Lessons - Sermon - "Misplaced Priorities"

John 18:28
Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover.

Good Evening.
It is great to see so many here tonight to worship our Lord, including several visitors. We’re delighted to have you with us. No doubt everyone has already figured out that I’m not the regular preacher here. Actually, I haven’t preached in over 7 years and have never had any training to preach. I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once though!
I do want to thank the elders for allowing me this opportunity to share with you a portion of God’s Holy Word. I hope that each of you finds this lesson both challenging and edifying.

Tonight let us examine the problem of misplaced priorities… looking at the Jewish rulers as described in the gospel of John as our starting point.

Examining the opening verse I read from John 18, we quickly see an example of misplaced priorities on the part of the Jewish rulers. These same people, who were concerned about becoming defiled by entering a Gentile establishment, were murdering the Son of God! Do you suppose there might be a wee bit of defilement involved in doing that?

Sure their concerns about being able to eat the Passover were good concerns and important in upholding the law as a faithful Jew. However, any understanding of the Law of Moses (of which these men were supposed to be the experts) clearly demonstrates that if you are setting up false witnesses, oppressing the innocent, and conspiring to murder… then your worship would not be accepted by God anyway.
Clearly, their priorities were not in the right place. They demonstrate this problem throughout the book of John. Turn with me to John chapter 11.

John 11:45 Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. 46 But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. 48 If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.”

What is their priority here? It certainly isn’t Jesus. Is it concern for the people who believed in Him? Hardly! At best, their concern would be the Romans taking away their nation, but much more likely is their concern that the Romans would take away their place as leaders!

Note the context here though! Why did many of these Jews here believe in Him anyway? The verses immediately preceding this describe Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead!
A man has died, had a funeral, been buried in a tomb for several days and then someone walks to the tomb and commands the body to come out… and it does!
Surely any reasonable person who was aware of this incredible miracle would believe… and encourage others to do the same!
What did this ‘council’ do? Verse 53 - “Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.”
Seriously! They had a little meeting about the “terrible threat of everyone believing in Jesus”… and their brilliant response was to plot to kill Him!

Did they not know He was from God?
Jn 3:2 - “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
In John chapter 9 they claimed not to know where Jesus was from, but they were rebuked by a former blind man. Look at this passage starting at verse 26:
26 Then they said to him again, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?”
27 He answered them, “I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?”
28 Then they reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. 29 We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where He is from.”
30 The man answered and said to them, “Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes! 31 Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. 32 Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes oxf one who was born blind. 33 If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.”

The evidence clearly demonstrated that Jesus indeed was sent from God, but they chose to ignore the evidence because the unmistakable conclusion would upset their priorities.

The Pharisees and religious rulers were repeatedly condemned for their misplaced priorities:
- Four chapters before this, they were mad when Jesus healed a man who had been sick for 38 years. Jn 5:16 - For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.
- In Mark 7, they questioned Jesus about His disciples who ate with “defiled” or unwashed hands. Jesus rebuked them for setting aside God’s commands for their traditions, and then taught them that what really defiles a man is what comes out of his heart.
- Mt 23:23 - Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.

It is easy to see where the Pharisees messed up… because their priorities were on the wrong things. Can we see the same in ourselves though? Are we in danger of falling in a similar trap, despite having the clear warnings from their poor example?

It’s time to bring it home and make it personal! You didn’t think I was just gonna come up here and pick on the Pharisees for 40 minutes did ya?

