational meeting. I deserve blessing. If we feel like we haven’t done enough, we take a “I hate me” attitude. I haven’t been praying, I haven’t come to church, I’m not coming to the congregational meeting, woe as me, I deserve all of this and more and should try and work harder. Neither of these, friends, are the gospel. Though they seem radically different – hating ourselves or hating God, they both come from a view that it’s all up to us. The better I am, the more I tend my soul, the more God will love me and the worse I am, the less He will be there for me. If I work hard enough and God withdraws then I will hate Him, and if I don’t work hard enough and God withdraws then I will hate myself. The gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, is that it was never based on us and our work and never will be. Our relationship with God, the grace and the mercy we receive is based on God and thanks be to God for that. Our friendship, our relationship with God was restored not by anything we did but by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies (Romans 5:10). After 400 years of silence, Jesus Christ came to save Israel, to save the world, to save you. Was it because Israel finally got their act together? Was it because there was in Israel just before Jesus was born a revival of prayer, bible study, and going to the temple? Or was it because in God’s time he had mercy on Israel on the world? And after patiently waiting through the dark it was time for the light to be born into the world?

In a culture, in a mindset, dominated by instantaneous satisfaction, the concept of waiting patiently for God for days, months, years is almost inconceivable to us. We often can’t wrap our heads around why God would have us wait for Him. Or why others we know can’t seem to get out of the darkness and we have to wait for them and with them. Why in the dark night of the soul, he doesn’t snap his fingers and make the day dawn. Yet even in the darkness, especially in the darkness, God calls us to “[t]rust in the Lord with all [our] hearts and lean not on [our] own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).  Tell me, when do we actually really get to do this, fully trust in God, except in those times where it feels like he isn’t there. If every day is the fire consuming the altar, is God’s spirit poured out from heaven, if he’s always overwhelmingly present, where do we learn to trust in Him? To be still before Him? To wait patiently for Him? To be still and know that He is God? It’s in our desserts, it’s in our prisons, it’s in the dark nights of the soul.

There is the one thing that we can do in the stillness, in the dark, as we wait, and that is know who God is by remembering, remembering the times he has been there historically for humanity, individually in our own lives, and the promises he has kept and made to us.

It’s what Jesus does when he is confronted with the dark night of the soul. Jesus, the Son of God, God himself, cries out on the cross “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” When does so, in the midst of pain and darkness, he is quoting Psalm 22, which moves from despair to remembering who God is and how He is faithful to us. Psalm 22 the words of David, the words of Jesus reads  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?  O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.  Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them.  They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.”

I leave it to you, whatever season your spiritual walk may be in, to remember individually the times God has been there for you, the places that he has shown up. Remember that God is faithful to keep his promises and that even the darkest night eventually has a dawn. That most often the dark night of the soul is the only place we grow in spiritual meekness, patience, and trust in the Lord. That when God says to wait patiently for him, to be still and know Him, to remember who He is and the promises He has made, He is faithful, his promises are an anchor for our souls (Hebrews 6:19). 

[1] John Ortberg. Soul Keeping. p.181-182
[2] http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/faith-and-character/faith-and-character/mother-teresas-long-dark-night.html

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Sermon: Real Heart Change - Romans 1:16

Today we begin our series on Gospel Identity, or Gospel ID. The gospel, and our gospel identity is what drives everything that we do. Before we dive into the power of gospel to not only save us, but to create in us new hearts more and more as we apply it to our hearts, I want to commend to you this study by Tim Keller called Gospel in Life. Tim Keller is incredibly talented, intelligent, and has a deep understanding of the gospel and how our identities, our self-images, are deeply tied to our faith our lack of faith in the gospel. If I could have flown him in today, I would have, but instead I’ve relied heavily upon his teachings by plagiarizing and adapting them for this particular message. Again I encourage you either personally or as a life group to consider this study, which is a great way to dive deeper into this material.

We’ll look at different passages today, most of which are on the notes page in your bulletin but the foundational verse is the first part of Romans 1:16 where Paul writes “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation…” When you stop and think about what is being said in this passage, it’s amazing. The gospel is the power of God. The verse isn’t “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it brings the power of God, or it results in the power of God, or it causes the power of God – it IS the Power of God. The Gospel is God’s power in verbal form. The degree to which we get it, the degree to which we have faith in the gospel, it releases the power of God in our lives. The degree to which we get the gospel wrong, or we don’t fully embrace the gospel is the degree to which we are robbed of its power.

For those who think that the gospel is just “Jesus died for my sin” and they say “Yeah I get that, now let’s get on to something more advanced”, listen to the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:12:

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves [and the they in this passage is referring to the prophets of the Old Testament that foresaw and spoke of the coming good news, the gospel] but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.”

Later in this same chapter, verse 20, Peter writes that Christ “was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake” (1 Peter 1:20).  Angels, who back with the prophets of the Old Testament, who before the foundation of the world, have been looking at the gospel and they aren’t tired of it yet. Angels, by the way, have an IQ way higher than you and I and yet they “long to look into these things” because the Gospel is the power of God.

Often, even though we understand the gospel enough, the principle, to get converted – the actual way our heart works, isn’t immediately changed.  Though we have a new identity, we are saved we don’t immediately begin living according to  it. For every one of your problems, your falleness, there’s an aspect, an application, a reflection of the gospel with your problem’s name written on it. In fact, every Sin, every problem we face,  is a Failure to Believe or have Faith in the Gospel. All deadness, divisiveness, pride, in the Church and in our lives is due to the fact because at some level we are failing to believe in the gospel. Let me give you some examples.

The first is a problem, a sin, that many of us, myself included struggle with and that is breaking the ninth commandment. We don’t always tell the truth. You’ve done this before, you get a text from Chris Bowers, one of our field deacons, asking for help with moving a family down the street, and you text back “I’d love to but can’t right now” when you really could go help. Liar. Or you don’t text back at all implying that you’re so busy you didn’t even get the message, though you did. Liar. We don’t  tell the truth: “I don’t want to do that” because we want to keep up the image, our self-image, that we are basically good people. We don’t tell the truth because we don’t want the people we lie to, like Chris, to think poorly of us.

