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I Am The First And Last

By Mike Van Auken

May 21, 2023

Thank you for checking out this sermon. If you are moved by what you hear and are in the Boston area, consider visiting in person!

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It's great to see you guys this morning. My name is Mike, just like you just heard. I get to be a member here of the metro region. I get to be a part of the ministry staff of the Boston church of Christ. I'm so excited about that. So grateful. So grateful for the opportunity to preach this morning. And the last time I stood up here was just last Sunday. And just last Sunday I got to announce the birth of two babies the previous week. Yes, that was very exciting. But I didn't have any pictures at that time. But today I have pictures. Jonah Vincent Lung with freshly minted grandparents, Eddie and Beckett right there. And then last but not least, we have Emma Grace Van Aukin.

So excited. My wife Scarlett told somebody on Friday night that Emma, who is today eight days old, has me wrapped around her little finger now just because she's on my screen saver and in my contacts already. I feel like Scarlett's making a bit of a mountain out of molehill right there. But maybe not. I don't know. But no, it's very exciting for the Lungs and Van Aukens to be grandparents and for the younger Lungs and Van Aukens to be parents. So thank you for all your support and your prayers, and the girls are just perfect. They're awesome. In preparation for today, I read a couple of polls. One of the polls that I read was the most significant person in history. And one of the polls that I read was the most famous person in history. And being less than two weeks old, it turns out that neither Jonah nor Emma is mentioned in those polls. But no matter what Jonah and Emma do in life, while I expect them both to make those poles, ultimately they'll never be at the top of those poles. Because at the top of those poles is Jesus.

The most significant person in the history of the world is Jesus. The most famous person in the history of the world is Jesus. And we know that because we've had this series. Now that that makes all the sense in the world because Jesus is the bread of life, that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, that Jesus is the light of the world, that Jesus is the true vine,and that Jesus is the good shepherd. Today we're going to talk about the fact that Jesus is the first and the last. Amen. As we wrap up the series, we're going to understand the full, all-encompassing nature of who Jesus is now. And so let's say a prayer and jump on in. Let's just pray. God, thanks so much for the opportunity we've got to be together, to be in Your Word, to know You, and to have the opportunity to have You explain Yourself to us in ways that we can understand. We have a picture of light and of bread and of the vine. We get that. We understand how necessary you are to us when you reveal Yourself to us. Help us to act on that.

God. Help us to respond like you're. That is necessary for us. Help us to see you clearly today. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen. Amen. So I've got three questions today for you. The first question is what do you see? The second question ultimately is going to be how do you feel? And the third question will ultimately be what will you do? But what do you see? When I say picture Jesus in your mind, what do you see? What picture comes to mind? Do you see stained glass, Jesus? This is the Jesus I grew up looking at. This is not the window from the church I grew up in, but this is exactly the sort of thing I saw every week growing up a stained glass Jesus. And you could either see his heart through his clothes or he would be holding a lamp. Those are the only two possibilities I saw stained glasses, maybe because we are in 2023 after all. Do you see this Jesus? You see The Chosen Jesus. Now. I like The Chosen. I recommend it. I suggest you watch it. I really, really do. I think it's good it's, but I'm not sure that Jesus looked just like this.

You may think of the Tom Wilson Jesus who's? Tom Wilson, you say. Tom Wilson was one of my classmates in the 7th grade. And so we were 13 years old, I suppose, at that time, which don't, don't worry about doing the math, but that would make it 1973. And we were in the church where we were, we were doing some sort of a play and the guy who was organizing it said, well, Tom needs to be Jesus. And the reason Tom needed to be Jesus is that Tom looked just like Jesus because Tom had blue eyes and long blonde hair. Now let me just help you out with that for just a minute. Jesus was not an Anglo-Saxon in any way, shape, or form. Jesus was a first-century Middle Eastern Jewish guy. And he was olive-skinned or darker. He was muscular, he was walking, and he was loud. Jesus was a guy who hung out with fishermen, and tax collectors, he hung out with revolutionaries. He was in his boat in the storm and made himself heard. He made himself heard around those people when he preached, he spoke to 5000 people.

He didn't get a boy band microphone like I got. He just made himself known. There was nothing insipid and certainly nothing Anglo-Saxon and nothing soft spoken about Jesus. And that's just who he was. Then look at Revelation chapter one with me, revelation chapter one. And we're going to take a look. Yeah. And today I decided we could use a little bit of exercise in finding our way around the Bible. And so we have the Scriptures up there or the references up there. Revelation one, verses 12 through 18 is what we're going to read. And this is by the way, this is John. John wrote Revelation, the same guy who wrote the Gospel of John. And we will run into the I Am statement here, in verse twelve. I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned, I saw seven golden lampstands. And among the lampstands was someone like a son of man dressed in a robe, reaching down to his feet with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like snow, were like wool as white as snow. And his eyes were like blazing fire.

