June 15, 2014

Dig and Share

As most of you know, Lisa and I recently purchased a new van.  The process took several weeks to play out.  It began with a need and an idea.  We needed two vehicles that could fit the whole family—more importantly, all three kids—so that if we got caught with our old van down we could still all go somewhere at the same time.  The idea was that we would purchase a second van because we wanted something we could get the boys in and out of easily.  From here, we started an investigation.  We—and by we, I mean Lisa, since she has a unique ability to find anything on the internet—began the process of looking up the information on the various different minivans available.  We looked at the new Toyota Sienna, the Honda Odyssey, the Nissan Quest, the Dodge Caravan, and the Chrysler Town & Country.  We compared safety information, gas mileage, price, reviews, and so on and so forth.  We made a trip to the Richmond Auto Show to look at all of them in person.  Finally, after we had narrowed in on the Town & Country, we drove out to Crossroads Chrysler to test drive a couple of them for ourselves.  At long last we made the big purchase and have been really happy so far with what we bought.

With the exception of buying a house, for most folks, buying a vehicle is the biggest single purchase they’ll make in life.  It’s a lot of money and therefore a big decision.  How do you go about making big decisions?  Do you make them on the spur of the moment?  Do you take a long time to research things carefully and then come to a conclusion?  Do you think for a while and then just go with your gut?  How do you do it?  How do you decide which doctor to use when you have a significant medical issue?  When you’ve bought a new house, whose advice counted most in the decision making process?  When you took a new job, what kind of background investigation did you do before officially accepting the offer?  When you were going through the process of deciding whether or not to get married to a particular person, what went into the decision?  The truth is that there are lots of big decisions we make in life.  If we approach them well and make them wisely, we can enjoy the ensuing fruit for a long, long time.

There’s actually a big decision some people make that I’d like to talk about for a few minutes this morning.  This is the decision to follow Jesus.  If you are a follower of Jesus, what went into the process of making that decision?  In truth, there really isn’t a bigger decision you have made or will make in life.  Most of the big decisions I mentioned a minute ago affect a pretty limited range of years all things considered.  We’ll drive our new van for hopefully several years, but eventually we will purchase another vehicle to replace it.  When you buy a house, you may live there for a long, long time, but eventually, one way or another, you’re not going to live there anymore.  Medical issues come and, Lord willing, go, but if not…you aren’t suffering from them anymore.  You may work a job for a long time, but eventually you’ll retire and do something else.  Now, 50% of marriages today end in divorce so many marriages end sooner rather than later, but for the couples who hold tightly to that “till death do us part” thing, eventually they’ll be parted.  But the decision to follow Jesus…that’s forever.  I mean, forever, forever.  We’re talking eternity forever.  That’s a big deal.  So if you’re going to make that decision…if you have made that decision…what goes into it?

The truth about following Jesus is that people who become dedicated followers of Jesus have always followdr a certain pattern: First, they develop a curiosity about Him.  Second, they conduct some kind of an investigation into who He is.  It may be a limited investigation or a pretty thorough one, but they do at least a bit of digging to find out who He is.  Third, they have some sort of an experience with Him wherein they come to trust Him.  This is able to happen, by the way, because He’s alive.  The fourth part…we’ll get to in just a bit.

This week at Vacation Bible School we are going to take the kids there through this process.  We are going to offer some facts about Jesus to build a bit of curiosity.  We’re going to do an investigation into who exactly He is in order to make sure any decision to follow Him is made with as much information as possible.  We are going to work to give them an experience with Jesus through a variety of different means.  And…we’ll get to the last part in a minute.

Guiding us on this investigation will be a man who went on this journey a long, long time ago.  His name is John, but we know him more familiarly with the added title, “the Baptist.”  John the Baptist was actually Jesus’ cousin (I think technically his second cousin, possibly removed a generation or two), and was one of the first people in the world to realize Jesus’ identity.  Through his story we are going to see this week how this process unfolds and try and follow it ourselves.  This morning, in order to give you a bit of a taste of what your kids and grandkids will be experiencing, we are going to walk through his story to see for ourselves what this journey looks like and also what the mysterious fourth part is.  If you will turn or thumb your way to Matthew 3 we’ll get started.

