I was a Senior Vicar – 24 years old and I had been called to the hospital. I was there to visit a woman named Matilda – someone whom I had enjoyed lightly toasted bread and tea with on numerous occasions. We had gotten together to talk about her family, hummel figurines, and the best episodes of the Lucy show.
But now…now there was no Lucy show. No figurines. No lightly toasted bread.
Matilda had just died. Her breathing had stopped.
And my stomach just felt strange. I had just seen someone die. Now…now how could I help?
As I looked at the tear stained eyes of the family members in the room -- I racked my brain. Should I do CPR? Should I run to get a nurse? Should there be some kind of special Pastor trick that I hadn’t learned yet in Pastoral theology that I should be used to return her breath to her...?
I felt helpless. Helpless because…What’s there to do when the breathing stops?
Today we’re finishing up our sermon series called BREATHE and we what Jesus did to prep you for eternal breathing, what he’s currently doing, and what you can do to prep yourself.
I. He’s Preparing Things for You
Take a look at John 14. This happens 43 days before Jesus’ ascension – 40 days before Ascension is Easter. 3 days before Easter is Maundy Thursday. It’s the night Jesus that Jesus is betrayed; the night he’s arrested; the night before he’s beaten, flogged, convicted, crucified, and killed.
And as Jesus was speaking about it, he’s disciples were getting spooked.
If the Pharisees did that to their leader, what would he do to them?
And If Jesus was dead, how could he protect them?
And if he couldn’t protect them, wouldn’t they just run out of breath?
Listen to Jesus’ words of to them:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, I would have told you so. I am going there to prepare a place for you.
Now note that when Jesus says, “His Father’s house,” he’s not talking about Joseph. That would have been his step-dad’s house in Nazareth. While a carpenter makes a living, I doubt that the house had enough room for 11 disciples to spread out on the living room floor for a nap. Can you imagine what that would have been like? “Peter & Andrew – you’re brothers so you can sleep in this room together. John, you take the floor. And Philip? There’s an old futon out back that you can curl up on.”
Nope. The Father he was talking about was bigger.
And the house He was talking about was bigger too.
In my Father’s house are many rooms.
Ever been to the Biltmore Estate? It has over 250 rooms. 33 bedrooms. 43 bathrooms. 3 kitchens and 65 fireplaces. It’s able to house hundreds of people at the same time. That’s a lot.
Heaven houses a lot more. It has many rooms. Enough rooms for God to fill it with people from every age, every era, every culture, and every race. Scripture talks about thousands upon thousands and ten thousand upon ten thousand. Myriads of people crowding the halls of this divine house, taking up residents in one of its many rooms.
And one of those rooms? It’s for you.
Look at what Jesus says next, I am going there to prepare a place for you. That’s a promise he makes to his disciples. A disciple is a follower of Jesus. Do you follow Jesus? Do you believe in him? Jesus is talking about you.
Jesus isn’t up in heaven laying on a couch flipping through episodes of Fuller House on Netflix. He’s not in heaven sipping martinis by a heavenly poolside and leaving you down here with all your problems, with all your relationship problems, with all your financial struggles, to slowly go through life working your dead-end job, barely making it until you die.
He’s busy. He’s preparing a place for you.
Suddenly you get this picture of Jesus sweeping up the floor, turning the Roomba loose on the carpet, putting flowers in a vase by the bedside table, fluffing pillows, lighting some candles, spraying some Febreeze and folding a towel into one of the little duck like creatures that they make at the Holiday Inn.
Is Jesus actually doing such mundane earthly tasks? Probably not. It’s heaven. It’s not earth. But the point is this: Jesus is that excited to have you in heaven. He’s getting a special spot, preserved and prepared just for you.
If one of the angels comes along and says, “Hey Jesus, is anyone using this room? I want to use it for some divine yoga!”
Jesus will respond, “No! That room is for my beloved. It’s for this 21st century Christian, sitting in row 7, seat 2 at Gethsemane church in Raleigh, NC. I’ve been preparing that spot for them for years. I lived perfectly for them. I died for them. I rose triumphantly for them. All so that they might live in that room – down the hall from me – eternally.”
II. He’s Coming Back to Get you
When your spot is ready – when the time is just right – Jesus is coming back. If I go there and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me.
Did you know that infants are terrible at peekaboo? Infants lack something called “object permanence.” That means they don’t understand that objects generally don’t disappear out of thin air. So, if you are making an infant smile and then throw a blanket over your face, the infant thinks “Help. He’s gone. Don’t know where to either.” The infant is extra surprised to see you again – because he was expecting that you were gone.
Don’t we do the same thing with Jesus?
The way this world is going – things are so awful. Jesus isn’t ever coming back!
Finances are so hard – I imagine God doesn’t care a bit about me.
I’m so lonely – Jesus must have forgotten all about me.
My health is deteriorating fast. Jesus must have checked out!
Nope. He remembers.
When he’s done preparing a place for you, he will come back and take you to be with him.
To a place without the sin and immorality of this world.
To a place without financial burdens.
To a place surrounded by God’s love.
To a place where there is no sickness; no sadness and no pain!
That’s sounds pretty awesome. It would be sad to miss it.
Like Google Calendar. Do you ever use its features? If you ever have a really important event you can set it up shoot off an alarm that way you don’t miss the meeting. Sometimes I have to put a couple of reminders for a really big day – like the Doritos convention – I have reminders 1 week, 3 days, 24 hours, 12 hours, 5 hours, 2 hours, 1 hour & ½ an hour before hand. I don’t want to forget!
Don’t you worry about Jesus. He won’t forget. Don’t think you’ve done too much sin or been too far away for too long that he will forget all about coming to get you.
He will remember you. He will come back for you.
It doesn’t matter where you are:
On the sixth floor of your office surrounded by stacks of paper at work? He will remember you. He will come back for you.
In line to make a rent payment at the fourth apartment you’ve tried out this year? He will remember you. He will come back for you.
On the fourth floor of the sixth building on the gigantic campus of UNC Health Center? He will remember you. He will come back for you.
In the ground, row 18 in the cemetery, plot 37 – He will come back for you.
Lazarus had been buried in a tomb for four days. He had been dead for longer – probably a whole week. His body had begun to deteriorate. The grave had begun to smell like rot. He was dead.
When Jesus got there to see him, his sisters lost it: “You’re too late! You should have been here earlier. You missed him. You could have helped him; you could have saved him; but now he’s dead.”
Jesus? He had them roll the stone away. He peered inside. He called out: “Lazarus!”
Lazarus walked out – alive.
There’s a promise that Jesus made right before doing that to Lazarus. He said, “Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me; will never die!” (Jn. 11:27)
Do you believe in Jesus? That means you will live.
Have cancer? You will live.
Getting older? You will live.
Nervous about terrorist? You will live.
You will be in heaven. You will breathe. Even when you’re breathing stops.
III. What Now?
1. Give the Best Gift a Mom Can Give
Here’s the Mother’s Day connection. We are gonna get it in there somehow. If you are a modern mom, there’s a lot of pressure to be a good mom. Our world is of the opinion that if you want to be a good mom you need to enroll your kid in ballet, take him to swimming, karate, clarinet, science club, make sure he has good grades but get him an iPhone, feed him the most expensive organic food available, but save up enough money for college, make sure he’s disciplined, but not be one of those hard-nosed moms either.
It’s hard. It’s also wrong.
Because if you want to be a good mom, there is one thing needful: Teach your kids about Jesus.
Nothing else is that important. Tell them Bible stories. Read them the Bible. Do family devotions. Bring them to church. Bring them to Sunday School. Have them baptized.
If you want to them in heaven with you, do all you can to teach them about the one, the ONLY ONE, who offers heaven. Jesus!
2. Give the Best Gift a Mom Can Get
Moms – you might be getting a lot of gifts today. A pair of earrings. A flower. A card with “I think it’s a spotted cow” on it. Happy “Mooo—ther’s Day!” Careful how you react! Because if you want to show appreciation for a gift, you take good care of it. You put it in a special spot. You make sure not to throw it away. You keep it for years to come.
It’s the same way with spiritual gifts.
Maybe you have a Christian mom.
Maybe you had a Christian mom.
Maybe you had a grand mom, an aunt, an uncle, a dad, a somebody who loved Jesus and cared give you the gift of your Savior.
Use that gift. Take care of that gift. Keep your faith in Jesus strong. Exercise your spirit in God’s Word – at church, at home, listening to your iPhone as you drive. Whatever it takes to make sure you’re breathing when your breathing ends.