Examine yourself…
-Do you read novels in only a few days, but haven’t read scripture on your own in half a year?
-Do you give the minimum in the collection plate because “times are tough”, yet you have at least 2 cars, 2 High Def TVs, video games, DVD players and cellphones, go out to eat most every day, and have closets & drawers full of namebrand clothes?
-Do you communicate with friends by email, phone, facebook, skype, & twitter several times a day, and haven’t made an effort to pray to God in 3 months, except for that time you were sick
-Do you not think twice about shelling out $30 in snacks at a football game or movie theater, yet can’t come up with a dollar or two to give to someone in need.
-Do you sing loud & proud when listening to your favorite songs in the car, and begrudgingly mumble your way through praises to God in the assembly?
-Can you name every starting player on your favorite sports team or every actor in your favorite tv show, but can’t name the Christian graces in which we are to continually grow?
-Are you quick to warn someone of the dangers of smoking and lack of exercise, but simply overlook the sin or false teaching they have that could cost them their eternal soul?

So then… how are our priorities?

I realize I’m speaking to a group who has chosen to spend part of their Sunday evening gathering with the saints. Hopefully you are doing so in a genuine effort to offer worship to God. Still, we must ever examine ourselves.
Is it possible that your body is here but your heart is elsewhere? Did not all these Pharisees attend every Jewish gathering and feast? Yet the majority of them apparently had their hearts in worldly affairs while professing the utmost attention to worshipping God.

Are we to expect that God will be satisfied if we just show up and acknowledge Him? Is it possible to offer worship to God that He would not be pleased with? Let the writings of two of His prophets speak to this…
Isaiah 1:11-15 (reading)
Malachi 1:6-10 (reading)

Are you giving God your best? Your worship and your actions will reveal your priorities… not to God (He already knows what they are). They reveal it to others, and to yourself if you will look honestly.
Losing your priorities and focus is easy to do. We’ve already seen several examples in Scripture of Israelites who had done just that. Let us consider 1 more example before looking at what we can do to get our priorities right.

The Israelites who returned from Babylonian captivity rebuilt and decorated their houses and left the temple in ruins. Consequently, God sent Haggai to them and told them to “Consider your ways!”
Was it the building that God was concerned about? It couldn’t be as God doesn’t dwell in a temple built by hands. Surely it was their priorities He was warning them about, as their focus had turned away from the things of God and onto themselves:
Haggai 1:3-6 (reading)
Have you ever felt like that? ...like the wages you earn are put in a bag with holes in it? Perhaps we should consider our ways!

Let’s examine 6 steps to consider & correct our priorities:


1 – Identify Where Your Priorities Are Currently

You’re already on your way for this step, as that is what we’ve been doing since we finished looking at the Pharisees. Based on what we’ve talked about, take a moment and try to identify your current priorities in life…
Is what you value the most happiness, financial security, family, popularity, competition (being the best at something), exploration, search for knowledge, hobbies, what?

Still unsure? Consider these questions when trying to determine your current priorities:
1 – What takes most of your money? (other than taxes)
2 – What takes most of your time?
3 – What takes most of your thoughts?

Honest responses to these questions should provide a clear understanding of where our priorities are currently. Let’s move ahead and consider where we would like them to be.


2 – Identify What You Want Your Priorities To Be

What should matter most to you in your life? Let me suggest you start with this question:
Do you understand who Jesus is?

Now why this question? Well, we’ve already seen how the Pharisees had misplaced priorities BECAUSE of a failure to understand who Jesus was.
Furthermore, the answer to this question will be pivotal in determining our priorities in this brief existence.
If Jesus is just a good guy who died centuries ago, then His words are as anyone else’s. Choose your priorities according to what you want out of life.
If Jesus is who He says He is, then He is your creator (Col 1:16) and His words are your future judge (Jn 12:48). Then everything changes in your priorities!

If you’re just not sure that you believe that Jesus created everything, then you’d have to come up with an alternative cause for our existence. Perhaps something like…
-20 billion years ago there was nothing
-Then suddenly, for some reason, that nothing exploded, slinging mass across the universe
-Some of this mass cooled down and formed planets such as ours
-An atmosphere must have formed on Earth and poured torrential rains creating seas
-Organic monomers could have formed in these seas and eventually led to prokaryotes
(scientific words make it sound more plausible dontcha think?)
-They would then somehow grow, survive, multiply and evolve.
-Over millions of years of random mutations, we’d get complex organisms and iphones
Ok, so you’d hafta do better than that explanation. Even if any of that made sense, we’d still have the problems of the existence of emotions, mutations are rare & harmful, and the absence of transitional lifeforms.
It is too far-fetched anyway. Surely no one would ever believe such nonsense just to avoid acknowledging a designed universe, right?

