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Evan Earwicker: The Way in the Wild

January 29, 2024

Audio Recording

Establishing our life’s foundation on Jesus is vital for navigating life’s challenges. But it goes far beyond mere comprehension; we must put His teachings into practice in the real world.

Westside Church Podcast
Evan Earwicker: The Way in the Wild

Sermon Transcript:

You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

We're excited to continue our walk through the book of Matthew and the past week, last week, and this week as well. We're in the section of the Book of Matthew called the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus went up onto the mountainside and began to deliver some of his most famous and memorable teachings. And even this week, as I was pairing to get really into the core of the teachings of Jesus in the sermon on the Mount, I'm reading through them and I'm feeling the intimidation of this passage of scripture. I mean, this is not even, arguably, this is de facto the greatest sermon ever preached. And I get the chance today to walk you through that and then be like, and that was great, jesus. But I have some thoughts of my own I think everybody will want to hear. That's kind of the level of wisdom and world shaking teaching that Jesus packs into here. It feels almost silly to follow it up with anything. It's kind of the Jesus mic drop moment where he delivers these statements that now, today might seem cliched, but in the moment, they were radical and earth shaping and incredible. And so if we look through kind of the outline of the sermon on the Mount, and if you want to read it, that would be a great assignment for you this week, is to read through chapters five through seven in the Book of Matthew and read the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount. It'll take you about 1520 minutes to read through it. And packed into this section of Jesus teachings, you will find all the greatest hits. I was thinking back to before. We had streaming for all of our entertainment, and we had, like, live tv. You remember at night, the infomercials for the greatest hits, cds and dvds that would play, like, the greatest love songs of all time. And then they would show this picture, and there'd be, like, 50 cds all laid out and be like, for only 17 payments of 1799, you're like, what a deal. I can listen to all the love songs. I don't know why I brought that up. I probably won't do that again for the second service. But this is that. This is the greatest hits of what Jesus taught. It's not exhaustive, it's not everything he taught during his ministry, but it really is the greatest hits that Jesus brings to us and that today are ingrained in how we think about morality, how we think about even what is fair and what is just. All these things are baked into the sermon on the Mount. Some of the things that Jesus says that you might recognize in these chapters. He said that you are the salt of the earth. He said, you have heard it said, don't commit adultery. But I say, don't even look upon someone with lust, eye for an eye, tooth for tooth. But I say, turn the other cheek. If someone asks you to walk a distance, go at the extra mile. Have you heard these things? Of course we have.

You've heard it said, hate your enemies, but I say, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. On and on it goes. Lay up treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy. Ask, and it will be given to you. Knock, and you shall find.

On and on it goes. How about this one? The golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them.

You said that with all the enthusiasm of a very grumpy middle schooler. And I have one of those in my house, so I know a tree and its fruit.

All these famous sayings of Jesus, they're all packed into this passage called the Sermon on the Mount. And so Jesus delivers these remarks, this great discourse, to his disciples and the crowds that are listening. And then we get to the end of the sermon on the mount. And this is kind of where I want to land today and talk through not so much every single teaching. We could spend all day and many days talking through the teachings, but instead, what Jesus says at the very closing of the sermon on the Mount, because I think it affects everything about how we follow Jesus, how we engage in our faith, and how we see ourselves with this label of Christian and what that means. And so here I want to read this. Matthew, chapter seven, verse 24. You can go there in your Bible, if you have one, or you can look on the screen. Here's what it says. This is the end of the sermon on the mount. Jesus says, therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house. Yet it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. And when Jesus had finished saying all these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority and not as their teachers of the law.

If you can keep that up, on the screen for just a moment, go to that first slide. I want to point out that the way Jesus frames following after his teachings, he says, here's those words, and puts them into practice.

Here's the words of mine and puts them into practice. And what he does not say here, and I want you to take notice of this, he does not say, hears these words of mine and fully understands them.

He doesn't say, here's these words of mine and fully believes them. He says to those who hear these words and put them into practice.

My 6th grader took up the violin as part of her orchestra class this year. God bless parents of children with instruments that they practice at home. We're just thanking Jesus. She didn't want to play the drums. Come on. Anybody with me?

But she brings her violin home. And on nights when she practices, she practices. And at no moment when I'm listening to my 6th grader practice the violin, am I disappointed with her because of her lack of perfection. Right?

I never listened to her practicing her scales and say, you know, sweetie, that's great, but I'm going to play you some professionals. And so you can hear how different it really is.

You've been playing for several months now. Why are you not further? None of these emotions come up.

None of these conversations happen. Why? Because she's doing exactly what she should be doing.

She's practicing.

