It’s almost frightening to be favored by God. I’m confident that the people of Israel uttered those words, or at least thought those words, on more than one occasion. I think of the people leaving Egypt and sure, God rescued them. Sure, God brought them out of slavery. But once they got into the desert, these people began to understand who it was they were dealing with. When the pillar of fire showed up and when the glory of God changed the appearance of Moses, I’m sure many of those people who witnessed these things uttered those words, “It’s almost frightening to be favored by God.”
I think of the crowds of Israelites who helped escort the Ark of the Covenant from Baalah back to Jerusalem. Remember, the Ark had been out place—away from the people of God. Now, with David on the throne, the people were proclaiming in one voice, “We want God among us.” They were claiming their rightful title as “The People of God!” But when Uzzah reached out to stabilize that Ark… And when he died on the spot as a result…Well, I have to imagine there were some onlookers who thought…”It’s almost frightening to be favored by God.”
But here is something else: Sure, God’s power sometimes frightens His people. But even more, sometimes God’s people are left speechless because of a very important truism. The best way I know how to say it is to repeat the well-known phrase: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” You see, God expects more of God’s people than God does of others, and sometimes that thought alone is…frightening! We see a clear example of this truth by once again bearing witness to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.
Just after Jesus explains to His disciples that they will have no place to lay their heads, He readies them to take their first mission trips. He sent them out in pairs. 72 people in all. But what I think is most interesting are the instructions He gives them before they leave. If they accept you, stay a while and give them peace. If they do not accept you, move on to the next town; God will judge them. But notice whom He singles out.
What do these cities have in common? These are God’s cities! Those were God’s people! They were the chosen ones! And the point Jesus is making is this: If these people reject the Kingdom, there is no excuse! They should know better. They are the keepers of the covenant. To whom much is given, much is expected! It’s almost frightening to be favored by God, isn’t it? But is there more to it than that? Is there any reward to being a resident of the city on a hill? I want us to concentrate our efforts this morning on the time just after the 72 returned to Jesus. In these moments, I believe Jesus gave them (and He gives us) incredible insight into how to proceed on our own journey toward Jerusalem.
I want you to once again place yourselves in the sandals of these disciples. Jesus sends them out. They are surely apprehensive about their first solo excursions; nonetheless, they go. And we don’t know exactly what took place on their journeys, but we do know that they were successful. Even demons submitted to these disciples in the name of Jesus.
So, they came back to Jesus, and they were excited. They probably couldn’t wait until Jesus sent them off again! And the first thing out of their mouths was very natural, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name!” And Jesus shares their excitement and He offers a couple of strange apocalyptic statements. It’s hard to tell if He’s talking about past, present, or future. He uses all three tenses in the course of only two sentences. But what is apparent is that good has overcome evil, and it will continue to overcome evil in the future—in fact, that is what the Kingdom is all about! But just after Jesus shares in the joy of His disciples, He makes an interesting statement, “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
What’s going on here? Here’s the thing…The disciples returned and were excited about what they had accomplished. But in Jesus’ mind, they had missed the point. The most important thing was not their success. The most important thing was the success of the Kingdom. “Don’t rejoice in your good works.” “Rejoice in the ultimate outcome of your good works.” And once Jesus offers this corrective, He models this attitude. He gives glory to God for the success of the mission. And He praises God for opening the eyes and ears of His disciples. Something monumental has just occurred and the disciples do not even realize it. They are so excited about their recent accomplishment that they have neglected to see the gift that has been laid at their feet.
You see, for generations prophets and kings had asked God for just a glance at God’s glory. Even angels have longed to look into these things but access has been denied! With this moment, humankind has been given a rare glimpse of God’s Kingdom on earth. Jesus says here, “Many prophets and kings have wanted to see and hear what you have just seen and heard, but they couldn’t do it!” But again, the irony…Jesus had to explain the sights and sounds. Because, their own success, their own achievements, their own glory almost blinded them to the glory of God!
Church, do we hear the sights and sounds of God or are we too wrapped up in our own glory to see and hear what prophets, kings, and angels have longed to witness since the creation of the world? What exactly is it that we should see and hear? To put is simply, we should see and hear the activity of God in the world. While the world searches for meaning and a place of belonging, we have eyes to see and ears to hear! We have been given access to the workings of the Creator! But here is where this message of Jesus really hits home—I think we, like Jesus’ companions, sometimes miss the glory of God because we are so concentrated on our own small role in the process. Instead of saying, “Look, God!” We often say, “Look, Us! Look at what we’ve done for Jesus! Look at what we’ve done for the Kingdom! We’ve built this great congregation here in Tyler, TX! We send missionaries all over the world. We feed the homeless. We go to worship and Bible class! We live godly lives worthy of praise!” If you listen closely enough, you can hear the echo: “Jesus, look, even demons submit to us in your name!”
Are we wrong for building a congregation or feeding the homeless or coming to worship? Certainly not! And the disciples were not wrong for their excitement. Simply put, they, like us, needed to learn how to direct that excitement. Who deserves the praise for Kingdom work? Who deserves the glory for light in darkness?
Once again a recurring theme of this journey is: “It’s not about us. It’s about the One whose name we bear.” You know I really think this is a fundamental text for what we hope to accomplish this spring with this series. Let me tell you why. If you are like me, you’ve heard the word “mission” and “vision” tossed around a lot in recent years (it’s everywhere!). It has been said the church is searching for its identity. It has been assumed that the leadership here will eventually define and articulate a clear, precise direction and mission for this congregation.
Well, let me help you out this morning. I know definitively what our mission and vision are. The fact is, we have the same mission and vision as every other follower of Christ has had since Jesus walked among us in bodily form. Simply stated: As the children of God, we are called to be catalysts for the Kingdom. Constantly listening for God’s voice in the world, constantly opening our eyes to see God’s activity in the world. And once we hear it… Once we see it…We point others to it!
Church, that is our mission! We may use many different words to describe it: “Graciously helping a fallen world stand up again…” But, really, that is what we are here to do. So, those of you who are desperately awaiting some profound announcement from this pulpit…there it is!
So, brothers and sisters, what are you seeing; what are you hearing? Just this week, I saw God in a hospital room. I went to visit Nelda Cade in the hospital. She had a pacemaker put in. She has been in and out of the hospital more than
once in recent weeks. I went there to encourage her. But, instead, as is typical with Nelda and Alton, they encouraged me. God’s Spirit is alive and active in the lives of the Cades, and I saw it this week.
Just this week, I saw God in the lives of Steven Smith, Andy Albright, and Jason Gibson. Steven orchestrated a leadership retreat for our teenagers. Because of many conflicts this week, only two teenagers were able to go: Fletcher McCown and Luke Crawford. Steven could have cancelled that trip—why go through the hassle for two teenagers?
But those three men took those two teenage boys to Dallas and poured into them this weekend. And, as a parent, who is constantly on the lookout for more mentors for his children, I was extremely grateful. Luke said it was the best youth group trip he’s ever been on! A casual observer may not have seen it, but I saw God in the lives of Steven, Andy, and Jason this week.
“It’s almost frightening to be favored by God.” Almost! But to be favored by God gives us access to a world unknown before the Messiah walked toward Jerusalem.
Church, I’m confident that if we truly humble ourselves…If we indeed seek to make ourselves nothing so that God receives all the glory…If we will simply open our eyes and ears…Surely, we will see and hear the activity of God in this world. And when we lay claim to this gift, let us together bring others to the throne of God.