Now the real problem, isn’t that we lie. It isn’t that we broke the 9th Commandment. It’s that we broke the first – “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Whenever we have a bad surface behavior, ultimately it’s a deeper failure to trust in God, in the Gospel, as our salvation, as our fulfillment, as the foundation for our self-image.  The real problem when we lie is we are making something else our salvation, our hope, our meaning.  I’m only tempted to lie when I’m not getting the thing I really, really need  in that moment: human approval. If I utterly believed the Gospel: that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.  I’m ok because of what Jesus thinks. If I actually believed that fully, there’d be no incentive to ever lie again. If I’m ever tempted to lie it’s because there’s a sin beneath the sin which is always unbelief in the gospel .

Another example Tim Keller gives is when two different women around the same time came to him. Both had teenage sons who were getting into trouble, doing badly in school and acting out and both had fathers who were completely remote and distant from the family. The moms came in for counseling and said “It’s one thing to ignore me, but now my husband is ruining my son’s life too.” So the pastor said “Forgive your husband. You’re a Christian, that what Christian’s do.” Each women asked in response “How do I forgive?” So he gave them a little book on forgiveness.

Now, husband #1 was better and that wife was a far more active Christian but she was unable to forgive. Husband #2 was a far worse husband and that wife was not nearly as active in the church but she was able to forgive. Why? Well for the first mother, her son was her whole life. Sure she said and believed “Jesus is my salvation” and she was saved, but deep down in her heart she said “Here’s how you know if your life was a good life:  your child loves you, he’s happy and he has a good life.”  Being a good mother was a pseudo savior and so she couldn’t forgive, even though we are called to forgive,  because she couldn’t see that the smile of her son was vastly more emotionally valuable and important to her than the smile of Jesus. This doesn’t mean she wasn’t saved. She believed it at one level but not at a deeper level and until she did she wasn’t going to be able to make any progress.

Let me give you one last example from the book of Galatians. Galatians is one of my favorite books in the bible. In seminary we translated it verse by verse, word by word from the original Greek. It’s a clear proclamation of the gospel of grace and yet interestingly it was written not to unbelievers who had never heard the gospel, but to Christians, to people who were losing their grasp on it, the meaning, and implication of the gospel in their lives.  In Galatians chapter 2, Paul writes about this situation that he had with Peter. Peter and Paul have been eating and fellowshipping with the Greeks and this contingent of Jewish believers comes up from Jerusalem and Peter stops eating with the Greeks and separates himself from them. Paul calls Peter out on this but he doesn’t address the superficial behavior. Paul doesn’t say “Peter! You’re breaking the new no racism rule!” Instead he says it’s fundamentally about the Gospel. Galatians 2:14 says “I saw that they [Peter and the Jewish believers from Jerusalem] were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel.” What Paul’s driving at is that Peter was not letting his mind and his heart be shaped by the gospel.

There are sometimes that you just do things because it’s in the bible. It’s hard, I don’t want to do it, but I’m gonna do it. The prevailing wellspring of your life, however, cannot be this. The way to change is not behavioral modification, using a rubber band to snap yourself when you do something wrong, but to use the power of the gospel that changes the heart because fundamentally every sin is a failure to believe and apply the gospel.

(As an aside, since I preached this, a number of people, including spiritual leaders of our church, have approached me saying "Yes, but...Behavioral modification works!...It has it's place!...There are passages that say to be Holy!...etc..." There are sometimes these things are necessary, but again they CANNOT be the prevailing wellspring of your life!  Not if you want GOSPEL change in your heart rather than outward conformity. They are effective - in behavioral control - but not in heart repentance. We are called to Holiness as an EFFECT of being transformed by grace and the gospel, not as the PRINCIPLE ACT.)

What are your reasons for obeying the rules? If it’s fear and pride, then it’s temporary and really you’re simply restraining your heart, not changing your heart. The Power of The Gospel Changes the Heart and allows for lasting self-change as we become more and more like Christ, living out our new identity in Him.

As we talk about our heart let’s look at the different modes our hearts can be in. You know how cameras have different modes that you can twist the nob. There’s portrait mode, action mode, auto mode, so on and so forth. If you’re like me you usually just leave it in on one mode because you don’t know what all these other modes really do or how they’re different. You can switch modes but there is a default mode and the same is true for our hearts. There are three modes that our hearts believe and act according to:

1.      I obey therefore I am accepted by God
2.      I don’t really have to obey anyone but myself
3.      I’m accepted by God at infinite cost to Jesus Christ, therefore I obey.

The first mode is the religious mode, or moralism. It’s avoiding God by working very hard to be incredibly good so you feel that God owes you and you earn your own salvation. The second is the irreligious mode, avoiding God as savior and Lord, disregarding God’s law. The third is the gospel mode, trusting in God to save.
Now of course, if I gave a pop quiz, I’m sure all of you, myself include would choose number three. This is what we believe, but does your heart?  At the deepest level our hearts say: “if I’m good enough, if I’m kind enough, if I reach my standards and live up to them, then and only then am I valuable and significant. Is that the language of your heart?  If it is, that’s the basic operating principle of religion. Christians who know the gospel in principle and who have been changed by it nevertheless, like the Galatians, continually revert to works-righteousness and self-salvation in a myriad of subtle and not so subtle ways. A basic insight of Martin Luther’s was that “religion” is the default mode of the human heart. Luther says that even after you are converted by the gospel, your heart will go back to operating on the religious principle unless you deliberately, repeatedly set it to gospel-mode. This then is the basic cause of our spiritual failures, uncontrolled emotions, conflict, lack of joy, and ministry ineffectiveness. We believe the gospel at one level, but at deeper levels we continue to operate as if we are saved by our works.

If you operating in religious mode, your heart’s default mode this how you try to effect change.  You lie to someone, like we talked about earlier. You realize it, maybe somebody calls you on it. And you say “Bad Christian, Bad Christian…tell the truth!”  You buy a bracelet that reminds you or an app that tells you ever 5 min “Tell the truth.” You’ll probably be good for 3 months and back it will come again. It doesn’t really change the heart. You decide to tell the truth out of fear (you’ll be punished or caught) or out of pride (you don’t want to be like those other awful liars) and this is inherently unstable because you lie for the same reasons (fear and pride) that you don’t lie (fear and pride) and you restrain the heart, you bully the heart, rather than change it and in the process you’ve nurtured the roots of sin within your moral life. In religious mode you bend the heart, like tying a tree down, but it will eventually spring back.