And I feel this in conversations. I feel this in my own life where we assume that what Jesus is asking for is our perfection. He's asking that we perfectly imitate him and that somehow, right out of the gate, everything we do is going to be perfectly in line with his way and his teachings. But when we look at this, what he says is listen to what I say and then go to practice.

Practice these things.

And is it going to be perfect the first time you try? Of course not. But this is the whole point of the christian life, is when you follow me, you learn to imitate me better and better.

I think it's fascinating that in the story of the disciples, when Jesus is walking by the shore of the lake and he calls out to Peter and James and John and he first says, follow me.

That's the first thing he says.

And nowadays we come into settings like this and we're like, if you want to follow Jesus, here's what you need to believe and here's how you need to act. And this is the way you need to look, and this is the way that you need to kind of fit into what's going on. And then you'll follow Jesus. And Jesus did it in the exact reverse order. He said, hey, you don't even know my name, but I want you to follow me.

You don't even know what it's going to cost quite yet, but would you walk with me? And let's see along the way how you are shaped and transformed along the way.

And I think this is the call of Jesus to all of us who ever feel like we don't measure up to the teachings of Jesus, which, by the way, set a very high bar when the temptation is, you know what? I don't think I can do all of that. And so I'm not going to do any of that. No, we set that idea aside, and instead we say, jesus, I can't do this perfectly, but I'm going to practice by following you.

I'm going to hear your voice when you say, follow me. And I don't necessarily have all my belief ducks in a row. I don't necessarily have all my behaviors completely submitted yet to your reign and your rule underneath the kingdom of God that is coming. And yet, I want to follow you.

I want to walk with you. I love how Dallas Willard says it. He says, we're not trying to be different people, but we're training to be different people.

We're not trying. We're training.

We're practicing. And this practice is what we call following Jesus.

It's fascinating how patient Jesus is with his disciples.

They struggle with their belief, they struggle with their behavior. They struggle with their attitudes, and yet there's no urgency in Jesus to fix them immediately. He walks slowly along the path with his disciples, day after day, month after month. But there is an urgency when Jesus calls out and says, follow me. And this is the heart of what I want to get at today, is that when we are tempted to think that Jesus is impatiently asking us to believe and to act a certain way, many times what he's saying is, will you follow me without hesitation? Will you follow me without delay?

Yeah, it depends on the, yeah, yeah. We'll get you a Bible right after service, and I'll show you if you want. Yeah, that'd be amazing.

I've had the opportunity to meet a lot of godly people in my life. I have grandparents, had grandparents who love Jesus and followed after. And yet I've never met anybody who perfectly embodies the way of Jesus. If that's you, would you raise your hand? Well, no, of course not. Right.

And yet we find the presence of Jesus close to those who have committed themselves for over lifetimes to following after him, however imperfectly. And we are called into that same mindset, that same attitude. So Jesus comes down off the mountain, and these large crowds are following him. And you can imagine the setting as this great teacher, this rabbi is teaching, and he's teaching in a way that they've never heard. He's teaching with authority. He's teaching in a way where his words don't sound like the words of the scribes and the Pharisees. So he comes in off the mountain, and I can imagine the chatter amongst the crowd, like, whoa. Wasn't that a great sermon? Sometimes we'll hear that after a service. Like, wow, thank you, pastor. That was so good. And I'm imagining the crowds, like, man, that was so inspiring to me. I mean, what he said probably wouldn't work in the real world, but I'm so inspired.

And so this is kind of the party environment, the party atmosphere that follows Jesus after he comes down off the mountain. And he says so many things and so much that seems almost unbelievable, unrealistic, the way he talks about loving your enemies. All of the people listening to him would know exactly when he says, you've heard it said to hate your enemies. But I tell you, pray for your enemies and those who persecute you. Love your enemies. They would have immediately thought of one group in particular. The Romans.

Right? Everybody listening to Jesus would have thought he's talking about the Romans. And so when Jesus comes off the mountain, something happens in Matthew, chapter eight, verse five. And the mood of the moment is probably lost on us. But it would not have been anything but tense and awkward for the people with Jesus when this happens. Matthew, chapter eight, verse five. It says, when Jesus returned to Capernaum, a roman officer came and pleaded with him, lord, my young servant lies in bed paralyzed and in terrible pain as soon as Jesus comes off the mountain after delivering this amazing sermon, talking about how you're to actually love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, up walks a roman centurion and says, I need your help.

And all those crowds who are just buzzing about the authority with which Jesus teaches think, uh oh, how's he going to handle this?

