Rise Up and Go!
Today we’re in our final lesson of the Rise Up series. We’re going to learn that Jesus wants us to Rise Up and Go to Make Disciples. Our goal is to learn (1) Where Jesus wants us to go, why we should go, and (2) What we should do when we get there. Before we do that, let’s say a prayer and ask God to help us.
I. Go and Do What?
The lesson comes from Matthew 28. It’s another appearance of Jesus after his death and resurrection. Timeline wise, it takes place after the appearance to Thomas. We know this because a reference is made to the Eleven – which would include Thomas. In fact, lots of scholars point to the finality of Jesus’ language in this section to place this appearance near the end of his 40 days on earth after Easter.
Let’s start by reading the command that Jesus gave them. He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28)
I want you to put yourself in the disciple’s shoes for a moment. They had heard Jesus’ teaching. They had seen him die for making disciples!
Can you hear the collective gulp?
You mean, keep preaching your Words?
The very words that got you killed?
And to the nations? Like not just our families, but to strangers?
Because that’s what Jesus meant with those words. He wanted them to take the message beyond their group of Eleven!
He wanted them to…
Go to the Jews.
Go to the Samaritans.
Go to the Greeks and the Romans and the Egyptians.
Go to the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the teachers of the law.
Go to the prostitutes and the drunkards and the tax collectors.
Go to the people wherever they are people!
And he wants you and me to do the same.
Because – here’s the deal. Modern day believers are Jesus’ disciples and as Jesus’ disciples they carry on the disciples’ mission. DO YOU BELIEVE IN JESUS? Then, you have the same mission: Go and make disciples of all nations.
Go to your neighbor who speaks more Spanish than English.
Go to the immigrant who only moved here a month ago.
Go to the tattooed barista with the big stones in his ear holes.
Go to the coworker whose skin is a different shade of brown than yours.
Go to your cousin who’s gay.
Go to your husband even when he’s made it clear that he’s sick of you talking about Jesus with him.
Jesus wants you to GO!
Jesus wants Gethsemane to GO!
He wants us to go and make disciples!
II. Do What?
Now if you’re thinking, “OK. I’m going home. I’m going to put my dad in a headlock and force him to believe.” Don’t. That’s not what I’m saying. (And I don’t need a lawsuit). Jesus explained how to make disciples in his commission. “Go and make disciples by … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
You may be thinking, “Pastor, how do I know what Jesus said? I’m not one of the Eleven?” Easy. You read what a few of the Eleven wrote down that Jesus said. That just so happens to be in the Bible.
Granted. You might not have the Bible memorized yet. (You probably never will.) Nor do you need to start sharing the message of Jesus by outlining the genealogy of Jesus with all of the names in order. Start with the main message.
What is that message? Do you remember the phrase S.O.S? It’s a series of letters that first started in WWI as a way for ships to communicate with others ships that they were in need of help. If they were in danger of sinking or under attacked, they’d use over Morse code to deliver the signal S.O.S. It communicates immensely important information very quickly.
When you are sharing the message of Jesus just remember S.O.S. to communicate the two most important concepts to your friends.
1) Show Our Sins
That’s what the Bible does. It shows us we haven’t measured up. It shows us our sin. It shows us that we need a Savior.
How so? It tells us what sin is and when we read what sin is – we think – it sounds familiar. For instance, the Bible says, “Don’t hate.” When I read that, I think, “Wait. I’ve done that. I couldn’t be?” Then, I keep reading and the Bible says, “Don’t lust.” I think, “Wait, I did that last week.” The Bible doesn’t miss a beat and says, “Love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.” I think, “Uh oh.” And if for some reason that doesn’t work, the Bible straight up says this, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 – In fact, write that down and memorize it for an easy way to share the Gospel.
The Bible shows our sin. It’s like a mirror that shows you where a stray whisker is or an x-ray that shows where the problem is – it shows our problem of sin. When you are talking with a friend, it will show them their problem of sin, too.
2) Show Our Savior
Thankfully the Bible doesn’t stop there. Thankfully, the Bible has a second S.O.S. In fact, it’s the bigger and more important message. The Bible also Shows our Savior. It tells us about Jesus, that he lived perfectly, died innocently and rose triumphantly for us in order to save us from all of our sins! To put it another way – it gives us the solution to the problem it exposes – it gives us Jesus, the solution for sin!