So how do we operate in Gospel mode so that our hearts are changed bit by bit as we believe more and more deeply in the gospel, fully embracing our new identities? How do I now actually make progress in self-control? How do I become less a liar?

Well, let’s look at Scripture for a practical example. “In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, Paul wants the people to give an offering to the poor. But, he doesn’t put pressure directly on their will, saying, “I’m an apostle and this is your duty,” nor [does he put] pressure directly on their emotions, telling them stories about how much the poor are suffering and how much more they have than the sufferers. Instead, Paul vividly and unforgettably says, [in 2 Corinthians 8:9]“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8: 9). Paul brings Jesus’ salvation into the realm of money and wealth and poverty. He reminds them of the gospel. Paul is saying, “Think of Jesus’ costly grace until you are changed into generous people by the gospel in your hearts.”

 So the solution to stinginess is a reorientation to the generosity of Christ in the gospel, where he poured out his wealth for you. Because of the gospel you don’t have to worry about money: the cross proves God’s care for you and gives you security, if we believe it. Because of the gospel you don’t have to envy anyone else’s money: Jesus’ love and salvation confer on you a remarkable status and identity— one that money cannot give you.

What makes you a sexually faithful spouse, a generous— not avaricious—person, a good parent and/ or child is not just redoubled effort to follow the example of Christ. Rather, it is deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ and living out of the changes that understanding makes in your heart—the seat of your mind, will, and emotions. Faith in the gospel restructures our motivations, our self-understanding and identity, and our view of the world. It changes our hearts. Behavioral compliance to rules without heart-change will be superficial and fleeting.”

The way we set our heart to gospel mode, to be melted and shaped, we have to see what Jesus has done for us and move to “I do the right thing because how can I do this to the One who died for me.” If you know what he has done, then your motivation is you want Him.

Ultimately that’s the goal of the gospel, reconciliation as the power of the gospel brings us home.

Colossians 1:19-20 says “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

The point our faith isn’t to be as moral and as holy as possible but to come home, to be reconciled to God. If you’re listening to this sermon and thinking, this is how I’ll fix myself, this is how I’ll behave better so that I can be righteous, you’ve slipped back into heart default mode. Christianity isn’t a system, a religion, that’s chief goal is to make you better, holier, wealthier, happier, or more content. A Christian is a follower of Christ, the Son of God, because they are in love, we are in love with Dad. It’s bound to happen that we will grow in holiness, because you grow to resemble what we love.  The by-product of loving Dad is you become more and more like His true Son but ultimately what we want is Him. The same way you fall madly and deeply in love with someone, when you do that with God through the power of the Gospel, then you’ve come home.   

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” The Power of the Gospel saves us, and transforms our hearts. The power of the Gospel brings us home.

[1] For source material from which this sermon is adapted from, and at many times quoted, see Tim Keller’s study The Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything particularly Session 2 “Heart – Three Ways to live”. Also listen to “How the Gospel Changes Us” a sermon by Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church (http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/how-gospel-changes-us)  

A Sermon: Roll Away Your Stone - Matthew 28:1-10

Stones aren’t a common experience here in Florida. Sure you can find some here and
there but for the most part we all know that we live on a giant sandbar.  Israel on the other
hand, the place where Jesus was born, lived, died and was resurrected is a place where stones
were and are a common experience.  People like Goliath are getting hit upside the head with
stones all over the place in the bible, because stones were so plentiful in Israel.  The word stone
is referenced in the bible hundreds of times in many different ways.  Sometimes it talks about
false  gods  of  wood  and stone, there  are the two stone tablets, sacred stones, stones  of
remembrance (Ebenezer), ruins of stones, Jesus himself is  called a living stone, a stumbling
stone, a precious stone, and a cornerstone.   Often stones are referenced and were used as
boundaries.  They were used as visible markers to mark the edges of property and these large
dense objects were used to block or cover spaces like wells, like a den of lions in the book of
Daniel, or like tombs as in the tomb of Lazarus, or as we just heard the tomb of Jesus.

The title of the message today is “Roll Away Your Stone” and probably that has a lot to
do with the fact that I can’t, for the life of me, get this Mumford and Sons song out of my head
(some of you may have heard it playing before the service).  The first verse says:

“Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine.  Together we will see what we will find.
Don’t  leave me  alone  at this time.    Cause  I’m  afraid  of what  I will  discover

In this case those talented musicians are using this biblical imagery of a stone sealing off
a tomb but rather than a literal tomb, I think what they’re singing about is the heart; about
rolling away the stone, these dense protective shields that we have over hearts, and really
looking inside.  For many of us we have these stones over are hearts for good reason.  We’ve
been  through  destructive  relationships,  we’ve  had  our  hearts  crushed  too  many  times,
sometimes this world is just too much to bear without some sort of thick skin, without some
sort of stone rolled over the chambers of our hearts.  Sometimes these barriers we put up are
to protect us from others, and sometimes it’s because we’re afraid ourselves of what we will
discover inside.  Yet we all inherently know that if we are to have a deep, meaningful, intimate
relationship with anyone that you have to roll away your stone, you have to make those deep 2
parts of yourself available and brought into the light.  This is true about a relationship with God
as well.

  The bible in Deuteronomy 4:29 says very clearly “you will find him if you search after
him with all your heart and with all your soul.” God himself says in Jeremiah 29:13 “You will
seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

So the question, no matter where you are in your relationship with God, that all of us
have to ask ourselves is what are the stones over our own hearts that need to be rolled away?
What are the areas of our lives that we’ve got so well hidden from others, God, even ourselves
in self‐delusion that we are afraid to roll back and open up to God?  What areas are we afraid to
let go of, to roll the stone away so that just as the sun breaks through the morning darkness
into the tomb, God’s light and new life to break into our lives?

