Good morning! Happy Sabbath! I want to welcome all our visitors here today in person and online. Let’s begin with prayer. Please bow your heads. Dear Heavenly Father, please help us to seek the Holy Spirit. Teach us and convict our hearts of the truth. Unite us together in You. Please use me today. Don’t allow me or my words to overshadow Your message to each individual. Allow us to see Your light through our darkness. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
My last message was entitled “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”. In case you missed it or can’t remember the point, we faced the problem we have of letting the small stuff (and it’s all small stuff) get in the way of caring for and loving each other. God is calling us to become His living body, to see each other as irreplaceable parts of God’s church. And when connected we can work together to lift others out of the complicated mire of this sin-sick life that people have gotten stuck in. So…how are we doing? Are we still sweating the small stuff and allowing things to separate us? Or are we perfectly united in our efforts to help others? Unfortunately, if we’re honest with ourselves, I believe we are not there yet. We still need to learn to see each other through God’s eyes. We don’t always show each other that we care. In fact, maybe we sometimes still discourage or hurt each other.
Today, I’ve entitled this message “Look Up”. And spoiler alert, the point of this message is we need to look up and focus on Jesus. He is the light of truth and without the light it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the evil and darkness around us. And when we focus on Jesus, we find that we don’t sweat the small stuff with each other. Speaking of looking up, I recently came across a fictional Netflix film called “Don’t Look Up”. I haven’t actually seen the film, but In the description of the plot it states: Two astronomers go on a media tour to warn humankind of a planet-killing comet hurtling toward Earth. The response from a distracted world: Meh. These astronomers were desperately trying to get people to look up. Unfortunately, no one wanted to pay attention. In some ways, this film is an allegory for our time. We as Seventh-day Adventists have a message to the world, but for real. We also should be calling people to look up. Not at the impending doom of our planet. Not at the problems that we face as a society. Not at our personal problems. But look up and focus on Jesus. He shows us the way to live with the purpose of blessing others. He is the source of truth that keeps us from deception and ruin. He is the life giver. It is because of His sacrifice and His resurrected life that sin’s death sentence has been commuted and that if we keep our trust in Him He will destroy sin and bring us back to life to be with Him when He returns to bring us home to heaven. We can get through anything if we keep our eyes on Him, our hope in Him, even through the end of the world.
But we need to look up.
Tomorrow is Easter. And this is the perfect time to to take advantage of the fact that the reason for this holiday is to remember Jesus’ victory over sin for all of us. We have the chance to point people to Jesus, and take the time to focus on Him as well.
Yesterday was Passover which symbolizes and foreshadowed Christ’s sacrifice for the salvation of the human race. Just as the Hebrew nation waited in faith to escape the last plague of Egypt, we wait in faith for God’s salvation now from a sin filled world—from sin in our own lives.
Jesus had celebrated Passover with his disciples the night before his crucifixion. But we find that during the passover meal, many of the disciples were very distracted. They weren’t paying attention to what Jesus was doing or saying. They weren’t thinking about the meaning of the Passover meal. So , what were they doing? Let’s take a look. Luke 22:14-27 says that Jesus and the twelve disciples were sitting down to eat the Passover meal. Jesus was sharing about His soon suffering and the symbolism of the bread and wine as Himself and called them to remember Him. Then it says,
“After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you. “But here at this table, sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me. For it has been determined that the Son of Man must die. But what sorrow awaits the one who betrays him.” The disciples began to ask each other which of them would ever do such a thing. Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men Lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.”
Did you see what happened there? Jesus told the disciples he was going to be betrayed by one of them and be put to death, but instead of reacting to the news of Jesus’s death, they were focused on who was going to do it. And then that turned into an argument of who would be the greatest. What? How did they miss the whole “I’m about to die” part? They were distracted.
This “who is the greatest” argument was a running theme with the first disciples. We find the argument coming up several times before the Passover. In Matthew chapter 18, 19, and 20. Each time, Jesus would have to get them together and explain how His kingdom works and that they had it backwards. They needed to be like little children willing to learn and be changed. They shouldn’t be consumed with power and hierarchy. It’s wasn’t about them. It’s about others. It’s not about getting, but giving. It’s about being willing to sacrifice all, even one’s own life if need be, to love and care for one another. They needed to see each other as He saw them--people worth loving. People worth saving. Jesus was willing to do anything to show them that—and He did. He held nothing back—not even His life when people demanded it and as God called Him to do. He had faith that His sacrifice would not be in vain. He believed that people would see what their selfish, Godless hearts had brought them to do and that their hearts could be turned—that they could choose to want forgiveness. That anyone in the whole world could want to change and be saved—no matter who they are or what they’ve done. He believed it was worth giving up everything for.