That’s what Matilda had done. She had read her Bible. She sang her hymns. She had listened to the cassette tapes of sermons that past pastors had brought her. She even listened to the CDs of Sundays service that I brought her (after I explained to her how it all worked).
She listened. She heard about her Savior’s last breath on the cross. She heard about her Savior’s first breath in the tomb.
When she took her last breath in that hospital room, immediately, instantly, she segued to her first divine breath.
In her Father’s house.
Ezekiel’s body hit the ground with a thud. The temp was hot. The air was thick. There was a stale odor seeping into his nostrils.
Some road trip.
Moments ago, he had been minding his own business. He had been preparing for another round of preaching, another round of prophesying, another round of warning the Israelites to stop their evil ways. And as he walked by the Babylonian marketplace where he would grab a morning drink, a piece of bread and begin writing his speech for the day, God intercepted him.
Ezekiel had been picked up, moved by the Almighty hand of the Lord, taken from his daily life and routine to…to…this! Wherever this was!
Ezekiel looked up. He was in a valley – what appeared to be the deepest part – with long mountainous crags on all every side. As his eyes followed the pastures ahead, he spotted what appeared to be clumps in the distance. Maybe they were piles. Some kind of bramble.
He took a few steps in that direction, until his sandled foot stubbed against something. He tripped, but kept his balance. Then, he turned around to see what his foot had a struck. In the ground, he saw something small and yellowish brown. He couldn’t quite make out what it was. Curiosity got the best of him so he got down on his knees and brushed the dry dirt away hoping to discover what it was.
When he did, he backed away in horror.
It was a skull. A dead bone.
As his eyes adjusted to the light, he realized that this was exactly what the piles in the distance were. Bones. Lots of them. Everywhere.
The Spirit of God led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. (Ezekiel 37:2)
I. A Lesson in the Valley
Ezekiel found himself wandering through the valley. Bones were everywhere he looked. Jawbones to his left. Leg bones to his right. Piles and piles of death – fading reminders of the people who once owned them.
Now…they were motionless. Dead. Lifeless.
It kinda reminded Ezekiel of the Israelites. For years he had been commissioned by God to warn his fellow countrymen about their sins. He had explained that the reason they were captives in Babylon was their sins and their only way out of Babylon was repentance and patience – patience in waiting for the delivering hand of God.
But the people’s response was MEH! They hadn’t seemed to care. They were lifeless. Their faith…was dead.
Ezekiel’s thought process was interrupted by the booming voice of the LORD: He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
Ezekiel looked at the pile nearest him. A shin bone that used to walk. A knee joint that used to bend. A shoulder socket that used to reach for a bottle of wine. They had moved, sure. But death had crippled them. These bones were worthless. Anyone knew that.
…This wasn’t just anyone speaking to him.
God, you are the expert. You are the Creator of heaven and earth. You are the One who formed Adam, the very first man, out of clay! God, You alone know.
God responded, “Prophesy to these bones. Prophesy and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
Wait a second? God, you want me to talk to the bones? The Israelites were one thing, but now you want me to prophesy to these bones? These things aren’t living. They aren’t moving. They can’t hear me. They don’t even have ears!
But…you are God. And…no one is watching so.
I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them…
A foot connected to an ankle bone. A fibula and tibia met up like long lost friends. Ribs flew through the air and forced Ezekiel to duck for his life. Then, little stitches appeared at the joints…like some sort of invisible hand was cross stitching a pattern across them. Muscles formed in clumps at the biceps, the delts, and the quads. A skeleton near Ezekiel’s feet suddenly had a six pack. Then, skin. It draped down like a blanket and covered up all of these insides into one cohesive, identifiable body.
…but there was no breath in them.
And God spoke again.
9 “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’”
Ezekiel paused again.
First, bones and now the wind? You want me to preach to the wind? The forces of nature that only you control? You really expect me to get them bring these bones to life? Would it even do that?
Could it even do that?
10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered the bones; a loud noise like a tornado rushed in from all sides. It blew through the newly formed hair on the bodies, moved the loose cartilage of the ears, and entered into the nostrils. Then, the chests moved. The bodies came to life and stood up on their feet-- one after another – a miracle after a miracle -- a vast army.
And Ezekiel? He stood in awe. Had seen the incredible. God had brought breath out of death!
II. A Lesson in North Raleigh
That’s a pretty sweet Bible story, isn’t it? How awesome would it be to see a science room filled of bones come to life and be real people? Because of the bones, it probably doesn’t get told as much in Sunday School as Noah’s ark, but it’s still pretty sweet.
And it’s not without some very real and very important lessons for you and me as we try to do ministry in North Raleigh. Take a look at these few:
1) We Too Were Bags of Bones
In order to get this bone for the kids lesson – I asked one of my friends who teaches elementary science for some help. She got back to me with a message about all the different bones that she could bring. Dog shin bones, goat thigh bones, even a cow skull. She wisely thought the cow skull would totally distract the kids and lead to me using control over the kids during the kids lesson. (I need reviews like that more often).
But it got me to thinking – all these different bones – all these different places – unless your are an A+ college biology student, you might not know what bones goes where, what kinds of animals it’s from and where it goes in the skeleton.
Isn’t it the same with God’s perspective of us? We are all sinners – dead in spirit – dead in faith. God looks down at us and he can’t tell apart the one pornography from the other. It’s easy to get the gossiper confused with the liar. The one God can’t tell if he should label it a racist, an adulteress, a thief or a strange combination of all three!
What I’m trying to say is that apart from Jesus – God sees us all as a pile of good as dead, useless, worthless, sinful bones.
Read it yourself in Ephesians 2:1 – “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”
Now you might argue:
I’m not so bad. I was pretty good apart from Jesus. I might be a bit better now, but I was no slouch back in the day either.
I’m without him right now and I think I’m doing just fine. I don’t need anyone’s help and I don’t need God’s.
Have you ever downloaded an app before? When you download an app what do you expect it to do? Probably what it says it’s going to do. If you get an app downloaded, and it constantly freezes all the time, if it sends the Angry Birds in the opposite direction of the way you were flinging them OR if you every time you touch the DELIVER PIZZA button on the Pizza Hut app, you get sushi – the app is broken. It’s worthless.
God made you and I to serve him. He made us to devote our lives in love to him. He made us to serve others completely selfless all the time, all the time, all the time.
We haven’t done that. None of us have. There’s nothing we could do to fix that! Apart from Jesus, we were dead in sin.
If you are apart from Jesus, then that’s how God views you – dead. He sees your life as a rotting, deteriorating mess of an experiment – the only thing for which it's good, being an eventual decomposition into the soil where other bones can be buried too.
You were dead in your sins, but God made you alive with Christ.
2) God Brings Breath from Death
Do you know what’s really interesting? The Hebrew word for breath that we read in Ezekiel is RUACH…it’s also the exact same words that we translated as WIND. Two definitions; same word.
But there’s one more definition for RUACH. Do you know what it is?
Suddenly, it makes complete sense as to why the breath brought life from death, because the Holy Spirit was with the breath.
And the Holy Spirit is God.
And God has no problem bringing breath from death.
That’s what he has done to all believers. He worked the RUACH, Spirit worked through the RUACH/Breath of His Word to bring use to life. He breathed forgiveness into our sin burdened lungs. He took our sin rotting heart and gave us a heart of joy in the Lord. He lifted us up to our feet, dusted us off from our sins, and helped us take our first steps for the Lord.
God brought breath from our death.
If he hasn’t yet, that’s my prayer for you. It’s God’ s prayer for you, too.
In fact, that’s why he took on flesh and bone. It’s why he lost his breath on that cross. It’s why he took another breath in the tomb that first Easter morning – because every breath he took, all along the way – was to give you that a breath of FRESH AIR – to bring breath from death!
3) Let the Breeze…Out?
If you’ve got animals, there maybe be times when you need to let him some fresh air. Truth is: animals can stink the joint up. If you don’t have animals, maybe it’s the kids. If you don’t have kids, ladies, it’s probably the husband.
So you let the breeze in! You need fresh air. Glade has spent millions of dollars perfecting outdoor, fresh scents for just that reason.
But…what if the stink isn’t inside? What is the stink is outside?
You watch the news lately? This world stinks. It’s filled with sin and hatred and immorality! It’s filled with racism, selfism, and I’m-better-than-you-ism. Our world wants nothing to do with God and the morality is where it is because that is the case.
So…Let the breeze out!
Remember what God told Ezekiel? He told him to speak to the winds. He told him to say what He, the Lord, had said. He asked him to prophesy – which, in its simplest format – means to share God’s Words.