  Of course this is different for every individual, those particular areas where we don’t
want God involved and for every area there’s a heart reason behind it.  For most of us its being
controlled by something that we run to for comfort, for happiness, for meaning in life, for our
identities and over and over again.  Whatever it is, it fails us, but it works better than anything
else we’ve found and we’re too afraid to roll that stone away, to examine that part of our life
and the part of our heart that leads us there and open it up to God to transform, to resurrect
and to make new.  If we’re honest there’s this disconnect between the relationship with God
we say we desire and the actual humility required to submit all these areas to Him, and we all,
every last one of us, have these places in our lives that we keep stoned off and reserved for

Let me give you a simple example.  We all know that eating greasy, fattening, unhealthy
food on a regular basis can literally lead to death.  When you’re younger you don’t notice it as
much, but as you get older there are signs more and more and your body begins to let you
know this stuff is killing you.   When I was in my early 20s I would eat lunch with this guy I
worked with and he would literally begin sweating and have trouble breathing the moment he
started to eat as though it were an athletic competition.  I thought, wow that’s crazy, why does
he continue to eat that way, and here I am years later not far from being that guy myself.  We
don’t notice at first, these things we run to hoping for comfort and life, that ultimately lead us
more and more towards destruction.   And we also are reluctant, even once we realize it, to
surrender these things.  I don’t want to give up my double cheeseburger, my extra large coke
and super salty fries.   In fact I get rather upset when I receive unsalted French fries from a
restaurant pretending to be healthy.  Why don’t I learn?  Because it’s delicious!  In the moment
it appears so beautiful, it tastes so nourishing, and I feel so full and yet more and more each 3
year I know this is not what will give me real sustaining life.  God speaks to me himself in soft
whispers, through other people, through the physical consequences and yet I harden my heart
and refuse to listen, I don’t roll that particular stone away but rather keep it firmly in place as
though this one thing is mine.  I certainly don’t plunge into the recesses of my heart to examine
the deeper roots for why I keep on believing this will satisfy me.  I even pretend to honor God
while engaging in this destructive behavior as I pray over my food.  “Dear God, please make this
food nourishing to my body.”  Really what I’m saying is “Lord please preform a miracle, as this
food travels down my esophagus, transform  its molecular structure from a hamburger  into
steamed broccoli, from  French fries  into fresh fruit, from soda  into  crystal  clear water that
when it hits my stomach I might be nourished by it.  Lord do this so that I don’t have to turn this
area of my life over to your guidance and to your wisdom or examine why I seek this above all

  Now, it’s not as if God has condemned fast food restaurants or is scowling down from
up above whenever we eat unhealthily.   It’s when food becomes the center of our life, the
source of our comfort.  It’s when the first thing we think of when we wake up is when can I eat
or at the end of a terrible day it’s the first thing we run to.  Of course we do this with so much
more than just food though it’s a good metaphor.  We do it with anything, even good things
that we run to and ask to fill our hearts with what only God can provide, with anything that we
keep stones over so that we don’t have to think about or examine.  We do this with our bodies,
with our relationships, with our desires.  Whatever it is, it sounds like this “I will give something
up in order to have it.  I will sacrifice to get it.  I will compromise, I will beg, borrow, or steal to
possess it.  It is the chief pursuit of my life.” We say “I am restless until it is mine rather than
saying my heart is restless until it finds its rest in you oh God.”

It’s ok to be afraid. It’s ok to not really want to roll away any of these stones and take a
real look at what’s inside.  In fact, if there’s no fear, then you haven’t dug deep enough.  When
the women approached the tomb of Jesus and saw that the stone had been rolled away they
were afraid, but the first hint of resurrection, of new life, is the rolled‐away stone.   It’s the
invitation to come inside and see.

 The good news for us is that while we may be called to roll away our own stones in
order to experience resurrection, we don’t actually have to do the heavy lifting ourselves.  God
does that because He rolled away THE stone over 2000 years ago so that today we can proclaim
He is Risen!  When we are finally ready to roll our stone away, to believe in the resurrection
power of our God and follow with all of our hearts, in every area of our lives, where God                
wishes to lead us, we will find — like the women at the tomb — that God has already rolled
back the stone for us.  The women arrived at the tomb that morning to find that even in the
midst of, and even in spite of their doubt and fear, God had already been at work.  The good
news is that in spite of our frailty, our weakness, our fear, our sinfulness, and in spite of our
inability to roll away the stone on our own, resurrection happens.  We don’t have to make it
happen, will it to happen, or force it to happen.  God does that.  And then, when we are ready,
we can look beyond the stone that God has already rolled back for us, and see what new life
waits for us there beyond it and he does it in us as we die to our old selves and are raised to a
new life, to a new identity in Christ. (adapted from this sermon)

This is the gospel, the good news, that Jesus Christ is risen, He is risen.   The trail has
been blazed not by our own efforts but by resting in him.   We are, through the Son of God,
adopted into the family as sons and daughters of God with new identities and from this new
status, this new identity flows into everything that we are and everything that we do.

Let me tell you a story: “It was a little girl’s first day with her adoptive parents.   She
stalked  nervously  around  her  new  home,  fearing  one  of  the  beatings she  used  to  get  if
something was broken.   The toys in her room went untouched.   She could not quite believe
they were hers.   At dinner she secretly stuffed food in her pocket, because you never knew
where your next meal would come from when you were on the streets.  That night she felt so
alone  in her big room.    She would have  cried  if she had not  long since  learnt to suppress
emotion.  Now listen to her new mother one year later:  “She crawled into bed with me last
night, because she was having a bad dream.  She curled up next to me, put her head on my
chest, told me that she loved me, smiled, and went to sleep.  I nearly cried with contentment.”
This little girl had a new identity on day one.  She had become a child in a new family.  But she
still lived like a child of the street.  Her actions and attitudes were shaped by her old identity.
Christians too have been adopted into a new family and given a new identity.  We are to live
out our new identity—to be who we are.  To live not like a slave to stone covered areas of our
lives but, like a child of the King of heaven.  Our identity as God's children is the foundation of
who we are now because of Jesus.  And as God's children, we bear his name everywhere we go.
We are his family, his church.  Church, by the way, is not a place or an event.  It's who we are…
The reason we should want to change, to roll our stones away, is to enjoy the freedom from sin
that God gives to us through Jesus, and to delight  in God.”

