Jesus loves people—all people:prostitutes, drug addicts, abusers—and you. This profound truth is at the very heart of the gospel. Jesus loves the unlovable and touches the untouchable, and during His time on earth, He was compassionate and merciful toward people from all walks of life. What would it be like if you personally encountered Him? Join Pastor Skip Heitzig in this series to learn more about God's radical love for you and fall more in love with the living Savior.
|1||Mark 10:21;Philippians 1:8-10||Jesus Loves People|
|2||Matthew 11; John 20||Jesus Loves Doubters|
|3||John 5:1-16||Jesus Loves the Broken|
|4||John 8:1-11||Jesus Loves Homosexuals - Part 1|
|5||1 Corinthians 6:9-11||Jesus Loves Homosexuals - Part 2|
|6||Matthew 5:43-46;Luke 9:51-56||Jesus Loves Haters|
|7||Matthew 26||Jesus Loves Traitors|
|8||John 18:28-38||Jesus Loves Atheists|
|9||Luke 7:36-50||Jesus Loves Prostitutes|
|10||Luke 23:33-34||Jesus Loves Murderers|
|11||Luke 23:33-43||Jesus Loves Criminals|
|12||Acts 9:1-16||Jesus Loves Terrorists|
|13||Luke 4; Matthew 11||Jesus Loves Addicts|
|14||Romans 2:1-11||Jesus Loves People, BUT...|
Welcome to our new weekend series, Jesus Loves People! For the next many weeks, we will observe how Jesus' love for people was displayed and conveyed to a cross section of society. We will see Him as He loves the most religiously devout folks to the weak and doubting, from the prostitutes to the priests, from the bewildered to the brokenhearted. We will marvel at His love for thieves, murderers, and atheists. In each message, we will consider how we as God's people can show authentic love to people within each group.
We love love; we love to hear love stories and sing love songs. What’s more, we crave love—we want it more than anything and will often do anything to know that we are loved unconditionally. No one has loved better than Christ—He is the fullest demonstration of God’s love. He loved the worst of sinners and the best of saints. He loved prostitutes, drunks, the brokenhearted, atheists, religious people, etc. Let’s consider four foundational truths about His love that will function as the legs that the series Jesus Loves People stands on.
First, Jesus loves people. In Mark 10:17-22, we find a man who was very different than Jesus: he didn't know what Jesus knew, he wasn't at the same spiritual level Jesus was, he was self-righteous, he was gripped by the sins of materialism and greed, and he even walked away from Jesus. Yet, the text still says, “Jesus…loved him” (v. 21). The Greek word for love used here is agapaó, an unconditional love of the will. Jesus never met anyone He didn't love. The apostle Paul wrote that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). The meaning of agapaó—an unconditional love of the will—implies that Jesus chose to love the young man. How has Jesus shown His love to you? Has there been an occasion when you chose to love someone and that love was not returned? (See 1 John 4:21.)
Secondly, Jesus loves people individually. His approach of love was not canned or predictable. In this same chapter of Mark, Jesus blessed little children, and in the next chapter, He overturned tables and rebuked the sellers in the temple. He had the unique ability to read a situation, know who He was dealing with, and then love them accordingly. To the woman caught in adultery, He spoke tenderly. To the ostracized leper, He healed with a touch. But to the scribes and Pharisees, He spoke harshly, justly accusing them. The love of Jesus was tailor-made for every individual He met! Each expression was unique to the situation, just as love itself takes different forms. For instance, we give gifts to our children, yet we also spank them. We tell our spouse that we love them, yet we also argue with them in order to resolve issues. How do we respond in a Christlike manner to our own children—or the Lord’s? How can we “tailor-make” our expressions of love? (See John 14:15-18.)
Thirdly, Jesus loves people through us. We as the church are the body of Christ: we are His hands, touching people who hurt; we are His feet, going to the place of need; we are His mouth, voicing words of healing and truth; and we are His ears, listening to pain. Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34, NIV). When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, He said, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). In another place, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies” (Matthew 5:43-44). It is a divine mandate to love people with the love of Jesus—even the worst of people! Romans 5 tells us that the “love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (v. 5). If God’s love has flowed into our lives, it ought to flow out of our lives! Read Matthew 5:43-48 and Luke 6:27-36. What do these verses mean, and how do we do this?
Fourthly, Jesus loves people through us responsibly. Even though the text says Jesus loved the rich young ruler, it was not a sappy love of sentimentality. Jesus confronted the man with his failure, told him what was keeping him from God, and told him what he had to do to follow Him (see Mark 10:21). This was responsible and mature love. Love doesn't turn a blind eye to every behavior in the name of tolerance. Love sometimes confronts, instructs, and refuses—and it is always honest. There are two boundaries for the exercise of love: knowledge and discernment (see Philippians 1:9). Knowledge is a complete knowledge of what love is and what it is not. Many parents feel that to give their children whatever they want is love, but they should know better. Many have felt out of love with their spouse and in love with another person, but they know better. Discernment means to distinguish right from wrong. This leads to expressing love in different ways to different people. Jesus gently healed a disabled person and then overturned tables in the temple in righteous anger. Why? Because love “does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). Knowledge and discernment help you choose the right expression of love for the right person at the right time. Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 and 1 John 4. Define love biblically, and discuss how to choose the right expression of love for a situation.
Adapted from Pastor Skip’s teaching
The BIG Idea
Jesus loves people individually and responsibly through us.
Figures referenced: Dr. Richard Selzer, Karl Menninger, Paul Tournier, Billy Graham, D.L. Moody, Julian the Apostate
Greek words: agapé, agapao, epignósis
Cross references: Matthew 3:7; 5:43-44; 8:1-3; 9:9; 12:34; 23:27, 33; Mark 1:40-42; 5:1-20; 10:13-22; 11:15-17; 12:28-31; Luke 5:12-13; 8:52; 9:51-55; John 8:1-11; 11:35; 13:34; 20:16; Romans 5:5; 8:39; 1 Corinthians 13:6; Philippians 1:8-10; 1 John 4:8-9, 16
Keywords: love, Jesus Christ, Jesus' ministry, body of Christ, Christianity, knowledge, discernment Jesus Loves People
Jesus never turned away the questions of a sincere searcher. I have personally wrestled with issues of faith and doubt on a number of occasions. Oswald Chambers quipped, "Doubt is not always a sign that a man is wrong; it may be a sign that he is thinking." Today we will see how Jesus loved two doubters—both of whom were friends of His.
Some of the strongest believers in Jesus Christ were once struggling unbelievers: C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Francis Collins (Human Genome Project), and Lee Strobel, to name a few. Charles Spurgeon said, “I suppose no man is a firm believer who has not once been a doubter.” Even the apostles who were closest to Jesus doubted after the women reported the resurrection. Yet even these doubters eventually went throughout the world to preach the resurrection and died for their faith. This study is a tale of two skeptics: John the Baptist and the apostle Thomas. Let’s consider them, their doubt, and how Jesus handled their doubt.
First, we take a look at these two notable doubters. John the Baptizer doubted Jesus’ identity (see Matthew 11:1-6) while Thomas doubted Jesus’ activity (see John 20:24-29). John initially made a strong confession of faith. Yet in this passage we find him in jail, and it was as a prisoner that he started doubting. Thomas, on the other hand, was predisposed to doubt, though he was loyal and courageous. At one point, he announced that he was willing to travel with Jesus and even die with him (see John 11:16). These brave and committed words show that he was willing to follow and experience danger with Jesus. Thomas was also real and honest. When Jesus told the disciples, “Where I go you know, and the way you know,” Thomas replied, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” (John 14:4-5). He was not the kind to nod and pretend to understand. Jesus said that John was the greatest among those born of women (see Matthew 11:11), yet he doubted. Thomas was an apostle, and he doubted. Their doubt was a question of belief, not character. Knowing this, discuss how you can better accept your doubts or those of others.
Next, let’s examine two noteworthy doubts. John’s doubt was based on unfulfilled expectations, and Thomas’ was based on a personal presupposition. John held misconceptions about the Messiah, expecting that He would set up His kingdom now, that He would overthrow Roman oppression, end suffering, and judge the unbelieving world. Yet John found himself suffering in jail, and these unfulfilled expectations, on top of emotional and physical strain, produced doubt in him toward Jesus. Thomas’ doubts were based on his presupposition that dead people don’t get up again. He was crushed that Jesus died, and he didn’t expect Him to rise from the dead. He wasn’t even open to the idea, which makes his doubt a shade different—it was actually unbelief! Now, doubt is not the same as unbelief. Doubt looks for answers, but unbelief does not care about answers. Doubt says, “I can’t believe.” Unbelief says, “I won’t believe.” Doubt is honest, but unbelief is obstinate. John was going through personal suffering, whereas Thomas went into personal solitude. Doubt works through difficulties and finds faith that is reasonable and satisfying. Unbelief decides against faith and pushes it away at all costs. Matthew Henry said that there are “none so blind as those that will not see.” Expectations and presuppositions are assumptions. John asked questions to clarify; Thomas made a declaration. Which is better? Why?