His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace. And his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars and out of his mouth came a sharp double edged sword. His face was like the sun, shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said, do not be afraid. I am the first and the last. I am the living one. I was dead. And behold, I am alive forever and ever and I hold the keys of death and of Hades. This is not a Tom Wilson. Jesus. Right here. When Jesus describes Himself here, when Jesus presents Himself here and John describes Him to us, we find out that Jesus is divine. Jesus is the intercessor. He's a high priest interceding for us before God Himself, that Jesus is pure, that Jesus sees all, and that Jesus is absolutely sturdy and absolutely trustworthy, and there's no chance of falsehood or rot or decay when it comes to Jesus. This is a strong and powerful Jesus that we see right here. Amen. This is not some sort of stained glass Jesus.

And if that's not enough, back in verse five, in this same chapter, you see that Jesus is a faithful witness. You see that Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. You see that Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the Earth. Verse eight suggests he is the Alpha and the Omega. These are all that is or was or is to come, and that he is, in fact, Almighty. In verse ten, it says his voice was loud like the sound of a trumpet. This is not Jesus like Tom Wilson. This is not God in the flesh Jesus. This is not really even the risen Jesus. This is the ascended into heaven, full on deity Jesus. This is Jesus who is unadulteratedly God. He is God and he is here. He is ascended, and he is right now speaking with a voice like a trumpet, which means he's got a wake-up call, which means that he has a message, he has something to say. What do you see? What will you choose to see when it comes to picturing Jesus? And then what will you feel?

How do you feel? Let's think about that. How do you feel? Jesus is here to disrupt your world. Now, that's what Jesus is always here for. That's what he was here for when he showed up in the flesh. He was here to disrupt the world. He's here to change your view of God. He's here to change your view of what it is to follow. He's here to change your view of righteousness. He's here to cause you to become something that you are not. Yet, the Bible's word for that is he's here to cause you to repent. Now, there are a lot of folks that, by and large, when they hear the word and the need to repent, they get a bit offended. And it is our nature that when God gets big, we try to make Him small. When God gets big when God gets unmanageable. And Jesus now is untameable. This is Jesus of eyes like fire. This is Jesus, a face like the sun. This is Jesus of a double-edged sword for a tongue. This is an untameable, unmanageable Jesus. And there's nothing that in our nature as human beings, we want more when we're confronted with that than to manage Jesus and to calm him down just a little bit and to tame him somehow. And it's been since the very beginning. The Israelites, the Israelites in the Exodus, went down to Egypt, with a family of about 70 people. 400 years of slavery later, most estimates have them at about 2 million people, and God freed them. God caused ten plagues to visit the Egyptians. God caused the red sea to part. God led them during the day with a pillar of a cloud. God led them during the night with a pillar of fire. This was a big, untameable, unmanageable God who was working completely on behalf of the Israelites who found them freedom after four centuries of slavery amongst the Egyptians. But then Moses took a minute and spent some time with God and the Israelites got a bit uncomfortable with how big God was. And they said to Aaron, who was Moses's brother and second in command, and they said, make us gods. Now, there's nothing Aaron's going to make that's going to look like a pillar of fire, I can tell you that right now, but Aaron did it anyway.

Look at Exodus chapter 32 for a second with me. Aaron made a new God in Exodus 32, starting off in verse seven. God shares with Moses what he thought about that. It says, Then the Lord said to Moses, go down because your people whom you brought up out of Egypt have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, these are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt? I have seen these people. The Lord said to Moses, they are a stiff neck people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and then I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation. God is not going to be trifled with. How do we feel when we see an unmanageable and untameable God? What are we going to do with that? Why are the Israelites trying to do that? They're trying to take a big God and bring him back down to earth.

They'll do anything. They made God into a cow. Now, we learned last week with the good shepherd lesson that sheep are particularly stupid animals. I assume that the cows are a little smarter than that or Jesus would be the great herdsman instead of the good shepherd. But they made God into not just a calf, a baby cow. I'm not sure how much more manageable you could make God, but that was what they were all about. That's what they were striving to do. God calls them stiff-necked. To be stiff-necked is someone who decides that I'm not going to let God be God. I'm not going to let God be God in my life. I'm not going to let God be the Lord of my life. I'm not going to let God play the role of God in my life. Idolatry, there's arguably nothing that God hates more than idolatry. Idolatry is deciding to take God sort of as a cafeteria option. I'll take that part of God, love and peace, mercy, grace. But this other part of God, not so much. Strong, strenuous, righteous, loud. No, thank you. I'll just take this part of God, that's idolatry.