You’ve got the same power, because you have the same word. When you speak about your Savior to a sin burdened friend, that word of God has the ability to bring life to their souls!
Pray for the opportunities. I had the chance to do that this past week. I went to visit a friend from my assisted living ministry who was in the hospital. I got there and she was tired, sad, and honestly not looking all that good.
What did I do? Not much. I read Psalm 46 – “The Lord is our Refuge and Strength, an ever present help in trouble!” And the Spirit did his thing. Her spirits were lifted. A breath of fresh air in that dank, hospital room. Her spirit was breathing again!
You do the same.
And remember: Ezekiel did that and the winds came from all over from the North and the South; the East and the West.
That’s God’s plan. To fill the earth with the winds that bring breath – with the wind of his Word. From far north of Iceland to the down under of Australia. From the Far East of China to the far west of Arizona. From Durham to Clayton. From Cary to Knightdale. From I-540 to I-440. From Falls of Neuse to Six Forks.
Wherever you’re at. Speak God’s Word. Breathe a breath of fresh air into this world.
And God? He’ll do what he does. He’ll bring breath from death. Amen.
What could I do?
I was on I-85. Driving back from our Pastor’s Conference in Roanoke, VA on Wednesday evening. Pastor Lange from Ascension in Jacksonville was with me. We were cracking some kind of funny pastor jokes when traffic started slowing down. Up – ahead of us – was a minivan, flipped upside down.
There weren’t any police cars yet, so we stopped. We got out and jogged toward the scene. There, underneath the wheel well was a woman.
I don’t need to get into the details, but it was gruesome. Gruesome and quiet. There were about 12 of us who had stopped. And after the lady in nursing scrubs began whispering to her gently and I called 911. We all looked around thinking the same thing…
What can I do?
Have you ever felt like that? Not so much at a car accident, but have you ever seen a friend who was in real spiritual trouble? In such a scenario, what do you do? Should you just walk right on by? It’s not your responsibility, right?
Today we are continuing our series called BREATHE and we are going to learn about how our God has equipped and empowered us to offer Spiritual life support to others.
Take a look at John 20:20-21. This takes place on Easter Sunday. It’s after Jesus rose from the dead, after he appeared to Mary Magdalene, after he appeared to his disciples, and right after he let them touch his hands and side.
I imagine they had some questions:
What was death like?
What were you doing during those ‘death’ days?
Did you go to heaven? Did you see my Aunt Edna? How does she look?
But Jesus had other plans:
“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Have you had anyone breathe on your lately? That’s not usually polite. Maybe with mints, definitely not with garlic.
But Jesus didn’t breathe on them to have them check his breath. He commissioned them to do a job. He sent them to continue his work. As God the Father had sent Jesus from heaven to save humanity, Jesus was sending his disciples into the world to save humanity. Which really makes us – disciples -- rethink our purpose.
Because…What’s our job as Christians? Attend church? Sing songs? Put fish symbols on the back of our car bumpers? Is it really our job to help sin burdened spirits?
Yes. According to this passage Jesus has commanded his disciples – disciples means followers, so if you follow Jesus this is talking about you -- to help save souls.
Now – if you’re gonna save souls, you need the right equipment to do so. The fireman needs his firehose. The police man need his police gear. The surgeon needs his scalpel. And the Christian needs to be armed with the very tool for saving souls that Jesus has given him:
If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.
Matthew 16 speaks similarly. In it Jesus tell the disciples that he has given them the keys to heaven. What is the only way sinful human beings like you and me are getting to heaven? It’s God’s forgiveness. That’s the key. We need God’s forgiveness to unlock the gates of heaven. This whole forgiveness thing – forgiving or not forgiving – is something that the Christian church has called the KEYS. The keys to salvation. The keys to heaven. The keys to saving souls. There are two keys.
(1) THE LOCKING KEY.
Take a look at the first key. It says, "If you do not forgive someone, that is pass on God’s forgiveness, they are not forgiven.” The word “forgiveness” here paints the picture of loosening or untying bonds. Not forgiving, then, means to tie up, to tighten, to bind. It means to take the spiritual key that God has given you and tightening the chains of unforgiveness on someone.
I hope you’re thinking HOW IS THIS HELPFUL? Since when is tying someone up any kind of way to heal anyone? That’s not usually the way I approach healing the cold. Some tea? Yes. Orange juice? Sure. Tying someone up so they can’t move? Not so much.
But take a look at 1 John 1:8. It says this, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
It’s kind of like a toddler. You’re in your living room after a long day’s trip –watching The Land Before Time 8 and she keeps nodding off. Falling asleep. It gets so bad that her head is literally slumped to the floor.
You say, “You should go to bed.” She says, “NO! I’m not tired!” She’s claiming to be without tired. She’s deceiving herself. The truth isn’t in her.
Same thing with people and sin. If anyone claims to be without sin and “cool” with God on our own, probably getting to heaven because “I’m not so bad,” they are wrong. God’s Word says differently.
Binding someone’s conscience by proclaiming “That is a sin. Repent.” is important. It speaks the truth to them. It causes them to rethink their actions. It usually hurts their feelings.
Pastor are you suggesting that we hurt people’s feelings? That sounds kind of mean. In America, we don’t say anything that might hurt anyone’s feeling at any time.
Understand this: We aren’t hurting people’s feelings for the sake of hurting people’s feelings. We are hurting their feelings for the sake of their salvation.
Like in Corinth. Corinth was an ancient town with a young Christian church that had been formed there by the Apostle Paul – Paul was one of Jesus’ disciples. He had been going around telling people that Jesus was their Savior. Many people believed in Corinth and they started a church there. They probably had some kind of opening ceremony. They probably ate a very large potluck. They probably hugged and were excited to be in God’s church.
But after awhile they had problems. One of the problems was that there was a man who was sleeping with his father’s wife. A sin that Paul said “was so bad that even the pagans – people who don’t remotely believe in Jesus – do not tolerate.” A sin that – I can’t imagine any of you, believer or unbeliever would be willing to say “That sound pretty morally right.”
So how did Paul want them to deal with it? He wanted them to expel them to call him out. He wanted them to hurt his feelings. He wanted them to even expel him from the congregation.
“Hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”
Think about that phrase? Destruction of the flesh. It describes what happens when you hear about your sins. You get a gurgly feeling in your tummy. Your muscles tighten up. You feel stress. It isn’t pleasant. I know this for a fact –when Julianna calls me out for something – I don’t usually say, “Oh thank you so kindly.” I get upset! It hurts.
But that was the point! This binding, this hurting was necessary to show the man his sins that he might turn to his Savior and live.
Same thing for us. When someone is sinning, when someone is living a sinful lifestyle, when someone is unrepentant, it is our duty to bind them, to show them their sin. To lock up their conscience not because we enjoy seeing people squirm, but in order to save them.
Because if we don’t turn them, if they don’t realize their sins, if they don’t turn to their Savior, their feelings won’t be hurt, but one day – their soul will hurt…
We don’t want that. We want people in heaven. In fact, that’s why we lock people up. We lock people up, so that we can set them free.
2) THE UNLOCKING KEY.
Can you imagine what it is like to be bound up?
To have sin and guilt weighing down your every move?
To constantly be concerned that God hates you?
To be convinced that you have done too much wrong to ever be forgiven?
Imagine the joy of being able to use the second key to a guilt trapped conscience. If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven. That word “forgive” literally means “to loosen, untie, unbind.” It means to “release!”
And if you think it's nice to be set free from some ropes that have been holding you captive, imagine what it’s like to be set free from guilt that has been holding you captive?
That’s the message we get to proclaim. Not just “I forgive you,” but “God forgives you.” God forgives you because Jesus lived innocently without any guilt. God forgives you because Jesus died innocently in your place. God forgives you because Jesus rose triumphantly to prove that God’s forgiveness is yours.
Of course, sometimes, sometimes this is even harder than pronouncing forgiveness. “Pastor, I don’t want to forgive him. I don’t want to forgive him because his sin was against me. We should forgive all the other sinners who ask for forgiveness, sure…but not that guy. Pastor, I want you to kick him out of the church and never let him in because his sin was against me.”
Remember the Corinthians? Remember how Paul told them to expel the man who was sleeping with his dad’s wife? They did. They expelled him. And it worked. The man was cut to the heart. Guilt overtook him. He stopped sleeping with his dad’s wife and asked for repentance.
But the church wasn’t giving it to him. He had been an embarrassment to them. He had caused the Apostle Paul to write a letter that would be written down for 2000 years and give the Corinthian church a bad name. Why should they forgive them?