We roll away our stones not because we are afraid that God will strike us down or that we won’t be good enough so that at  the end of these lives we can say I was pretty good.  We roll away our stones and give every area of our lives over to God because it’s joy.  It’sin gratefulresponse to seeing that God rolled
away our stone for us, it’s because as we live out this new identity we find it’s who we are, it’s
who we were meant to be. The apostle Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 15:10 “But by the grace of
God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of
them‐‐ yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”

  “The gospel, as Tim Keller is prone to say, is not the ABC’s of Christianity, it’s A to Z.  It’s
not just the elementary and introductory truths.  The gospel, and our new gospel identity, is
what drives everything that we do.“ Over the next four weeks, I hope that you will join us at
one of our services on Sunday morning or on Monday night as we explore more about this new
identity, our gospel ID and what that means in our selves, with our time, our family and our
work as we seek to live into these new identities together.

As we finish our time, let me tell you about one more stone in the bible.   In ancient
Rome there was a custom to give a white stone to the winners of the athletic competitions that
they would have.   Those who achieved victory would receive a white stone with their name
inscribed upon it and later at the special banquet for all the winners, the stone would be their
ticket to join the feast.  The resurrected Christ says in Revelation 2:17 “To him who overcomes…
I will give him a white stone with a new name written on it.”  We have victory because “He gives
us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”, 1 Corinthians 15:57.  We overcome because Jesus
has “overcome the world”, John 16:33.  We roll away the stone because He has rolled the stone
away and we have a new identity in Christ because he gives us a new name in Him.  As you go
forward from here today, pick up a white stone on your way out.  Notice if it’s smooth or rough.
Turn it over in your hand, feel the weight of it.  And as you do, think about the stones that need
to be rolled  away  in  your  life.    Think  about the places where God might be  calling  you to
something new.  Think about the weight God may be trying to lift from your shoulders.  Think of
the victory we have in Him, and the new name, the new identity we receive in Him because our
redeemer lives.

A Sermon: Eating the Bread of Life - John 6:51-58

Click here for the audio version of this sermon.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, 
he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the 
world. Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this 
man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you 
eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him 
up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever 
eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living 
Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will 
live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your 
forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever. 
John 6:51-58

By a show of hands, how many people in here know what bread is? Nothing is certain in this world besides death and taxes as the adage goes, but bread is a close second, an almost  universal human experience, so much so that bread has become for many cultures a metaphor  for the basic necessities of life and sometimes for living conditions in general. In the Russian  revolution of 1917, the Bolshevik party promised three basic necessities “peace, land,  and…bread.” In India, to describe life’s basic necessities again they use three words “Cloth,  house, and…bread.” Here in the United States, we even use the term bread to refer to material  provision or money. You’ve probably heard of the term the “bread-winner of the family” or  putting “bread on the table.” When the Notorious B.I.G. wrote “Gotta let it show, I love the  dough”, he wasn’t talking about the dough the Pillsbury dough boy peddles, but dough, bread,  money. Bread, one of the oldest prepared foods in humanity, in many different forms, in many  different cultures conveys a meaning beyond just “bread”. The same is true in Scripture today  when Jesus refers to himself as living bread. Particularly this metaphor, this imagery of bread  spoke so well to Jesus’ disciples who lived in a place and a time period where people really did  worry about whether or not they would have the basic necessities to get through the day,  where bread really was a staple that people depended on to live. When Jesus says things like, I  am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:35), people listened. Think of how people would respond in Haiti, if you went down there and said I have something that will make you never be hungry or thirsty  again. How valuable that would be!

 We, probably of all cultures so far in history, are maybe the most disconnected from this
imagery of Jesus as “living bread.” We live in a place and a time period where most of us have
very little worry or concern about getting our daily bread, about surviving. How many of you
think of bread as one of your favorite foods, that when you go out to eat and order your main
dish you say, I’ll just have bread please. When I met my wife I was surprised to find out she’s
one of those people who loves bread. She’ll eat so much bread sometimes that when the main
course comes, she just asks them to box it up. It’s amazing to me, because I’m the kind of
person who usually thinks of bread as just filler. When I eat a hamburger, the bread is just
there to get the meat to my mouth. Bread is so abundantly available to us that at the end of
the day many stores are literally throwing tons of the stuff out into the garbage. We live in a
culture where we actually have diets based on the premise to avoid bread entirely, like bread is
evil. Bread is the reason I can’t fit into my skinny jeans. We have such an abundance and
over-consumption of food that our goal is to find the food that goes beyond regular food, we
need superfoods in our culture.

The first superfood I encountered was something called Acai (ah-sigh-ee) Berry in a
Yogurtland store in Orlando. I was intrigued, what is this “superfood” that comes from the
Amazon that has so much nutrition and benefit that it is a food beyond all other foods, a
superfood. I completely fell for the marketing scheme and kept buying Acai Berry yogurt
thinking, I’m going to be so energized because I’m eating a superfood. That was of course back
before everything became a superfood. I looked recently online at a list of superfoods and
basically now a superfood is just food that’s not bad for you like yogurt, eggs, nuts, broccoli,
sweet potatoes, beans, you know you’re not special anymore when beans is on your list. We’ve
gone from the Acai berry, deep from within the Amazon, a food beyond foods, a superfood, to
beans. But there is a superfood that I know of that stands alone. It’s a superfood that is even
more exotic than coming from the Amazon, it comes from another world, another reality, from
God himself and it provides such nourishment that when you eat it, when you completely take
this food into you, it changes everything because this food provides such deep permeating
nourishment that not only will you experience the abundant life now, but it will provide such
nourishment for your soul that you will have eternal life.

 When Jesus says I am the living bread that came down from heaven (John 6:51), he’s
saying so much more than what we might picture as bread. He is saying I am God’s provision
that you might live. I am the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). I am life! I came that [you 3
might] have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10b) I am the true superfood, I deliver on my
promises, I’m not of this world. I’m so much more than you will ever need.