Now we examine two noble displays of Jesus’ love. Jesus appealed to fulfilled prophecy—specifically Isaiah 35:5 and 61:1—to affirm His identity to John and show why he should believe (see Matthew 11:4-6). With Thomas, He appealed to personal discovery (see John 20:26-27). Notice how Jesus graciously condescended to Thomas’ request and gave him evidence. If you need evidence, the credentials of Jesus are many and undeniable: His impact on human history, fulfilled prophecy, His claims about Himself, and His resurrection, in particular. Verse 27 could literally read, “Stop becoming faithless, but become a believer.” In response, Thomas rose from the lowest depths of unbelief to the heights of faith. Jesus affirmed His identity to John through prophecy, and He recognized and graciously fulfilled Thomas’ request by appearing to him. How has Jesus met you, reassured you, and dispelled your doubts?In closing, here are some tips for dealing with doubters. First, be available. In both cases, Jesus responded knowing that some people want a rational faith because their heart cannot delight in what the mind rejects as false. Second, be unshockably patient. We as Christians do not have to operate from an offensive posture when people make outrageous challenges about Jesus. Third, be prepared. Read up on evidences for faith, and show others that God is not asking them to take a blind leap into the dark, but rather a balanced leap into His light. Lastly, be nice. As Benjamin Franklin said, “A spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar.” Jesus did not rebuke John and Thomas for failure. Instead, He compassionately offered proof of His identity and His activity. Jesus Christ loves people, even doubters. Discuss these four steps and begin praying for an opportunity to practice them.
Adapted from Pastor Skip’s teaching
The BIG Idea
Often doubt is not a sin but another step—crucial but painful—of growing in Christ.
Figures referenced: Tim Stafford, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Francis Collins, Matthew Henry, Benjamin Franklin
Cross references: Isaiah 35:5; 61:1; Matthew 3:11; 11:1-6, 11; Mark 1:7; 9:23-24; Luke 3:16; 24:9-11; John 1:15, 27, 29-30; 11:16; 14:1-6; 20:24-29
Keywords: faith, doubt, skeptic, Jesus Christ, resurrection, proof, Christianity, unbelief, prophecy, belief, rational faith, evidence
Just about everyone who has ever lived has experienced a broken heart to some degree or another. But then there are others who have been affected so adversely by events in their lives that they can be described as broken people. We can respond by questioning why God allows bad things to happen or by loving the broken in His name and thus being part of the solution.
People, like objects, can get broken. Fortunately, Jesus announced that one of the main purposes of His coming was ʺto heal the brokenheartedʺ (Luke 4:18). How did Jesus help the broken? In John 5, we find a man who was broken and could not help himself, and we discover two overarching truths: people can get broken, and Jesus loves broken people. How do we as His children love the broken? How can we help them practically?
Let us first consider that people get broken (see vv. 1- 7). We are all keenly aware that we live in a world of hurting people. People can be broken by experience, abuse, abandonment, words, their own bad choices, disease, and many, many other reasons. Caution: you may not know by looking at someone whether or not they are broken. There might be people around you right now putting on a brave face but feeling desperately helpless and hopeless because they are broken and hurting.
The man in John 5 was broken by a number of things, the first of which was circumstances. We read that he ʺhad an infirmityʺ (v. 5), a debilitating illness. We are not told what his specific disease was, but he was likely either paralyzed or too weak to move freely. Illness can be very isolating, making people feel lonely because of their physical limitations and, over time, the dwindling of friends. Can you relate to this man? If so, how have your circumstances (illness, lack of work, etc.) isolated you?
This man was also broken by people (see v. 3). Ancient cultures were not good at caring for the sick. Many sick people would become beggars and congregate, as they did at this pool. They were often surrounded by people but still felt broken, cast off by a society in which very few people, if any, wanted to be involved in their lives. In your trial, how did folks hurt or help you?
The man was also broken by time. He had been dealing with this infirmity for thirty-eight years (see v. 5). Whatever hope he may have once had was long gone. The more time that goes by in such a state can result in a spiral of depression, causing a person to go from helpless to hopeless. The apostle Paul wrote of suffering ʺbeyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of lifeʺ (2 Corinthians 1:8). The daily pressure of depression adds up over time and can be crushing. As the psalmist said, ʺMy tears have been my food day and nightʺ (Psalm 42:3). When someone is feeling helpless or hopeless, is it better to give advice or to listen and pray? Is there a time for each?
Some respond to their brokenness with depression, anger, or substance abuse. Others will be antisocial or suicidal, and others injure themselves when emotional problems are so overwhelming they feel unable to express their anger, hurt, or shame.
Fortunately, Jesus loves broken people. Here is how: First, He observed compassionately (see v. 6a). In a huge crowd of miserable people, He saw one single human being. Although Jesus could speak to crowds and move them, He zeroed in on the one. Love begins by how we see people and their condition. How is your vision when it comes to seeing people's needs? Does your heart break over what breaks God's heart?
Jesus also interacted honestly (see vv. 6-8). He asked the man if he wanted to be made well, because a radical change in circumstances would mean a radical change in his responsibilities. Furthermore, there was a condition even worse than thirty-eight years of suffering that could befall the man—eternal suffering resulting from unrepentant sin (see v. 14). Jesus loved the broken by preaching the unbroken gospel. What would a former beggar's new responsibilities include, according to Skip? What radical change in this man's spiritual life would also have to happen (see vv. 14-15)?
Finally, Jesus expected adversity (see vv. 9-13). Love has consequences. Another caution: you might find adversity from the very people you are trying to help. An adage in the mental health community says, ʺHurt people hurt people.ʺ They seek to control others because it temporarily numbs their pain. So, pray for discernment as you minister.An artist once noted that when the Japanese mend broken objects, they not only fix the damage, but magnify it by filling in the cracks with gold, believing that when something has been damaged, it has a history and is even more beautiful. We all have that kind of history, and only Jesus’ love can redeem us, filling in our brokenness with spiritual gold.
Adapted from Pastor Skip’s teaching
The BIG Idea
God helps those who cannot help themselves.
Figures referenced: Mother Teresa, Benjamin Franklin, Gordon MacDonald, Louise Erdrich, E. Stanley Jones, J.A. Findley, Roger Fredrikson, Augustine
Hebrew words: Bethesda
Cross references: Psalm 42:3; 51:17; Proverbs 18:14; Matthew 9:36; Luke 4:18; John 5:1-16; 2 Corinthians 1:8; 11:27-28
Keywords: broken, brokenness, brokenhearted, love, trials, tribulation, hardship, illness, disease, sickness, depression, anger, compassion, sin, eternity
There is not a hotter or more controversial subject being discussed today in our country than homosexuality. Voices are loud and tempers run hot whenever this subject is mentioned. Although the text before us doesn’t deal specifically with homosexuality, it does show us how Jesus approached a woman caught in sexual sin and what He had to say to those who were quick to condemn her.
Few pastors speak on homosexuality, because they worry about losing church members and diminishing tithes. The subject is made more complicated by media spin, political rhetoric, and arguing. Some consider it too distasteful or painful to think about. Many who are homosexual have been bashed by preachers, thumped by Bible verses, and rejected by Christians. While John 8:1-11 does not deal specifically with homosexuality, from it we discover how to address sexual sin in general—including homosexuality.
First, we see that Jesus was candid with all people. He was honest with the woman in our passage when He told her to ʺgo and sin no moreʺ (v. 11), thus referring to her sexual behavior as sinful. He was not condemning her sexuality, but her choice to express her sexuality in a way God had not prescribed. Our response to anyone’s sin should reflect the God we say we follow: we should love the person enough to tell him or her the truth. Homosexuality is mentioned seven times in Scripture (see Genesis 19, Leviticus 18; 20; Judges 19; Romans 1; 1 Corinthians 6; 1 Timothy 1). The Bible teaches that homosexuality is sin and is contrary to God’s original purpose and plan. In addressing it, we must have Peter’s mindset when he said to the Sanhedrin, ʺWhether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge…. We ought to obey God rather than menʺ (Acts 4:19; 5:29). We must not handle biblical prohibitions irresponsibly, nor can we shape them around personal or cultural preferences. We should never think God blesses the very behavior He denounces. Whatever the culture tells us, God’s revelation trumps all. However, in loving others, we should note the difference between a preference and a practice. The woman in this passage had a preference that became her practice; she was attracted to a man who was not her husband, and she followed her desire into adultery. The good news is that an orientation or a preference does not have to define a person when a spiritual orientation can. We must choose to be defined not by our preferences but by our submission to God. What does this mean? Read Romans 8:1-2. Have you experienced this freedom? Do you want others to?