Are we willing to follow Christ’s example? Are we looking up to Jesus and letting Him teach us? Are we willing to humble ourselves as He did? Are we focussed on His mission to love and serve in order to save others? Or are we getting distracted by other things? Are we like the disciples too busy fighting amongst ourselves and missing the point?
We may not be arguing about who is the greatest, but maybe we are arguing about who and what is most righteous? Maybe we’re arguing that we are right and others are wrong? It feels good to be right. When we’re right and we know it, it feels like we’re on top of the world. We are ready to face anything and anyone to prove it. If anyone tries to challenge us, we are ready to fight for it. Isn’t that what witnessing is? Isn’t that giving the straight testimony? We stand up for what’s right. Right? No matter what. If anyone gets in our way, we just mow them down with our arguments. We make them see they are wrong. But does that work? Should we try to force others to do or believe the right thing? Also, why are we doing this? Who is this for? Us or them? Do we really care about them? Do we love them? Do they know it? Because that’s the point. They need to know we truly care about them more than ourselves just like Jesus. Then maybe they will listen. But we, like the first disciples, have hardened points of view that keep us from understanding God’s point of view. We need to look to Jesus for our example.
Jesus said in Matthew 11:19 NLT “The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.””
In the book Ministry of Healing, Ellen G. White wrote, “Christ's method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, “Follow Me.”
Jesus loves each one of us. And His most urgent plea to us right now is:
“...Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.””
John 13:34-35 NLT
If we truly love Jesus, wouldn’t we want to do what He is asking us to do? If it helps, think of it this way. He said that it’s a new commandment. Really, this commandment encapsulates 6 of the 10 commandments given by God through Moses. It is the principle we can use in all our interactions with others.
Jesus gave this new commandment to love each other to His disciples at the Passover meal right after their argument about who was the greatest. You would think that He was telling them to love each other so they would stop arguing, but right before His commandment He gave the reason:
“Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going.”
John 13:33 NLT
Why did He want them to love each other? Because they were about to be alone, afraid, tempted, and divided. He wouldn’t be there to bring them together, to point them in the right direction, to give them courage. And He knew they would need each other more than ever. He warned them at the Passover meal:
““Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.””
Luke 22:31-32 NLT
Later, on the way to the Mount of Olives, Jesus again warned:
“…“All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.””
Mark 14:27-28 NLT
Jesus wanted to warn them, but also encouraged them. He didn’t want them to give up and lose faith. Even though they would see Him die, He wanted to them to know that they would see Him again. Based on their actions, though, it seems like they either didn’t really listen or didn’t really take Him seriously. They were distracted. They were not really looking up to Jesus.
We see evidence of this a little later at the Mount of Olives, when Jesus felt the full weight of what He was about to go through on the cross and asked His disciples to watch and pray with Him. But each time Jesus would go to them, they would be asleep. It happened multiple times. They just didn’t see what Jesus was going through and what He was facing. They didn’t feel the urgency. By the third time Jesus asked them to pray with Him, it was too late. It was time for Jesus to be betrayed. Shortly after He was arrested, Mark 14:50 says all the disciples deserted him and ran away. They totally lost sight of Jesus.
For the rest of the time as Jesus was on trial first before the religious leaders, then back and forth between King Herod and Pilate, the Roman Governor, the disciples were trying their best to stay under cover and be just part of the crowd. They saw Jesus whipped and mocked as the King of the Jews with a crown of thorns. They saw him bleeding and stumbling as He tried to carry His cross through the streets. They watched as He was nailed to that cross and strung up naked for all to see. They saw Him take His last breaths as He pleaded for God to forgive all who had tormented and abused Him. They heard Him cry out in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” But at last He said, “It is finished!” And Jesus died.
After this, the disciples were still not focussed on Jesus and following Him. They were afraid the religious leaders were after them now. The next time we find the disciples gathered together, they were hiding in a locked room. It was Sunday evening and they had heard that Jesus was no longer in the tomb and that He had already possibly appeared to a few of them. Then all of the sudden, Jesus was standing in the room with them! They were so surprised, some of them didn’t think He was real. But 8 days later, after touching Him and seeing Him eat, they could see He wasn’t a ghost.
The disciples got a chance to spend more time with Jesus over the next 40 days and they were able to hear His teachings. But it wasn’t until 10 days after they witnessed Jesus ascend into heaven that the disciples became fully united. At Pentecost they were all meeting together in Jerusalem as Jesus had instructed them to do when they were all blessed with the Holy Spirit as He had promised. Suddenly the were given the ability to speak other languages. Many people of other languages and cultures were at Pentecost in Jerusalem. The disciples began to go out and share the good news that Jesus was the savior of the world that l had been foretold from the beginning of sin. 3,000 people believed and were baptized that day. Afterwards, it says in Acts 2 that they devoted themselves to following the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, sharing meals, and to prayer. They shared everything—selling their property and possessions and giving to those in need. As they worshipped daily and shared with great joy and generosity, praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people, the Lord increased their numbers daily of those being saved.
Finally, the disciples were listening and following Jesus. They were loving and caring for each other. They were showing they were truly disciples of Jesus. They were finally looking up—keeping their focus on Him and His mission to save the world.
When we look at the journey of the disciples from the Passover to Pentecost, we can see parallels to our time. We are no better than the first disciples. We need to learn from their successes and failures. We are also about to face trials like never before. We are in the last time of Earth’s history. We are in the toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s image right before it’s destruction. We are in the time of the Laodicean Church in the book of Revelation. Jesus has warned us just as He warned His first disciples that we are about to face a time of trouble. We can find this prophecy in Daniel Chapter 12. We know from reading the book of Daniel and from history that the time for this to happen is soon. But like Jesus’s first warning, He gives us hope and encouragement as well. It says:
““At that time Michael shall stand up, The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a time of trouble, Such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, Every one who is found written in the book.”
Daniel 12:1 NKJV
We will go through a time of trouble, but it will end with Jesus coming to deliver us. We just need to keep looking up—just listen to and follow Jesus. He has already told us what to do. To love God and love each other.
This prophecy from Daniel is echoed in a vision that Ellen White had that she shared called The Shaking in the book Testimonies for the Church Vol. 1, page 179. I encourage you to read it for yourself and I will be posting it on the Lakeland Church website. But for time’s sake I want to focus on a few points from the vision. I’m paraphrasing here:
At first she saw God’s people surrounded by evil angels pressing them with thick clouds of darkness in order to keep them from seeing Jesus. Some were agonizing and pleading with God for help, but others that were indifferent let the darkness close them in. God’s angels were doing everything they could to guard the praying ones and clear away the darkness with their wings. And sometimes they would get a glimpse of light from Jesus that would encourage them. As long as they were looking up, they were able to keep from being overwhelmed by the darkness. Finally, she saw the ones who had been weeping and praying in agony emerge from the darkness surrounded by twice as many of God’s angels. They were fully armored and unified like an army. Their faces were now bright with the light of heaven. They were now joyous with deep gratitude because they had endured and obtained victory. The rest who had been indifferent and careless had been shaken out and left behind in the darkness. But their numbers were immediately made up by others taking hold of the truth and joining the ranks of God’s people. The evil angels still pressed around them, but could not over power them.
The rest of Ellen White’s vision describes what happens after the shaking. In summary, the united people of God who remained after the shaking then entered the time of trouble described in Daniel chapter 12. And they were able to get through this terrible time of persecution and darkness because they had endured the shaking. They were united together in Christ. The next scene after this time of trouble describes their long awaited deliverance.
Ellen White describes it like this:
There was a mighty earthquake. Buildings were shaken down, and fell on every side. I then heard a triumphant shout of victory, loud, musical, and clear. I looked upon this company, who, a short time before, were in such distress and bondage. Their captivity was turned. A glorious light shone upon them. How beautiful they then looked! All weariness and marks of care were gone; health and beauty were seen in every countenance. Their enemies, the heathen around them, fell like dead men. They could not endure the light that shone upon the delivered, holy ones. This light and glory remained upon them until Jesus was seen in the clouds of heaven, and the faithful, tried company were changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, from glory to glory. The graves were opened and the saints came forth, clothed with immortality, crying: “Victory over death and the grave!” and together with the living saints they were caught up to meet their Lord in the air, while rich, musical shouts of glory and victory proceeded from every immortal tongue.