I think it was Voltaire who said if God has made us in his image, then we have now returned the favor. We strive to make God look like what we want God to look like. Now, David is described by God as a man after God's own heart. Now, most of us, if not many of us know the story, but just in case you didn't, David talking about King David, David and Goliath. David had sex with one of his best friend's wives. David then conspired to have that man, her husband, killed so he could have that woman for himself. And then David lied and covered up all those crimes for a while. You think man after God's own heart, low bar. But here's the thing that David never did. David never pretended that God was anything other than who He is. David always knew he was in rebellion. David always knew he was in trouble. David always knew the day would come. He ran from that day, but he knew that that day would come and know when that day did come. And one of his good friends, someone who had enough boldness and enough courage, and enough heart for righteousness to confront his sin, David did repent.

He was a man after God's own heart. How do you feel about a strong God? You got to decide. I feel awesome about a strong God. And how you feel will be a decent predictor of what you will do. What will you do? What will you do with this God? Jesus insists on being God. He's not customizable. You're not at a create-your-own ice cream sundae bar here. He is who he is, and you will accept him on his terms. Or you will not accept him on his terms. Those are the options. Those are all the options that we have. David never reshaped God, and we don't get to do that either. We get letters. I've got a letter I'm going to read to you. It came in the church website in the general mailbox ten days ago. We can go Thursday. We can go Friday. And the letter said, this said, I'm interested in visiting your church, but I had some questions before visiting. In particular, I want to know your policies with regard to LGBTQ people. Are LGBTQ folks able to be baptized and participate in your church? Do you have any openly LGBTQ staff at the church, or are you willing to hire LGBTQ staff?

I was unable to find any specific statements on your web page. I wanted to ask before considering a visit. Thank you. And so we paused. We got back to them that day, but we gave that some thought. Not because we have any doubt about what God thinks there, and not because we have any doubt about what we think there. We want to word it right. I was not by any means the primary author of our response, but I did have the final edit and I did have the final say about okay, let's send that note. Here's how we responded. Thanks so much for your interest and for reaching out. We are a church that welcomes and embraces people from any background. We believe Jesus loves and cherishes every person, and we want to be ambassadors of his love to everyone who comes through our doors. Men and women from LGBTQ backgrounds have been baptized in our church, and some are pillars of our church community. We do hold to a biblical sexual ethic and believe that followers of Jesus must submit to the word of God in all areas of their lives. We believe anyone whose sexual lifestyle is other than man and woman in marriage would need to surrender that lifestyle because that is what God has made clear to us in Scripture.

We don't believe in conversion therapy, but simply submitting oneself to Jesus. We believe in His holy people, not straight people who please God. Jesus has set us an example, and the Spirit has given us the divinely inspired Word to follow. We welcome all to come and experience what it means to trust in his path and define their identity in Christ. If you're looking for a church that takes the Bible seriously, worships the living God in spirit and in truth, practices genuine one-anothering relationships, and seeks to repent when we don't do those things, check us out. Thank you and hope to see you soon. That's how we responded right there. I'm glad you liked that letter, because who knows? Maybe I have a letter for you. So, for example, if your letter to me would say, hey, Elder, is it really true that other than having some specific medical issue, I need to be at midweek on a Wednesday night? I got a letter for you. And if your letter to me might say, hey, Elder, is it really true that you expect emotional and physical purity as a single and as a married person?

I got a letter for you. And if your letter says, hey, Elder, do you really believe that I should use my talents and my gifts that God has given me in ways that stretch me and take me out of my comfort zone? Oh, I got a letter for you back. And if your letter says, hey, Elder, do you really think I need to go out of my way to make sure that my preteens and my teens get to the teen and preteen activities? Oh, for sure. I got a letter for you. We got to decide what we're going to do and who we're going to be. And it's because in part because of this passage right here, look at Matthew chapter 16, please. In Matthew chapter 16, Jesus is talking to the twelve. I'm going to read verses 13-18 says, when Jesus came to the region of Cesaria Philippi, he asked his disciples, who do people say the Son of man is? They replied Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah. And so as Jeremiah or one of the prophets. But what about you? He asked, who do you say I am, Simon Peter answered, you are the Christ, the son of the living God. Jesus replied, blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter. And on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Jesus is all about building his church. The word that gets translated as church in our New Testaments is the Greek word that comes out of ecclesia. And that word is most commonly outside of the New Testament, that word is mostly translated community. Jesus is trying to build community. And a church is not meant to be an appointment on Sundays. It's not meant to be filled with stained glass. It's not meant to be something you endure. It's meant to be a community. And you can build community on a lot of things. And we're probably all part of a number of different communities and they're legitimate. It's legitimate to be part of a neighborhood community or to be part of a school community. We have a couple of, at least two that I know of offhand women here in the group who are part of a quilting guild.