Next, we consider that God condemns all sin, including hypocrisy, and that Jesus was confrontational with all hypocrites (see vv. 3-9a). The scribes and Pharisees were legalists who claimed to keep the Law and were zealous to judge the woman by the Law. Consequently, they gave a one-sided interpretation of Leviticus 20, which declares that both ʺthe adulterer and adulteress shall surely be put to deathʺ (v. 10). This was because they were not really concerned about morality, but mortality; they were hoping to trap Jesus so that they could kill Him. They did not bring the woman to Jesus because they hated adultery; they brought her because they hated Jesus and were using her for their purposes. In response, Jesus raised the situation from a legal issue to a spiritual issue: they were unfit to be her executioners because they were not without sin. Self-righteous judgment becomes its own gallows (read Esther 5:14; 7:9). However, if we are in touch with our own fallen nature, we will be more compassionate with all unbelievers, whether gay or straight. The Bible has strong things to say about homosexuality, but it also says strong things about divorce, lust, idolatry, and greed (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). We were washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord; what makes us forget this? Read Ephesians 2:8-10.Lastly, we see that Jesus was compassionate with all sinners. We read that He ʺwas left alone, and the woman standing in the midstʺ (v. 9). In that gathering, there had been only one who was qualified to throw stones, and He didn't. Has this changed? How do we throw stones now? What should we do instead? The accusers were concerned with her punishment, but Jesus was concerned with her. Many people with same-sex attraction feel alienated and uniquely condemned by the church. Historically, the Christian church has been good at showing contempt but bad at showing compassion. It is time to reverse that, using the acronym LOVE. Listen: don’t offer advice until you have really listened. Offer support: pray, wrestle with the issues, and stand with the person through their ups and downs. Voice God’s truth: don’t be embarrassed by the Bible, but watch your tone and speak with tenderness (see Ephesians 4:15). Esteem: all people deserve respect because they are made in the image of God. Read Colossians 1:13-17. Discuss. Church should be a refuge for struggling people, not a museum of perfect people.
Adapted from Pastor Skip’s teaching
The BIG Idea
ʺWe are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good worksʺ (Ephesians 2:10). Join Jesus in saying, ʺNeither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.ʺ
Figures referenced: David Kinnaman, Alfred Joyce Kilmer
Greek words: kategraphen, anamartétos
Cross references: Genesis 19; Leviticus 18; 20; Judges 19; Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; John 2:4; 3:16; 4:16-18; 6:60; 8:1-11; 19:26; Acts 4:19; 5:29; Romans 1; 2:4; 1 Corinthians 6; Ephesians 4:15; 1 Timothy 1
Keywords: homosexuality, heterosexuality, sexuality, gay, lesbian, sex, love, sin, adultery, truth, Scripture, sexual preference, sexual orientation, hypocrites, hypocritical, the church, compassion, respect
Be assured that I didn't select the topics in this series because I am equating homosexuals with murderers; nor am I suggesting that addicts or homeless people are to be seen the same as terrorists. It’s simply that the church has historically been unkind to these groups, and we believe it is time to make the statement that Jesus loves all people. In today’s text, we see it clearly: everyone has some kind of past, and everyone can be freed from sin.
We are all aware that homosexuality has become the cause du jour of our culture. From elementary school curriculums to television and films to political talking points, there is a massive effort to redefine and reclassify homosexuality as acceptable. People are no longer expected to change this behavior; rather, we as Christians are expected to change our classification. Our culture says it should be seen as an alternate lifestyle, a sexual orientation, a genetic predisposition, or a personal preference, but definitely not a sin. In response, let's consider God's perspective and three truths regarding all people from all walks of life who come to Jesus Christ, including homosexuals.
The first truth is that everyone is on a list (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). These verses in 1 Corinthians conclude the previous section that dealt with immorality in the Corinthian church. This is not an exhaustive list of sins, but it is a list of sins typical of the Greco-Roman world and Corinth. Much like our society, Corinth was permissive and sexually promiscuous. In these verses, we read, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites" (v. 9). These are sins that represent a moral divide: sexual immorality is the one sin that you commit against your own body (see 1 Corinthians 6:18). As Pastor Skip stated, "All sins are equal in spiritual consequence, but not all are equal in moral equivalence." Lying to someone is not the same as killing someone. Moreover, Jesus made it clear that there are degrees of sin when He said during His trial, "The one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin" (John 19:11).
Sean McDowell pointed out these five biblical truths about homosexuality: 1) Not a single passage in the Old or New Testament supports homosexual behavior. 2) Not until the mid-twentieth century did a Christian leader affirm homosexuality as acceptable. 3) Every regulation regarding marriage in the Bible assumes the male-female sexual relationship, starting in Genesis 1, where God made humans male and female so that they would be fruitful and multiply. It takes a man and a woman to reproduce. Genesis 2:24 says that "a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." 4) Every wise saying in the Bible assumes a male-female sexual relationship. 5) The Ten Commandments assume heterosexuality in the commands to honor your father and mother, to not commit adultery, and to not covet your neighbor's wife. A few pointers from Skip: Be aware of what our culture thinks about this issue so you understand where people are coming from. Make a determined effort to love those with whom you disagree. Be ready to suffer because you disagree and will be labeled negatively.
Next, everyone has a past (see 1 Corinthians 6:10-11a). The list in 1 Corinthians concludes with thieves, the covetous, drunkards, revilers (slanderers and gossips), and extortioners. Ultimately, we can all find our own conduct on this kind of list, because "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Look at what Paul continued on to write: "And such were some of you" (v. 11a). We should be merciful to others, because we committed these same sins before coming to Jesus. As saved people, we do not keep living like unsaved people, but we should remember that every Christian is an ex-something: an ex-adulterer, ex-thief, etc. When we approach people caught in sin, we need to drop our stones and remember that we too were once in bondage to various sins. We must be humble and cautious as Paul instructed: "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted" (Galatians 6:1, ESV). How do you discover the balance between loving the sinner and hating the sin, and how will you apply that balance? What are some good practices in this regard? What are some bad practices?Lastly, everyone can have the best (see 1 Corinthians 6:11b). The word washed refers to new life that comes from new birth. Sanctified indicates the new behavior that comes from new life. And finally, justified signifies our new position of honor before God. All three terms tell us what God does to believers in relation to our sin. He washes us, polishes us, and gives us a new status before Him. God calling sin sin is beneficial for two reasons: it frames how He views our wrong actions, and it clarifies that sin is forgivable. Sinful people are redeemable! God is in the business of cleansing sinners and making saints. He offers His forgiving love so that we can experience His unending love. Remember that God always has bigger plans for you than you have for yourself, so don't settle.
Adapted from Pastor Skip’s teaching
The BIG Idea
Whatever list you’re on, you can have the best—from the ash heap of sin to a free ticket to heaven.
Figures referenced: Ruth Graham, C.H. Spurgeon, William Barclay, Socrates, Plato, William McDonald, Caesar Nero, Sporus, Sean McDowell, R.T. Kendall
Greek words: pornos, anamartétos
Cross references:Genesis 1:27-28; 2:24; 19; Leviticus 18; 20; Judges 19; Matthew 19:4-6; 23:23; Luke 18:9-14; John 8:1-11; 19:11; Acts 5:29; Romans 1; 3:23; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 18; Galatians 6:1; 1 Timothy 1; Jude 1:7
Keywords: homosexuality, homosexual, sex, sin, sexual sin, gay, lesbian, sexual orientation, sexual preference, same sex marriage, heterosexuality, forgiveness, love
One of the worst things to ever hear or say are the words "I hate you." And since Jesus is the One who God sent to show love to the world, how He handled haters is significant. Today we will explore and hopefully apply two important lessons. Hatred can flow in two directions: hatred towards you and hatred from you. Jesus shows us what to do about both. Get ready by turning to two passages: Matthew 5 and Luke 9.