OK, so maybe you’re not going to come up with another reasonable explanation for our origins. Even still, how can we know that Jesus is who He claims to be? We don’t have the benefit of seeing him raise Lazarus from the dead like the Jews did (even though we see that still didn’t convince those who didn’t want to believe).
No, but we have even more evidence than these Jews had. We have numerous, conclusive historical documents of the miracles of Christ, including not only the resurrection of the dead, but his own resurrection from the dead!
We also have the completed inspired Word of God! This collection of inspired writings is unlike anything else ever written, will never be proven wrong or obsolete, has repeatedly demonstrated scientific truths centuries before our modern science, and has many hundreds of detailed prophecies which have been fulfilled exactly.
All the proof anyone ever needed has been made available to them (both for the Pharisees and for us)… we simply have to examine it or choose to ignore it.
Therefore, not knowing is inexcusable, as is placing anything before Christ because you don’t understand who He is!

Once you know that the Word of God is truth, and that the words that Christ spoke are truth, now you are ready to set your priorities.
So, what does our Creator and Redeemer say is the most important things to focus on?

A lawyer once asked Jesus a similar question, specifically “which is the great commandment in the law?”
Mt 22:37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

What about all the important responsibilities we have to do each day?
What did Jesus tell Martha when her sister left her with all the responsibility of serving a house full of guests?
Luke 10:41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
What had Mary chosen to do that was good? She chose to listen to Jesus’ words.
Note that Jesus didn’t say that Martha should ignore responsibilities and service. Jesus taught and demonstrated both throughout His ministry.

It is about priorities though. As Jesus says in Mt 6:33 - But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
What things? Life, food, drink, clothing (v25). Pretty important things, wouldn’t you say? They are important to us and “your heavenly Father knows you need these things” Jesus says. Still, he says plainly to seek the kingdom and righteousness first! Now that sets some clear priorities, does it not?

Clyde Gilbert asked a couple questions to us in a devotional 2 months ago.
He asked, “What if we lived like the only thing that matters to us is our relationship with God? When our life is over, what else matters?”

So we know what our priorities are, and we know where we want them to be. Naturally the next step is to change them accordingly… and it starts with our 3rd step… decide to change.


3 – Decide to Change

Terry Wheeler once asked a simple question in a Bible study that stuck with me and perhaps some of you as well. He simply asked something similar to this: “When are you going to decide to stop trying to live both in Christ and in the world?”
We want the joys of a Christian walk and certainly the heavenly home, but how many times do we try to hang on to the world while trying to live for Christ?
How frustrating is it to constantly try to find a middle ground when there isn’t one?

We read in Jms 4:4, “Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
but we live like we can hold on to God with the right hand and the world with the left.

We read in I Cor 9:24, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.”
but we live like we can stroll across the finish line and still receive the victor’s crown.

We read in Heb 12:1, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
but we try to run the race burdened with worldy baggage and playing with every trap on the way.

We read in Lk 9:23, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”
but we think we can follow Jesus while living for ourselves.

Why do we think God put those verses in there for someone else?
Why do we think we will even be happy if we could hold on to the world… it has always produced pain & misery in the past!
When are we going to choose to live wholly for God and quit trying to live for both Him and the world, frustrating ourselves, and allowing Satan to make us unfruitful?

It is time to change. We can’t continue to give our lives to Christ every morning, and then take it back by lunchtime every day.
Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

Gary Sanderson said something to us in a class once too… It was something like, “Learning to die to yourself is the whole of the Christian walk”.
How true is that?! Every time I’ve stumbled, I could trace it back to some point where I did what I wanted to do. Every time I’ve noticed I’ve grown in my spiritual walk, it was because I no longer did something that I wanted to do.

