Mortals Like Us - Acts 14 sermon
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Mortals Like Us – 03.20.2022
A long time ago there was a guy named Hideyoshi, he was a Japanese warlord, who ruled over Japan in the late 1500’s. One day he commissioned an absolutely MASSIVE statue of Buddha for a shrine in the city of Kyoto. It took 50,000 men five years to build this colossal work of art honoring Buddha. But the work had barely been completed when there was earthquake in Japan. The famous earthquake of 1596 destroyed the shrine. It brought down the roof and it broke the statue. In a rage, Hideyoshi ran out and stood in front of the massive, broken statue. He shot an arrow at the fallen colossus and screamed at it, “I put you here at great expense, and you can’t even look after your own temple.” As many of you know, here at Flushing UMC we have been reading through the book of Acts, and today we are diving into Chapter 14, which has something really valuable to teach us about the idols we have in our lives.
Now, if you’re just jumping in on this series – maybe you’re first time visitor, of you’ve been on vacation or out of town – but the story of the book of Acts is basically just following around the disciples of Jesus and telling us all the stuff they did. From the moment of Jesus’ death, resurrection and then ascension – his followers spread out from Jerusalem and started telling everyone the good news that Jesus Christ is the son of God, savior of the world, and if you believe in him you can have eternal life. And in the last couple chapters, we’ve been hanging out with this guy Paul. Paul used to hate Christians, he persecuted them, dragged them out of their homes and arrested them – led them to their death. But then Jesus shows up in Paul’s life, and now he’s traveling around risking his life to tell everyone about Jesus. And so last week Paul and his buddy Barnabas, and a couple others – they set out on this journey, like a missionary journey. Going from town to town telling everyone about Jesus. And what I want you to see this morning is that there is a rhythm to their work. Now you might think the rhythm goes like this, “Paul walks in. Everyone’s skeptical. Paul shares the good news. He wins them over. Everyone is thrilled. Paul leaves a hero, carried out on their shoulders like a crowd-surfing rock star.” That sounds like a great rhythm, but it’s not what happens. What we see here and in previous places – the rhythm goes more like this, “Paul walks in. People are curious. Paul talks. Some people listen. Other people don’t. Eventually division and drama starts up. People who don’t like Paul usually try to kill him.” That is the rhythm of Paul’s life, listen to this, [read v.1-7]. If you’re fuzzy on the terminology, “stoning” someone is not that thing where you get a bong and eat a lot of nachos – that’s something different. “Stoning” someone is literally taking rocks and throwing it at them until they die. When you’re done with a stoning, the person is usually on ground bloodied and broken, probably dead. You can see why Paul and Barnabas and their buddies would want to skip town on that one. No thank you.
So then we get to the main story of this chapter – the city of Lystra. And it starts out really good, [read v.8-10]. Paul comes in, starts talking – people are curious, and then Paul heals this man’s feet. The man jumps up and begins walking around. Now this man has never walked from birth, right? I imagine his legs were all atrophied, muscles under-developed. So this isn’t just a little thing, this is putting strength into legs that have never been used, rebuilding muscle tissue that isn’t there. This is an amazing miracle! It’s a very good thing. But the people of Lystra get a little mixed up. [read v.11-13]. They see this miracle, this good thing, and they all say, “Holy cow, that’s amazing – you must be a god!” So they look at their culture, they have Roman gods and they say, “well, you must be Zeus and you must be Hermes” and they get ready to start offering sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. Now, let me pause for a second – do you think Paul was offended that Barnabas got to be Zeus? Like, Paul is way more famous, and he ends up getting named after that scrawny guy with the bird shoes – but Barnabas gets to be like Mr Muscles and hurling lightening, god of thunder Zeus? Just seems like Paul might get a little bit jealous. Anyways, the people see a miracle, and they get really excited. They assume – these guys must be gods. And they try to worship Paul and Barnabas. Now, in the modern world, we kind of look back on this story and laugh. Those stupid village people, they thought Paul and Barnabas were gods! They worship statues like Zeus and Hermes. It’s kind of like that Japanese warlord worshipping the powerless Buddha statue. Silly simpletons – but we, educated modern people – we would never worship something made of wood or gold. We’re too smart for that. We think we don’t have idols, because we aren’t obsessed with little statues and figurines. And it’s true! Our idols are not made of wood or gold. [pull out your phone]. It’s made of plastic and wires. This is the first thing I want you to realize about idolatry. A lot of us fool ourselves and we think – I don’t have any idols, because we’re not obsessed with little statues or anything Roman gods. Our idols in the modern world are more impressive, they have more bells and whistles, they light up and do cool tricks – but they are still just idols. When it comes to idolatry, it's not about what it is, it’s about the place it occupies in our heart. It can be a statue, or a piece of technology, it can be a dream job or a politician. Anything can be an idol – it’s not about what it is, it’s about the place it occupies in our heart.