The term hater is a contemporary description of an aggressive personality type. Urban Dictionary defines it as one who cannot be happy for another's success; rather than be happy for others, haters make a point of exposing a person's flaws. Hatred is a serious issue. Paul listed it as one of the works of the flesh (see Galatians 5), and Leviticus 19 commands, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart" (v. 17). The word hate is mentioned in Scripture 183 times, taking on many forms: mockery, yelling, hurtful speech, persecution, avoiding, and shunning. In this message, we considered how to handle two basic forms of hatred: hatred towards you and hatred from you. The first kind will inevitably happen, but the second does not have to. The first is an occupational hazard, and the second is personal hypocrisy.
When hatred is directed at us, we are to respond with love. In Matthew 5:43-46, we read that there are those who will curse us, hate us, spitefully use us, and be enemies to us. Is there anyone like that in your life, even in your own household? Jesus warned that His followers would suffer persecution. He promised that we "will be hated by all for [His] name's sake" (Matthew 10:22). At the Last Supper, He told His disciples, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19). Being hated is one of our occupational hazards as Christians, since we do not share the values of the world. But rather than retaliate, we are to respond with love. Jesus said to "bless those who curse you" (Matthew 5:44). Proverbs 15:1 promises that "a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." We are also to "do good to those who hate [us]" (Matthew 5:44). Often, a strained relationship is relaxed when we send a gift. Proverbs 18:16 says, "A man's gift makes room for him." Never forget that we are to pray for our enemies. It is hard to keep someone on your hit list when you put them on your prayer list. They may not change their attitude toward you, but prayer will change your feelings toward them. Conversely, be warned that if you maintain anger, resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness, then the enemy on the inside will become greater than the enemy on the outside. How do you measure up as a Christian if these verses are the standard? Pick a person you would consider an enemy, and figure out how to bless them, do good to them, and pray for them.
Next, we are to represent the God of love. When we love haters, we show what family we belong to—like Father, like son and daughter (see Matthew 5:45). God Himself loves haters: "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Love gives you away by telling people that you are related to God. Jesus said, "By this [love] all will know that you are My disciples" (John 13:35).
However, if hatred does develop in us, we are to follow the instruction of Luke 9:51-56. This is both a humorous and a human story. James and John were two of Jesus' inner circle, yet they were haters of the Samaritan people. Rejecting Christ is sinful, yet it is more shameful and reprehensible to hate people for rejecting Christ. Thus, hateful speech should be met with rebuke (see Leviticus 19:17). These disciples had a good memory of Scripture but a bad motive. They had Scripture in their heads but no love in their hearts. Don't forget that attitude is more important than aptitude. Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it. Perhaps the most significant choice you make every day is your choice of attitude. Which trusted person have you given permission to rebuke your words, check your attitude, and challenge your prejudices?
Furthermore, our prejudice must be surrendered (see Luke 9:56). The prejudice of the disciples blinded them to God's purpose to save the Samaritans rather than destroy them. God is "longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). God's purposes for people always trump our prejudices. Years later, the church sent Peter and John to preach the gospel in Samaria (see Acts 8). Others may hate you, but they won't win unless you hate them back. Are your prejudices standing in the way of God's purposes for someone? If so, pray that God would reveal your prejudices to you, that your eyes would be open to see them, and that your heart would be open to repentance. Repent if necessary, and get in line with God's purposes for His people.
Adapted from Pastor Skip’s teaching
The BIG Idea
Others may hate you, but they won't win unless you hate them back.
Cross references: Leviticus 19:17; 2 Kings 1; Proverbs 15:1; 18:16; Matthew 5:43-46; 10:36; Mark 3:17; Luke 9:51-56; John 13:35; 15:19; Acts 8; Galatians 5:19-20; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 3:1, 13; Revelation 3:19
Keywords: love, hatred, haters, hate, enemy, persecution, bless, Samaritans, attitude, prejudice, God's purpose
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a traitor as "one who betrays another's trust or is false to an obligation or duty." On this Palm Sunday, I've chosen to consider in contrast the two traitors seen side by side in the New Testament accounts of the Passion of Christ. Though we may see some similarities in Judas and Peter, they are separated by one giant factor—the cross of Jesus Christ, the one thing that still offends most people.
Matthew 26 shows us two men who were close to Jesus for years, eyewitnesses of His power, and firsthand hearers of His truth. Both men benefitted greatly from Jesus’ life and power. Yet both of them aligned with Satan against Jesus and became His betrayers. One responded by killing himself and the other by repenting in anguish, eventually to be used again by God. The first was Judas, and the second was Peter. Matthew 26 is a contrast of two traitors: Judas, who didn’t live up to his name (which means praise), and Peter, whose name is still loved.
First, we consider Judas. Francis Bacon said, “A bad man is worse when he pretends to be a saint.” In Matthew 26:6-9, we are immediately struck by Judas’ hypocrisy; John 12 reveals that Judas didn’t actually care about the poor but was stealing money from their funds (see vv. 4-6). His hypocrisy was accentuated by his commitment to betray Jesus to the chief priests for thirty pieces of silver (see Matthew 26:14-15). According to Exodus 21, thirty pieces of silver was the price for a slave that had been gored by an ox. This shows us how Judas viewed Jesus, and his treason revealed his intentions: Judas did not serve Jesus; rather, he wanted Jesus to serve his desires and expectations. Judas had long desired and expected a political messiah. Undoubtedly, as one of Jesus’ inner circle and the group’s treasurer, he anticipated that he would have a high position if Jesus established an earthly kingdom. However, Judas’ antipathy for the cross, which Jesus had promised was in His near future, caused him to betray Jesus. At the Last Supper, on the night of Judas’ betrayal, Judas was positioned to Jesus’ immediate left, a place of honor granted only by invitation. Jesus most likely gave Judas that place of honor even though He knew he would betray Him. Not one of the disciples suspected Judas to be the betrayer; each of them asked Jesus in turn if he himself would be the one to betray Him. Read John 16:33. Are betrayers part of the tribulation that you will have in this world? If so, how do you prepare for these folks and recover from the effect they can have on you?
Now we come to Peter. He demonstrated his embarrassing overconfidence by declaring that he would never betray Jesus, even if all the other disciples did (see Matthew 26:33). At one point, Peter had answered correctly when Jesus had asked who the disciples said He was: “the Son of God” (see Matthew 16:16). Jesus publicly commended him for getting the answer right. But this time, Jesus told Peter that before that very night ended, he would betray Jesus three times. Peter’s jaw must have dropped in disbelief, and the other disciples must have been dumbstruck. But we see Peter’s greatest catastrophe come to pass as he fulfilled Jesus’ prediction and denied Him three times (see Matthew 26:69-75). Have you ever denied Jesus publicly? Maybe you stayed quiet when you could have mentioned Him or took credit for a change in your life that you know He accomplished. Did you realize what you had done at the time? Do you realize it now? Jesus stands ready to forgive you and restore you.
So, what happened to these two traitors after their betrayal? We discover that, in great remorse, Judas hung himself (see Matthew 27:5). In contrast, we find Peter weeping bitterly and repenting (see Matthew 26:75). Later, Jesus found Peter in Galilee, restored him, and made him a leader in the church (see John 21). What was the difference between the two betrayals? Perhaps it was the conversion of Peter’s heart, as detailed in Luke’s gospel. After Peter denied Jesus the third time, Luke recorded that the Lord turned and looked at Peter (see Luke 22:61); it was then that Peter remembered Jesus’ promise that he would betray Him. Jesus’ look was most likely not a scowl of derision, but rather a look of love and compassion. Jesus’ love for Peter drove him to repentance. Even though Judas was destined to betray Jesus so that the work of the cross might be accomplished, Jesus would have forgiven him; perhaps that was the reason He seated Judas so close to Himself at the Last Supper, in the hope that Judas might later have a change of heart. Judas’ heart was set on preventing the cross, however, and his betrayal led him to take his own life; Peter’s heart turned back to his Savior, and his betrayal led him to receive new life from Jesus. Peter allowed the cross to stand between himself and his sin; Judas did not. What does this mean? How do you do it? How do you let the cross move you toward forgiving those who have betrayed you?
Adapted from Pastor Skip’s teaching
The BIG Idea
The cross of Jesus Christ, the one thing that still offends most people, is the one thing that can repair the damage of treason.
Figures referenced: Dale Carnegie, Francis Bacon
Cross references:Exodus 21:32; Matthew 7:22-23; 16:13-17, 21-23; 26; 27:5; Luke 22:3, 61; John 12:4-6; 13:23, 26-27; 21:15-17; 1 Peter 2:24
Keywords: betrayal, traitor, the cross, repentance, love
Yes, Jesus loves people who don't believe in Him or who aren't sure what they think about Him. Pontius Pilate was the cynical Roman governor of the district of Judea. He was unsympathetic to religious Jews and religion itself. He had no room for the superstitious claims of prophets, priests, or would-be messiahs. He was a secular pragmatist concerned about Roman order and personal advancement. Pilate also represents how Jesus loved and handled atheists—and how we should.
