Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate or commemorate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, what many call the birth of the church. Pentecost means “50th” and long before it became the birth of the church it was one of the three Jewish festivals. 50 days after Passover, Israel celebrated Pentecost, which was also called “The Festival of weeks”. The day after the High Sabbath of Passover, the high priest would wave a sheaf of barley, a green sheaf, not yet ready for harvest, as a wave offering to the LORD. 50 days later, on the day of Pentecost, the first fruits of the harvest were offered to the LORD in thanksgiving, believing in hope that God would add His blessing to the remainder of the harvest. The Holy Spirit was poured out on a day in which Israel was gathered together, celebrating God’s provision and asking for God’s blessing. Without making this confusing, the Holy Spirit was poured out on a day that God had already set aside for celebration and blessing. God created the original festivals of Israel to reveal Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus died, as the Lamb of God on Passover, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the church, as the promise of the Father, on the day of the firstfruits. We don’t have time today to do a good enough study of all the imagery, I’m working on that for some time in the future, but it’s important that we understand, that just as Jesus is the Lamb slain from the foundations, the Holy Spirit has been given to us from the foundations, the outpouring and infilling of the Holy Spirit is God’s plan, for the glory of Jesus and the redemption of man. What truly happened that day of Pentecost and why did it happen?
Matthew 9 is a chapter filled with examples of Jesus’ love for His community. He forgave the sins of a paralyzed man and then healed him after his friends had brought him to Jesus. He called Matthew, a tax collector, a sinner by all accounts and a traitor in the minds of his neighbors, to be his disciple. As if that wasn’t scandalous enough, Jesus then went to Matthew’s house and had dinner with all his tax collector and sinner friends. Jesus doesn’t just call us to leave our lives, He comes and joins us in our lives, He’s not harsh and rigid, He’s gentle and kind, He’s understanding and loving. He loves us too much to allow us to stay as we are, but He loves us enough to meet us, even to join us where we are so that He can lead us to where we need to be. Jesus healed a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and raised a little girl from the dead even while the mourners were lamenting her death. He restored the sight of two blind men who called out to Him for “mercy”. Verse 35 then says, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” He served His community, He walked among His neighbors, He saw their needs and He didn’t just do miracles, He gave love. He didn’t just change people’s lives, He entered them. The Son of Man came to serve, and He did it by being a part of His community.
Verse 36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” How we serve begins with how we see. As Jesus looked on these crowds of people He didn’t see their faults and their flaws, He didn’t see that they didn’t “get it”, that they didn’t understand, that they weren’t devoted. He didn’t look for fault, He looked with hope. How did God view Adam and Eve? When they were hiding from God and covering their shame, what did God see? Did He look on them with vengeance or did He come to them with mercy? The fact that God came looking and calling to those who had rebelled against Him shows His heart and His character. It shows His love and His servanthood. When Jesus looked at the crowds, He saw them the same way the Father had seen Adam and Eve, the same way that He sees us. Isaiah tells us that we have all, like sheep gone astray, Romans adds that there is none righteous, not even one. Weren’t they only shepherdless because they had rejected and rebelled against the shepherd? Aren’t we all deserving of our plight, isn’t it all, at least in large part, owing to our own decisions and choices? Matthew says that Jesus, “had compassion on them”. Compassion looks with hope rather than for fault. Compassion is what the Father had when He looked on Adam and Eve, hoping for redemption rather than focusing on their rebellion. Compassion is what Jesus had when the woman caught in adultery was brought to Him. She was caught in the act, there was no way to look past her sin, but Jesus never lets our sin disturb His focus on the hope that He has for us. He refused to condemn her and gave her mercy and instruction, “you are not condemned, go and sin no more.” The heart of Christ is never fault-finding but always hope inspiring. Anyone can see fault, only the Holy Spirit can reveal hope. We serve the community by seeing, serving and instilling the hope that only the Spirit can see and only Christ can give.
After Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, He became troubled in His spirit and He announced, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” This announcement was overwhelming for them. John says that they stared at each other at a loss for words. Matthew and Mark both say that the disciples were saddened and that each of them asked Jesus, “Surely, not I?” Jesus had created a community, an environment based on relationships of love. He had created a place that was so safe, that the absolutely worst news ever heard led to sadness rather than anger, to self-examination rather than defensiveness and where there was not a single accusation made. These men that had, at times, pridefully argued over which of them was the greatest were suddenly humbly asking if they were the one that would betray their Lord and their Friend. Jesus had taught the disciples how much He loved them, and His example had led them to be a small community that loved each other, even in the midst of disagreements, differences, arguments and at this moment we are reading about, painful change. Being loved by Jesus was the basis of how they treated each other and lived together. On His last night with the apostles, because remember, after the resurrection things were not as they had been before, He visited them, He appeared to them, but this was the last night that He lived with them, Jesus showed the apostles the full extent of His love by serving them and then, He called them to show each other the full extent of their love by serving each other. This is the second of three sermons in which we are reminding some and establishing for others our identity as a church, as one member of the Body of Christ here in Burlington. Why are we here in this community? What is our part? Who are we to be? I believe all of this is established in the night of Jesus’ arrest. First and foremost, We Serve Christ. Just as Jesus came do the will of the Father we are here to follow the example and obey the commands of Christ. We are here to abide and remain in Jesus’ love and to make disciples, to live in His character and to enlarge His kingdom, to submit to Him by living in submission to others. Today, I pray that we will see that Jesus didn’t love us so that we would simply be loved, but He loved us so that we would love each other. If we serve Christ then we must serve the church, if we are going to love Jesus then we must love His Body, His bride. Here at City of Refuge, it must be understood that We Serve the Church.
