God is powerfully present and active when His people are convinced that evil is winning. That is and always has been the case when God's people fall victim to the deceit that they have God figured out. Why are we easily deceived when we think that we have God figured out? Why are we easily deceived when we become confident that we can predict where God is going and what God will do?

Why? God never does things the way we do them. His priorities are different. His purposes are different. His methods are different. His objectives are different. The way God measures success is different. When we are certain we correctly determined how God will do something, we commonly have concluded that God would do it like we would do it. Our conclusions are more likely to reflect our preferences than God's desires.

  1. In Matthew 16 Jesus asked the twelve men who were his special trainees what people were saying about him.
    1. Jesus was the talk of the Jewish nation.
      1. The Jewish people could not ignore Jesus.
      2. He simply had to be explained.
        1. The way he lived demanded an explanation.
        2. The way he used his life demanded an explanation.
        3. His teachings demanded an explanation.
        4. His miracles demanded an explanation.
        5. Why he showed such compassion and concern for the poor and the sinful demanded an explanation.
    2. So Jesus asked these twelve men how people explained him.
      1. The Jews had a rich history over a thousand years old that was rooted in God's prophetic activity.
      2. When the Jews explained things, their explanation began with God.
      3. They explained Jesus as they commonly explained things: Jesus represented prophetic activity.
        1. The twelve reported what they heard people say about Jesus.
        2. People said he was the resurrected John the baptizer, or the resurrected Elijah, or the resurrected Jeremiah, or he was a prophet.
      4. Jesus then asked them a direct question: "What about you? How do you explain me?"
        1. Peter immediately said that Jesus was the Christ, the living God's son.
        2. Jesus said Peter understood that for one reason: God revealed it to him.
        3. Jesus also declared not even death could prevent him from accomplishing his purpose.
    3. Because of Peter's awareness, because Jesus confirmed this awareness come through God's revelation, because Jesus pronounced powerful blessings on Peter, Peter was certain that he had God, Jesus, and the future figured out.
      1. Shortly after Peter correctly declared Jesus' identity (maybe even on that occasion), Jesus began to inform his disciples that he would suffer, be killed, and be resurrected in Jerusalem.
      2. That was not what Peter had figured out.
        1. According to Peter's understanding, that was not God's plan.
        2. Since Jesus confirmed that God revealed to Peter Jesus' identity, why shouldn't Peter believe his understanding of Jesus' future came from God?
        3. After all, Jesus said Peter would receive the keys to the kingdom.
        4. His understanding of the kingdom had to be the correct understanding.
      3. Peter became extremely bold.
        1. He took Jesus aside privately and rebuked Jesus; Peter knew he understood the situation better than Jesus did!
        2. "It is not going to happen! You are not going to die! That is ridiculous!"
      4. Now Jesus told this man to whom God revealed that Jesus was the Christ that he is working for Satan.
        1. "Peter, you are the bait stick in a snare!"
        2. "You are not thinking about what God wants; you are thinking about what you want."
        3. Peter put Jesus' surrender and commitment to the test!
      5. Jesus then told the twelve that if they wished to follow him it would require self denial (beyond anything they had surrendered) and carrying a cross.
        1. I have no doubt they thought they already were experiencing self denial.
        2. And the idea of carrying a cross was disgusting and shameful in the Jewish nation.
    4. In this entire situation, I want you to be extremely aware of one truth: Peter, one of the twelve, a disciple hand-picked by Jesus, a man whom Jesus confirmed received God's revelation, this Peter had God, and Jesus, and the future all figured out.
      1. And he was wrong.
      2. In fact, he could not have been more mistaken.

  2. What Jesus said would happen did happen.
    1. One of his twelve hand picked men betrayed him.
      1. Did the disciples see God at work doing things His way?
    2. Roman troops and the temple guard arrested Jesus.
      1. Did the disciples see God at work doing things His way?
    3. The religious elite of Israel tried Jesus and condemned him to death.
      1. Did the disciples see God at work doing things His way?
    4. The Roman authority permitted his execution by crucifixion.
      1. Did the disciples see God at work doing things His way?
    5. Jesus was humiliated and disgraced mercilessly.
      1. Did the disciples see God at work doing things His way?
    6. Jesus was disgraced in death in crucifixion's pain and humiliation as though he were a horrible, dangerous criminal.
      1. Did the disciples see God at work doing things His way?
    7. No.
      1. No one believed God did things that way.
      2. The presence of evil was much too powerful, much too overwhelming.
      3. The living God's son sent to be the Christ was killed.
      4. Everything he did was lost; the future could not happen; evil was defeating God.
    8. You and I do not see it that way.
      1. We look back with hindsight, understand and say, "Wow! Look at God!"
      2. Having full benefit of God's explanation, believers see this moment as God's second greatest triumph over Satan and evil.
      3. (God's greatest triumph will come when God casts Satan in the abyss and Jesus judges all people to eternally destroy death and evil.)
      4. BUT...if you and I stood near Jesus' cross by his hand-picked disciples, we would have seen the same thing they saw: evil destroying God's plans.