He just talked about what it looked like to embrace this new kingdom that he was establishing and announcing, and he said, the way that we do that is to love our enemies. And here he is face to face with a picture of the enemy of the people, this roman centurion. Why was this such a big deal for the people? Well, about a hundred years before Jesus would have been teaching this, the Romans came into Jerusalem under this guy named General Pompeii. And he walked into the temple in Jerusalem, and he wandered around and he gave himself a self guided tour, desecrated the temple, walking into the holiest place in the temple of the jewish people in Jerusalem. And he's looking for this God that he's heard about, the God of Israel. And so he walks into the holiest place and there's no idol there. There's no representation of the God of Israel. He's like, well, this is strange. Why would they build this massive temple, this beautiful place, and then not even have their God in the middle of it? And so he leaves the temple a little bit confused, but he doesn't leave alone. Instead, he takes with him thousands of jewish slaves. And from that point on, Rome annexes Israel into the Roman Empire. And so it's ruled by these Romans who are heavily taxing the people. They are cruel to the people. And just ten years before Jesus is giving this sermon, they've installed this guy, Pontius Pilate, you might have heard of him, and he is ruling the area in Judea. And he's so cruel that eventually Rome is going to recall him for his cruelty and his murderous behavior towards Jews and Samaritans. This is how bad of a dude he is. And so this is the setting that the people live under when Jesus is saying, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. So when Jesus comes off the mountain and he's standing there and a centurion walks up to him, they're thinking, uh oh.

This is when what he teaches and what he's about to do are going to collide.

This is when what is a nice, inspiring thought and what is real life inevitably come together and collide. And so the question is, what is Jesus going to do? This past week, Pastor Ben and I were down in San Diego for a denominational pastor's conference. And so we're driving north out of San Diego, and we drove by the San Diego Zoo. And I was remembering, I told Ben, actually, this, as we're driving on the freeway past the zoo, I said, you know, when I was a kid, we had a CD ROM from the San Diego Zoo. Do you remember? CD Roms? Yeah, of course. And as I remember, we had three discs. We had Ms. Golf, we had incarta. No. Anybody? Yeah. And then we had the San Diego Zoo, and I loved the San Diego Zoo. You pop that CD ROM in and then it blew my mind. In those days, I mean, the detail was probably really terrible, but you could look through different pictures of exhibits and find out more information about all the animals at the San Diego Zoo. And I loved that CD ROM.

And there's something about seeing pictures or looking at something through a screen or on a page that's interesting. But then if you go to the zoo, it's a whole different experience, right?

You can look at these animals and you can see them up close and you can see them in real life.

But there is something altogether different when you encounter those animals. Think a lion or a bear or a crocodile in real life when the glass is removed.

I remember years and years ago, we got a chance. I went with my parents and some friends, and we were doing some missions work in Uganda, and we went to the mouth of the Nile river in Uganda, and we had hired a raft guide to take us down the Nile river on a raft. And there's some rapids there. And so we get into this boat and we're going down these rapids, and the first two or three sets of rapids, that was fine. Then we get to the last set of rapids and they're very, very strong. Class four, maybe class, he said class five. I think they were probably class four. So we are heading towards these rapids, and we get in the middle of the rapids and the boat flips over. And so as we fall into the water, and as I go under the water, there's two thoughts that go through my mind. One, I don't want to drown. And number two, there's a lot of animals around here.

And so as we were touring beside the river and you see some hippos over there and you're told there's some crocodiles under the water there, all that comes right back to your mind when you're now swimming in that water.

It's a whole different experience from San Diego Zoo CD rum it's a whole different experience from the Portland Zoo. As you're reading the placard and looking through the glass, when you are in the water with these animals, it changes everything.

And I think of that because I read this. Chesterton said, the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule of order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things, to run wild.

There is a kind of experience in following Jesus that is wonderful through a screen or on a page.

It is a beautiful thing when we gather in these controlled settings where the outcome of each Sunday is predictable and we talk about Jesus and we experience it, community wouldn't change a thing.

But there is no substitute for when the kingdom of God at work in our lives does something in the wild, when we're not within the walls of this safe contained environment, when we're out in the real world where anything could happen. And the teachings of Jesus and the way of Jesus stays with us in a way that it starts to affect how we act and how we talk and how we think and how we either love or don't love our neighbors and our enemies.

The teachings of Jesus in the wild are where they do their best work.

And so everyone's watching as Jesus is speaking with the centurion. They're thinking, what is he going to do?

What is he going to do?

And Jesus could have gotten personal, right? He could have said to the centurion, like, hey, man, thanks to you, I was born in a stable. That wasn't cool.

Thanks to you, our people are taxed beyond what they can pay.

Thanks to Rome. Look at all the hardship that our people have gone through. He doesn't do any of that.

And instead, he does something that would have risked his reputation and his authority amongst the people.

Verse seven. Jesus said, I will come and heal him.

Because Jesus had come to introduce a new kind of kingdom.

