SermonsDiscover the Joy of Leaving Laodicea Behind
Right now, we as a nation and as the church are in the midst of an unprecedented worldwide pandemic that has some unfortunate, unforeseen circumstances. We are currently mandated by our government to stay at home and practice social distancing. Which, in effect, means no corporate church services. No normal business activities. No hugging our grandchildren or shaking hands with a friend. No picnics at the park, no day trips to the mountains, no shopping at the mall, no having friends over for dinner. All of that has changed.
But so has our culture. Our economy is in a free-fall. Unemployment claims are greater, much greater, than in the time of the great depression. Small businesses are closing at a rate unseen in our lifetime and the future looks dim, at best. Liquor stores and abortion clinics are deemed essential, but churches are not. And since lawlessness has increased greatly, “the love of many,” as Jesus foretold, “has grown cold” (Matt. 24:12).
These are truly desperate times.
But could God be trying to tell us something by all that is happening around us? Is He trying to get a message to us, a warning? And, if so, what is that message and why are we as a people so obstinate and hard of hearing?
We know, from Scripture, that God warns His people primarily in two ways. One, by sending them a prophet, a prophetic voice in their generation to proclaim the words of the Lord. God often sent a Jeremiah, Ezekiel, or John the Baptist to bring His people back to repentance before He chastised them for their sins. Unfortunately, because of our collective pride, we in the West are not particularly open to a modern-day Isaiah or a proclamation of “Thus says the Lord!” from anyone.
So often God warns His people the second way, by a remedial judgment. He allows storms, plagues, war, famine, or pestilence to bring us to our knees and allows us to realize that God is God and we are not. God often humbles us by showing us how much we are not in control.
Could that be what is happening right now? And, if so, what warning are we failing to heed? And what changes do we need to make in our lives right now?
Remember, God is sovereign. That doesn’t mean He is the cause of suffering and death. No, our sin brought that upon us. That blood is on our own hands. But what it does mean is that nothing happens in our lives, good or bad, without His permission. Why? Because He is sovereign. He is good and gracious and holy, but foremost, He is sovereign.
I love this quote, “The definition of a fanatic is someone who loves Jesus more than you do.” So true. But as a culture, we have always had a love/hate relationship with total commitment and self-abandonment. We admire those whose commitment leads them to do great things, like win an Olympic Medal or lose a tremendous amount of weight. And we applaud their commitment because we value the object of their goals. But on the other hand, we detest the commitment of terrorists, idealogues, and others like that. We brand them as activists, fanatics, or extremists.
But in Jesus’ day, this is exactly how the world saw His followers. They were activists who wanted nothing more than to see the entire world come to the same understanding they had regarding Christ. They were extremists who sacrificed everything for a cause greater than themselves. And they were fanatics, no longer interested in the things of this world because they had their life focused on something unseen, mystical, and illogical.
And of these, the Lord said the “world was not worthy” of them (Heb. 11:18). My, how we have changed today.
Today, the church falls into two main camps. One, the camp where our relationship with Christ is defined by rule-keeping and our ability to follow the law. And two, those who view their relationship with Jesus as something profitable to add to their already busy lives, much like sprinkles on a cupcake or sweetener to our coffee. But there is another option. And these are the ones whose relationship with Christ is not based on guilt, religious duty, the hope of heaven and eternal reward, or the fear of hell and eternal punishment. No, this select group is drawn to Christ because of His overwhelming beauty and glory and the irresistible power of His Kingdom. The very kingdom we are commanded to proclaim today. Remember? We are to proclaim, like Jesus, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). And we are to preach the gospel of the Kingdom.
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. (Matt. 4:23)
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. (Matt. 9:35)
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matt. 24:14)
But what is the “gospel of the kingdom”?
As we begin our study on John the Baptist, we are going to take the Scripture accounts of his life from all four gospels and merge them into one single narrative. But rest assured, all you will see is nothing but Scripture. Nothing has been added. This helps us get a complete view of John’s incredible ministry, the man Jesus said was without rival in all of humanity (Matthew 11:11).
The following is the beginning of John’s ministry as told from Matthew 3:1-12, Mark 1:4-8 and Luke 3:1-18.
(LK) Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
(MT) In those days John the Baptist (MK) came baptizing in the wilderness (MT) of Judea. (LK) And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, (MT) saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, (LK) saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'” (MT) Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. (MK) Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, (MT) and all the region around the Jordan went out to him (MK) and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.
(MT) But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, (LK) he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, (MT) “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (LK) So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”
Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, (MK) and he preached, (LK) saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water (MT) unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry, [and] (MK) whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but (LK) He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” And with many other exhortations he preached to the people.
But there is so much more. And note the substance of John’s preaching. It was of repentance and the coming Kingdom of Heaven. Are they both related? Absolutely.
Another Sunday is upon us and the church is still having to figure out how to worship together while practicing self-distancing. Awkward and uncomfortable, I know. But I believe our choice to forgo our right to assemble and worship for the sake of the least of these (those who are at greater risk), is proper and prudent. And I believe the Lord will honor the free sacrifice of our own rights for the sake of others.
With that said, the following message is from the first two chapters of the book of Joel. In fact, as we go through Joel together, I think you’ll be amazed and comforted at how the crisis in Joel’s time (locust invasion) parallels the crisis we are facing as a church and a nation today. For me, the most encouraging truth from Joel is the solution to their locust problem then is the same as the solution to our coronavirus problem now. And that solution, as always, is repentance.
We will specifically focus on Joel 2:12-13, which reads:
“Now, therefore,” says the LORD, “Turn to Me with all your heart, (how) with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the LORD your God, (why) for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.
Note, the first sentence is a statement by God. The second is the application from Joel. And Joel’s words are timeless. They are just as valid and true in his generation as they are today. So take them to heart.
As I have been sharing with you since late last year, the times we are facing as believers, and as a church and a nation, demand faith. But not faith as usual or faith that is comfortable. We need mature faith, secure faith, maybe even radical faith to believe what our Lord says about everything, and then act on that belief like we truly believe what we claim to believe.
In fact, one of the signs of maturity in our walk with Christ is our ability to drown out the voices of our culture, and even our own voice of fear, doubt, and insecurity, and live in the joy of sheer trust in His character, His Word, and His promises (and warnings). Our desire is to learn how to trust as a little child does his loving father, without question, and with great joy. And for logical, pragmatic, even somewhat cynical people, that leap in trust can be quite difficult.
“But where does faith come from?” many often ask. The disciples recognized their need for more genuine, mature, seasoned faith when it came to continually having to forgive someone who sinned against them over and over again with no true sign of repentance. When faced with that impossible task, they cried out to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5).
Our need for more faith is apparent. But where do we go to increase our faith?
In Romans 10, after speaking about Israel’s need to hear the gospel, Paul then makes this most revealing statement:
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Rom. 10:17)
Or, to put it another way, “faith comes by hearing the word of God.” And it’s really just that simple. The object of what we are to hear to increase our faith is the Word of God.
As we see the day of His return approaching, we must be more diligent to make sure we don’t fall for the great deception Jesus spoke about (Matt. 24:4) and prepare ourselves for the coming apostasy (2 Thes. 2:3). Why? Because as our Lord warned the deception would be so great even the elect, if possible, would be deceived and fall away (Matt. 24:214).
So what are we to do? How do we become a faith prepper and guard ourselves against such great deception? The answer is simple to understand, yet difficult to do. In Cliff Notes style:
You must personally experience God yourself.
Second-hand faith won’t cut it.
Your faith must be first-person, personal.
You cannot live on the faith of another.
And your encounters with God must be on-going and habitual.
Especially as we see the darkness approaching.
This is what becoming a faith prepper is all about.
In essence, you must know God. Intimately. Personally. And you do that by learning to hear His voice.
“And this is eternal life, that they may know (ginōskō) You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)
The key to not falling for falsehood and deception is an experience with God. After all, a relationship between two people must include talking and listening from both parties. And so it is the same with each of us and the Lord. We talk. We ask. We beg. Sometimes we demand. But does God ever speak personally to us? If so, how? And how often?
One of the questions each of us will have to come to grips with as we see the time of our Lord’s return approaching is this: Do you believe what you say you believe? Or, more pointedly, how does your life reflect what you claim to believe? In other words, do we really believe everything the Scriptures say about God, this world, heaven and hell, our lives, the future, whatever? Or are we somehow hedging our bet in His Word to fit what we feel or think? Consider the following scriptures and ask yourself if you truly believe what they say.
But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
Do you believe this statement to be true of you? If so, make it personal by putting your name in the place of “those”.
But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for (your name) who love Him.”
Let’s try one more. Do you believe this statement to be true?
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
If you believe God can do more than you can ask or think, then put your name in this verse. Make it first-person, personal.
