Stranger In Your Own Land
We often aren’t given the full story behind why we suffer, but we should trust God anyway.
Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.
Let’s start this morning with a quick informal poll.
Raise your hand if you are currently living more than 30 miles away from the town you grew up in?
Ok, so a lot of you.
If this is you, you might even refer to where you grew up as your “hometown.”
We don’t tend to do this as much if you now live in Blaine, but you grew up in Ham Lake.
But there’s something weird about going home.
On the one hand, it’s comforting, right? You know where everything is.
I grew up in Cambridge, MN about 40 minutes north of here.
When I go home, I know every street name, where the grocery store is, where the gas stations are, where the Culver’s is.
And some of that is comforting.
And often the people are comforting as well.
But sometimes…it’s hard to go home. Because the people KNOW you. And sometimes they even know a former you.
About 4 years ago, I got asked to think about coming back to Cambridge to be a pastor AT a church there.
God was already starting to pull me towards church planting, which was the main reason I said no, but I also just thought it would be really hard to go home.
Would the people take me seriously? Would they just think of me as “little David?” “Would they think of me as Mr. Sorn’s son (as my parents both still live there)
Or, would they know how I’ve changed? I became a Christian only 2 months before I left there.
Coming home is often really hard.
We change as people. We’re not the same anymore. People just look at us differently there.
Even Jesus had a hard time when he came to his hometown of Nazareth to do ministry.
He said, “A Prophet is not honored in his hometown”
Today, we’re going to look at a passage in the Bible where the Apostle Paul has a rough homecoming to his hometown of Jerusalem.
As a church, we’ve been studying the Book of Acts in the Bible. It’s the story of how Christianity got started after Jesus went back to heaven.
We will be on PAGE 903 or YouVersion
Last week, Paul was journeying back to Jerusalem (because God was leading him there), but yet God also kept telling him that suffering was coming for him in Jerusalem.
(Acts 21:17-26) – NIV
17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James (explain), and all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come,23 so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. 25 As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.” 26 The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them.
Ok, there’s a lot of confusing little things here because, you and I as readers, are not 1st century Jews
So, things that would have been SO obvious to them are no longer cultural or religious things that we understand.
So, here’s essentially what’s happening.
Paul’s been helping thousands and thousands of Gentiles (non-Jews) around the world to follow Jesus Christ
But He’s also been helping Jews realize that Jesus was their messiah.
Paul is also teaching that “the Law” (as they call it) is no longer necessary for salvation (to be forgiven/go to heaven)
Meaning, it’s not necessary to offer animal sacrifices anymore (Jesus was the final sacrifice….and other religious ceremonies)
However, while Paul certainly tells the Gentiles they don’t have to do the Law (and the church in Jerusalem supports that…they referred to that in verse 25…and Acts 15 is all about that)
But Paul isn’t completely against the Jews giving up all of their laws and customs…he’s just saying that they’re not necessary for salvation.
But to the Jews in Jerusalem this is the worst thing imaginable.
There’s a guy going around the world, talking to their people, and telling them to follow this Jesus guy and if they don’t want to, they don’t have to follow these Jewish customs anymore.
So, the Christian leaders in Jerusalem are saying, “Paul, if these guys even get wind that you’re here, you’re dead.”
So, they devise a plan to have Paul do some “Jewish custom” things in front of the other Jews, and then, maybe they’ll see that Paul isn’t such a bad guy.
This plan is also helpful to the Jewish CHRISTIAN leaders in Jerusalem.
Right now…the Jews are treating them okay again…but if they are aligned with Paul…it could be over for them as well.
So the plan is, there’s these 4 guys that have to do a Jewish purification ceremony, and the plan is for Paul to pay for it himself (thus, validating it)
We also know from the scholars (and the OT) that the Jewish customs would expect Paul (who was returning from Abroad) to notify the priest of a seven day purification, and the seven days would include being sprinkled with “water of atonement” on the third day and seventh day…
Now, these are things that are super unfamiliar to us because, we don’t do these sort of things as Christians.
Which is part of the problem here. Paul doesn’t NEED to do this anymore.
It’s not part of the Christian faith. That was part of Judaism, and Jesus was the final sacrifice and thus, those sort of purification ceremonies, etc. weren’t necessary anymore.
But yet, Paul does it anyway.
We get a glimpse into his thinking in 1 Corinthians
(1 Corinthians 9:19-20) – NIV
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.
We’ve used this verse a lot in Evangelism concerning doing whatever it takes to reach people.
And here, Paul does whatever it takes to try and keep unity in the church.
Right now, in Jerusalem, some of the Jewish Christians were still observing some certain Jewish customs. And not all of them were bad.
It’s one thing to keep sacrificing animals…(that doesn’t’ make sense…Jesus was the final sacrifice)…but is it a big deal if they keep the Jewish custom of praying at certain times of the day, or praying at the temple?
No, not really.
And Paul, despite his personal opinions, is going to do his best to keep the unity of the church.