Amen! I look forward to that day, don’t you! Praise God if we keep looking up at the light of Jesus, we will be delivered! But we must first go through this time of shaking. And I believe it is happening right now.
What was it that started this time of shaking? She said it is “by the straight testimony called forth by the counsel of the True Witness to the Laodiceans. This will have its effect upon the heart of the receiver, and will lead him to exalt the standard and pour forth the straight truth. Some will not bear this straight testimony. They will rise up against it, and this will cause a shaking among God's people.”
What is the straight testimony and straight truth? I’ve heard people talk about straight testimony and they seem to mean that it’s telling people they are wrong without gentleness or mercy—telling the truth without sugar coating it as they say. But according to Ellen White, this straight testimony is the counsel given in the message to the Laodiceans. God says in Revelation 3:19-21:
“So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne.”
This is Jesus talking to us like He did to the first disciples. We need Him—a real experience with Him, not just head knowledge. We need His righteousness, not relying on our own understanding. We need to see as He does—to see our need, but also to see others as He does through the lens of His love for them and earnest desire for them to be saved.
As the darkness closes in, we must look up. To get through the shaking we must keep our eyes on Jesus. It feels like we are isolated and alone. We feel discouraged. It is hard to see God’s working. It is tempting to give up on each other and stop caring. But like Jesus said to the first disciples, we must band together and wait for the Holy Spirit together. In the end, if we do this, we will emerge from the darkness stronger, united, acting as a unified force for good, for truth. The truth the world needs is God’s love. Not worldly, fickle, self-serving love that we naturally have. I’m talking about the kind of humble, selfless love ready to sacrifice itself for the good of others.
How do we look up, how do we keep our eyes on Jesus? Even before we walk into Church, we need to be praying for Jesus to give us His Holy Spirit to help us remember His mission to save the world through His love. We need His Spirit to fill us with peace and forgiveness—not allowing the past mistakes of others to prevent us from loving them. We need His Spirit to enable us to be humble and willing to learn--to be willing to be corrected when we have hurt or wronged others and to seek their forgiveness. We need His Spirit to enable us to be wise and understanding—to see beyond the outward appearance of others and to acknowledge that we don’t know what God knows about their struggles and circumstances and that we cannot judge them as He is able to do and then we think carefully how we use our words to uplift others, not to hurt or discourage. We need His Spirit to help us to see people as He sees them--worth saving, worth loving. Then when someone is rude to us, or confronts us with our own faults and shortcomings, we are ready to fight the darkness with humility, kindness, and consideration. When we see people heatedly arguing over doctrine or church policy we are not overcome by disappointment, but look for ways we can be used to help bring harmony and order. When someone comes to us and wants to discuss their concerns about someone else or how someone else has disappointed or hurt them, we lovingly direct them to go to that person to make amends. When we are tempted to look at other’s faults and shortcomings, we remember our own and pray for God to help us overcome as well as the other person, and then when we have become friends with that person, we look for ways to help them and encourage them to do the right thing. When we are confronted with a differing view of a controversial subject, we are ready to listen and evaluate. We look for wisdom. We ask God for guidance. We search His word and make sure we are in line with God’s point of view. When we are tempted to ruminate about disappointments or traumatic experiences, we instead choose to recount and treasure every blessing God has given us—our loved ones, the ways God has used others to encourage us, ways God has rescued us from bad situations, thanking God for freeing us from sin in our own lives. The apostle Paul gave the believers in Philippi some wonderful words of wisdom for how to be strong in the Lord:
“Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
Philippians 4:1, 4-8 NKJV
We must overcome evil with good, and to do that we must believe the good is more important than the evil. The beautiful thing is, when we focus on the good, we give it more power in our lives. Because whatever we focus on, we give power. So let’s focus on the good. And when we focus on the good, we are focussing on Jesus. Because Jesus is Goodness. The good news is that light overcomes darkness. Jesus is the Light. Please join with me in singing 290. Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.
Let’s pray. Dear Father in Heaven, let us not forget what you have told us. Let us not get distracted. Let us listen and follow You. Let us focus on the good and allow Your goodness to overcome evil. Amen.
You can read the entire vision of the Shaking that goes with today's sermon in Testimonies for the Church, volume 1, chapter 32.