So Paul wrote them another letter. 2 Corinthians. Look at what he wrote, “Forgive and comfort him so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow...Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven…I have forgiven in the sight of Christ.”
This really transforms forgiveness doesn’t it? Think about it – if someone has sinned against you, you have the unique opportunity to share God’s love. Usually we want revenge. Usually we want to yell. But God has gifted you a chance to show incredible Godlike love, Godlike forgiveness that may save his soul.
Now, I get it. This might sound unnerving. It might sound intimidating. I can’t tell someone their sins are endangering them to hell. I can’t comfort someone with God’s love – I don’t know what to say.
Look back at what Jesus told his disciples – Receive the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is all powerful.
The Holy Spirit is all wise.
The Holy Spirit is always present.
The Holy Spirit is God.
God is with you. You have him. He will not leave you to do this on your own.
I felt this at the car crash. After I had called 911, the firemen and paramedics came quickly. They got out the jaws of life and they began saving the woman.
I looked over – and next to me was a man who looked very frantic. It was one of those things – this tragedy caused him to open up to a stranger. He said, “Life is so fragile. It’s so quick. I don’t know if I was able to do all I could to save her. In fact, I haven’t been there for my wife. I haven’t been there for my kids.”
I put my hand on his back. He sobbed. The Holy Spirit took over.
“Friend, that's why we've got Jesus. He defeated death. He defeated sin for us. He offers forgiveness."
May God enable you to see the opportunities to share his Law and Gospel...to offer spiritual life support.
It happened not that long ago in Philadelphia. March 26th the newspaper headlines were “4 people, 1 Dog Killed in Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.” Apparently, a gas pipe had broken up and the gas made its way up into the apartment overnight and silently took their lives.
The people didn’t see the gas because it’s colorless. They didn’t smell it because it’s odorless.
In other words – when it seems completely tame; the air is deadly toxic.
Today we are continuing our series called BREATHE. We’ve been talking about how breathing in the truth of Jesus’ resurrection gives us peace when we are afraid and lifts us out of grief and sadness. But today we’re heading in a different direction.
As positive as breathing in Jesus’ resurrection is – God’s Word also warns us about the spiritual equivalents to carbon monoxide. Some things that appear fine, but are deadly toxic to our souls.
I. Spiritual Toxins
This message is found in the book of Ephesians. That’s a letter written by one of Jesus’ disciples named Paul to a group of Christians that lived in a place called Ephesus. Listen to what he tells us brothers and sisters. He says we are to “Follow God’s example and walk in the way of love.”
That sounds nice, doesn’t it? In fact, I don’t know of any Christian who wouldn’t agree with those two statements. They sound so nice in that positive sense. But when you reverse it and put it in its negative form, it immediately becomes a lot more difficult to hear.
Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking which are out of place.
I have a friend who is allergic to gluten. She was gluten free long before gluten free was cool. She is allergic. Gluten would make her so sick that just a hint of it would make her stomach sick for a whole day. One time we went out to McDonald's and she ordered very specifically, “I need to have a hamburger patty, but only a patty please. No bun.” So that’s what they gave her – by simply taking it off of a bun. No more than an hour later, her body reacted violently to the hint of gluten – the few crumbs left on the patty had made her very sick.
This is how much of sin makes God sick. His Being can’t stand even a hint of it. It’s also how toxic sin is to his people. Even a hint of it, can infect us – and put us in grave spiritual danger. This is true of all sin, but in this section he gets very specific about a few sins.
(1) ….of Sexual Immorality.
What’s sexual immorality? In order to define it, we first have to define sexual morality.
That takes us back to the Creation of the World. God had just finished creating human beings. He loved them. He created them and He wanted more of them so he gave them the ability to reproduce. Then, God did something really clever. He wanted them to actually fill the earth, so God made human beings attracted to one another. He created a very special, a very intimate act that two people share with one another – sexual intimacy.
Take a look at this passage from Genesis. It says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two, the husband and wife, will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)
Think of it this way: How many people have you high fived in your life? Quite a few, I imagine. It’s a nice gesture, but it’s not all that intimate. We high five friends, associates, coworkers, even a random stranger at the bar after your favorite basketball team makes the winning shot.
But sexual intimacy? God meant that to be between two people and only two people. He wanted it to be a special connection between a husband and a wife that only the husband and the wife shared with one another and no one else.
Sin? Sin poisons it. Sin takes the gift of intimacy and ruins it. It links you to a third person, a fourth person, someone who isn’t your spouse. It divides. It conquers. It leaves one feeling guilty, heartbroken, and defeated.
If you’ve ever sinned in this way, you probably know what I’m talking about. Sexual immorality poisons relationships.
Back to our Ephesians passages. God tells us to avoid the poison of sin by avoiding sexual immorality. If sexual morality is “Sexual intimacy between a man and a woman in a marriage covenant,” immorality is intimacy in anything else.
Some of you are thinking, “Aha! Homosexuality is wrong then.” You’d be right. That’s not compatible with God’s definition of marriage. But understand this – God is not just talking about that.
He’s says, "Not even a hint..."
…if you are heterosexual, but you aren’t married to the person you’re sleeping with, that needs to stop.
…it means if you are dating a girl, you aren’t plotting ways to touch things that are reserved for the marriage bed.
…it means you aren’t flirting with that guy at work who is married to someone else, while you are married to someone else.
…it means you aren’t just glancing through the Victoria’s Secret website in your spare time.
…it means if that one show on HBO gets you thinking thoughts that should be reserved for your wife, about someone who isn’t, stop watching it!
God says not even a hint, because even these "smaller sexual immoralities” are poison. They hurt your relationships with others. They hurt your own perspective. They hurt your relationships with God. Every time.
(2) Not Even a Hint of Greed.
The second toxic sin – is fairly similar. Greed. It’s similar because both greed and sexual immorality are extremely selfish. One says “Give me my sexual desire, I want it! ” the other says, “Give me that money, thing, stuff, because I want it.”
Greed just like sexual immorality poisons relationships.
I was in the preschool this past week. One of the kids was having their very last day. So she brought in some treats. Little cookies for the others to eat. I was in there celebrating because – cookies are great – and one of the little kids started complaining – “Where are the sprinkles? This one should have sprinkles. I’m mad this doesn’t have sprinkles.” She started crying. The kid who brought them heard her making fun of the sprinkle-less cookies and she started crying too. They didn’t get along very well for that five minutes.
Greed poisons relationships.
A lot of you are thinking, Great! I love this message. Let’s go storm Wall Street right now! Don’t get me wrong. I am sure that Wall Street has greed on it. Absolutely it does.
Not even a hint means more than just “Let’s get Wall Street.”
…it means you aren’t adding a few extra miles to your mileage reimbursement on your taxes because “I really want those extra $10.”
…It means you aren’t refusing to buy your wife a vase of flowers because I really want that bag of Doritos.
…It means you aren’t holding back on your offering to church because they aren’t doing the things in church that I want them to.
…it means you aren’t arguing with your spouse over the budget because “I want to spend the money this way.”
Even these seemingly smaller greeds are poison. It poisons relationships. They poison relationships with others. They poison your own way of thinking. They poison your relationship with God.
(3) …Sinful Talk.
One more toxin: There shouldn’t be any coarse joking, foolish talk or obscenity.” It’s a couple of different sins, all wrapped up in one phrase: “Sinful Talk.”
There’s an old saying that the tongue is the most powerful muscle in your body. That doesn’t mean that the tongue will literally what wins the next World’s Strongest Man competition. Far from it. It’s a reference to just how much poison the tongue can inflict. James 3:8 say this, “The tongue is a restless evil, it is full of deadly poison.”
Maybe you’ve experienced this.
Raise your hand. Have you ever heard anyone say that they hate you? How’d that feel? Not good?
Ever heard anyone use a racial slur against you? How’d that feel? Not good?
Ever heard anyone refer to you as a four letter word? How’d that feel? Awful?
Ever heard anyone whispering about what you did at church? How’d that feel? Terrible? Me too.
The phrase is “Stick & stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” That’s a nice sentiment – it’s just not very true. It does not give us the right to verbally assault one another.
Sinful talk is poison. It will poisons your work environment. It will poison your relationships. It will even poison a church!!! We’re getting very close to embarking on some very awesome ministry together. One of the biggest things that can halt us in our tracks? It isn’t money. It isn’t architectural plans. It isn’t even bad weather.
It’s sinful talk. Even small, seemingly insignificant sinful talk – a little bit of gossip here – some grumbling and complaining there – that can poison a church. It can poison God’s kingdom.
And here’s the thing about God’s kingdom.