He had come to introduce a new kind of morality, a new ethic, a new way of interacting not just with the people that we like, but the people that make us angry.

And Jesus illustrates what he had just been teaching about in real time. And here's what we are called to as people who follow Jesus is to do the very same thing.

It is really easy to wear a label of Christianity. It is really easy to align our beliefs and our thoughts in ways that line up with scripture. It is easy to do all that. It is really, really difficult to go out into the world and live the teachings of Jesus.

The officer said in verse eight, lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are and my servant will be healed. I know this because I'm under authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, go. When they say go or come. And they say, come. And if I say to my slaves, do this, they do it. And when jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to those who were following him, he said, I tell you the truth, I haven't seen faith like this in all of Israel.

So Jesus says, okay, I'm going to come heal you. And he says, listen, you don't even need to come to my house. I'm not even worthy that you come into my house and everybody listening is like, yeah, you're right. You got that straight.

He said, just say the word, jesus.

Just say the word. And to the shock of all those people listening, Jesus says, I haven't seen such faith anywhere in Israel.

Jesus in these moments is reinforcing what he teaches with action.

And the crowds are stunned.

And I think somehow we've seen this rise of a Christianity that gives us permission, right?

Gives us permission to huddle in christian circles, and we hunker down and we criticize and judge outsiders and those on the outside of our faith. And what Jesus was never content to do was just to teach in a closed circle with his disciples and say, and what do you think about those awful Romans?

Isn't it terrible what's happening instead? What he did is he taught with his disciples. He said, and now follow me as we go out and we engage with them face to face. And we do exactly the difficult things that I taught.

And what I hope for us is that we're not content or happy to find people that agree with us or agree with a certain worldview or share certain beliefs about their faith or about Christ, and that we close the circle. You hear me?

But instead that our faith would constantly motivate us not to just all think the same thoughts or believe the same things, but our faith would consistently motivate us to follow Jesus out into the wild of the world where people are hurting and they need to see something that they've never seen before.

These are the teachings of Jesus, back to Matthew seven.

The end of the sermon. Jesus says, everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.

The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house and it fell with a great crash.

Everyone who heard Jesus'sermon, who was inspired by this sermon, who was moved by the sermon, who thought it was cool when they saw his sermon on the cdrom those who even agreed with parts of it or thought, that's a new way to think about it, that's super interesting.

But for those people who, when they saw it in the wild, said, how dare you, Jesus. How dare you love our enemy?

How dare you heal those who are unclean. How dare you, Jesus says, those who can't practice what I'm teaching are like the foolish man.

And here's the thing about a person who builds their house on the sand. It's not for lack of knowledge that they build on the sand, right? Everybody knows the sand is not a great place to build a house. But the foolish man says, I know this isn't great, but it's what I got. And I think it'll be okay.

Maybe the flood won't come. Maybe the rains won't be so bad this time. Maybe I'll make it through. And so bad decisions are made with this hope that maybe it'll be different for them. And inevitably the flood comes.

I don't know where you're at in your life, but I know for me the flood comes, right?

There's moments of upset and shaking that inevitably come to shake and challenge the life we live and the structures around us and the relationships we have.

And so Jesus is saying, listen, don't follow me because it's a nice idea or because religiously you feel obligated. Follow me because when the flood comes, you need a foundation that will last.

And I think with all these teachings of Jesus, and not only in the sermon on the mount, but throughout the gospels, when he's teaching, what he's saying is, listen, I am a firm foundation that will last when the rains come. I am the foundation for your soul that when the floods inevitably come, you can find strength, that your house will stand you. So here's what we want to say today.

The people who find strength when the floods come, the people who can walk through great loss and shaking, the ones that can weather storms that seem like they should take you out, those people are not the ones who just believe all the right things. They're the ones who have decided to follow Jesus and to build their house and to build their lives on him.

One pastor said that Jesus's end goal wasn't to inform you, but to transform you into somebody who's like him. And this is what we're about here.

In a few moments, we're going to step into a time of communion, as we do every week. And what I love about the practice of taking communion and physically walking into this every single week is that it reminds us that to follow after Jesus is more than a way to believe or a thought to have. It's something that engages our actions.

And I think what we can do in these moments when we are together in this place, and by the way, you've tuned in or you've shown up, that is action. In a moment, we're going to come forward to these tables. That's action.

But as we walk into these moments, we remind ourselves that the practice of following Jesus was never meant to be an intellectual exercise. But it was meant to be something that uses all of us, our mind, our body, our souls.

And so, as we step into this and we remember the price that Jesus paid for us, his bloodshed on the cross, his body broken for us, we remember that Jesus was willing to do what he said, to practice what he preached, to walk out the kind of love that was so subversive that he talked about.