No one is born an atheist; people choose to become atheists just as some choose to become Christians. Atheism is not a new concept; David wrote of the person who says in his heart that "there is no God" (Psalm 14:1). As long as there has been faith, there has been unbelief. Even though so-called New Atheism has a lot of spokespeople, only 2 percent of the general population claims to be atheists. The numbers are growing, though, so it's worth looking at how Jesus dealt with someone who was operating outside of God's truth: Pontius Pilate.
Although Pontius Pilate was not an atheist per se, he was a secular man in a religious world functioning as if God did not exist. We see him interact with Jesus as a cynical secularist who opined, "What is truth?" Pilate was confused and self-contradictory—traits he shares with modern atheists—and we learn from Jesus five qualities to exhibit when encountering someone like Pilate, whether they're atheistic or agnostic.
First, be confident (see John 18:28-32). To stand before Roman justice was intimidating. Furthermore, the historians Tacitus, Josephus, and Philo tell us that Pilate was oppressive, greedy, stubborn, and cruel. It would seem that Pilate was in total control of Jesus' prosecution, yet Jesus was the one in complete control, for He had predicted all that was unfolding (see John 18:31-32). That's why Jesus was not intimidated, but rather calm and confident. We need to have the same confidence if we are going to share Jesus with atheists, and we can have that confidence by trusting that God is in control; He allowed you to have that encounter. You should recognize your inadequacy, God's sovereignty, and their necessity—they need this. And remember: God is perfect. Belief in Him adds nothing to His qualities, and lack of belief takes nothing away. You do not need to know everything, but it is helpful to know the answers to the top questions atheists have so that you can be ready with a reasoned response. Ask your local Christian bookseller for a reliable recommendation, and inform yourself.
Next, be engaging (see John 18:33-35). Atheists don't have the plague; there is no need to avoid them! Pilate was a cynical man who did not believe in the Jewish God, and yet he came face to face with Him. And when he asked questions, Jesus engaged him. Some atheists are very intelligent. Other atheists just want to be seen as intelligent. Others have chosen atheism as a moral convenience, thinking that if they dismiss God, they can do as they want. Always try to find out why someone is an atheist by talking with them, not at them. Beyond listening, the Bible tells us to "always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15). The world is a dynamic courtroom where people are always deciding on the evidence for belief in God. They have good questions about faith; let's make sure we have good answers. We need to appeal to their intellect while praying for their souls. You may not have the perfect answers, but you can plant a seed. Instead of getting bogged down with minutia, challenge an atheist to read a chapter of the gospel of John for ten minutes a day for three weeks and ask the following questions: Who is Jesus Christ? Who does Jesus say He is? Who does John say He is?
Third, be respectful (see John 18:36). Some Christians go into full combat assault mode with atheists. Don't attack them. We can do better; as J.I. Packer said, we can out-think them. Jesus respectfully interacted with Pilate, succinctly describing His mission and purpose to the point where Pilate's conclusion was to release Him, declaring, "I find no fault in Him at all" (John 18:38). Remember that we can win an argument but lose a soul. Peter's advice to be prepared ends with him telling us to give an answer "with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15, ESV). The apostle Paul told us that we are to "[speak] the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). We must be winsome—kind, fair, and respectful—if we want to win some to Jesus. Discuss what challenges and obstacles you have experienced in sharing your faith with atheists.
Fourth, be clear (see John 18:37). Jesus clearly and unambiguously told Pilate, "You're absolutely right—I am a King." Jesus also clearly described His nature—both His humanity ("I was born") and His divinity ("I have come into the world"). Although Pilate shrugged it off, Jesus was clear. We must be clear about what we believe and clear about what God requires of all people. Being able to succinctly describe what you believe is helpful for both your walk and your witness.
Lastly, be ready (see John 18:37b-38). The outcome of an encounter with an atheist could be positive or negative. Jesus gave an implied invitation to Pilate to hear and know the truth. This shows Jesus' love: He left the door of salvation open even to this hardened, secular Roman politician. Pilate's response up to this point had been negative and dismissive. Yet Jesus left room for the truth to work in his mind and heart—and we should too. What people do with the gospel message will determine their destiny, so give God room to work. This week, pray for an atheist you know, asking God to open a door for you to reach them and then give God room to work through you.
Adapted from Pastor Skip’s teaching
The BIG Idea
Pilate died hopeless, even though he stared hope in the face. Be faithful to give atheists every reason to know Jesus as their Savior and Lord through your words and actions, entrusting their response to God.
Figures referenced: Miles Coverdale, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, C.S. Lewis, Tiberius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Claudia Procula, Tacitus, Josephus, Philo, A.W. Tozer, Dinesh D'Souza, William Lane Craig, J.I. Packer, John MacArthur, Eusebius
Cross references: Psalm 14:1; Isaiah 1:18; Mark 10:33-34; Luke 22:10-13; John 3:14; 12:32-33; 18:28-38; Ephesians 4:15; 1 Peter 3:15
Keywords: atheists, atheism, New Atheism, unbelief, unbelievers, belief, love, agnostic, witnessing, sharing faith, confidence, respect, arguments, truth
It was Blaise Pascal who noted, "There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus." In our text today, we find a woman, the city prostitute who acutely felt the need to have the vacuum of her heart filled. She discovered that Jesus loved her with a wholesome love—the kind of love every woman is searching for.
Prostitution is mentioned frequently in Scripture; the word harlot is used seventy-six times (with primary references in Leviticus 19, Proverbs, and 1 Corinthians 6). Two prostitutes even appear in the genealogy of Christ: Tamar and Rahab. Jesus pointed out that prostitutes were among those who repented at the preaching of John the Baptist (see Matthew 21:32), and He shocked the religious leaders by telling them that "tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you" (Matthew 21:31).
Research into modern-day prostitution is heartbreaking. The sex trade is big business; in Miami alone, it's a $235-million-a-year industry. One in ten men in the world have purchased a prostitute. The average age of entry into prostitution is thirteen, the overwhelming majority being girls. Most are recruited or coerced into prostitution and are especially targeted within forty-eight hours of running away from home. It's a deadly job; statistics for job-related fatalities measure 18 deaths per 100,000 for police officers, 70 per 100,000 for airline pilots, and 204 per 100,000 for prostitutes. Over 95 percent have been threatened with a gun or beaten, and over half have been assaulted or raped. Our text tells us of a meeting between Jesus and a prostitute at the house of Simon, a Pharisee. Three distinct interactions occurred that show us the pitfalls of self-righteousness and the power of forgiveness.
First, we consider the interaction between the patriarch—Simon—and the prostitute (see Luke 7:36-38). Most likely, Simon invited Jesus over in order to interrogate Him. However, when a prostitute barged in, the center of gravity shifted. It was unusual for such a woman, a "sinner" (in those days, this word could only mean a prostitute), to be at such a meeting, and only Jesus welcomed her. Weeping, she loosened her hair and kissed Jesus' feet, pouring oil on them. We don't know the depth of her pain or why she became a prostitute, but we can guess why she was there. It's possible that, shortly before this meal, she had heard Jesus preach, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me...and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:28-29). She understood that Jesus was her best shot at a new start. A prostitute once said, "Prostitutes have very improperly been styled women of pleasure; they are women of pain, of sorrow, of grief, of bitter and continual repentance." Ignoring Simon's disdain, this prostitute rushed to Jesus, weeping from remorse and pain, desperate for hope. Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. Have you ever been desperate for God's forgiveness and love? How can that experience help you have compassion for someone like this woman?
Next, we see the patriarch and the preacher (see Luke 7:39-47). Simon mistook this woman's act of repentance and devotion for a sexual advance and criticized Jesus in his thoughts. Jesus read Simon's mind and replied to him out loud. The story Jesus then told revealed that Simon had a wrong view of everyone at the meal. In Simon's mind, Jesus was not a prophet, the woman was too sinful and filthy to be there, and he, Simon, was the most discerning person in the room. Jesus' story revealed that Simon's manner was inhospitable, his heart was judgmental, and his sin was invisible (hers was outward, and his was inward—until Jesus called him out on it). Like Simon, when we view life through the lens of legalism, we distort everyone and everything. Jesus rebuked him for not being as broken about his sin as she was about hers. Religion is the world's biggest blind spot in seeing our need for God; religion made Simon inhospitable to Jesus, judgmental toward this woman, and prideful in his attitude. The prostitute's sins were sins of the flesh; Simon's were of the spirit. Hers were overt and known to all; his were covert, known only to Jesus. What Simon saw insulted him, but what he heard should have convicted him. Describe a time when you have been unfairly judgmental. How did God bring you to a point of repentance?