Do you remember a few years ago when you could smoke a cigarette in just about any bar and restaurant? Recently, just about everywhere is now a SMOKE FREE ZONE. What’s that mean? It means that cigarettes were deemed toxic -- even as second hand smoke. Therefore, these areas were to remains completely free of the toxins.
This is how God feels about sins. He wants his Kingdom to be a sin free zone. He wants his people to actively seek to destroy it. Eventually…eventually he plans on doing it himself.
"Of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of God and of Christ. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.”
II. The SIN Antioxidant
Wow. God’s really serious about sin? If you’re like me, you’re feeling pretty low right now. I’ve let all of those things into my life. Sexual immorality, greed and foolish talk – they have all infected me. What hope is there for me? In fact, sometimes these things infect me so much that I struggle to stop myself from continually hurting others.
I’m poisoned. I need help.
Read verse 8.
You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.
Light versus darkness is an age old story. In Star Wars there’s the light side and the dark side of the force. In Harry Potter, there’s light magic versus dark magic. But here’s something for thought – all of these dark versus light battles come from the language found in the Bible. Language right here. Language that says “Darkness is bad. Darkness is what we were. The Lord made us light.”
Think about it: You can’t fix darkness with more darkness. Try it. Next time you fall asleep, wear black sweatpants and a black sweatshirt to bed. When you wake up at 1am because you’re sweating hot, notice how it is completely dark in the room.
Darkness plus darkness leads to more darkness.
Sinful humans trying to correct sinful human tendencies leads only to more sin.
But Jesus? Jesus is the light of the world. He is completely devoid of all the dark poisons we have been talking about.
Sexual Immorality? No way. Yet he came to this world and made a more intimate connection to you and me than anyone ever had or will – he took our sinful dark, disgusting moments to the cross. He linked himself to you and died for you.
Greedy? He was greedy for only one thing – you! He gave up the divine glory of heaven, exchanged it for a crown of thorns, your sins, and a painful death on the cross.
Sinful words? Sure – he hates sin. But he had no such harmful words to speak to you. In fact the only words He speaks in Scripture are, “I love you. I died for you. You are forgiven.”
This then is what this passage means. “You are light in the Lord.”
It means – the poison of sin is not fateful.
It means Jesus is the antidote.
It means by faith in Him you are now saved.
III. What Now?
(1) Get rid of the Poison.
We were talking about carbon monoxide earlier. One of the ways we fight carbon monoxide poisoning is to get a carbon monoxide detector. But when the detector goes off – beeps really loudly – it does no good to sit on the couch and say, “After this episode of House of Cards is over!” You have to do something. Get out of the house. Call 911. Get the leak fixed.
We just learned how poisonous even the ‘seemingly small’ sins are. It will do no good if you go back home and make no change in your life.
Instead, get rid of the poison. Put a filter on your Internet. Stop watching that TV show. Get rid of that friend on Facebook. Don’t talk about that one person. Increase your giving at Gethsemane. Do whatever it takes to make sure that not even a hint of sexual immorality, greed or sinful talk is found in your life.
(2) Evaluate Relationships.
This one is hard. Because sometimes the poison – is your friends. Yes. God does say “be in the world.” He says that we aren’t to be hermits. We need to be in and among unbelievers in order to share the message of Jesus.
But when spending time with your friends starts to lead to sin…when you find yourself saying, “I have to sleep with that girl in order to convert her to Christianity…” Stop. You aren’t converting them. They are infecting you.
Take a break. Recharge. Reconnect with God. Reinvest in Bible Study and reinforce your spiritual armor before you return to these people.
After all, we are light in the Lord. Therefore, shine! Shine where it’s needed most.
I’ll tell you what. It’s so easy to feel like shining here at church. You can sing really loudly. You can say a prayer with a crowd of Christians. You can down talk all these sinful things as sinful.
But it’s already pretty bright in here. You need to shine where it’s darkest. Out there. In the world.
When you are breathing the fresh air of Jesus’ resurrection, the pure teachings of his Word and you aren’t breathing in the poison of sin, you will be shining at your brightest. May God enable us to do so. Amen.
I. The Worst Kind of Fear
The doors were locked.
A deadbolt. Another deadbolt.. A few boxes stacked in front of the door. One of those giant wooden planks that sits atop two metal supports on both sides. There was no way anyone was getting in.
It was evening on the very first Easter Sunday. The disciples were gathered together and talking in hushed voices:
“Do you think the Pharisees will come after us?”
“Do you think they’ll want us dead? Or was Jesus enough?”
“Do you think they know who I am? I can’t remember if they saw my face when we were running away last Thursday night!”
“Do you think crucifixion will be as bad as it sounds?”
Then, their hushed panic was interrupted by a knock on the door. A few of them jumped. Quietly Matthew peeped through the tiny hole in the door.
It was Mary Magdalene. They let her in, they told her not to scare them like that. But she wasn’t listening. She was a sobbing mess. “They’ve stolen his body!” She sobbed. “I couldn’t even see him.”
Peter and John put their arms around her. They lifted up their hoods so that they wouldn’t be seen. They ran with her to investigate.
As the other disciples waited, they heard another knock. Their breaths were short again. Slowly they opened the door to reveal the group of women that Mary had abandoned. They weren’t nearly stressed. In fact, they seemed joyful.
“Shhh!” Nathanael tried to quiet them down. “You’re making too much noise. They’ll hear us.”
“What of it!?!” Today is too great not to shout HALLELUJAH!” They began talking about angels – and resurrection – and how they had seen Jesus.
Okay. That was impossible. Jesus was dead.
Maybe, they needed to lay down. Maybe their emotions were getting the best of them.
But then, Peter and John returned. Yep. The tomb was empty alright. There wasn’t a trace of a body in there. And if you didn’t trust John, you could trust Peter. He was thorough like that.
Then, a third knock. “It’s Clopas!” said a voice. As they opened the door Philip exclaimed, “I thought you were heading to Emmaus today!”
“We were, but then…we saw Him….Jesus….He’s alive.”
As all of these stories marinated, the mood of the room changed. There was a buzz. Could it be? Could he really…? Could Jesus be...alive?
Then, someone else joined them.
Someone else who didn’t knock.
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them.
And at first, the disciples were shocked. Was this a hallucination? No, the others saw it too. Was it a ghost? No…the floor creaked when he walked. Was it a look alike? No…they had spent three years with the Lord, they knew his unmistakeable face.
Suddenly, a dread fell over the disciples. Jesus wasn’t a hallucination. Jesus wasn’t a ghost. Jesus wasn’t a vision. It was much worse than that.
Jesus was alive.
(1) They Had Wronged Him!
You might be thinking. Why? Why would that be bad news to them? Jesus was alive!
Tell me -- Have you ever had a bad morning? You’re on the way to work and you kind of brush past some guy to get into the elevator – you force him to take the next one – and about fifteen minutes later as your boss is leading the morning meeting for work – you see the elevator guy again – turns out; he’s the C.E.O.
Or maybe you’re at the edge of Falls of Neuse. You’re waiting…and waiting…and waiting to turn left onto it. Finally, you pull out just a tad close to a car that looks like its pretty far away, but as soon as the car turns on it’s flashing blues and reds, you realize that cop car was a lot closer than I thought.
This is exactly how the disciples felt!
Jesus was alive, sure. But he was also the guy they had just abandoned. He was also the guy some of them had just denied knowing. He was the guy they had let die on that cross.
(2) They Couldn’t Hide from Him!
Remember: The doors were locked. And that locked door was meant for the Romans. But when they looked behind Jesus, the doors were still locked. They couldn’t hide from Jesus.
That meant when Matthew tried to slip behind Simeon – “Maybe he can’t see me.” Or Andrew pretended to be asleep. And Philip sat in back thinking – “If I don’t move, maybe he won’t see me.”
Jesus still saw them. They couldn’t hide from Jesus.
(3) He was God!
Here’s the scariest part of all. It wasn’t like they had sinned against one another. It wasn’t as if one of them was yelling at the other one for stealing his favorite tunic without asking. It wasn’t as if they had sinned against another human.
If Jesus was really standing before him, it meant He had really risen from the dead. If he had really risen from the dead, it meant he really was God!
The God of heaven. The God of hellfire and brimstone. The God who when he got sick of storms told them to buzz off. The God who when he was angry with demons sent them away from this earth. The God who spoke to terrible disease and sent them packing with his burning anger.
What was to stop him from doing just that. To them. Right now.
Do you understand the disciple’s fear? Maybe you’ve wronged God. Maybe you’ve done some pretty bad sins. Maybe you came here today troubled by something awful that you did just last night. In fact, maybe that’s why it was hard to get here today. (Or maybe it's why you are only reading this online.)