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that (I can) ask or think, according to the power that works in (me), to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
So why is this important? Because your relationship with God, your intimacy with the Father, will rise and fall on your belief in Him and in His character. Your beliefs always determine your actions. Always. In everything. For example, if you don’t believe God can do “exceedingly abundantly above all that (I can) ask or think,” then you will be overcome by your doubts and fears and feel like a helpless kitten abandoned in the dark. But if you believe God is who He says He is, then you will be invincible in faith before anything that comes your way.
When we have the discernment that Jesus spoke about to know the “signs of the times” (Matt. 16:3), it becomes clear we are living in the last days. In fact, there are several key signs that bring us to this conclusion.
- The regathering of Israel into their own land
- The surging apostasy
- The coming Middle East peace
- The reuniting of the Roman Empire (East, West, both?)
For the church today, the most important of these prophetic signs is the rising tide of apostasy or defection from God and the Christian faith. We see this happening almost daily within the ranks of the church. As we have already discussed, apostasy means to “depart, revolt, or forsake. It is a deliberate defection from a formerly held religious position.” Apostasy doesn’t necessarily mean a total rejection of God or the authority of His Scripture. Apostasy can come in stages. It usually begins with a defection from a section of Scripture or a specific teaching that is incompatible with the current cultural church mood. Some examples are the issue of homosexuality, divorce, women pastors, abortion, or a myriad of other issues that divide the Body today. And once a small defection takes place, full-blown apostasy is not far behind.
But this shouldn’t surprise us. After all, Jesus said in Matthew 24 the greatest sign of His return was deception. And He warned His disciples about that deception four times (Matt. 24:4, 5,11, 24). He even went so far as to say the deception at the end would be so great that, if it was possible, even the elect would be deceived (Matt. 24:24). And the elect includes Peter, Paul, James and John, Martin Luther, D.L. Moody, Spurgeon, Billy Graham, and you and me. That’s a sobering thought that should not be taken lightly.
So what can we do to prepare for the coming apostasy?
As the Scriptures claim, one of the greatest signs of the end is the mass defection or apostasy from the Christian faith by those who once claimed to be believers. Paul, in his letter to Timothy, warns that the “Spirit expressly says that (when) in latter times (who) some (what) will depart from the faith, (how) giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). This great apostasy is characterized by a rebellion or revolt against God and His Word. And it is promoted by those who once claimed Jesus as Lord but are now “giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” Peter says “scoffers will come in the last days” (2 Peter 3:3-4). Jude calls them “mockers” (Jude 17-19).
So what are we to do in the face of this great apostasy? How do we answer skeptics when they demand we “prove our God exists?” How do we defend our faith in the unseen God? What are we to do? Historically, the answer has been to study up on apologetics and be prepared to go toe to toe with those who demand answers from us void of faith. But is that the real purpose of apologetics? I’m not so sure.
For the message (or, preaching) of the cross is foolishness (mōría – folly, absurdity, moronic, stupid, senseless, foolhardy, insane) to (who) those who are perishing (or, being destroyed completely, to render
void), but to (who) us who are being saved (to deliver, make whole, preserve safe from danger, loss, or destruction) it (the message of the cross) is the power (dúnamis) of God – 1 Corinthians 1:18.
Our faith in the cross of Christ is moronic to those who are perishing. Period. And apologetics won’t change that fact. Think about it, our God doesn’t need defending. He can take care of Himself. And you cannot lead someone to Christ by logically answering all their questions about faith and the Scriptures to their satisfaction. Why? Because faith in Him is a gift from God and, before God imparts faith to the individual, the lost are incapable of believing the Gospel. To them, our faith in the cross of Christ is moronic.
So, is apologetics important? Absolutely. But not necessarily in the way you think.
Jesus chastised the religious elite of His day for their confidence in predicting things like the weather, but not being able to discern the signs of the times. In fact, He called them hypocrites. Remember? “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times” – Matthew 16:2-3. I wonder if He would say the same about His church today? After all, it appears we all seem to know everything about everything. Just ask us.
It seems we resemble those that Isaiah was called to address.
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight – Isaiah 5:20-21.
But there is one prophetic statement of Jesus regarding the times before us that is hard for many, including me, to understand. That is until today. Jesus said “because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12). Got that. He also promised that “a man’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:36). How is that possible? How can our love for our spouse or children grow so cold we will treat them as enemies to the extent of hatred and betrayal? (Matt. 24:10). How can that be true? What sort of perverted human would turn on his own family for the sake of himself? What kind of depraved mind or personality disorder would produce sociopaths with a love this cold?
In a word, it’s called narcissism. And it is the ultimate end-time personality disorder.