Finally, we see the preacher and the prostitute (see Luke 7:48-50). Jesus was now face to face with this woman whose face was riddled with tears and shame, and He declared to her that her sins were forgiven. How wonderful she must have felt then! Jesus was not put off by her reputation, His knowledge of her past, or even Simon's judgment of her. Jesus knew that her heart was broken, filled with shame and remorse, and that she hated her lifestyle and wanted change. Others in the house were angry because Jesus told her that she was forgiven, but she was not angry—she was hungry. They were self-righteous; she was made righteous. The love she never found in all of her passionate encounters with men she now found in a single encounter with this unique Man, Jesus Christ. She learned that God has a big eraser. Simon's sin got exposed; this prostitute's sin got forgiven. Simon had years of theological training and yet no understanding of grace. She understood it after a few moments in Jesus' presence. Read Romans 5:20-21. What are the dangers of being self-righteous? How big is God's grace? How can you show grace when you meet someone who, on the surface, seems unworthy of it?
Here are three takeaways from this passage: First, everyone sins; face it. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), and the worst sin of all is self-righteousness—it's an affront to the cross of Christ. Second, God's business is forgiveness; seek it. This woman knew that she was a great sinner, and she came to Jesus as her great Savior. Finally, God's Word is true; believe it. Jesus spoke a promise to this woman that she was saved and forgiven. Your sin can be forgiven, too!
Adapted from Pastor Skip’s teaching
The BIG Idea We all need forgiveness. God stands ready to forgive any sin, from prostitution to self-righteousness.
Figures referenced: Will Rogers, Martin Luther, Laura Schulman, Tina Hoffman
Cross references: Leviticus 19; Proverbs; Matthew 11:28-29; 21:31-32; Luke 7:36-50; Romans 3:23; 5:8; 1 Corinthians 6; Hebrews 11:31
Keywords: prostitution, harlotry, sex, sex trade, Pharisees, love, legalism, judgment, judging, religion, sin, sinner, passion, flesh, self-righteousness, forgiveness, grace
A Jewish proverb reads, "Blood that has been shed does not rest." And yet there is rest that is possible for even the worst murderers of all time—those who killed Jesus Christ—if they would be willing to receive it. In two verses of Scripture, we will examine how Jesus loves murderers, even those who murdered Him.
In 1976, New York City was terrorized by David Berkowitz, a serial killer known as the Son of Sam. He was caught and sentenced to six consecutive life sentences—365 years. A decade into his imprisonment, Berkowitz's heart was touched after reading a Gideons Bible another inmate gave him. One night, while reading Psalm 34, he got on his knees and cried out to Jesus Christ to forgive him. Today, still imprisoned, he leads a ministry that reaches out to inmates with emotional issues. When Skip was speaking in New York several years ago, he learned that Berkowitz listens to him on the radio and had asked Skip to visit him. What Skip saw was a man transformed by the gospel who now refers to himself as the Son of Hope. His story is a powerful testimony that Jesus loves murderers.
The first crime ever committed was a homicide (Cain and Abel), and it's been a problem since. A UN report said that 437,000 people were murdered worldwide in 2012. Intentional killing is among the leading causes of death in America. But virtually everyone has gotten away with murder: Jesus said even our anger toward others is enough to put us in danger of judgment (see Matthew 5:21-22).
Murder begins not in the hands but the heart, not with an act but an attitude. The worst murder in human history—the killing of the Son of God—began with such an attitude. On the divine side, it was the ultimate sacrifice for all of humankind. But on the human side, it was the ultimate crime, a flagrant violation of the sixth commandment.
As we look at the murder of Jesus, we see the most evil act ever perpetrated by human hands—the sinless Son of Man betrayed, tortured, and crucified. This crucifixion was a conspiracy of the Pharisees and state-sanctioned terrorism by the Romans, designed to be the most painful and intimidating of deaths. The Roman orator Cicero said that there was no fitting word to describe so horrible a deed. The Romans had crucified 30,000 people in Judea alone in Jesus' time. No victim of human injustice was ever more innocent than Jesus, and yet He was murdered like a criminal. Of course, God's redemptive purpose was in it, and it is so like God to bring the greatest good out of the worst evil. When have you seen God bring good out of evil? Read Isaiah 53. Discuss what stands out to you, especially when it comes to the power and reach of God's forgiveness.
It was on the cross that we see the full power of the mercy of Jesus (see Luke 23:34). While nailed to the cross, Jesus made seven short statements, which Warren Wiersbe called "windows that enable us to…see the heart of the Savior and the heart of the gospel." While Jesus was doing the greatest work on earth, He uttered the greatest words heard on earth. His first statement was the most shocking: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). It's one thing to say that Jesus loves murderers; it's another for Him to say it of His own murderers. At his birth, there had been no room for Him; when He was a toddler, Herod sought to kill Him; throughout His ministry, religious leaders plotted to slander and murder Him; at His trial, the crowds cried out for His crucifixion. And we get upset when someone cuts us off on the freeway! The verb tense in this verse indicates that Jesus kept saying, "Father, forgive them." As the soldiers stripped and beat Him, as He was laid on the cross, as He was nailed down, as He was lifted up—"Father, forgive them." Who is the most unlikely person you know who has received God's forgiveness? What does their story tell you about God's mercy?
In 1993, sixteen-year-old Oshea Israel murdered a twenty-year-old man, the only son of a woman named Mary Johnson. Ms. Johnson visited Israel in prison because she wanted to forgive as Christ did. By the end of her visit, he was overcome with emotion and hugged her. As she left, she thought, I just hugged the man who murdered my son. All the bitterness in her heart fled, and today Israel is out of prison and the two are neighbors. Jesus' prayer was like that mother's hug, and it shows us three things: Jesus was fulfilling Scripture (see Isaiah 53), His prayer was consistent with His nature, and forgiveness is the greatest need of the human heart. Mary Johnson said, "Unforgiveness is like cancer. It will eat you from the inside out." When has your heart been callous toward others? How can prayer soften it? When Jesus entered into suffering, prayer was His first reaction. How often is it yours?
Finally, let's look at the motive of Jesus: "for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). Now, everyone involved in Jesus' trial and murder knew it was wrong, so Jesus' prayer must mean that they didn't know His identity. It wasn't until Jesus died and there was darkness and an earthquake that one centurion said, "Truly this Man was the Son of God!" (Mark 15:39). And while the crowd knew the reality of their crime, they didn't know its enormity. In their spiritual darkness, they didn't grasp that they were killing the Light of the World. But ignorance is by no means innocence. Pleading ignorance to the identity of Jesus and the enormity of what He accomplished on the cross is no excuse.
Jesus' prayer—"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do"—was answered: first in the repentant thief on the cross, then in the centurion, then again at Pentecost when 3,000 people were saved, and on down through the centuries. And while obedience to Jesus is the proof of a changed heart, God stands ready to forgive any and all who would ask for forgiveness. In a letter to Skip, David Berkowitz said, "I became a cruel killer and threw away my life and destroyed the lives of others. Now, I've discovered that Christ is my answer and my hope." Has Jesus' prayer been answered in you?
Adapted from Pastor Skip’s teaching
The BIG Idea
Mankind’s greatest need—forgiveness—is God’s greatest accomplishment.
Figures referenced: Cicero, Warren Wiersbe
Latin/Greek/Hebrew words: calvarium, kranion, Golgotha
Cross references: Genesis 4; Exodus 20:13; Isaiah 53:10, 12; Matthew 5:21-22; 9:2; 12:14; 17:22-23; 26:59-61; Mark 2:5; 14:55-59; 15:39; Luke 5:20; 7:36-50; 23:13-23, 33-34, 43, 47; John 3:16; 10:18; 19:6; Acts 2:23, 41; 6:7; 17:30; 1 Corinthians 2:8
Keywords: murder, crime, criminal, murderer, death, crucifixion, Calvary, the cross, prayer, Scripture, forgiveness, sin, ignorance, innocence
A lengthy seventeen-year study in Washington, D.C. by psychiatrist Samuel Yochelson shows that crime cannot be traced to environment, poverty, or oppression but to people making wrong moral choices. Corresponding to that is another report showing that the lack of proper moral training by parents has a direct correlation to crime, especially to children in their formative years. But when parents and their offspring fail, Jesus can step in to rescue.