But here's the problem...
Have you ever played hide & seek with some kids before? Kids have pretty good hiding spots. They can get into a lot better hiding places than dad. Dad gets to hide behind the shower curtain and behind the door and that’s about it. (And now I just gave away my two best hiding spots.) Kids can get into really good spots though. Behind the washing machine, inside the cupboard, under the bed.
But what happens when you find them. What do kids do? They cover their eyes. They cover their eyes because they figure that somehow you can’t see them, if they can’t see you.
Do you ever get so scared of God that you think like that? That you figure – as long as I don’t approach God – as long as I don’t go to church – as long as I don’t read that one part in the Bible – then, I’m good.
That doesn’t work. You can’t hide from God.
He sees your sins. He sees all your sins.
Even the sins that you think he doesn’t see – He sees.
The pornography at night?
The flirting with the guy that’s not your husband?
The cheating on the test when the teachers isn’t looking?
Stealing that money from your friend's purse?
Others might not see it. God does. God hates sin. He hates it with a hellfire vengeance.
II. The Best Kind of Antidote
Do you feel that? I do. It’s fear. Fear because we’ve sinned. Fear because God knows it. Fear because that sin was against God.
That’s the kind of fear the disciples were experiencing. They trembled. Each hoping that Jesus would make it quick and painless. Then, Jesus moved. His mouth opened. The disciples braced themselves. He spoke:
“Peace be with you!” As in…It worked. As in…You have been saved. As in…You’re forgiven.
Can you imagine that collective breath that was let out in that room? Jesus wasn’t there to get revenge. He was there to give them assurance. He was there to tell them of their salvation. He was there to tell them that his sacrifice had worked. He was there to tell them that He was victorious and they were at peace with God!
Because that’s what the resurrection means. Jesus’ resurrection means that he defeated sin, death, and hell. It means that those who believe in him are forgiven. It means that you are forgiven!
Pastor, I know all that. But I still get scared. Life is tough. Finances are difficult. Relationships are hard. My job is in the air. The devil…the devil loves to make me doubt this peace I have with God. What do I do when I’m scared?
A couple things.
1) Don’t Hide.
We already said that doesn’t work. God sees all things. God is there for all things. It’s like when you see your kid do something he isn’t supposed to. He might as well come clean. You saw him do it.
God’s already seen it. Don’t lie. Don’t hide it. Bring it to him.
Secondly, bring it to him, because he wants PEACE with you. Even though He isn’t the one who wronged your relationship – that’s on you – God still wants peace with you. That’s why he came to this earth. That’s why he died on the cross. That’s why he rose from the dead and spoke to the disciples and had the disciples write it down so that you would hear His desire. PEACE.
Scripture says this, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just. He will forgive us all our sins.”
Confess your sins to God. Confess the ones that are public. Confess the ones that are obvious. Confess the ones that are private, hidden, known only to you and God. Confess your sins – and hear his promise of forgiveness.
2) Come Back to Reality
I remember the very first haunted house I ever went to. It was a gym at our local grade school – with a few spooky cobwebs hanging from the basketball hoops. But there was one part that was creepy. They made me put on a blindfold and reach my hand into a bowl. I grasped what I thought was earthworms and eyeballs!
I was bawling. I threw them on the ground. I was panicking as we left – so badly that my dad took me back inside to show me that I hadn’t touched worms and eyeballs but spaghetti and meatballs.
Oh. Thanks for that reality check.
That’s what Jesus helped the disciples do. A smile. Kindness. Words of promise. The reality was that Jesus wasn’t dead. He wasn’t dead and he wasn’t mad at them. He had died for their sins and there was no reason to be afraid.
When you’re dealing with fear, come back to reality.
When you think you’re all alone, come back to reality – Jesus is with you.
When you think everyone is against you, come back to reality – Jesus has your back.
When you think God can’t handle this, come back to reality – Jesus died and came back to life!
3) Examine His Wounds
That’s one of the things Jesus did for his disciples. He showcased that it was really him. He let them run their hands on the nail marks in his hands and place their hands into the spear mark in his side.
When they touched his wounds, they didn’t just see some kind of really cool scars.
They saw his love. “He did this for me?”
They saw his power. “These scars defeated death?”
They saw his resurrection. “They are moving; he is still alive; praise God!”
Pastor – how can I do that? I don’t get the privilege of seeing the resurrected Lord Jesus with my physical eyes like the disciples.
I’m gonna tell you the same thing we said last week. If you want to examine his wounds, examine the Scriptures. Read his Word. It’s not overkill that God’s telling us to do it a second time. In his Word we see the pain God went through. We see the pangs that his heart goes through as we sin against him. We see the pain he suffers at his betrayal. We see the awful suffering of his crucifixion. You’ll see that he did this for you. Because he loves you that much.
4) Understand this Phrase: “Peace be With You.”
That’s God talking! There is no one higher. It isn’t me talking. It isn’t an angel talking. This is a message of peace, straight from the top!
If you’ve got peace with him…
Romans 8 says just that. Take a look. It says this, “31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things…35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" Can money troubles? Bill collectors? Cancer or AIDS? Drugs or alcohol? Divorce or loneliness? Terrorists, explosion and attacks? NO!
"37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!"
May these words keep us from fear now and always. Amen.
When my parents came down a couple of weeks ago, they brought down a few items that were still stored at their house from the two weeks Julianna and I lived there before moving to our own apartment in Raleigh. One of the items they brought down was Julianna’s wedding dress. And…she tried it on. She fit into it perfectly and looked as beautiful as ever.
So…I got to thinking…I wonder if my suitcoat still fits. The other day I went into my closet. I found what I think was my suitcoat and I tried it on.
It was a little tighter than I remember it. I had to “suck it in” in order to get the pants on. In fact, the suit was tight enough that it was a little more difficult to breathe.
The same thing can happen spiritually. Grief, sadness, and gloom can get to be too much. They can tighten themselves around you like a two sizes too small suit. Grief can metaphorically make life so stressful that it literally makes it more difficult to breath.
Perhaps there is no one who understood the suffocation effect that grief has more than Mary Magdalene. Open up your Bibles and find her story in John 20 beginning at verse 1.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. This is what Matthew 28 talked about last week as Mary was a part of that group of women who were heading toward the tomb. But John indicates that Mary was not a part of the women that made their way to the angels. Rather, she ran away from the tomb. She ran to Peter and John and told them that the tomb was open. While she was telling them this, the other women were talking to the angel and hearing the glorious message that Jesus had risen.
But Mary missed that. Instead, she must have followed behind Peter and John. Crying. Stumbling. Sobbing.
Jesus had been the one man who had ever shown her unconditional love. He had gone near her when no one else would. He had talked to her when everyone else ignored her. He had healed her…when she thought all was lost.
Scripture says, Mary had been possessed by seven demons. Jesus had driven them out.
And when Jesus had driven those demons out – he had driven out other demons. No longer did she feel unlovable. No longer did she feel unloved by God. No longer did she feel completely worthless. Jesus’ actions had shown she had value and that she had purpose.
But…they had taken that away from her. The had taken her Lord away from her.
They had killed him.
Now to make things worse, someone had added insult to injury and stolen his body. She couldn’t even give him a proper burial. She couldn’t even search from some kind of closure at his gravesite.
Eventually, she made her way to the entrance of the tomb. The guards were gone. The other women were guard. Peter and John were gone. Only Mary – Mary and an empty tomb – Mary, her broken heart and her empty tomb.
She sobbed – grief was pressing on all sides of her. It was hard to catch her breath as she collapsed in front of the door. Slowly she lifted her head. Slowly she looked inside – hoping to see a piece of his garment…a left behind hair. A sandalmark. Something to remind her of the good times. Something to remind her of her Lord.
Something to give her hope.
What she found was so much more incredible. 12 Mary bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head of the stone gurney and the other at the foot.
Now – if ever there was something that might jar Mary out of her sadness, it might be an angel. Bright, shining, gleaming. You don’t see them every day. Imagine if one appeared on Falls of Neuse as you were fighting traffic to work in the morning. Suddenly, you’re wide awake. The doldrums of the morning drive are quickly shaken off.
Mary should have noticed. She should have been filled with hope. She should have been excited. She should have at least been a bit frightened. She had divine, holy angels in front of her. Angels who would have answered her questions. Angels who could have given her good news. Angels that maybe she should have investigated.
Instead, she simply answers their question: They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have put him. And fixated on that terrible thought, filled with grief that her Savior was dead, she turned around and left.