 There’s so much packed into these statements that Jesus makes about being bread. Just
to give us an outline of where we’re headed today: First, Where does this bread, this
supernatural superfood come from? What is it? Second, what kind of an effect does this bread
have when we eat it and Thirdly, because great sermons always have 3 points, what’s the
proper preparation of this food, how do we dig in to what God has provided.

 First where does this food come from? What is it? Jesus compares himself to the Bread
of Heaven and when He says this He is saying He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and
that he is the supernatural provision. He says in the first verse that we read, verse 51, “I am the
living bread that came down from heaven” and in the last verse we read, verse 58, “This is the
bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feed on
this bread will live forever.” Who is Jesus talking about when He says your forefathers ate
manna and died? He’s talking about this moment in the Old Testament, when God provided for
Moses and His people in the dessert. If you want to go back later and read this, it’s in Exodus
chapter 16. The basic gist of this story is that the people are hungry, they are grumbling about
how much better it was in Egypt before they started following God. Many of them are
questioning, now that they’re on the other side of the Red Sea in the dessert with this guy
Moses, if God really is going to provide for them. Despite their unfaithfulness God shows up in a
miraculous way each and every morning for 40 years. There is a layer of dew every morning
around where they are camped and when the dew was gone, the bible describes this material,
this manna, as “thin flakes like frost on the ground” (Exodus 16:14) and that it “was like
coriander seed, white, and tasted like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31). The Israelites
experiencing this say “What is it?” and that’s what the word Manna means in Hebrew “What is
it?” Moses tells them it is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. Clearly it’s not loaves of
bread, the Israelites have never experienced this type of food before, it’s beyond their
experience, that’s why it’s called Manna, “What is it?”

 This “What is it” doesn’t appear until the hour assigned, it doesn’t stop coming until the
people enter the promised land, no change of weather prevented it from appearing, there was
a sufficient amount of it each day and the quantity was doubled on the 6th
 day so that the  people could collect enough to rest on the Sabbath. If you tried to gather too much on one of  the other days, it would breed worms and stink but when you gathered double for the Sabbath
it was good to eat. This event was a daily experience of the Israelites for 40 years in the
dessert. God provided for His people miraculously and supernaturally. It was an event that
they cherished, that they remembered. They gathered an amount of this Manna and put it in a 4
pot and then placed that pot in the Ark of the Covenant next to Aaron’s rod and the 10
commandments. In this case also, miraculously, it did not breed worms and stink but lasted
perpetually. God did this, not only to provide for his people but also, as Deuteronomy 8:3 says
to humble them, “to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that
comes from the mouth of the Lord.” This is the formative time of the Jewish people, they are
freed from slavery, they are given God’s Word – his law, and they are learning to trust in God,
that he will provide, and he will provide abundantly!

 This miraculous, supernatural, bread of heaven, this “what is it”, that God provided day
after day for His people is what Jesus compares himself to because we too have been freed
from slavery, we too have been given the Word of God and the Word made flesh, and as we
day by day abide in Jesus we are spiritually nourished by this abundant provision. As Manna
came from God to provide for His people, so Jesus was sent from the Father to seek and save
the lost. As Manna gave daily physical sustenance to His people so Jesus gives us daily spiritual
sustenance. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians makes this connection between the physical
and the spiritual. He writes that they, the Israelites in the dessert, “all ate the same spiritual
food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied
them, and that rock was Christ.” In other words, the Israelites, through this shadow, this
foretaste of God’s provision, were actually spiritually sustained by Christ in addition to being
physically sustained by the Manna. The same way in which later this morning the bread we
break and the cup we drink is for us the body and blood of Christ and spiritual nourishment for
us. The Israelites asked “What is it?” this spiritual sustenance, and in time God answered it is
all of me, it is my son, it is Jesus.

 Jesus is the “What is it?” bread, miraculous bread from heaven and the effect that this
has on us is to produce life within us. He is the Bread of Life. In verse 55 Jesus says “my flesh is
real food and my blood is real drink.” The word there for “real” in Greek is the same word for
truth (alethes). It means true, truthful, honest, genuine, real. Jesus is saying “I am real food. I
am superfood that provides the kind of soul nourishment that gives eternal life.”

As I mentioned earlier, we live in a culture with an abundance of food options and in a
culture where we struggle more with obesity and filling ourselves with the right kinds of food
than trying to find enough calories to get through the day. And we usually choose poorly, just
speaking for myself. We constantly fill ourselves with empty calories, foods that usually supply
a temporary energy boost but little or no nutrition. The way in which we deal with food is true
spiritually as well. We consume so much that provides little to no nutrition, that gives us a
temporary feeling of fullness but doesn’t really provide. We go to sex, power, possessions,
even good things like family and relationships and we try to fill ourselves. They may taste 5
delicious, they may even make us feel full for the moment but in the end we’re just eating toilet
paper compared to Jesus who is real food and real drink. In verse 53 Jesus said to them, “I tell
you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in
you.” Jesus says in John 10:10 “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

 Jesus is the bread of Heaven, He is the “What is it?” superfood and when we are filled
by him we are filled with life, with true abundance that ultimately one day will blossom into
eternal life. So finally, what’s the way in which we consume this food? We are to eat the bread
of heaven, the bread of life completely and daily.

First, just in case you haven’t picked up on it. When Jesus says eat my flesh and drink my blood. He is using a metaphor and not talking about cannibalism. His disciples initially think of what Jesus is saying as literal. This is common in the bible that the people Jesus speaks to think in a physical pattern rather than a spiritual one. In John 3, which many of you in life groups will study this week as we finish our churchwide study, when Nicodemus is told by Jesus
you have to be born again, Nicodemus replies “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4) No Nicodemus, Jesus is not asking you to go find your mother and be born again. Neither here is Jesus saying, literally you need to eat my flesh and drink my blood. When Jesus says “my flesh and my blood” it is an idiom like the “whole enchilada”. This isn’t a taste testing, to experience the life giving and sustaining spiritual  nourishment that comes through Jesus we must take him in completely, he must be digested and absorbed, to become one with us and be the nourishment that flows intimately through our very veins.