People die differently. Some die peacefully and others restlessly, some confidently and others fearfully, some joyfully and others angrily. People die differently because people live differently; the way we live is often reflected in how we die. One group of people with a lot of time on their hands for thinking about such things are criminals in jails across the nation. The United States has one of the highest confinement rates in the world, second only to Russia. Nearly 2.5 million Americans are in prison, and 20 to 25 percent of our population has a criminal record. Up to 75 percent of those who spend time in prison will break the law again after their release and end up back behind bars. Dealing with and loving criminals is a real issue for all of us. In Luke 23, we witness the foxhole conversion of a wicked man on his deathbed. Coming to grips with the extent of God’s grace is hard, but grace is the heart of the gospel. We see it here as the King was crucified among the crooks.
We begin by observing Jesus in the company of criminals (see Luke 23:33). The Greek word used to describe them means evil-working men. Matthew and Mark tell us that they were bandits, those who not only stole but also hurt or killed those they stole from. It is likely that they were associated with Barabbas, whose place Jesus took on that middle cross. They were also probably Jewish, based on what they said while dying. It was not accidental or incidental that Jesus died between two common criminals—it was intentional. Seven centuries earlier, Isaiah predicted the death of the Messiah by foretelling that He would be “numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). Why did Jesus allow this? One, it showed divine humility; Jesus is the friend of sinners. It also showed our human opportunity; these two men, both guilty of the same crime, both dying the same death, both cursed the same Lord. Both were as close to the Lord as the other, and yet only one was saved, while the other was lost. Proximity and opportunity do not guarantee eternal destiny. Divine humility is demonstrated by being the friend of sinners. Do you have any sinning friends? Do you converse with them or condemn them? Why is this important?
Both criminals reviled Jesus but only one recanted (see Luke 23:39-42). From the book of Matthew, we know that the crowd, made up of priests, elders, and soldiers, mocked and jeered, and that “even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing” (Matthew 27:44). Suddenly, though, something happened—a massive transformation that led to a 180-degree turn in one of them. His jeering went silent, and in a moment of crystal clarity unlike anything he’d ever experienced before, he rebuked his friend for not fearing God and asked Jesus to remember him. Perhaps it was Jesus’ compassionate prayer of forgiveness or the sign above His head. Maybe, as the crowd jeered that Jesus had saved others but couldn’t save Himself, the robber realized that Jesus could save him. Whatever it was, he had an epiphany; Jesus’ purity contrasted with his own wickedness. When was your epiphany about Jesus? What happened in your life to produce the fear of God?
Next, we observe the converted criminal and Jesus’ promise of heaven to him (see Luke 23:43). Jesus used the word assuredly because what He said was so hard to believe! No one was ever given a more explicit assurance of forgiveness and heaven by Jesus than this man. This man was not baptized and never went to church or did one good work, and yet this turned out to be one of the greatest demonstrations of justification by faith in all of history. Here was a criminal who had rebelled against authority, who stole and pillaged, and Jesus promised him heaven. Four things occurred in this man’s conversion: 1. He confessed his guilt (see Luke 23:40-41). He showed that he understood both aspects of Jesus as Savior: that Jesus loves us, but we will perish unless we repent. 2. He trusted Jesus by acknowledging Jesus as Lord and King. By asking Jesus to remember him when He entered His kingdom, the man acknowledged Jesus’ sinlessness and power over death—and therefore His supremacy. 3. He made it personal (see Luke 23:42). He asked Jesus to remember him. He understood that God has no grandchildren, only children—that no one can have someone stand in for them when it comes to salvation. 4. Lastly, he did all of this publicly. While the crowd mocked, soldiers laughed, elders scorned, and the other criminal blasphemed, he courageously demonstrated his faith in front of everyone. What happened that day happens every day. Everyone has a choice in how to respond to Jesus: to mock or to believe. Finality changed the thief’s theology. And anyone, criminal or not, has that same opportunity, perhaps like never before or never again. Read Titus 3:4-7 and Ephesians 2:8-9. Work on memorizing them; write them down and put them where you’ll see them every day. Remember the thief’s path: acknowledge guilt, trust in Jesus, make it personal, and make it public.
Adapted from Pastor Skip’s teaching
The Big Idea
God’s sovereign work of grace is assured in the person and work of His Son. Will you receive Jesus or revile Him?
Figures referenced: Voltaire, Gandhi, Martin Luther, John Knox, Max Lucado, Jeffery Dahmer, Perry Noble
Greek words: kakourgos
Cross references: Isaiah 53:12; Matthew 10:28; 11:19; 27:38, 44; Mark 15:27, 32; Luke 7:34; 23:33-43; John 1:12; Acts 9; 2 Corinthians 12:2-4; Titus 3:5
Keywords: crime, criminals, prison, jail, thief, robber, sinner, humility, eternity, salvation, forgiveness, grace, faith, works, heaven, paradise, conversion, fear of God, transformation
One magazine noted that "religious terrorism is the communism of the 21st century, the most serious international threat to human rights." I am aware that the title of this sermon is a strange one, and it's even stranger to think we should be told to love terrorists. Today we consider the stark reality of terror in our world and what a proper biblical response to it is, and we see the conversion of a terrorist who became Christianity's most celebrated cleric.
Nothing is too hard for God to do, and no one is too lost for God to save. This truth is especially important as we consider this week's topic: terrorists. In the early church, the conversion of the terrorist Saul of Tarsus shook the ranks. His conversion, however, affirmed the words of Christ, who said, "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God" (Luke 18:27). Saul had terrorized Christians, yet this radical became an apostle. One of the church's greatest opponents became its greatest proponent, and a chief adversary became a chief advocate. In Acts 9, we make three discoveries about terrorism—three pieces to this complex puzzle, three realities that mark our world even as they marked the ancient world.
First, terrorism is a reality (see Acts 9:1-2). Persecuting Christians became Saul's obsession. We see that Stephen's killers "laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul" (Acts 7:58) and that Saul was "consenting to his death" (Acts 8:1). Furthermore, Saul "made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison" (Acts 8:3). The word havoc describes a wild boar rampaging through a garden or an army devastating a city. Something evil had happened inside Saul of Tarsus—his anger had fully taken over. Just before his conversion, he was "still breathing threats and murder" (Acts 9:1). He was intent on mobilizing his jihad and headed north to Damascus. Jesus, however, had other plans.
We are familiar with the rise of modern terrorism and its atrocities, but the Old Testament world was also full of terrorists. Nineveh (modern day Mosul, a center for ISIS) was a city of terrorists; Jonah did not want to go there because of their reputation for carnage. They tore off the lips and hands of victims, flayed captives alive, and piled up the skulls of their victims—and yet God wanted a message of repentance preached there. Jesus Himself lived under an occupying force—the iron fist of Rome—by which He was crucified. Crucifixion itself was state-sponsored terrorism, designed to terrorize people into compliance. On the other side of the terrorist spectrum were the Zealots, a local political movement that sought to overthrow Rome by violent means. And yet, Jesus chose Simon the Zealot to be one of the Twelve. And then we have Saul, an educated, intellectual terrorist from Tarsus who specifically targeted followers of Christ before Jesus got his attention. Read Paul's own admission of this in Galatians 1:13-24. We often consider terrorists to be unreachable by the love of Christ. Who in your life do you consider to be unreachable? When have you bravely and humbly used your testimony to reach out to such a person?
Next, terrorism demands a response (see Acts 9:2). Terrorism is a complicated issue—one that angers, saddens, and frightens us. How should we respond? In reading this passage, we distinguish two kinds of responses: our individual response as a believer and our government's response as a nation. Many Christians confuse or blend the two, drawing on the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus' command to turn the other cheek (see Matthew 5:38-48). However, that sermon is not a foreign policy statement but a personal strategy about how to respond to evil on an individual level. It is the job of the state to protect its citizens, but it is the mandate of the Christian to forgive our enemies. If that sermon was meant to be a national policy, it would be a permission slip for thugs and terrorists to wreak havoc! On the contrary, Romans 13 articulates that the state is a divinely ordered institution whose job is to punish evil (see vv. 3-4). Romans 12, however, teaches us the importance of personal forgiveness and the acceptance of persecution for the Lord's sake (see vv. 17-21). So, for society it is an eye for eye, but for the believer there is the encouragement that God will personally avenge the harm we've been done. It is not the church's job to stop oppression; it is the church's job to preach the gospel and accept the consequences of faithfully doing so. We overcome evil not through personal retaliation but by principled compassion. Skip told a story of how he met a pastor in Iraq who had been beaten by members of ISIS. This pastor told Skip that forgiveness is the only hope for Iraq's future. Do you hope that forgiveness can break the cycle of terror? How can this begin in your life? Who can you forgive that seems beyond God's reach?