In Acts 16, he even goes as far as circumcising Timothy, so they can better work with the Jews
And I think what we need to get here from Paul’s heart here is that sometimes we have to agree to do things that we feel are unnecessary for us personally, but help maintain unity in the Church
We barely can grasp this as society.
We struggle to work together for the greater cause of Christ.
It’s like this famous illustration as told by a man walking across a bridge…
I was walking across a bridge one day and I saw a man standing on a ledge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said, "Stop! Don't do it!"
"Why shouldn't I?" he asked.
"Well, there's so much to live for." "Like what?"
"Well, are you religious?" He said yes. I said, "Me too!"
"Are you Christian or Buddhist?" "Christian." "Me too!"
"Are you Catholic or Protestant?" "Protestant." "Me too!"
"Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?" "Baptist." "Wow, me too!
"Are you Baptist Church of God or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?" "Reformed Baptist Church of God." "Hey, me too!"
"Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1789 or Reformed Baptist Church of God, 1915?"
"He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915." "Me too."
"Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915, Western Congregation, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915, Eastern Congregation?"
"He said: "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915, Eastern Congregation."
"I said, "Die, heretic scum!!" And pushed him off the bridge
But Paul, is so far from that kind of thinking. E
Even though, he doesn’t have to go do some purification rite…He does it. He does it because that’s what the Jewish Christians want him to do.
It’ll make it easier on their ministry in Jerusalem if he works with them on this.
So He does it.
But we struggle to work together for the greater cause of Christ.
Oh, you don’t believe this about speaking in tongues…sorry, we can’t work together.
You don’t believe this about God’s foreknowledge…hmm…sorry…we’re different.
Listen, yes, there are things that can divide us. There are “hills to die on”
Like if other Christians don’t believe in a literal hell or heaven. That’s a problem.
Tough to work together on our main mission of reaching people
But otherwise…let’s work together. Even if we go about it differently
We’ve become so isolated in how we do church.
So much so…I’m always baffled when people say things to me like, “Did you hear about that new church in your area?”
Or, I had multiple people even literally say this to me, “Hey David, I heard EagleBrook Church is putting a campus in Blaine. Are you nervous?”
Which I always said, “Am I NERVOUS?” About what?!
We’re praying for this city to know Christ. I’m not nervous, I’m ecstatic. Let’s work together!
Let’s stop making division after division and trying to do everything on our own!
WE need to stop just asking the question of: “How are we different?” And start asking: “How are we still the same?”
How can we combine resources and work together? How can we reach people together? How can we unite again?
And move beyond just mere preferences
In Fact, next week, we are going to be starting a new series called, “3 Things the Church is Not”
And we’re starting with: “The Church is NOT a Wal-Mart”
Talking about preferences. Should be fun.
Sometimes, for the sake of unity, or obedience, there might be things, whether in church, or your small group, or with other Christians at work…
There might be things that you don’t personally agree with, but for the sake of unity…it’s worth it.
Like, say you’re in a Bible Study at work, and they want to start with the Lord’s Prayer every week.
And you think it’s weird to do a recited prayer.
That’s not a hill to die on. SEEK Unity.
Pray the Lord’s prayer. We’ve got to move past some of our minor differences and the follow the EXAMPLE of Paul here.
THE PASSAGE – PART 2
The passage continues. Check it out
(Acts 21:27-36) – NIV
27 When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, 28 shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.”29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.) (Explain) 30 The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. 31 While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. 35 When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. 36The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Get rid of him!”
Much like they shouted 27 years earlier at Jesus, in the very same city.
WHEN IT DOESN’T WORK
So, our friend Paul’s been journeying all over the ancient world, but he finally comes home to his hometown.
We know Paul was originally born in Taurus (which is in South Central Turkey), but the next chapter in Acts tells us he grew up in Jerusalem
He comes back to his hometown, and it’s like he’s a stranger.
Towards the beginning of Acts, the Jews practically worshipped Paul.
He was the Persecutor. He was the one stomping out Christianity from the world.
He was the HOMETOWN HERO
But now, to them, he’s the betrayer.
The Jewish Christians had a plan that would make the Jews not mad at them, and hopefully not at Paul, but it backfired.
The whole, “let’s have Paul do some purification rites plan” backfires, and the city is an uproar, ready to tear Paul to pieces.
So Paul does whatever it takes, and it still doesn’t work. What now?
He was doing the right thing in the eyes of the Jews. He went to the Temple like he was supposed to. But it didn’t work out.
I like this about the Bible. It’s real life. Paul does the right thing, and it doesn’t work. Let’s not sugarcoat it.
You’re not gonna come to Renovation and hear: “If you just do all the right things, God’s gonna bless you and everything’s gonna be A-OK.”
Sometimes we do the right things, and it still doesn’t work out.
Yeah, but why in the world does God do that?!?
Well, maybe God still is working it out towards something else.
Like In Paul’s life, he’s using this arrest to take Paul to Rome.
But, maybe you try and do everything right…but it still doesn’t EVER work out.
What happens if your parents, or your brother, or whoever never comes to Christ? Despite your best efforts?