 Jesus says “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just
as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will
live because of me.” Jesus says that the same way in which God the Father is the source of life,
the “living Father”, for Jesus and He abides in Him, so also Jesus is the source of life for us as we
abide in Him. This is clearly a mystery, this indwelling. John 15 uses the imagery of a vine and
branches to describe it. Jesus says “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me
and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) This is a
constant and daily dependence upon Christ. The same way that branches thrive because they
are one with the vine, we too experience this soul sustaining, life giving nourishment when we
take Jesus in completely and abide in him daily.

 Jesus is the bread of heaven, he is the “What is it?” superfood that when we stop eating
toilet paper and fully take him in as our daily bread, he wells up within us as the abundant life
which becomes eternal life. When we say “God Provides”, we can apply that in many ways, but 6
fundamentally at the core God provides abundance and life through Jesus Christ the Bread of
Heaven, the Bread of Life.

 For some of you, today may be the first time you have seriously thought about not just
tasting, but completely and fully eating this bread. As we enter into prayer, I encourage you to
think and to pray about if this is the moment that you put aside the empty calories and put your
faith and trust in something real, true, genuine. If you do come to that moment today,
tomorrow, a month from now, please tell someone. Whether it’s checking the box on the
communication card, speaking to a pastor, or someone on our prayer team who will be up here
after the service, or to a friend you know that has a relationship with Jesus, don’t delay it. Eat
the Bread of Life completely, daily that God provides in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sermon: Seeing Caterpillars as Butterflies - Matthew 4:17-19

You can listen to an audio version of this sermon here.

Please open your bibles to our text for today which can be found in the gospel of Matthew 4:17-19.

From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." 18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men."

This is our primary passage for today as we examine what was it that Jesus saw in these mere fishermen that at the very beginning of his ministry, he sees them and calls them to be his disciples. When we read “he saw two brothers”, what was it that Jesus saw in them? Why would they be the ones that he would so heavily invest in through his time, his teachings and through these relationships? Jesus’ method for discipleship involved calling a small band of people and spending the last remaining years of his life with them.  As we’ll see later, he devotes his earthly ministry primarily to apprenticing these disciples to become His body in the world, to be sent as He had been sent.

Before continuing down this path about specifically investing in a small number relationally, in an apprentice-like manner, we need to step back and try to open our eyes to the way in which God looks at us, and the history of humanity’s true image. So we’re going to take a brief excursus and cover Genesis all the way  to the end of the book of Matthew, seeing the image of God.

 So, in the beginning  God created the heavens and the earth, and he created humanity different and unique , the pinnacle of His creation. In the first chapter of Genesis Scripture says in verse 26: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” and then later in verse 27 Scripture says that God did what he planned “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” God formed humanity from the dust of the ground and breathed his very life into him. You’ve heard the phrase “Like Father, like son” right? The same way in which God is spiritual, personal, moral, relational, rational, emotional and creative, so also was humanity created with these incredible attributes, in the very image of God. You see, humanity’s original purpose was to be God’s representatives, his very image and likeness here on earth, and to fill the earth with God’s glory. That’s why the first command that God gives is for his image, through us, to fill the earth as he tells Adam and Eve “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” God’s vision was for the earth to be filled with those created in his image, and thus to see His attributes lived out through us, His children.

Of course, we know that in chapter 3 of Genesis, that something went terribly wrong; a moment that we call The Fall when the image of God in humans was deeply marred and distorted. When our parents, so long ago, chose not to submit to God, to not trust in Him, to not listen to His voice, “[h]umanity’s relationship with God was ruptured. Moral purity was lost, replaced by a sinful nature. Personality was corrupted, producing an array of psychological problems. Knowledge was degraded by false philosophies and vain imaginations. Emotions were turned to selfish desires. Creativity was spoiled by evil purposes and pursuits. The uncorrupted image of God was replaced by the fallen image of the fallen Adam.” (Don Dunavant)

The image of God wasn’t completely destroyed but since Fall every one of us born, life Father like son, has inherited a broken and marred image of the one true God. The Good News, the gospel, is that in the fullness of time, a second Adam, the very son of God who is in every respect the image of God came to restore that image in us. Colossians 1:15 says “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” Hebrews 1:3 says “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” The same way in which through the first Adam the image of God in humanity was marred and distorted, so through Jesus, the second Adam, the image of God in humanity is restored. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” The good news is that the image of God, which every single last human has, every Son of Adam, every daughter of Eve, that image though it is sometimes barely recognizable is fully restored through the image restorer Christ Jesus, who became human to restore the image of God in humanity and to bring glory to His father as that image is restored throughout the earth.

In Matthew 28, when Jesus says “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” he is recasting the original command given by God to Adam in Genesis 1. In Genesis 1 God told Adam to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and thus filling the earth with the image of God. In Matthew 28, Jesus says the same thing, only the way in which we fill the earth with God’s image isn’t through having as many physical children as we can have, but by seeing the image of God in others restored, bringing them to the Master, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who has all authority in heaven and on earth, and who specializes in restoring the broken, the marred, the distorted to what our heavenly father intended – for us to reflect his glory and his image through all the earth.

This is the great purpose of Christ’s Church. To see the image of God restored to the ends of the earth. Now in order to do this we have to begin by seeing the masterpiece in others. As part of preparing for this sermon I was able to read a lot of book that actually came close last year to being used as our Church-wide study one year. The book is called Mud and the Masterpiece: Seeing Yourself and Others through the Eyes of Jesus .It’s excellent and after we finish this Church-wide study, I encourage you to consider using it on your own or as a life group. The overriding image that John Burke uses is that we are covered in mud, but we are masterpiece since we are created by the master artist God. If you were walking down the street and you saw a bunch of trash and in the middle of the trash you saw this mud caked piece of art that looked completely worthless, but you notice through the mud, through the gunk, that there is the signature of a master artist. It’s a Rembrant, or a Michelangelo or you get the point, you realize this piece of art, though it’s completely trashed and covered in mud is priceless. What do you do? Do you leave it there, or do you take it to someone who is a master at restoring pieces of art? Well the same is true for us, that when we look at others we should see them not superficially, but as bearers of the image of God, as God’s masterpieces.