And I’ll tell you guys. There’s nothing better than looking someone in the tear-filled eye, struggling with guilt, up all night because their sins have been bothering them and causing them to feel like they will always be far apart from God eyes and telling them – Jesus lived for them. Jesus died for them. They are forgiven!
You can be a part of that. Remember: S.O.S. Show our Savior to your friends. In fact, remember Romans 3:23? Write down the second half right now (verse 24). All have sinned and fall short of the glorified God (vs. 23) and all are justified freely through grace in Christ Jesus (vs. 24). If you don’t feel comfortable explaining all this, then simply share that passage with a friend.
Not comfortable speaking? Email them.
Facebook message them.
Worst case scenario? Just invite them to church where they’ll be Shown the Savior! That’s part of going!
This is a separate point, but related to the past two. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (v.19) Baptism too make disciples. It’s an incredible blessing from God. It’s physical, tangible, visual Gospel.
Think of baptism like a Sharpie. I used Sharpies when I was younger to write my initials on the bottom of my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures. That way I wouldn’t lose the toys when my friends took their toys home.
In Baptism, God writes his name on you. He says that you are his through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He calls you his own. In order to make you his own, he cleansed you; purifies you; and makes you holy. He bathes you in the love of God the Father, in the precious blood of Jesus Christ and in the faith strengthening power of the Holy Spirit.
Pastor, I’m in. I’ll go get a firehose and a loud speaker. Let’s go downtown and baptize the whole city of Raleigh.
No! (Again – no need for a lawsuit.)
For adults, we baptize those who have heard God’s Word and ask to be baptized.
But there are some people you could baptize…
Some people who are apart of all nations and whom God has called you to go to!
Some people who are little people.
Baptize your child. If you haven’t done it yet, you need to. Jesus says it to you hear, “Go and make disciples of all nations – your kid is included – by baptizing.” Listen to Jesus. Make your child a disciple of Jesus. Baptize them in God’s name.
If you want to do this, email me. Text me. Talk to me after church. We’ll make happen! There’s no need to delay. We need to heed his direction and go!
III. But Why?
Granted. You might not want to do this. Telling your friends, your family, a stranger about religion might not seem like a very 21st century thing to do. It might not even be on your bucket list. Why should you?
Check out verse 19: Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
(1) Jesus said So
Have you ever worked in fast food? Imagine you were at McDonalds and you normally work the drive thru – the drive thru that your manager said you were to manage all night and never leave that post unless you wanted a “McDock” in salary.
What happens when the guy at the counter who just started his job says, “I need you to clean out the bathrooms.” Hopefully, you don’t listen. He doesn’t have the authority. But what if your manager, who told you to stay, who wears a special manager’s shirt, and even has a name tag that says, “Manager’ comes over and says, “Go and arrange the ketchup packets.”
Well…then you go and construct the Taj Mahal of ketchup packets. He has the authority.
Why listen to Jesus? Simply put. He has the authority. Not just some authority. Not just a little authority. But all authority in heaven and on earth.
If you questioned him on this, think of what happened a couple of weeks before this command. He rose from the dead. I can almost hear Jesus now:
Ya’ll remember a few days ago? Remember when you thought I was dead forever? Remember when I came back to life, but instead proved my authority over death? Remember how I have authority over life and death for you?
You should listen to me.
It makes sense. If you listen to him for the way to eternal life, why not listen to him for purpose in life? Why not Go?
(2) It’s of Eternal Importance
The second reason is a bit hidden. Listen again to Jesus’ words, “Go and makes disciples…” A disciple is a follower. A follower is a believer. According to Jesus himself who has the authority to authorize such things, “All who believe in me will be saved.”
In other words:
Jesus alone saves us to heaven.
Jesus alone saves us from hell.
Jesus alone saves us from eternal damnation to eternal life.
To put it simply – It’s of eternal importance to go and make disciples!
Granted. Most modern Americans do not see it this way. They see going and sharing your faith as unloving:
You’re forcing your beliefs onto me.
You’re trying to make me feel bad and yourself feel better.
Let me believe what I want and let me live my life. You’re being selfish!!!