Does that ever happened to you? Does grief ever become so great that it’s hard to focus on anything positive – even if it’s staring you in the face?
Essentially that’s what clinical depression does. It becomes a dark cloud over your life. It overshadows everything that you do.
A young woman named Erin wrote about what depression was doing to her on her blog. She said, “I feel stifled and so alone. I can’t focus and all I can write about is how much pain I’m in physically and emotionally, how tired I am, and how lost I feel. And just thinking about those things makes them worse. I am really really struggling.”
For some of you that might happen a lot. For others not as often. But hopefully you can relate.
Is it a chemical imbalance that leads to depression? Sure. Science has documented that. But –somewhere along the line – we have to admit that there’s a much greater cause for depression. One that can’t be counteracted with medicine and psychotherapy.
It’s called sin.
Sin that someone did to you.
Sin that you did to someone else.
Sin that you did to you.
Sin doesn’t like to be ignored.
Do you remember the story of a tell tale heart? In it, the killer takes the body and stuffs it into the floor. At first, he’s ok. But soon every time he passes that body he hears its heart beating. As if it were a loud drum, he hears it beating and reminding him day after day, moment after moment of what he’s done.
Sin is a lot like that. It beats loudly. It beats steadily. It loves to remind us over the awful, grievous things we have done –
Sinner – sinner –sinner.
Scum – worthless – unloved – sinner.
Know what? If the world is as Mary Magdalene thought it was, then Jesus is dead. There is no reason for hope. “If Christ has not been raised…you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor. 15)
There is only sin.
There is only hatred.
There is only death.
There is only eternal damnation in hell.
If Christ hasn't been raised...
II. Grief Relief
Mary staggered out of the tomb. It was all too much. She fell to the ground. Her tears hit the dirt and changed it into little salty mud droplets.
Then, a twig snapped. The quiet swish of grass blades being displaced caught her ears.
Footsteps. They spoke, “Dear woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
She looked up. Her tears were so great – she didn’t recognize the person in front of her. He must have been the gardener. Maybe he had some answers. Maybe he could help her.
She choked out the words between sobs. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
What she heard next was something she had before. Something that had accompanied her freedom from the demons. Something that had been accompanied by kind words of God’s love. Something that had been spoken by her dearest friend – in that exact same way.
She turned toward him. She cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” Which means “Teacher.” Suddenly a smile adorned her face. The tears of sadness turned to tears of joy. The grief was replaced with incredible exuberation!
It was Jesus. He was alive!
We looked at this scripture earlier. Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…That means it isn’t hopeless. It means it isn’t worthless. It means that you are not in your sins. It means the devil doesn’t win. It means death is not the end. It means you are not destined for hell. It means that by faith in Jesus you are headed to heaven!
This is incredible news.
It’s kind like driving a car out to the country in the middle of the night. Turning the headlights off for a few moments. Looking at all that’s around you. Allowing your eyes to adjust. Seeing nothing but darkness. Then, immediately switching the headlight to high beams! Man is it bright!
Jesus’ resurrection is like that. It plows through the darkness. It shines a lot on the dismal things in our lives. He will brighten every aspect of your day from now until eternity.
But pastor I’m a Christian. I still struggle. I still feel filled with grief sometimes. How do I breathe a sigh of relief? How do I stay positive when depressing things are going on all around me?
For Mary, that was what did it. She saw her Savior. She saw him living. She saw him breathing. She saw his eyes tracking her movements. She saw his chest moving as oxygen flowed in and out of him. Seeing her resurrected Savior was key.
But we don’t get that opportunity. We weren’t there at the tomb. We aren’t anywhere near Israel or 36ish AD. How do we see Jesus?
John 1:14 says, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only."
That’s Jesus. He’s the One and Only. He’s the Word.
Understand then that we see Jesus when we open up this Bible. Every time you’re in church. Every time we read a lesson. Every time we sing a Bible based hymn. Every time you turn on your Bible app at lunch. Every time you go old school and open your Grandma’s KJV at her house. Every time you are in God’s Word – you see Jesus.
You see his heart. You see his love. You see his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of his sins.
Trust God on this! It will affect your mood. It might not be a total immediate transformation. But it will work, because that’s what God’s Word does.
Listen, you wouldn’t give up taking an antibiotic after one try would you? Especially if the doctor told you to take two, 3x a day for a whole week. Don’t stop reading God’s Word ever. It produces joy!
2) Make Sure your Joy is in the Lord!
Philippians says, “Rejoice in the Lord, always!” Do you know who wrote that? The Apostle Paul. Do you know when he wrote that? He wrote it while he was in prison for telling people about the Lord.
That’s not the most compelling circumstances for joy.
Yet notice he doesn’t say, “Rejoice in the fact that today’s food is better than yesterday’s.”
He doesn’t say “Rejoice in the fact that the shackles are more comfy in this cell than the guy next door’s.”
It doesn’t even say “Rejoice in the fact that I’m smarter than my captors.”
He says, “Rejoice in the Lord!” The Lord who called me. The Lord who found me. The Lord who made me his own. The LORD who lives and breathes and is alive forever. The Lord who promises me a home with him.
Keep this in mind. It’s easy for us to want to find joy in earthly things. I got a new job. I got a raise. I got a new friend. But those things might not last. And when they do fail, you will fall back into the doldrums of sadness.
Rejoice in the LORD! He lasts forever.
This interesting. Because Mary had been sad for a few days. Yet as soon as she felt the joy of seeing her risen Savior, Jesus had work for her. He told her to get up, not to hold on to him, and instead to go and tell his disciples that he would see them soon.
Really….it makes a lot of sense. Mary had just been lifted out of sadness. She had breathed a sigh of relief. There were others who needed that news too. Others who needed their guilt lifted away.
Others who needed to know that Jesus lived.
Do you know people like that? Let me change that…You do know people like that. The only way you don’t is if you are a hermit.
Why wouldn’t you share the Gospel with them?
You might be thinking Pastor...Easter is over. You don’t have anymore of those invite cards. There isn’t a breakfast to invite people to anymore. Call me again next year!
What if you were doing some spring cleaning with your spouse and you were moving some boxes from the garage to the attic and suddenly the box filled with all of your paper weights – and in this illustration you have a lot of paper weights – a paper weight collection – what if it got to be too much and your spouse lost his balance and lay on the ground caught underneath the weight of the box?
How long would you let him wait?
Why would you let your friends wait under the weight of their sins and guilt?
Help them breathe. Share the Gospel. Tell them of how Jesus died, but also of how he came back alive. Tell how his breath allows us to breathe a sigh of relief. Amen.
Breathing is kind of important. Agreed?
(Who knew we’d all be on the same page within 10 seconds of the start to a sermon?)
Breathing is important, but …some breaths are more meaningful than others:
The deep breath as you ask your first crush on a date.
A gasp when your significant other gets down on one knee.
The final Lamaze breath as your child enters the world.
Your first breath as you enter the world.
But…what if I told you the most important breath of your lifetime didn’t even take place in your lifetime?
MAIN BIBLE PASSAGES:
Matthew 27:45, 50-55
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[e] went into the holy city and appeared to many people. 54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” 55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph,[f] and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
I. The Most Important Exhale
It was Friday afternoon. Almost 2000 years ago. The people were doing one of the things they did for fun back then. No, they weren’t checking Instagram. No, they weren’t sampling their favorite sushi. No, they weren’t leaving work early to get on I—440 before it got hectic.
They were watching a crucifixion.
It was a larger commotion than normal. Three men were being executed. Two of them were fairly routine culprits — everyday thieves. But the third was of intrigue:
His name was Jesus. He was famous in the land of Israel. He had had quite a following and it was reported that he had done many miracles. And he wasn’t being killed for any of those. He was being crucified because he claimed to be the Son of God.
Now that is a strange claim, agreed? We’re getting used to strange claims though. Politicians make them all the time. “I’ll save you billions.” “You’ll never have to pay taxes again.” “I’ll fix America in a few months.”
But as outlandish as some of their claims are, I don’t think any of them have claimed to be the Son of God. If they did, we could go on Factchecker.com just to confirm, it ain’t true.
Here’s what’s interesting though – the fact surrounding Jesus seemed to point to the fact that it was true! He was reported as making the blind to see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear. He walked on water, stopped storms and changed water into wine. He healed the sick, drove out demons, and raised the dead.
Even his death had some strange, significant events surrounding it.
Around the 6th hour (which in Jewish time was about noon. 6 am was the first light and was therefore the first hour…making the 6th hour, 6 + 6 = 12 noon)…around the 6th hour darkness covered the earth. (Matthew 27:45) That word “darkness” there doesn’t refer to slightly overcast day. It’s a word used to describe the much thicker darkness of nighttime.