And that's a bit of a community right there. Here's what's tricky about community, it's never built on you and it's never built on me. Jesus is building his community on the truth of who he is. What Peter confessed, there you are the son of the living God. That's the foundation of Jesus's community. And we've got to all decide what I'm going to do with that. There are two options join, lean in, or walk away. Those are our choices, right? Those are our choices. And some of us here, we baptize into Jesus right here in the Boston church, right here in the metro region. That means we said Jesus is Lord. That means we said Jesus is the foundation of the community. And I'm going to build a community based on Jesus, and I'm going to devote myself, whether it be my time, my talents, my treasure, whatever it is, I'm going to make sure that I do my best to live a life that builds Jesus's community, and not just one for me, that's just part of it. And that's why when I get to show those pictures I got to show at the beginning of Jonah and of Emma, it's like, that's what it is.

And I get that I'm exceptionally biased, but the idea that children are bringing children into Jesus's community is, I think, exactly God's plan. It's not all of God's plan. God has phenomenal plans for a single, and I loved being single in this community and of Empty Nesters, which I am now, although perhaps it's going to refill a little bit every Saturday morning or so. We'll figure that out. But it's an awesome thing to be able to build community. It's the kind of relationship that we enjoy. Emma, when I get down the floor and play with Emma, she will by no means be the first child that I've gotten down the floor and played with. She won't be the first one this week. Many of your children I've already been on the floor playing with this week. I've done it today. Because it's community. That's who we are. That's what Jesus is here to build. And then again we, like the letter said that we sent back, strive to worship in spirit and truth. We strive to put one of those scriptures into practice. And when we fail to do that, we strive to just repent.

We keep building community. And some of us are like, well I'm having a little trouble finding where Matthew 16 was or where Revelation or Exodus or the Scriptures we looked at today. And it's like, well, what do I do about becoming a part of a community based on Jesus? And what you'll find is that we talk a lot about just studying the Bible. We talk a lot about knowing your way around the Bible. We talk a lot about knowing God and knowing Jesus not through the stained glass windows that we saw and not even through the crowdsourced TV show that we watch, as good as it is and all that, but through actually the Bible. And we want to invite you and I want to encourage you, and if you haven't done it yet, then I want to encourage you to start. And if you're in the process of it, then I want to encourage you to keep going but just decide to study the Bible. Talk to somebody here. Talk to me and I'll connect you with someone who lives near you or whatever it is. And then six or eight different studies of an hour to an hour and a half each, something like that, over the course of a couple of months.

You can know everything you need to know to decide. Yeah. Now I know. Jesus. Now I want to follow Jesus. Now I'm going to be able to live life the way he would want me to live life. Amen. And then in a few minutes, after I'm going to finish, we're going to have a song, and then we're going to see Gabriel baptized. And that's exactly what Gabriel has done. Yeah, we can clap for Gabriel. Gabriel right there. But that's exactly what Gabriel has done. He has taken a couple of months. He has got one of the guys. He's studying the Bible. He's read the Bible on his own. He's come to his own deep convictions. He's not counting on what somebody else taught him. He's not counting on what he heard on the street. He's not counting on anything, but he's read in God's own word. And Gabriel's ready to make that kind of commitment today. Amen. And so if you just decide if I'm going to study my Bible, and you can answer those questions, what do I see, how do I feel and what do I do? And I hope we all make sure we take a few minutes this week to think about what do I see, how do I feel, and what will I do? Thanks very much. These are some thoughts. I hope they've been helpful. Have a good day.

You guys sound great.

He reads Hebrews chapter twelve, one through three and calls you to always fix your eyes on Jesus. He will never, ever fail you. As you start this journey, may you know how deep his love is for you more and more as you continue on. I respect you a ton and love you, man. Your brother, Riku.

It's been such an awesome couple of months just getting to know you, getting to hang out, being able to go to gaming tournaments, and much more to go. But it's just been even more inspiring to see your heart and how much you really take in the scripture within your heart and your mind, how you put it into practice. I don't know how many times we've gone into a study and you're just like we're just like, yeah. How is your week going? Yeah, I was just trying to do this thing that we talked about last week, about whether it be imagining the presence of God wherever you are or whether it just be trying to get more into the Word and developing a thirst for God's Word. It's just been so inspiring to see that and just to be able to just connect with you, man. I'm proud of you, man. And you're making this decision kind of one of the biggest decisions of your, your life and, you know, you're fully in it all wholeheartedly wholeheartedly within it and yeah, man. Chris Be, you with all your brother.

You know your friends when you have a handshake, that's that's how you know your friends. But, but Gabe wrote some that he wants to read about what this day means to him.

You are have a couple of questions for you and then we'll baptize you.

All right, Gabe, first question. Do you believe that Jesus is the son of man, the son of the living God came down upon this earth with the perfect sinless. Life died on the cross for your sins. My sins. Sins of this whole world was raised on third day back into God's heavenly kingdom.


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