Did you notice something… that’s 3 times in the past 5 minutes, I’ve said something that came from another sermon presented at Mountain Island.
Learning to die to yourself is the whole of the Christian walk
When are you going to decide to stop trying to live both in Christ and in the world?
What if we lived like the only thing that matters to us is our relationship with God?
The Truth is being proclaimed here at Mt Island! Are you listening? Or are you just here?
He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

I’m not saying anything here this evening that is revolutionary, has any brilliant insight, or anything you haven’t already heard here before. Hopefully you will make a positive change in your life tonight. If so, it won’t be because of my words. I’m saying only the same things that our minister, our elders, and our Lord has already said.

The difference isn’t in what has been said, it is in when you decide to hear it, and decide to make a change! Hearing is the easy part. Changing is the hard part, but that’s what our final 3 steps will help you do… if you decide to listen and make the change.


4 – Study the Word

I’m going to mention something else Terry Wheeler said in a sermon back in January. He said, “The battleground of our spiritual war is the mind! It is impossible to win this war without mastering our weapon... the Sword/Word of God!”
Some of us are trying to go into battle with our unused weapons sitting on a shelf back at home.

You’re not going to be able to make positive spiritual changes while listening to the world’s ideas. I was composing this sermon in November as our country celebrated a day of giving thanks for our abundant blessings. Then, only hours later, our society encourages those same people to selfishly fight with one another to save a few dollars obtaining material goods that aren’t even needed to begin with.

The world is constantly bombarding us with messages of greed, promiscuity, and selfishness. If that is all you hear, how are you going to be set apart from this world? How can you have the mind of Christ?

Prov 4:23 (NIV) reads, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
What are you allowing to get into your heart & mind?
Do you really think you can listen to music filled with sex & profanity, watch movies & TV shows filled with murder and every kind of perversion, and then expect to live a life pleasing to God?

What if you replaced most of your television watching with all those good works you never seem to have time for? What if you replaced your worldly music with Bible reading or sermons? (we have nearly 500 of them posted on our website)
I’m not telling you what you can and can’t watch, but I am suggesting that you seriously evaluate what you are putting in your mind to see if it is in harmony with what you want your life priorities to be.


5 – Pray

Don’t skip this step! You’ll be trying to do by yourself what only God can do in you.

Listen to these clips from New Testament verses:
- And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
- but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
- constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.
- praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit,
- Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
- Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving;
- pray without ceasing,
- always laboring fervently for you in prayers,
- Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men,
- The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
- But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.

Anyone seeing a pattern here? The apostles prayed all the time, the first century church prayed all the time, even Jesus prayed all the time. How is it different for you? Can you live a righteous life without dedicated prayer?

Praying can be tough to do... not knowing what to say, not being able to focus, whatever the challenge (and there will be challenges to prayer)… but you must persevere. You can’t have a close relationship with God if it is never more than a 1-way conversation.
You know something… it is even OK to pray to God asking Him to help you to pray to Him! Even the disciples asked Christ to teach them to pray.
God isn’t expecting you to have everything perfect and be a master of prayer before you start talking to Him! Come to Him broken, humble, and pleading for mercy & help.
It’s going to take constant learning and growing, just like anything else. If you get to the point where you prayer life requires no effort, you’re doing it wrong.

Change can happen! God is powerful enough to do it, if you’ll let Him.
Change can happen to you
Change can happen tonight
Change can also pass you by… if you do nothing


6 – Mutual Help

The last step for changing your priorities is that of mutual help.

Have you had a history of difficulty maintaining the life priorities you want? Do you think you are the only one who has? Why are the Scriptures filled with so many examples of people who got distracted and veered off the straight and narrow path?