Nighttime darkness at noon? Strange.
Still the crucifixion continued as planned. In the darkness each one of the condemned slowly crept closer to death. Until in a loud voice, Jesus cried out “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Then, he exhaled.
And His followers watched.
They held their breath.
Nothing. His chest didn’t move. His mouth made no sound. His breath didn’t return.
But then, something.
Matthew 27:51 says, “The Curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” Notes on that curtain. (Cause if we don’t talk about it, it isn’t that impressive.) It wasn’t made from silk. It wasn’t made from Kleenex. It wasn’t made from those hippie beads that you can hang from the ceiling and tear in half with a wave of your hand. It was a long, woven veil. 60 feet long, 30 feet wide and 1 inch thick. It was heavy. In fact, it was so massive that it the Israelites used hundreds of priests to manipulate it. That’s not something that’s torn easily. Probably not torn without heavy machinery.
The fact that it was torn, completely half at the time of Jesus’ death? Strange.
But that’s not it. Matthew continues, “At that moment…the earth shook and the rocks split and the tombs broke open.” This wasn’t just a tremor. It was large enough on the Richter scale to split through large rocks that were used to mark the graves of the people. Also strange.
Now maybe if one of those three things happened the day Jesus died – the darkness at noon, the earthquake, or the curtain ripped in half, I’d say: It’s a coincidence. Even two? I can understand. Three…that might be pushing it, but not impossible.
But then a fourth thing happened that would be impossible if it happened all alone. Let alone in conjunction with the other things we have already mentioned. “The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the city and appeared to many people.”
Pastor, you don’t believe that! That’s impossible! It could never happen. Dead people don’t come back to life. That would be a miracle!
Um…isn’t that the point?
And notice that these resurrected people appeared to many people. It wasn’t just one guy saying, “I think I saw Aunt Edna last night.” It was a whole city that awoke to unexplained sightings. It wasn’t just the crazy guy down on the corner of Fayetteville St. It was real, everyday, respectable people. They all had seen these incredible thing!
Understand what the Bible is. It’s a record of some fairly incredible things. True. But it was written down at the same time that the people who saw these things had lived. It was written down, shared, made public, and approved by hundreds of people who saw the very things that Matthew wrote down happened.
That means that these incredible things aren’t a myth.
They weren’t an accident.
They weren’t a coincidence.
They were signs.
And just like you can head to the mall after church and find signs everywhere that say, “Meet Easter Bunny Here!” “1/2 OFF Easter dresses there” “Egg Hunt POSTPONED." These incredible signs were telling the people that something incredible just happened. Today these incredible signs are telling you – when Jesus breathed his last – something incredible happened.
What incredible thing happened? Take a look at Romans 4:25, “He was delivered over to death for our sins,” “on behalf of our sins,” or "because of our sins.”
Why? Because...God hates sin.
Like drunk driving. Does drunk driving make you angry? If you’ve ever been affected by it or lost a loved one, I bet it does. In fact, that message has gotten out there enough that – I imagine almost all of us – Republicans and Democrats are Independents – are against drunk driving. Mothers can belong to a group dedicated to prosecuting offenders (MADD). Even Budweiser ran a Super Bowl ad against it. So…when someone is caught drunk driving – there is punishment. We get it. We are ok with punishing that sin because that sin makes us angry.
Get this: That sin makes God angry, too. Actually, all sin makes God angry. Not just big sins like murder, theft, and adultery, but smallers sins: like a grabbing a few dollars from your co-worker's wallet, taking a quick peek down the secretary’s shirt, or making a tiny racist remark about your friend from another culture.
God hates those things. He hates it because they hurt others. These things hurt his children.
So he prosecutes sin.
He threatens to punish all sinners.
If you’re a sinner, he threatens to punish you. If you don’t like to hear that, tough. God will not be stopped.
But if you’re hearing me, if you’re convicted, if you know your sin and you know you deserve punishment, hear this: God doesn’t want to punish you. He never did. That’s why he died.
He was delivered over to death for your sins. To save you from sin’s consequence!
Which is a nice thought. But, how do you we know this worked? He died. How do we know this whole thing isn’t just one big made up, pretend thing that we celebrate at Easter to make the day a little sweeter?
II. The Most Important Inhale
Enter the inhale.
Same week. Three days later. Early in the morning a group of women were on their way to the graveyard. They brought with them some spices and special herbs. Traditionally these were things they would use to honor their dead – kinda like grabbing a bouquet of flowers to take and place on Grandpa’s tomb.
And as the crisp morning air awakened their senses, the tears started flowing. They missed him. He was their dear friend. He had shown them love when no other man had. He had rescued them from dark places. He had given them hope…and a future.
When he died, that hope had been ripped away. It felt like her heart was gone. They had killed him. They had killed her hope.
But their sadness was interrupted.
2 There was a violent earthquake. And an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.
Have you seen pictures of these stones? Jesus had been buried in a standing tomb. It was a rich person's tomb. And rich people won’t be buried in the ground with a tiny little grave marker. No. They had these big, cut out of a cliff walk-in tombs – with enough space for a small dinner party – if you wanted to have a small dinner party in a tomb.
For a door? They would use giant rocks to withstand grave robbers. I don’t know the exact size and weight of these rocks. But…I think it’s safe to say that rocks the size of a door are pretty heavy. I could probably do about a dozen bicep curls with these. And it isn’t even close to door sized.
Tomb door rocks were so big that they needed to be moved in place by a soiree of heavy duty Roman soldiers. In fact, this was such a problem that the women were even discussing amongst themselves whether they had made a mistake in coming out there in the first place. Who was gonna move the stone? There were guards in front of the tomb, but were there enough?
Turns out…they didn’t need to worry. An angel moved it out of place like Arnold Schwarzenegger moving a pair of 2&1/2 pound ankle weights.
If the earthquake and opened tomb wasn’t enough to stir up some excitement, the angel did! 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. In other words – he was glowing. Long before the days of face paint and special effects. There isn’t a pyro guy off in the corner trying to trick the women. It isn’t David Copperfield using the illusion of the camera to throw the ladies off guard.
In fact, the women weren’t the only ones to see the angels. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The big, tough, I’ll get killed if I screw up my job, Roman guards – fainted!
5 The angel held up a hand. He calmed them. He spoke gently to them. “Don’t be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
Process that for a moment. Jesus – the guy who died in front of hundreds – whose death was confirmed by the Roman soldiers at the cross, the Roman soldiers who took him down, his followers who left with tears, his buriers who took his body, the Roman governor who allowed them to take his body, and the Roman soldiers who had closed the rock door over Jesus’ dead body – that Jesus – who had really died….
…was alive again.
And just in case the women didn’t believe the angel, he let them see it for themselves. Go ahead. Look! He’s gone. He should be here; he died. But he’s not here. Miraculous? Yes! Impossible? Not with God.
This brings us back to Romans 4. He was delivered over to death for our sins, but raised to life for our justification. Justification is a courtroom term. It’s the opposite of condemnation. If we are guilty we are condemned; if we are innocent, we are justified. Condemnation bad. Justification good.
Jesus’ resurrection is proof that we are justified! It was God’s almighty, Divine declaration about you and your life. Listen to it: Hear the rumbling of the earthquake, listen to the cracking of the rocks, and the shrieks of the guards and the voice of your LORD:
You are justified.
You have been declared innocent.
By faith in Jesus Christ, you are saved.
This is why the inhale is so important. If Jesus doesn’t take that breath in the grave on Easter Sunday morning, then you and I are still in our sins. Jesus’ death didn’t work. His promise of forgiveness didn’t mean a thing. You and I have to face God standing in the filthy, disgusting cesspool of all our awful sins.
In fact, 1 Corinthians 15:14 takes it a step farther. “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” In other words, if Jesus doesn’t take that breath in that tomb, then the Christian faith, is one big useless, irrelevant, irreverent, cruel joke! And I’m a big old fool for teaching it to you.
But…if Christ does take that breath, if his lungs do move again, if blood starts to circulate in his veins and brain activity returns to his nervous system. Then…there is no moment more important.
That breath means you are forgiven.
That breath means you are at peace.
That breath means that all will be well.
That breath means that God did what he said he’d do.
That breath means that God was victorious.
That breath means that you are victorious.
That breath means that God rose from the dead.
That breath means that you will rise from the dead.
Treasure it. Celebrate it. Take a breath…breathe out with joy! Jesus has inhaled. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!