John’s story actually begins some 430 years before the events recorded in Matthew 3.  In the very last book of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi’s last words to the people of Israel before nobody heard from God for about 400 years were these: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.  And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”  Some 400 years later an angel visited a faithful priest named Zechariah who with his wife were childless and past the age of child-bearing.  The angel revealed that in spite of their circumstances he and his wife were going to have a son and they were to name him John.  About the child the angel said this: “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him [referring to the Messiah] in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”  Zechariah was openly incredulous and paid for it by being struck mute until the child was born, but within a year, Elizabeth gave birth to a son whom they named John.

In a manner similar to the life of Jesus, we don’t know anything more about John from this point until he walks out of the wilderness near the Jordan River wearing camel-skin clothes, eating wild honey and bugs, and proclaiming that the people of Israel needed to repent and be baptized as a sign of their faithfulness to their covenant with God.  He was very much conscious of the fact, though, that what he was doing was preparing the way for the Messiah.  Look at v. 11: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  While we don’t know much more than this I think we can safely assume a couple things.  First, his parents probably told him at some point about the rather remarkable circumstances surrounding his birth.  Second, he probably never actually met his cousin Jesus.  Travel was a complicated thing then in spite of good, safe Roman roads, especially for poor people as Mary and Joseph were.  Indeed, likely the only reason Mary had gone to visit Elizabeth was to avoid the public abuse that probably would have been coming over her turning up pregnant before her wedding.

Think about this, then.  John knew that he was to prepare the way for the Messiah, and probably knew the Messiah was his cousin Jesus, but he had never met Him.  Don’t you think He was at least a little bit curious?  He had undoubtedly conducted a pretty thorough examination of what the Messiah was going to be like based on the Scriptures, but this wasn’t the same as meeting Him in person.  If you think about it, then, John’s journey had already covered the first couple parts of the journey to Jesus before he arrives on the scene in the Gospels.

When the scene opens on John in Matthew 3 he is actively serving God, but he doesn’t know Jesus.  Just as a little side note, I wonder how many people in churches all across this country are actively involved in serving God but don’t actually know Jesus.  Unfortunately, serving God and knowing Jesus aren’t necessarily the same thing.  Anyway, when the scene opens John is doing what God called him to do: preparing the way for the Messiah.  His ministry base is a region of the Jordan River where he is preaching some fiery sermons, calling people to repent of their sins, and be baptized by him as a symbol of their repentance.  In a day when messianic expectations were very high John received a pretty huge response.  Thousands of people came out to the Jordan to let John baptize them.  Thousands of people including one day Jesus Himself.  Check out the text with me at v. 13: Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’  But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’  Then he consented.”

Most of the folks gathered around John probably had no idea what had just transpired.  But based on what happened next alone they knew something was going on.  For John, though,          he encounters the third part of the process of becoming a devoted follower of Jesus in a big way.  Sometime before this took place John had received a special word from the Lord: “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”  And indeed, listen to what happened when John pulled Jesus up out of the water starting in v. 16: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”  In light of this John began to declare: “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”  And at this point, John is sold.  Now, that doesn’t mean that things are easy for the rest of his life.  It doesn’t mean that he won’t ever have any more doubts.  In fact John’s life ends in prison and while sitting there waiting for Herod to decide what to do with him he sends messengers to Jesus to ask if He really is the Messiah because when you are the personal herald for and cousin of the Messiah you don’t figure you’re going to have to sit in prison unjustly and lose your head to a scorned woman.  But, he is irrevocably a follower of Jesus.  He’s built up a curiosity, conducted an investigation, and he has experienced Jesus in power.  So what’s next?  What’s the fourth part?  He’s done his digging for the treasure of truth and come up a rich man.  What is he to do with this incredible knowledge?  Two words: Share it.

If you will, flip with me over to the Gospel of John (not the same John we’ve been talking about).  He records for us what happens next.  Look at John 1:35: “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’”  And if you’re sitting there wondering how this is the fourth part of becoming a devoted follower of Jesus…look at the next verse: “The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.”  Do you see it?  John shared the results of his discovery process and two new people began following Jesus.  They had been following someone else (namely, John) but now they were following Jesus.  This is the fourth part: tell somebody else about your experience.  John did and the number of people following Jesus in the world tripled.  Now, this rapid expansion trajectory didn’t last and wasn’t consistent.  John surely told lots of people about his experience who didn’t become followers of Jesus, but this shows that some of them did, and for every person who responded like this John’s own experience came full circle.

