The One On The Throne
In the fall of 1991, I was a babyfaced freshman at Faulkner University in Montgomery Alabama. When I registered for classes, I received my class schedule, room key, and mailbox key. For some reason that mailbox key was pretty huge for me. Before going to my room I found my mail box and checked it for mail….nothing.
Later that afternoon I was back at my mail box, then on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday still nothing. The next week started off the same way, but Tuesday when I opened the box, there was my first piece of “now you are a grown up” mail. It was a bulletin printed on slick paper addressed to me from a Church in Montgomery, that I had never visited, but it was mail so I took it back to my dorm room and began to read.
The first article was titled something along the lines of The Lord’s Church in Crisis, which immediately got my attention. The article discussed a preacher in Tennessee that was a wolf in sheep clothing and that according to Romans 16:17 needed to be marked, or they would destroy the pure church that Jesus purchased with His divine blood.
During my time at Faulkner, every week the bulletin would show up and I would read about the atrocities that were being committed against the Bride of Christ. I learned about these people who did such evil things like teach "We do not contribute one whit to our salvation. It is a gift from God, that we merely accept.” They hung banners in their buildings that made the church look more like a circus than a place of worship. And they had the audacity to fellowship others who were previously labeled as a false teacher.
Let me stop here for a moment and say one of the identifying marks of the Churches of Christ is that we are autonomous. That’s a fifty cent word that means we have the right to read the Bible and decide how we are going to live out what we have learned. There is not a conference, convention, or board that passes down rules or creeds for us to follow. We follow the Bible to the best of our understanding, and sometimes that looks a little different depending on the church you are attending. Autonomy is a huge blessing, because if there is a problem we can fix it right now. The struggle we have is that even though we don’t have a convention we do have a printing press. And folks who have the money to print the newspapers, and mark false teachers, seem to have the power to make the rules.
This congregation in Montgomery was not the first to use the printing press to make the rules. That distinction goes to Elias Smith who began publication of the Herald of Gospel Liberty in 1808. In 1883 Daniel Sommer upped the anti when he started a small monthly paper called the Octograph. Larry Miles, who wrote a biography of Daniel Sommer said: "It was while a student at Bethany that Sommer began what others would call being a "watchdog" for the brotherhood. If he saw, what he deemed a deviation from the apostolic order he felt compelled to attack it."
I know that’s a lot of names that you probably won’t remember and that’s okay. The point I am laboring to make is that for a long time folks have been using fear and embarrassment to control the church. But it’s not just a Church of Christ tactic and it’s not an American church tactic; it’s something that we even see happening in our Bibles. According to our text this morning even Jesus had to deal with religious bullies. Let me show you what I mean; turn in your Bibles to Luke 12.
Time and time again as Luke tells the Story of Jesus we see that there are these series of conflicts between religious people and Jesus. He calls them Pharisees, I call them religious bullies.
Bullies come in all sizes, shapes, and forms. Some bullies are mean and cruel and rude. Some are really sweet and nice. They smile and say nice things to you and encourage you while they push you around. Jesus is dealing with religious bullies that have been pushing people around for years.
In Luke 12:1 we read: In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, ‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Thousands of people are trying to get to Jesus. You might remember that I said a few weeks ago these villages usually had 40 -100 folks living in them. To get to thousands of people is a pretty huge deal. People are walking for miles and towns are emptying. The number of folks is one of the reasons that Jesus is going to have this fight with these religious bullies. They realize, that if thousands are following Him, they’re not following us. So they pick a fight with Jesus thinking they will get Him to fall in line.
Not only are they bullies, Jesus says that they are hypocrites, judging people for things that they’re guilty of. These folks are trying to control Jesus and in the last 2,000 years they haven’t changed their tactics. Maybe you have run up against a bully or two, see if any of these sound familiar to you.
Trying to embarrass or humiliate. That’s what they’re doing to Jesus. They’re not pulling Him aside, one on one, “Okay, Jesus, can we talk about this?” No, they’re going to publicly shame and humiliate Him. They want to pick a fight in front of this large crowd, or try to get other people to join their fight.
They use intimidation.Sometimes it’s intimidation through personality and voice, other times it’s a physical intimidation. Some people are just pushy and they’re rude and they won’t take no for an answer. They just keep pushing, they just keep demanding, they just keep insisting, and they wear you down. That’s a bully.
Some bullies are the self-appointed rule maker. They make the rules, share the rules, enforce the rules, and if you break the rules, they dish out their own form of punishment. They tell everybody else that you broke the rules to shame you to get you back in line. Trafton set the stage for this confrontation when he read Luke 11:37-38 this morning. They were picking a fight when they jumped Jesus about hand washing. Hand washing was not a God rule, it was a man made rule that they elevated to a rule of God.
All of these tactic are based on something called fear of man. Religious bullies thrive on your fear of them. They use that fear to control you, and force you to do what they want. That’s why Solomon wrote in Proverbs 29:25 that the fear of man is a trap or a snare.
In our text this morning Jesus uses the word fear five times, it’s the theme of this passage. When you’re scared of someone, or consequences, or what they’re going to do you have fear of man issues. You’re stressed, you can’t sleep, you got a nervous eye twitch. You don’t want to see them, you try to avoid them, you can’t sleep at night, you’re stressed out, you’re anxious and scared.
Ed Welch said, “Fear in the biblical sense . . . includes being afraid of someone, but it extends to holding someone in awe, being controlled or mastered by people, worshipping other people. We replace God with people. Instead of a biblically guided fear of the Lord, we fear others.”