What happens when you pray, you fast, you do everything, but a person close to you still dies?
What do you do when you do everything right (say like Paul), you even go to great lengths to do the right thing (like Paul), and it still doesn’t work?
It’s like…Really, Paul should be getting this glorious homecoming…roll out the red carpet…this guy’s done more for God than anyone…but they’re ready to stone him.
What do you do?
We trust God.
This is really a theme that I hope God is communicating to us over and over in this section of Acts. It’s all over the text the last 6 weeks or so.
That suffering…is part of being a Christian.
But do we get it?
I can imagine God just shaking his hands at American Christians and saying, “Look at Paul’s life! No REALLY, look at it!”
Because, if we were honest, too many of us tend to believe more in Karma than we do the Sovereignty of God.
Like, think of Paul. He traveled around the world, doing everything for Christ. Sleeping on couches, working during the day and teaching Jesus by night… And he was probably responsible for bringing thousands upon thousands upon thousands with Him to heaven.
And how should God honor Him for that?
What should God do for a man like that??
Should he do this:
(2 Corinthians 11:23-25) - NIV
23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,
Paul does so much good, and his good results in incredible joy (Paul writes of it often)…but…but…also in suffering.
Why??? Couple of reasons.
Like we said: God can use suffering. Sometimes it’s on a path to great good.
But sometimes we just are never going to know why. And is that okay?
Are you okay with that?
That…God is God and we are not. Do you trust Him?
If you don’t, you gotta good chance of just getting stuck in this sort of Karma system…so when things go badly for you, which they will, they do for everyone…then you have to question God? Well, what did I do?
God, I’ve been serving you…don’t I deserve better? What’s wrong with you God?
And that’s why I feel God would be screaming to us…”NO, look at Paul’s life!!”
My greatest servant endured some of the greatest suffering.
Maybe you’ve done nothing wrong? Paul really didn’t in this situation. But God is still moving…in His sovereign way.
NOT QUITE THE WHOLE STORY
I know this is hard stuff to swallow, but when tough things happen…even in an area where they shouldn’t…. Paul’s hometown for goodness sakes!
When tough things happen, we’ve GOT to trust in the sovereignty of God (Meaning, he knows all, he reigns over all, and can do as He pleases
Sometimes we get so mad at him, but REALLY, we’re just working off a limited picture.
Like, look at this picture:
Looks like a man jumping off a building.
But let’s expand out. See the whole picture.
Or this is a tragic photo from the Haiti earthquake
A woman is trapped. But when we see the full picture..
We see, it’s actually a glorious pic of her recovery
Or, look at this photo of this bear.
Looks like he’s been captured for the zoo or worse…killed.
But when we expand out AND get context on the bear
This is actually a photo of a bear who wandered in to a California neighborhood, but was safely tranquilized by the California Dept. of Fish & Game and transported to a more bear-friendly wilderness area.
Sometimes, God’s going to reveal the rest of the picture to you as life goes along, and you’ll say “OH! That’s what it is. That’s why the suffering happened!”
But SOMETIMES….you’re never going to see the rest of the picture before you die.
You might never know what God is doing.
He’s not obligated to explain himself to us.
And is that okay? Is He still God even if he doesn’t explain all of His reasoning to you?
Cuz that’s the kind of radical faith Paul had in God. He didn’t walk away from His faith after the first stoning, or the next or the next.
But, for us, we too often can caught up in just grading God through our limited perspective.
We see one small sliver of a picture of how’s He’s working in the world (7 billion)…and based on our limited knowledge, if it’s bad for US, we grade him an “F”
And then it’s as if we put Him on academic probation, until HE can prove to us why He did it.
But I’m telling you a hard truth…maybe you’ve never even heard this before (cuz a lot of Christian’s don’t’ like to say it)…sometimes God might never tell you why you’re suffering.
But He’s still God. I guarantee you that Paul never got answers for everything that happened to Him…but He still worshipped God.
And…and…remember his Goodness.
Yes, He’s big. He’s huge. He’s sovereign. His will is going to be established. He will reign forever.
Let’s not downplay that.
But this is also your father. Your daddy. Who cares so deeply for you. Who sent His son…
This is the God that was so in love with you, that despite seeing every sin you would ever commit, sent his son to die in your place.
If someone was willing to go as far as dying for us…taking execution in our place…we have to Trust them.
We have to. Even if it doesn’t always make sense.
JENNIFER BERTHIAUME VIDEO INTRO
This morning as we get back into worship, we want to play a special video 4 you
As we head towards April Awakening in a month, we want to show you some of the ways God had already moved in the lives of people in our church.
Our hope is that you would see these real-life stories from right here at Renovation… and see that God has done some incredible things.
BUT…to not just stop at that.
But to believe the impossible for YOUR friends as well this next month.
That if God could do it in these people’s lives. He can do it in your friend’s lives.
That we worship a God who makes the impossible…possible.
So here we go. Here’s our first video…w/ more to come in the weeks to come.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
You may use this material all you like! We only ask that you do not charge a fee and that you quote the source and not say it is your own.