This same thing applies to us.  If we are going to be devoted followers of Jesus, this is the path the journey will take.  We will first develop a curiosity about Jesus.  Come on folks: If you’ve been doing church all your life but have never been at least a little curious about Jesus it’s time to join the club.  From there, devoted followers begin looking into who He really is.  We are going to do this very thing at VBS this week.  We will look at the various pieces of evidence which demonstrate irrefutably that He is who He said He is.  I have the great pleasure of teaching this piece myself and I’m really excited about it.  But, curiosity and a detailed investigation aren’t enough.   At some point we have to have an experience with Jesus.  We must have an encounter with the risen Lord.  This can happen in a number of different ways, but it’s hard to be a devoted follower of someone you’ve never actually met.  Even this three part excavation for truth, though, is not enough in and of itself.  We must dig for truth, but then we must share the loot.  We have to tell someone else about it.  Dig for truth and share the loot.

This fourth part is not only logically consistent with the discovery and experience of the fact that Jesus is Lord, it is a command for all Jesus followers to obey.  Come back with me to the verse that stood as the center point of our words for the graduates last week.  In 1 Peter 3:15 the apostle writes: “…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy [which is the summation of the first three parts], always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”  That’s a command there.  Fully devoted followers of Jesus dig for truth and share the loot.  Last week in our Bible study time we look at God’s character of love.  In the adult lesson at least there was an activity which invited group members to reflect on the degree to which we had experienced the love of God in the past few months.  The very next question asked us to evaluate how motivated we felt to share the love of God.  The connection between the two questions was obvious.  If you have experienced the love of God, you are motivated to share the love of God.  In the same way, if you have experienced the fact that Jesus is Lord, you are motivated to share your experience.  The line leading form one to the next is direct and obvious.  Dig for truth and share the loot.  This can happen in a plethora of different ways, but we’ve got to do it.  Dig for truth and share the loot.

This week at VBS we are going to help the kids discover that Jesus is God’s Son and encourage them to decide to trust Jesus as their Savior.  We are also going to help those kids who are already Jesus’ disciples to be able to explain to their friends why they trust Jesus and follow His teachings.  We are going to equip them to dig for truth and share the loot.  If you aren’t feeling so confident in your ability to do that be sure to ask your kids and grandkids what they are learning about it this week.  If you have kids and grandkids who aren’t sure yet if they are coming, get involved and make sure they are.  If you are going to be a devoted follower of Jesus you need to practice digging for truth and sharing the loot.  I hope the kids are ready to learn how this week to dig for truth and share the loot.

Well, as we wrap up our VBS kick-off service this morning, there’s one more thing I want to do.  I want to commission the kids who are here and the adults who will be working for the week ahead.  And, since the sanctuary already looks like this, we are going to do this fully in theme.  When someone is hired to be a secret agent, one of the first things they have to do is take an oath of loyalty and dedication.  This week we are going to transform all the kids here into special agents who will be investigating the facts about the life of Jesus that they may understand better who He is, experience Him in their own lives, and share their experience with others.  The adults are all going to become senior agents who will guide our junior agents through their various field exercises and send them out into the world to accomplish their mission.  By my count that means we have two groups of people to commission this morning with Agency D3’s oath of commitment and dedication.  If I can, let me get all the kids in the room who will be at VBS to stand up.

What I want to do this morning is for us as a church to commission each of you to the role of special agent for the next week.  As fellow believers in Jesus, we encourage you to investigate the life of Jesus—discover what the Bible says and check out the evidence that proves He is God’s Son.  Ask your teachers questions this week.  Dig deep into God’s Word so you know beyond any doubt God loves you, He sent His Son Jesus to die for you, and you can trust Jesus as your Savior.  It is the heart of this church that each of you believes in Jesus and tells others about Him.  Please, then, raise your right hand and repeat after me.

I promise…to search for the truths…about Jesus…this week during VBS….I vow to…discover, decide, and defend…the truth about Jesus….In addition, I pledge to…ask questions…be a good listener…have fun…and encourage my friends and fellow agents….If I complete this mission…I will be able to…defend my faith…and to give a defense…of the hope that is within me.

Thank you so much, please have a seat.  Now to the workers and parents and grandparents: We are commissioning you as senior agents and off-site support staff.  If you will, please raise your right hand and repeat after me: We dedicate these children to you, Lord….Please protect them…help them to learn about You…and be with them during this important and fun week.  We thank You for their lives…and the lives of all others they will impact….Help us to love these children…and guide them closer to You….We promise to support…encourage, and pray for this week of VBS.

Let’s pray.