Even during the preparations for this sermon, I found myself overwhelmed with work and life responsibilities. I needed to get caught up on other tasks and must have thought that my working on a sermon each day could also count as my Bible Study. You probably guessed that that didn’t work out too well. I actually managed to lose my priorities while composing a sermon on misplaced priorities!
We are weak beings, easily distracted from even our strong convictions at times. What a wonderful blessing we have in our spiritual siblings! People just like us, sinners saved by God’s grace, trying to make the same journey, and fighting through the same struggles.

Why are Christians still in the world after their conversion? Why do we come to church regularly? Why are we commanded to pray for each other & bear one another’s burdens?
At least part of the answer to each of those questions is because we need each other’s help in our journey.

How’s your Christian walk coming along? Are there struggles we can help you with? Can we talk with you? Study the Scriptures with you? Pray with you? Pray for you?
In a couple minutes, there’ll be an invitation where you can come forward and make your needs known so that your brothers & sisters can support you, encourage you, and pray for you.


Invitation

There may be others here, or perhaps listening to this recording, who are unsure or misled about their salvation. What bigger priority can there be than to have assurance of eternal life?

Again, examine yourself and examine the Scriptures:
Have you heard the saving message of the gospel? Rom 10:17, Jn 6:45
Do you believe in God and Christ? John 8:24, Acts 16:31
Have you repented of your sins? Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38
Have you confessed Christ before men? Rom 10:9-10; Acts 8:36-37
Have you been baptized for the remission of your sins? Acts 2:38; Mk 16:16
(also Acts 22:16, Gal 3:27, Rom 6:4, and other passages)

Ya know, many in the religious world don’t believe that baptism is essential for salvation. Now, this isn’t a lesson on baptism so I’m not going in depth on this point now, but it is a lesson on placing priorities in the right place, doing things God’s way instead of man’s way, so it makes a good example.
Good-intentioned men may teach that baptism is “an outward sign of an inward faith” or “a symbol that you have been saved”.
Now if we study baptism in the New Testament and discover that
Peter says, "be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins"
Ananias says, "Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins"
Paul says, "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ."
Jesus says, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved",
then we’re going to have to make a decision about who we’re going to listen to and believe.

How sad for someone to think, “Father I give my life to you, I’ll give up worldly pursuits and selfish ambition for You, but I’m not going to be baptized because I was taught it wasn’t necessary for salvation even though I read it throughout the New Testament”.
Recall the story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5? He wanted to be cleansed of his leprosy and the prophet told him to wash in the Jordan 7 times and he would be cleansed.
-Would Naaman have been cleansed if he sprinkled water from the Jordan on his head 7 times?
-Did the prophet cleanse Naaman when he asked, and then tell him to go to the water afterwards as a sign of his cleansing?
-Was Naaman cleansed because he believed or because he obeyed? It had to be after he obeyed fully. He wouldn’t have washed a 7th time if he had been cleansed on the 6th time.
- Are we like Naaman in that we would be willing to do any huge task asked of us so that we can be cleansed, but when we are told to do something simple instead, we get upset?
- How foolish he would have been if he would have tried to cleanse himself how he thought it should be done, and then lived out his remaining days with leprosy!

It doesn't matter if I have believed something for 40 years... if it doesn't match with Scripture... guess which one is incorrect?
If your priority is pleasing God, you’re going to follow what He tells you to do, not what you want to do, and not what others have said God tells you to do.

Even once you have obeyed the gospel plan of salvation, you can’t just sit back and wait for heaven (again, contrary to what some people will tell you). We must take up our cross daily (Lk 9:23), walk in light as He is in the light (I Jn 1:5-7), and remain faithful until death (Rev 2:10).

That isn’t just “coasting in”. That takes effort, submission to God, study & prayer, and constantly re-evaluating your priorities so that they match with God’s.
How can we help you with this? Please let us know, by coming forward now, as together we stand and sing.


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