But Paul and Barnabas are not flattered, they are not interested in being mistaken for Roman gods who do not actually exist. It says [read v.14-15]. They tear their clothes, and then they run out, “What are you doing? Stop it! We are people just like you. We are mortals, just like you.” Basically Paul and Barnabas’ message is, “WE are not the good news, we’re trying to point you to the good news.” I’m working on this new project that should come out next month, basically kids ask me questions, and I’m creating this little videos to answer kid’s questions about God in a simple way. And one of the questions one of our children in the church asked was, “Is it Pastor JJ’s job to hold people’s hand and walk them to heaven?” And first of all, I thought that was the greatest job description I’ve ever heard, but the answer is no. No, that’s not my job. That’s what Jesus does. Jesus holds your hand and walks you into heaven. My job is to point you to Jesus. Paul and Barnabas are trying to point people to something incredible and the people get it mixed up. They’re trying to worship Paul and Barnabas, instead of worshipping God.
This is the second big thing I want you to realize about idolatry. Most idols are good things but they are not the highest thing. Healing that guy’s leg? That’s a very good thing. Paul and Barnabas? Really great guys. But idolatry is worshipping a good thing instead of a worshipping the greatest thing. Sometimes we convince ourselves, “Oh, I don’t worship idols” because we don’t have a little statue of the devil in our house. Some people think that worshipping idols is worshipping bad things – but it’s not. Idolatry is worshipping a good thing instead of worshipping the greatest thing. The most common idols in our modern world are all really good things. Like Family, or having a good job, getting involved in sports, or going on a great vacation, or getting a good education. Those are not bad things! Those are wonderful things, I want all of those things. But I’m not going to worship them. I’m not going to give them the highest priority. Paul and Barnabas are trying to re-direct. They don’t want their good deeds to point to them, they want it to point to Jesus – to the highest thing.
The good news this morning is that God is the God who made the heaven, the earth, the sea and everything in them. Our God is an incredible God. Let’s zoom out on that for a second. God made the earth, right? Did you know that if you were to measure the earth in pounds, it weighs 13,170 with 21 zeros after it. I don’t even know what that number is. There are 352 quintillion gallons of water on this planet. I asked the internet how many types of creatures lived in the ocean, and the internet got back to me and said, “we have no idea.” Hundreds of thousands have been classified, but they estimate 91% of the ocean species have not been classified yet. God made this 13,170 with 21 zeros after it pound earth, with 352 quintillion gallons of water and 8 billion people on it. And that’s just our little ball. God made the earth, the sea, everything in it, and the heavens. So let’s go up a little bit. Francis Chan, years ago, put out this video called the Awe Factor of God. It’s a really old video and the quality is really low, so I didn’t want to share it – but I’ll walk you through it. He starts off on the earth. And if you rise up about 10kilometers, like if you were standing on mount Everest, you can start to see the curvature of the earth. You can actually see the horizon bending. The next level up is 100km, which puts you a fourth of the way to the space station, and if you get to that level you’re considered an astronaut. If you add some zeroes you get to 100,000 km, which puts you a fourth of the way to the moon. At a million kilometers, you can see the moon, and the earth is just a little dot. At a hundred million kilometers, you’re still not at the sun yet. Zoom out some more, you’re at ten trillion kilometers, now you can see the sun and all the other planets, but the earth, the entire planet is barely recognizable as a dot. To zoom out again you have to switch the measurements. 10 light years away, the sun is just a dot, you can’t see the earth at all. There’s 11 other stars, the sun and 11 others. At a thousand light years, you can’t even see the sun, you start to see the milky way galaxy. We’re just buried in there. If you pull out to 10 million light years away, the milky way galaxy becomes a dot, and you start to see all these separate galaxies all spread out. At 100 Million light years, which is the furthest out our telescopes have ever been able to measure. You can’t even see the milky way galaxy, it’s just this tiny spec in this massive constellation of clusters of galaxies.