Lastly, terrorists can be reached (see Acts 9:4-16). Jesus doesn't love terrorism, but He does love terrorists as people for whom He died. Often we don't want to hear this, but Saul's life proved this. What people have you written off as "Most Unlikely to Be Saved"? God can find a way where there is no way. Saul's past deeds haunted him; God took that haunting and turned it to healing and then to heralding. Many other terrorists throughout the history of the church have become children of Jesus. Remember, Jesus asked Saul why he had been persecuting Him (see Acts 9:4). In other words, Jesus takes the pain of those who suffer for His name's sake personally. We never suffer alone, and no blow struck on earth goes unfelt in heaven. Read 1 Timothy 1:15-16. God's presence is our comfort, but it's also part of His plan to love and radically save even the most unlikely people. When have you seen God find a way where there was no way? Why is this an essential part of His plan?
The Big Idea
None are too lost to save; nothing is too hard for God.
Figures referenced: Ashurbanipal, Tiglath-Pileser, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Galli
Cross references: Jonah 1:2; Matthew 5:38-39; Luke 18:27; Acts 6:15; 7:58, 60; 8:1, 3; 9:1-16, 26; Romans 12:17, 19; 13:1-3; 1 Timothy 1:13
Keywords: Saul of Tarsus, terrorists, terrorism, salvation, conversion, persecution, Islam, Muslims, ISIS, Islamic State, the state, government, pacifism, pacifist, war, peace, oppression, suffering
When a person ingests a substance or engages in an activity that provides temporary pleasure and then such acts become compulsive and interfere with ordinary life responsibilities, he or she is said to be an addict. Addictive behavior is widespread and is one of the reasons many addicts turn to Christ for help. Jesus has a special message for them and a special plan to help them. As the body of Christ to our generation, shouldn’t the church be part of that plan?
We are talking about addiction for two reasons. First, because the church usually doesn't, choosing to remain silent on the issue or opting only to condemn. And second, sin is never a private matter; it impacts those around us emotionally and physically. Consider how King David's lust affected Bathsheba, her husband, and his own children. What about us? What behaviors do we repeat over and over again expecting a different result? Just one more swig, one more hit, one more look on the Internet? Webster's Dictionary defines addiction as the surrender of oneself to something obsessively and habitually. While addiction as we know it doesn't appear in the Bible, its meaning is present in other words: captive, slave, and prisoner. Interestingly, the only time the Bible uses the word addicted is when Paul described how the house of Stephanas was "devoted"—translated addicted in the King James Version—"to the ministry of the saints" (1 Corinthians 16:15). In other words, God's priorities were their priorities. The Bible says that our own nature—the flesh—poses the greatest danger when it comes to getting addicted to something that will pull us away from God and His priorities. Read Ephesians 2:1-3, 1 Peter 2:11-12, and James 1:13-15. We are all captives of sin whom Christ has set free. How are the before and after pictures of our lives presented?
Jesus has good news for addicts (see Luke 4:16-20). In the first public sermon of His ministry, Jesus quoted Isaiah 61, a prophecy that described everyone Jesus came to set free: the poor, brokenhearted, captive, blind, and oppressed. We all arrived in this world flawed. For some, the fleshly pull is profound and manifests itself in life-dominating sin that "so easily ensnares us" (Hebrews 12:1). Fortunately, Jesus made it clear that He came to "preach the gospel to the poor" (Luke 4:18). The gospel is good news! Jesus died, was buried, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven...for us (see 1 Corinthians 15)! He was sent to "proclaim liberty to the captives" (Luke 4:18). Captives refers to prisoners of war; Jesus has a special message for those who have been shelled by the enemy, taken captive in the bondage of addiction. Hope is the message—liberty and healing. Living the gospel is important, but when was the last time you actually proclaimed it to someone? How do you proclaim it?
Jesus also has a good plan for addicts (see Luke 4:18). In verse 18, Jesus described two related aspects of His mission: "to proclaim liberty" and "to set at liberty." In other words, He came to preach the good news and to promise a good plan. Jesus doesn't just have a nice sermon for addicts; He actually has a plan for their lives—freedom from addiction. How does He break the cycle? While He allows some people to be supernaturally and instantaneously freed from all addiction, it is more common for Him to set people free in a supernaturally natural way—His supernatural power working through natural processes. He cooperates with us to box in and shut down addictive behaviors. This "box" has four sides:
1. Accurate assessment: Don't underestimate your addiction. Be honest about the extent of your bondage. It will be an intense emotional roller coaster and a lifetime struggle.
2. Use overwhelming force: Use however many resources you need to overwhelm it. If you need 200 soldiers to capture the enemy base, use 8,000 so that there is no chance of failure.
3. Zero tolerance: Recovery is pass or fail. Everything depends on it. Make an agreement with yourself that you can never use again, drink again, or watch that stuff again—no matter what! For this third side of the box to be effective, the first two sides must be in place.
4. Trust in the highest power: Recovery programs talk of a higher power, but we must be more specific. Effectiveness in recovery is not just based on saying "no" to the menace, but saying "yes" to your Maker. As you learn of His love, experience His power, and interact with healthy believers, your trust in Him will grow. Addiction is like a light-sensitive virus—exposure to the pure light of Christ will kill it.
This four-sided box is a strategy of release to break the cycle of addiction. How can you apply it to an area in your life? Maybe it's time for you to change your playmates and your playground.Lastly, Jesus has a good reputation among addicts (see Matthew 11:16-19). He was known for spending time with robbers, murderers, drunkards, and prostitutes (see Matthew 9:10). The religious leaders of the day wouldn't have been caught dead socializing with drunkards and prostitutes. Jesus, on the other hand, not only wanted to spend time with them—He died for them! They loved Him for that. We are called the body of Christ for a reason: just as His hands touched hurting people, so should ours. Just as His mouth spoke words of truth and healing, so should ours. Just as He listened to the cries of the captives, so should we. Jesus said, "As I have loved you...you also love one another" (John 13:34). We must become His army of love, addicted to loving all who are addicts! We must feed our spirit rather than our flesh and encourage others to do the same. Pray that God will use you to be the person an addict trusts enough to break their isolation. Listen well, and encourage them to build that four-sided box.
Adapted from Pastor Skip’s teaching
The BIG Idea
"The power of the gospel in four words: Christ died for me!" --C.H. Spurgeon
Figures referenced: Albert Einstein, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, John MacArthur, Charles Wesley
Cross references: 2 Samuel 11; Isaiah 61; Matthew 8:2-3; 9:9-13; 11; Mark 1:40-41; Luke 4; 5:12-13; 15:1; 19:1-7; John 3:19-21; 13:34; 1 Corinthians 6:12; 15; 16:15; Ephesians 2:3; Hebrews 12:1; James 1:14; 1 Peter 2:11
Keywords: addict, addiction, alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex, food, gluttony, the flesh, sin, the gospel, liberty, recovery, rehab, rehabilitation, love
In this last message of our series Jesus Loves People, we want to bring equilibrium to the series itself. It’s true that God loves people. It’s equally true that He hates evil and the practice of it. Today we want to show how both the wrath of God and the love of God are integral parts of the nature of God Himself. This is crucial so that we don’t distort Him to the world and mislead people eternally. Let’s consider three requirements for representing the God who loves people.
Connect Group Recap
June 28, 2015
Teaching: "Jesus Loves People, BUT..."
Teacher: Skip Heitzig
Text: Romans 2:1-11
A New Look:
Welcome to a new format for the Connect Group recap. It is our prayer that the information provided is beneficial to you and a blessing to your group. We've organized the information in a user-friendly manner, following three components:
Path: Teaching from Romans 2:1-11, Pastor Skip wrapped up the Jesus Loves People series with the message "Jesus Loves People, BUT...."
Pastor Skip's introduction included the following highlights:
Points: Pastor Skip unpacked many relevant points in Romans 2:
Practice: Part of Calvary Albuquerque's vision statement is that we connect up, connect in, and connect out. Discuss the following questions, looking for a practical response to what you've heard and learning to be a doer of the Word:
Figures referenced: Oswald Chambers, William Wilberforce, Lord Ashley Shaftesbury, Benham brothers, Jason Benham, Benjamin Franklin
Cross references: Psalm 7:11; Ezekiel 18:32; Jonah 4:11; Matthew 3:7; 5:13-16; 23:37; 26:39; Mark 10:21; 14:36; Luke 3:7; 13:31-34; 19:41; 22:42; John 15:19; Romans 1:16-18, 24-27; 2:1-11; 3:23; 1 Corinthians 13:6; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 4:8
Keywords: love, truth, true, repentance, repent, judgment, sin, holiness, holy, wrath, judging, just, justice, boldness, bold, salt, light, the world, kindness