At brass tacks, the fear of man is when you allow someone to be your god. You try to please and appease the person on the throne of your heart, another word for that is worship. They have become the most important relationship in your life. What they think matters as much as God. You want them to bless you. You want them to never leave you or forsake you. You want them to tell you, Well done, good and faithful servant.
Some of you know the struggle to be a people pleaser rather that a God follower. It’s a long standing problem that Jesus faced head on. In our text this morning He shares some things we need to focus on, if we want to put God back on the throne of our lives.
First, we need to live with the judgment day in mind. Luke 12:2–3, Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.”
One of our greatest temptations is the need to project an image of perfection. It’s the greatest lie that we tell to one another. The truth is that you are broken, and I am broken. Things in our lives are either in the middle of a struggle, heading towards a struggle, or untangling from a struggle. People in the church struggle with pornography, alcoholism, drug abuse, molestation, and financial problems just to name a few, because broken people struggle with sin. Our greatest fear is that someone will learn our secret and tell other folks because they struggle with gossip.
When a bully learns our secret we will usually do anything we can to get them to keep our brokenness hidden. We allow them to manipulate our lives, and take up residence in the judgement seat of our lives. We end up living to please them in an effort to keep our secret.
Jesus says, don’t let them be the judge; because everything you have done is already known. While I may not know details, if you are a Christian I know that you are broken. At your baptism you claimed that you were broken and needed Jesus to put you back together. Regardless of whether or not you have turned your life over to Christ, God knows you are broken. There are times we tend to be like Adam and try to hide from God because we have forgotten that God knows all, sees all, and hears all.
I find hope in my brokenness that I have been invited into a relationship with God who knows everything about me and still chooses to love me. Remember only God is qualified to sit on the judgement seat. Our hope is that from that seat He looks at you with love and grace.
Second, we must live with a next world mindset.
My heart still jumps when I read Jesus’s words in Luke 12:4, I tell you, my friends. We are quick to forget that God desires to have a relationship with us. We forget that God is full of mercy and compassion. We get stuck on this false idea that God is overwhelmed with wrath and that He’s just waiting for us to make a mistake, to commit a sin, so that He can cause us pain and hardships. That’s not the God that we see in the Bible. Jesus calls us His friend.
I’m amazed at how many people buckle up, eat their vitamins, drink bottled water, and watch their cholesterol and then don’t even think about their eternity. They’re so consumed with the here and now they don’t remember that they will live forever somewhere. Jesus is reminding us about of our eternity when He said: Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!
That might not sound comforting to you at first, but maybe we have our mind focused in the wrong place. The truth is that as long as we live here we are going to suffer emotionally, financially, mentally, and even physically. Jesus has always been upfront about the fact that He suffered and those of us who walk like He did will also suffer. Jesus wants us to know what we are getting into here in this world, so that we will long for what He is preparing for us in the next.
There are days that I read about what our brethren are experiencing all around the world and break out in a cold sweat. Jesus was being honest with us when He said Don’t be afraid of even losing your life. I recently heard about a brother in Christ from Syria who had his hand disfigured so that he could no longer hold a bible and read about Christ. He was talking about his experience and said there are days that living for Jesus is harder than dying for Jesus. He’s right; sometimes living for Jesus is harder than dying for Jesus, and we must be willing to do both.
Jesus basically asks why do you fear someone when the worst they can do is kill you. That’s not a comforting question, I mean dying is a pretty big deal, and while I am planning on it, I was kind of hoping that it would be in about 50 years, in my sleep. Jesus is trying to get us to focus on what really matters; while people can kill you, there is something worse than death and that’s what happens after you leave this earth. Jesus doesn’t shy away from talking about the subject of hell.
The people who refuse to follow Christ are living in their heaven right now. They sit on their throne and they have their kingdom and they render their judgements. Then they die and they meet the real king. They stand before the real throne, they get judged by the real judge, and they go to the real hell where they suffer conscious, eternal torment. Jesus reminds us that’s worse than dying.
If you belong to Jesus, this life is as bad as it gets. This is your hell. Their heaven is your hell. It only gets better from here. That’s why Paul said that his death was gain because he was focused on the next world.
Finally we see that we can overcome our fear by focusing on God’s love. Luke 12:6-7, Aren't five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one sparrow is forgotten by God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows.
There are times in the midst of our suffering that we ask questions like, God, do you really love me? Are you paying any attention? Do you even care?” Jesus reassures us of a couple things: first, God sees and knows all. Second, God hasn’t forgotten about you. Third, God watches you carefully. And fourthly, God values you deeply. God is filled with love for you.
When I remember these four things, it has this amazing effect on my life and on my suffering. While I suffer, so did Jesus. My suffering it makes me even more thankful for Jesus, that He would love me so much that He would become a man and suffer for me.
It also makes me think about people I have bullied. Who do I need to ask for forgiveness? Because of God’s love for me, I want to love Him and love the people He loves. I want to be more like Jesus.
At the end of the day we will either live under the fear of man or fear of God. Those are our only options. There is no alternative. Someone is the most important person in your life. If it’s someone other than Jesus, you have fear of man. You’re worshiping them. Before you can get anything straight in your life, you have to get straight who the Lord is in your life.
I am so thankful that Jesus welcomes the multitudes and the Pharisees. Jesus loves the sinners and the religious guys. He loves the multitudes and the bullies. Jesus is welcoming them all and He is welcoming you too. Everyone is welcome at the table.