  3. I thank God that I am a part of this congregation right now.
    1. God is at work in some incredible ways right here right now in our elders.
      1. Every Sunday morning at 8:45 a.m. our elders gather as a group to pray for us and the day.
        1. They report prayer requests.
        2. And everyone of them leads the group in prayer.
        3. As a group, every Sunday, they spend thirty minutes in prayer for us.
      2. The prayer request forms on the back of each pew are more than "a nice touch" to create an impressive effect.
        1. Our elders made the conscious, sincere decision to be our shepherds instead of our business managers who function as a board of directors.
        2. They placed the finances and facilities in the hands of deacons who are quite capable of caring for those needs well, and the elders are seriously committed to learning how to "turn loose."
        3. Our elders are just as committed to learning how to devote their energies and strength to ministering to us spiritually.
        4. That is not a simple commitment, but they are serious.
        5. They want us to trust them; they want us to know that they will keep our confidences; they want us to turn to them for help and encouragement; they want to pray for our needs and concerns.
      3. Every Tuesday evening they are visiting among us.
        1. Their purpose is not to put us on a guilt trip or to drive anyone away.
        2. They want to encourage and to understand.
        3. Every Tuesday night one team tries to visit people who have recently placed membership, or been baptized, or have visited with us.
        4. Every Tuesday night several teams try to visit to encourage and support.
        5. They visit to listen, and they visit to encourage.
      4. Every Sunday morning two elders are in room 100 for the invitation song.
        1. Some of our traditions in the Church of Christ are powerful.
        2. One tradition that is not understood by most people who have little contact with the Church of Christ is our invitation song.
        3. It is an open invitation for anyone to ask for our prayers or to be baptized.
        4. However, responding to an invitation in front of a group this large is quite intimidating to many.
          1. We commonly have people who ask us to pray with them who do not use the occasion of an invitation song.
          2. Recently, we had three baptisms in less than two weeks, and none of them used the occasion of an invitation song.
        5. We also have people who want to pray with someone who do not feel their need is addressed by responding to an invitation song.
        6. Each Sunday morning we sing the invitation song for anyone who might wish to respond in that manner.
        7. Each Sunday morning two elders are in room 100 to talk to or pray with anyone who would like their help or encouragement.

Our country is going through one of the most unusual and uncertain periods of its existence. As we continue traveling through this period of uncertainty, I want to share this thought. Jesus Christ is bigger than American politics. He is bigger than American economics. He is bigger than American social status. He is bigger than American education levels. He is bigger than American poverty.

Can a Democrat be a Christian? Certainly! Can a Republican be a Christian? Certainly! Can an independent be a Christian? Certainly! Can you believe in a populist movement and be a Christian? Certainly! Regardless of your economic situation, can you be a Christian? Certainly! Regardless of your social status, can you be a Christian? Certainly! Regardless of your education level, can you be a Christian? Certainly!

Is biblical Christianity dependent on democracy? Many Christians in this world live and die never experiencing democracy. Is Christianity dependent on freedom? Many Christians in this world live and die never experiencing freedom. Is Christianity dependent on wealth or lifestyle? Many Christians in this world live and die in poverty conditions you do not even want to know about.

I certainly am not unconcerned about what happens in our nation. I deeply appreciate the blessings of life in America as an American. But I would make a horrible mistake if I tied my faith in Jesus Christ to life in our country. God through Jesus established His kingdom in an immoral world that worshipped many idols and gods. Nothing stopped Him. God always has been at work in His kingdom among His people--anywhere. May we be His kingdom. May we be His people. May we rejoice as God through Christ works through us and among us.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 17 December 2000

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell