Choosing Faith equals Choosing Love to Strangers
Intro: Morning friends and visitors and those online. My name is Pastor Matt Johnson and today we continue our sermon series CHOOSE FAITH. In what is becoming a more and more difficult world for Christian to navigate – I want us to continue choosing faith. the things that strengthen faith and the things that agree with faith. So today we are talking about love and hospitality…
Prayer: Well sometimes we have to face difficult realities. The world is being taught to hate the church. HOSTILITY is definitely growing towards Christians and in such circumstances our hearts are in danger. They are in danger of being filled with hate; or anger or indifference. So today we are thinking about hospitality and practical Christian love – because the Bible says in the last days the love of most people will grow cold. But why? Why will the love of most grow cold?
I was getting ready to go to bed on Thursday night – when I first heard this breaking headline (Slide 2 – READ). The late edition of the Project was playing in the background and I heard them mocking the Christian belief of Pre-millennialism. My ears pricked up because I’m a historic-premillennialist. That’s a little bit different to Dispensational Pre-Millennialism. But my ears were burning – because Pre-Millennialist Christian belief was being linked to an act of terrorism. The Police investigation has now decided that the criminals were Christian terrorists who belonged to (and I quote) a broad Christian fundamentalist belief system known as premillennialism“. The Police verdict was that this act of TERRORISM happened because of fundamentalist, premillennial Christian beliefs.
Now let me say (very clearly) there is nothing in normal Premillennial Christian belief that supports violence or acts of terror. What’s more Premillennialism is still the dominant eschatology among Christians in the United States of America. It’s not a fringe or cult belief.
I’m guessing about 80% of pastors in the US would be pre-millennialists; maybe 50% in Australia. Yet this is what the Police Commissioner stated; (Slide 2). Now most Christian eschatology’s would agree with that statement. But the Project thought this was hilarious and made mockery. So basic Christian belief about Jesus’ return is now mocked and linked to terrorist thinking.
Now naturally when such cherished Christian beliefs (as Jesus’ return) are linked to terrorism or extremism – I become a little bit DEFENSIVE. I’m on the back foot. Then, I flick TV channels and discover that despite the assurances of my Archbishop and Bishop – Labour Leader Chris Minn’s pushed Alex Greenwich’s LGBTQIA “Anti-Conversion and Suppression Bill” on the first day of world-pride. Then, Premier – Dominique Perrottet caved and said the liberals will also support the bill. So on the first day of world pride (as I argued) – we lost religious freedom with zero opposition or protest from the church. It’s now a FAIT ACCOMPLI going into the NSW March election. Its going to happen and it means I can no longer explain the gospel to gay or transgender people without facing prison. So my premillennialist beliefs now link me to terrorism and my desire to share the gospel will soon make me a criminal.
So naturally enough I am getting 1) more and more defensive; and perhaps 2) paranoid; and perhaps 3) more inclined to self-preserving or angry behaviour. And somehow (in all this mess) we are meant to keep SOFT HEARTS – that continue to serve those around us. This sermon is about love and continuing to do good.
Point 1: Choosing Faith leads to Loving and Serving Jesus
Show: Matt.25:31-36 (READ)
Explain: Well Jesus tells a parable about the end of the world. He says that when he returns at the end of time – all the nations of the world are going to be gathered and then Jesus is going to sort THE SHEEP (true Christians) from THE GOATS (non-Christians). The sheep will go on Jesus right and then enter into heaven. The goats will be placed on Jesus’ left before being sent away to eternal punishment.
Now Jesus explains that the reason the sheep can enter into the Kingdom is because they served him. Jesus says; when I was hungry you gave me something to eat. When I was thirsty you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger you invited me in and showed me hospitality… etc etc. These Christians have truly used their life to serve Jesus. Now you’ll notice – these Christians start wondering – when did we do all these things for you Jesus. But Jesus explains they are ready to enter the Kingdom of God because they are true servants of Jesus.
Now notice Jesus does not say “Come now enter into the inheritance I have prepared for you – for you once prayed a sinners prayer.” Nor does Jesus say; “Come now enter into the inheritance I have prepared for you – because you went to church every Sunday.” No Jesus invites them to enter into heaven because they were REAL SERVANTS who gave food to Jesus when he was hungry and drink to Jesus when he was thirsty. Now the sheep are struggling to comprehend when and how they did this. But this is not salvation by GOOD WORKS. This is salvation by faith in Jesus that expresses itself in good deeds.
Let me EXPLAIN. As Christians we know the only reason we really love Jesus is because he first loved us (1Jn.4:19). Prior to Jesus coming into our life – we were 1) lovers of self, 2) lovers of money, 3)lovers of power and 4) lovers of pleasure. We lived, breathed and existed to serve self. Now I’m not meaning to offend anyone.
But this is the reality for us all. When we reject God, we inevitably put ourselves UPON THE THRONE and we start acting like everyone else exists to serve us. This not only destroys relationships. It also brings the judgment of God. This self-love (or failure to believe in Jesus and serve Jesus) is what ultimately condemns the goats. You can see in verse 46 – the goats are sent away to eternal punishment. That’s hell.
(GOSPEL) But of course, Jesus loved us and saved us from that fate by dying on the cross for our sins. As Jesus died on the cross and descended into hell – he was taking the penalty for everything sinful that you and I have done. Jesus did this because HE LOVES YOU. Then three days later Jesus rose from the dead – showing he is the true King over life and death. Now how many people do you know who love you enough to die for you? How many people do you know who love you enough to go to hell to save you? My guess is not many. But God says in the Bible that if A) you believe Jesus died for you and B) accept Jesus as your Saviour and KING – God will forgive you. So the minute you accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord – God declares that Jesus’ death on the cross is FULL AND FINAL PAYMENT for your personal sins. Jesus does the time for your crimes, and you get a free pass to heaven. But remember, that free pass to heaven cost Jesus his life.
Apply: So if you choose to believe Jesus died for you – the first thing that should do is KINDLE A LITTLE BIT OF LOVE in your heart for Jesus. Christians begin to love Jesus because he first loved us. This is a fundamental change for the better. Instead of loving self, we start to love Jesus. Instead of having our self on the throne (everyone worship and serve me) we start to put Jesus on the throne and we start to worship and serve him. Real Christianity is about expressing our faith in Jesus, by loving and serving Jesus. This is the nature of real Christian faith. Now post Covid are you still doing that? How are you loving and serving Jesus and His kingdom. In the end – those who have loved and served Jesus go to heaven, those who haven’t – don’t.
Point 2: Choosing Faith means loving and Serving Strangers
Show: Matt.25:37-40 (READ)
Explain: Well as you can see the sheep are CONFUSED about when they loved and served Jesus. So Jesus explains that whatever they did for other people in need – they were doing for Jesus. In John’s gospel Jesus says; “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” (Jn.14:15) He also says this is my command; “that you love one another, as I have loved you.” (Jn.13:34). The tough bit in Jesus command – is that we love one another AS I HAVE LOVED YOU.
So Jesus explains that the sheep have A) loved and served Jesus because B) they have loved and served their neighbour. So we hear about the sheep giving people who are hungry – food, and people who are thirsty – drink. Inviting strangers into their home; helping the sick and visiting those in jail. This is loving your neighbour 101. This is simply being the good Samaritan. Christians are meant to be the sort of people who generously love and serve others – even at personal cost and discomfort – because this is how Jesus loved us.
Now in the midst of these words (you’ll see in verse 38) it talks about seeing A STRANGER and inviting them into your home. This is almost certainly a play on the word for Christian hospitality. The word “stranger” is literally XENO, which means stranger or foreigner. It’s the same word we get Xenophobia today. Xenophobia is fear of foreigners. But the biblical word for HOSPITALITY is phileoXenia which means friend of strangers. So this passage isn’t just talking about loving and serving fellow Christians or family. Many Christians think that if they have a few people from church over for lunch on a Sunday – that’s Christian hospitality. Now of course, I think that such friendship is good and I want to encourage more of it. But this sorting of sheep and goats really shows us Jesus is looking at how we treat strangers and people we don’t really know. Do we have compassion or do we just walk by. Do we see the needy person and help or do we justify to ourselves why we are too busy to stop and help.
Truth is, it’s easy to love family and friends. But real Christian love starts to love and help complete strangers. Now I admit this is hard. Inviting a complete stranger into your home – may make you vulnerable. Visiting a person in jail is probably unpleasant. But faith takes risks.
Illustrate: Many years ago (here in Redfern) – Naomi and I – had a Korean lady turn up on our doorstep sobbing at about 11pm at night. She was hysterical and could hardly speak any English. Somehow she managed to communicate that she came to our house because she saw the church and she was begging us for a roof over her head. Now Naomi and I didn’t know her. We had young kids in the house and we were naturally a bit nervous. But after going into the other room together and praying – we decided we should do this as Christians. So we got her to empty her handbag and show us there were no weapons, sharp objects or drugs – and then we made her a bed. The next day we got Tyndale and his wife Susan (pastors in a Korean church that meets in one of buildings at Beaconsfield) to come and speak with her. They took over helping her and she ended up becoming a Christian.
Apply: Now I know this sort of hospitality may not be possible in all circumstances, for all people. But this is the nature of biblical, middle-eastern hospitality. It is extended to complete strangers in times of need and we do this trusting Jesus to look after us as we do his will.
Now what can you do in 2023 – in order to love and serve your neighbours or people in need. This love and Christian service can be expressed both A) in evangelism and B) acts of charity. Everybody needs to hear the good news of Jesus – otherwise they face hell. Just comprehend that truth. Most people you see walking down the street are in dire peril. What could you do to help them? Perhaps it is helping to teach Scripture in schools. Perhaps it is simply helping out with Sunday school in church. Perhaps, you could volunteer to teach English to new migrants. Perhaps it is serving in our Friday Food ministry or volunteering with Jesus Cares.
All these will give you opportunities to serve others and share the gospel.
Perhaps you could foster a child in need or provide your professional skills free of charge to help build an orphanage in Kenya. What I want you to see and realise is that as Christians we follow Jesus THE SERVANT KING and like Jesus we are meant to serve in Gods kingdom. But here’s the problem – during Coronavirus – many people stopped serving and for two years cultivated a more self-preserving and self-serving outlook. The number of times I heard people say; “I just need to be safe and look after me right now” was incredible. Imagine if Jesus had of said that in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet, that is what Jesus is calling us all to do – find ways to love and serve – that align with A)biblical truth and B) kingdom goals. But I think that is getting harder…
Point 3: Choosing Faith means becoming a Servant, not a Consumer!
Show: Matt.25:41-43 (READ)
Explain: Friends it scares me how many regular church-goers may hear those words from Jesus on the last day. Away from me I never knew you. The modern western world has turned Christianity into a consumer sport, rather than a service religion. In many contexts we’ve fostered a culture of consumerism in our churches. 1) Come to us we’ll give you the best concert. 2) Come to us we’ll give you the best children’s ministry and a rocking youth group. 3) Come to us and we’ll give you the old hymns and liturgy you love (and expect nothing from you). 4) Come to us and we’ll help you with your mental health and teach you how to become rich. Now I know we all have legitimate needs and I don’t want to be too harsh.
But friends we follow a servant king. Christianity is about serving Jesus, serving others and putting yourself last. Now I know that is totally countercultural. But that is true Christianity and it needs to come from a faith-filled regenerate, soft heart. Do we care about kids in foster care? Do we care about refugees coming to Australia without English? Do we still love and care about all the people in the gay community being sold a lemon. OF COURSE, I’m not going to A) REPEAT their narrative or B) SUPPORT their view of love. But will I still love gay people enough to share Jesus with them – when their whole world comes crashing down in addiction or domestic violence.
Or will I go quiet and run for the hills because sharing Jesus with them, may land me in jail because of some stupid anti-conversion bill?
Apply: Friends, the difficulty is that as the world around us becomes more HOSTILE to Christians and Christian belief – our very natural and normal responses are fight, flight or freeze. But in that moment – self-preservation and self-serving behaviour is trumping sacrificial service of Jesus and neighbour. This means we are going to have to be MORE CONSCIOUS and INTENTIONAL about choosing to serve and love others. I’m no prophet, but it looks likes its going to become harder and more costly to serve (in all sorts of ways). Somehow we need to keep speaking the truth in love – even to those who hate us and persecute us.
Somehow we need to continue LOVING and SERVING those who are fighting to take freedom of religion in our schools. We need to DO GOOD to those who are starting to label us terrorists or homophobes. We need to turn the other cheek when people accuse us of being misogynistic simply because we oppose abortion. We need to pray for those who persecute us simply because we oppose gender fluid ideology. Friends, we are beginning to become a hated minority. That’s NEW in the west. AS STEPHEN MCALPINE said in the book we read two years ago as a Church – we are no longer the GOOD GUYS, WE ARE THE BAD GUYS. That’s not fair. But be assured one day God will vindicate us.
UNTIL THEN – we cannot and must not – meet violence with violence, or cruelty with cruelty or hate with hate. Please hear me carefully (to bring real glory to Christ) you need to remain loving and Christlike – even in contexts of cruel, nasty, unwarranted persecution – because this is what Jesus did for us. We need to be able to pray with Jesus; Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.
In all circumstances Christians are called to love and serve others, while sharing the good news of Jesus. And you will be surprised how often your love and service of others will provide opportunities for the gospel. Christian love must continue to drive us to evangelism and doing good to all people.
But in 2 Timothy 3 it says (Slide 8/9 – READ) Well in the last days it seems people will love everything and anything but “the good” and “God”. They love themselves; love money; love pride and arrogance; and lovers of pleasure. It’s actually hard to say that this is not the Sydney we live in today. Sydney has a thin veneer of respectability and even a new type of morality. But it is spiritually bankrupt and sadly it is getting into many churches. We are being encouraged to LOVE and ACCEPT things God opposes, even by our own Christian denominations. This is spiritual attack. Its fast becoming syncretism, sold to us as wisdom and grace.
Now in such a context I think Christians will have to guard their hearts from two things in the last days. FIRST, we will be encouraged to love the world and the things of the world to such a degree – that it will be hard to say no. It will require conscience, intentional decision to walk a different path. The narrow path of faith expressing itself in love. SECOND, I think of many of our hearts will be in danger of growing cold – because as persecution and hostility rises – we fall into self-preserving behaviour and self love. Or worst yet, we start responding to violence, persecution and cruelty – like for like – and destroy our Christian witness. Friends, I want you to choose love and remember Jesus words (Slide 10)