God made all of that, and he is the only one worthy of worship. Here’s my point with all this. First, I want you to feel very small. If our universe was a picture on the wall, we are a speck on top of a speck on top of a speck. I want you to experience awe when we remember just how big God is, and just how little we are. The second thing I want you to get from this, is I want you to feel very big. We are so small and insignificant, but the story the bible tells us, the story of Jesus’ life – is the story that God, that HUGE God who created the entire universe with all of it’s galaxies, he loves you. He cares about you. He believes in your value. He sent his son to die for your sins so you could be connected to Him. Do you understand how immensely valuable you are if that great big God of the universe who created everything, if that guy loves you? I want you to feel small, but I also want you to feel very, very special. Because you are. This is why it’s so important for Paul and Barnabas to point people to the real thing. They are so committed to making sure people worship the big God, instead of little idols.
The good news coming from our scripture lesson this morning is that God made the heavens, the earth, the sea and everything in them, and so our response, our application this morning is very simple: Save your worship for God. My challenge to you, this week and every week for the rest of your life is to fill your life with good things, but focus your life on the one, great thing. Do not worship movie stars or political parties, do not worship news outlets or the latest technology. No even good things – like your family, or a good job, money, or food. Fill your life with good things, but focus your life on the ONE greatest thing, and that is Jesus Christ, the son of God, savior of the world.
Now here’s my fear. I am afraid that what you’re all going to do is nod your heads, think to yourself “yes, only worship Jesus” and then change nothing in your life. Worshipping God is about making God a priority in your life. And you demonstrate your priorities with your time and your money. On a practical, concrete level – are you spending time everyday with God? Do you adjust your life AROUND the time you get to be with the creator of the universe? Or do you fit God into your life like optional sprinkles on a cake? In your mind when you think about Sunday morning Church, is it labelled “if I have time and energy AFTER I do all the important stuff?” or is it labelled “a priority in my life.” Is your quiet time, the time of reading the bible and talking with God that I hope you do every single day – is that at the same level of importance as your first cup of morning coffee? Is tithing the first thing to come out of your budget when finances get tight? Is giving to others and cultivating generosity the first thing you cut? Or do you make it a priority, and you’ll adjust other areas of the budget when things are tough. If you want to know what your idols are, what you worship with your life – all you have to do is look at your calendar and your bank statement. Fill your life with good things, but focus your life on the one, greatest, thing. I’m not against good things, but let them be the sprinkles, and let God be the foundation, the immovable priority in your world.
A buddha statue is a silly thing to worship, it cannot protect itself from an earthquake falling on it’s head. The idols of the modern world are more impressive, but they are just as powerless. Most of our idols are good things, like Paul healing that guy, good things but they are not the highest thing. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you remember how incredible, impossibly huge and awe-inspiring God is. May you feel very small, and very, very valuable. And finally may you fill your life with good things, but focus your life on the one, greatest thing. Amen.
 Today in the Word, MBI, August, 1991, p. 23