We’ve played this video its entirety at our Monday night service before, but I wanted to share with you because this young man, in his art, so clearly speaks about God as a master artist.

“You are the maker’s handiwork, a living masterpiece.” Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” When we look at ourselves, when we look at others do we see with the eyes of God, do we see masterpieces? Or are we experts at picking out the mud?

You may have heard some of these stories about how some pastors have dressed up as homeless people to see how the congregation would treat them. Just this last November a Mormon bishop named David Musselman used a makeup artist and posed as homeless man before church services one Sunday. He said that at least five people asked him to leave the property and that many “actually went out of their way to purposefully ignore me and they wouldn’t even make eye contact…I’d approach them and say ‘Happy Thanksgiving.’ Many of them I wouldn’t ask for any food or any kind of money, and their inability to even acknowledge me being there was very surprising.” Were they seeing the Mud or the Masterpiece? By the way, I thought about trying this out myself but remembered that when I was serving in Orlando at our church’s homeless ministry how often I was already mistaken for being homeless, I guess because of my beard and I don’t dress up very often.

In fact though, the reason I stand before you today as a believer in Jesus Christ, as a servant to you, as a minister of Word and Sacrament, is because when I was 22 years old, fresh out of college and teaching Science rather poorly, a pastor looked at me and saw not who I was, not the arrogance, not the stand-offishness, not the defensiveness, not the whole host of mud that covered me from head to foot, but instead saw the masterpiece that God had created. He deeply invested relationally in me and he pointed me to the master who could restore the masterpiece in me that day by day I might be transformed into his likeness more and more.

Jesus, as he called his disciples, saw them not as mud, but as masterpieces, created in the image of God. John Burke writes “I’m convinced that our problem is not that we need more evangelistic tools, methods, apologetic arguments, or missional strategies— in fact, none of these will be worth anything if we don’t first see ourselves and others through the eyes of Jesus…As I study the life and interactions of Jesus with very sin-stained, muddied people, it becomes evident that Jesus could see something worth dying for in all the people he encountered. Jesus could see past the mud to the Masterpiece God wanted to restore…Jesus demonstrated a spiritual vision that he wants to impart to us— to see the Masterpiece he sees in us, and to renovate us to become people whose hearts reflect what God sees, under even the muddiest sin-stained life. Jesus saw God’s Masterpiece, waiting to be revealed by his grace, and as a result, many people actually became what he envisioned them to be.”

As we continue this series, picking up on what Pastor Michael shared with us last week about Apprenticeship, I want to leave you with this final imagery of seeing caterpillars as butterflies because while the imagery of being a masterpiece is strong, and biblical, it helps us understand how God sees and values people, it is also static, whereas Jesus invested in others not to see them become static pieces of art, but to spread their wings and fly. As we read in Matthew 4:17-19, Jesus called His disciples by saying “Come, follow me” and then saying what “I will make you fishers of men.” Peter, Andrew and the other disciples followed Jesus closely for roughly one year. They weren’t fishers of men yet; they needed to be equipped. During this time they listened and they watched as Jesus apprenticed them for a purpose. Then Jesus, after that year, sent them out to do the very things Jesus had been doing. Do you remember what we read in Matthew 4:17-19? What was it that Jesus began to preach at the very beginning of his ministry? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” About a year later Matthew 10:5,7 says “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:… As you go, preach this message:  'The kingdom of heaven is near.'  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.  Freely you have received, freely give.” Jesus sent them out to do the very things Jesus did for them. They reported back to Jesus and he taught and apprenticed them more and then two and half years later Jesus commissioned them to lead his church, restoring the world wherever they went.

If you want to make a huge difference in the world, focus on investing in a few, in seeing in just a few caterpillars as butterflies. This was Jesus’ strategy. To bring a small number of people alongside him, to invest in them, to apprentice them, to see them becoming beautiful, active, fluttering butterflies. How do you even begin to identify an apprentice? Of course praying is the first place to start. Jesus spent an incredible amount of time in prayer, in Luke 6 he spends all night before calling those whom he would apprentice and disciple. You can also look for a few attributes that Burke points out that help contribute towards a good apprentice. You need to make sure they are F.A.S.T. – Faithful, Available, have Spiritual Velocity, and Teach-ability.

Faithful means that the person is not flaky that you can count on them doing what they say. This is an incredibly important attribute. Could you imagine Jesus getting ready to walk in to Jerusalem and the disciples he sent not bringing the donkey? Checking his sun dial watch, where are those guys?

The second is closely related and that is Availability. Can this person commit to be present? Sometimes work schedules or season of life issues make it impossible to really develop a person. If you had asked me to join your life group and be your apprentice these last 10 months with my own health issues and our son being born, I just wouldn’t have been in the right season of life for an intense, fruitful apprenticeship.

The third is Spiritual Velocity and this comes from the “ApprenticeField Guide” that we’ve been reading together as a staff and on Session. Usually we see a Jesus-centered life as one where someone is either “in” or “out” like in this diagram on the left. As you can see Person A has crossed the point of conversion and Person B has not. Person A is “in” and Person B is out. What is actually better in choosing an apprentice is not whether they are “in” or “out” but where they are headed. In other words in the second diagram you see Person A may have had a ‘conversion experience’ but is not currently living a life of spiritual velocity, going towards Jesus, while person B, is moving toward Jesus but hasn’t quiet crossed the line of faith yet. Do you think Jesus’ disciples totally got it when they were called? Of course not! But, they were moving in the right direction, towards Jesus, and Jesus saw that. Is the person you are considering as an apprentice someone who wants to be in on the mission of helping people find their way back to God, to seeing God’s image, his masterpiece restored in the lives of others? Are they taking steps to live this out? If so, they have spiritual velocity and are ripe for the opportunity to become an apprentice.

The last letter is for Teach-ability. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Is the person eager to learn more about the way of Christ?

I encourage you, holistically we need to see ourselves and others as created in the image of God and needing Christ to restore that image. We need to see ourselves and others as masterpieces, as a living works of Art he wants to restore to it’s full value. We also need to see the potential apprentices in our lives, perhaps ourselves as potential apprentices, and seek out caterpillars who become butterflies just as Jesus sought fishermen who would become fishers of men.