We will start again this week with Mark 10:43-45, as the apostles were divided over which of them deserved the seats of honor and power in Jesus’ kingdom and arguing over which of them was the greatest, Jesus addressed them saying: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be servant of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” The Son of Man came to serve.
Over the next three weeks we are going to remember and maybe for some, for the first time, talk about who we are as a church–why we are here in Burlington and what our part is, as one member of the Body of Christ.
Jesus is a King to be followed. He did not come to make subjects but to make disciples–He came not to conquer but to be followed, He did not come to take authority but to give to us the authority that He had been given. What other king told His followers that it would be better for them if He leave? What other King promised His followers that they would do greater things than He had done? What other king died for His enemies rather than putting His enemies to death? The Son of Man came to serve.
If this is true, that Jesus came to serve, then the only way to follow Jesus is to be a servant, the only way to honor Jesus is through servanthood, and the holy way to truly and rightly love Jesus is to serve Him. We are a church called to servanthood: called to come alongside, to join in, to help out, to carry the load, build the bridge, hold out hope, pray without ceasing; to give generously, love patiently and to never give up.
Jesus called the apostles, and I believe all of His followers to be servants of all. All is a big word–it’s daunting because we get tempted to make it generic, then we can define our service and those we serve in a way that makes us comfortable or fits our desires. But being a servant of all is not generic, it’s actually very specific. Jesus came to serve all of humanity by setting His attention on carefully and completely serving the Father. This morning as we, as a church, concentrate on our calling to servanthood, we must remember that first and foremost we serve Christ.
Before we can rejoice in the beauty of the cross or grasp the power of the resurrection we must be willing to see the servanhood of Jesus. Everything He did from conception to ascension was in service of the Father but also in service of humanity, Jesus teaches us very clearly in today’s text, John 13:1-17, that we serve God when we serve each other. In fact, John writes that the full extent of Jesus’ love was not given in the miracles, the cross or even the resurrection, but the full extent of His love was poured out when He served the apostles by washing their feet.
Today is Palm Sunday, the day we remember, what is often called Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem. It was a day filled with significance, emotion and the revelation of God’s character. It wasn’t just when Jesus was recognized by some as the King, it was when Jesus showed us all the heart of our King. I’m not sure it was a triumph, but it also wasn’t a defeat, it was a day when those who were really looking saw God as they had never seen Him before, and a day in which those who had already make up their minds dug their heels in and decided to do whatever was necessary to prove their opinion and to fulfill their plans.
Earlier in this conversation with the crowd in Capernaum, Jesus said “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” If believing is our work, then what is God’s? The crowd asked Jesus, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?” If their work was to believe, they assumed that Jesus’ work must be to convince them, to do something that made them believe, to instill faith, to prove Himself. The problem with this thinking is that it tries to turn our work into God’s work, it says that we will believe if He makes Himself believable, it removes faith from the equation, it turns belief into something done to us, when the reality is faith is always a choice, a decision, a commitment. In our text today Jesus reveals the work of God in our process of belief, the Father desires us and if we will belief, Jesus keeps us. God will not do the work of believing, He won’t lessen our responsibility, He requires a relationship founded in faith, but God is faithful to His work, He won’t stop seeking us and once we believe, Jesus won’t fail to keep us. There should be great comfort in knowing that we are wanted and kept.
The old saying is “seeing is believing”. There are many things I’m told that I respond with, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” In John 20 we are told that Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus first visited them after He rose from the dead. When they found Thomas they told him, “We have seen the Lord.” Thomas responded, “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” We have this idea that if we see something for ourselves then it will become easy to believe, but as we’ve already discussed in this study, believing takes work, it takes faith, it takes trust, it takes something far more than seeing. Even more, what about the fact that seeing is often unreliable? We’ve all thought we saw things only to later discover that what we’d seen had been different than we first believed it to be. If an event happened among us this morning, something unexpected and unplanned, chances are that many of us would recount it differently because we would see it differently. What if seeing is not believing? What if many have seen but have been unwilling to believe? In today’s text this is exactly what Jesus tells the crowd in Capernaum, the crowd that He had miraculously fed on the other side of the sea the night before. He said, “you have seen Me and still you do not believe.” This morning I want us to look closely at this passage of Scripture to search our hearts and Jesus’ words and to ask ourselves, is our faith based on what we’ve seen or what we’ve tasted? Jesus seems to teach us that seeing is not enough to create belief, that in the kingdom of God, eating is believing.
The crowd in Capernaum wanted to find out how to prove themselves to God, they asked Jesus, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered that the work that God desires from us and requires of us is that we believe in the One whom God sent. They then shifted, from asking how to prove themselves to God, to asked Jesus how He would prove Himself to them, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you?” We have this internal desire for proof, we believe we have to prove ourselves, to show ourselves worthy, but at the same time, we desire, sometimes even demand that God prove Himself to us, that God prove to us that He is real, that He is present, that He is worthy of our trust and surrender. In today’s message we move back and forth between John 6 and Deuteronomy 8, discovering that God does not answer our demand that He prove Himself, but rather, He leads us in ways that call us to humility, He tests us in ways that reveal our hidden places, He causes us to hunger so that He can feed us and teach us that He is, above all else, trustworthy.
The crowds that had searched for Jesus were looking for proof, proof that He was who they wanted Him to be and proof that they could be convinced of their place in His kingdom. When they asked Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus responded with an answer that is supposed to bring comfort but often seems more like a challenge, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent." The only work that God desires from us is that we believe and yet, many of us are looking for something to do. We want a task to a complete, a box to check, a prayer to pray, we want proof. Jesus is teaching that believing, belief that is the convergence of faith, confidence and trust, believe that is defined by surrender is work. Today we discuss the work of believing, what does it look like, why is it so hard and finally we ask are we willing to fight our temptation to find proof and set our faces like flint and our feet firmly on our foundation and do the work of believing?