But is sharing Jesus really selfish?
What if you were going on a date and you asked me how I looked and as you smiled at me, I saw a big, old, green, leafy spinach sticking out of your teeth. And what if I thought, “I don’t want this to get uncomfortable and I don’t want to hurt their feelings because I don’t want them to speak gruffly to me, so…You look great!”
Is that loving?
Nope. It’s selfish.
It’s the same thing with faith on a grander scale. If you are convinced that Jesus is your Savior and it is by faith in him alone that we are saved, you have to share this message. Sharing your faith isn’t selfish; not sharing is!
And Jesus isn’t about selfishness.
That’s why he went through the uncomfortable death on the cross for you.
Maybe it’s worth going through a much less uncomfortable moment with your friends?
(3) God has Your Back
Finally, remember that God has your back. Because this can be very intimidating. Go and make disciples of all nations! So Jesus told them that they would not be alone. He said this, “Surely I will be with you always to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:21)
That’s good news. Because Jesus wasn’t afraid of even the scariest of situations.
He wasn’t afraid of storms in the middle of the sea; he stopped them.
He wasn’t afraid of legions of demons; he drove them out.
He wasn’t afraid of fatal illness; he cured it with a snap of his fingers.
He wasn’t afraid of death; he rose triumphantly on the third day.
He isn’t afraid of your uncle getting a bit cranky.
He isn’t afraid of a few friends calling you a loser.
He isn’t afraid of someone BLOCKING him on Facebook.
Don’t you be either. He’s with you. He’ll protect you.
We’ve got a mission. And that’s the main message for this morning. Jesus has a mission for you and me – to go!
So don’t lollygag.
That’s what happened with the disciples. A couple of days after this commission, Jesus took them out to a hill and something amazing happened. He literally lifted off of the ground and levitated up to heaven.
No jet packs.
Just Jesus and his God power heading up into the clouds.
It was amazing enough that the response of the disciples was to stare, mouth open up into the sky.
That is, until a stranger tapped their shoulders.
The angel said, “Why do you stand there staring up into the sky? This same Jesus will come back in the same way you saw him go. But ya’ll? Go to Jerusalem. Wait for God’s gift. And then? Begin your work.”
Go and make disciples.
Allow this to be your divine shoulder tap:
Stop staring and go make disciples! Amen.
Rise Up and Stop Doubting
Do you know what a guy romper is?
Apparently, it’s a thing. A romper is a shirt and short combo. It’s a onesie – first made popular by women and that kind of makes sense. But the other day someone told me that they had made it into a guy thing. I didn’t believe. I doubted.
Maybe you’re doubting.
But it’s real. I saw it. Pictures of guy’s rompers unbuttoned near the top and exposing manly chest hairs in all their glory.
Sometimes things are unbelievable.
Sometimes things are “guy romper” unbelievable.
And somethings things are dead guy, put in the tomb, and three days later risen from the dead unbelievable.
Do you believe the unbelievable? Or do you doubt?
Today we’re going to hear about a disciple who doubted and we’re going to listen to how Jesus handled the situation. My hope is that it helps to remove some of your doubts. Before we do that, let’s pray:
I. Waiting to See?
Our lesson for today comes from John 20:24. It says: Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.
Now…I don’t know what Thomas was doing.
Maybe he was out grabbing some Chinese takeout.
Maybe he was working out with his run club.
Maybe he was applying for jobs – since the disciple gig fell through.
For whatever the reason Thomas missed the very first Easter. When all the other disciples were filled with joy, wonder and amazement at the appearance of the resurrected Lord, Thomas was being filled with disappointment as he waited in line at the grocery store with only one checkout attendant.
So…when Thomas carefully approached the unmarked apartment that the disciples had made their hideout, he braced himself for the sadness that he was about to encounter: Grown men crying. Grown men scared. Grown men grieved by the reality that the Savior that they loved, that they devoted years of their life to, that they hoped in, was dead.
Thomas looked in his shopping bag.
I hope this bucket of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream will do the trick. Passover Pecan – it’s a new flavor.
But as Thomas opened the door, he didn’t find the melancholy that he expected.
Thomas! Where were you? I can’t believe you missed it!
It’s Jesus. He’s alive. We saw him.
I didn’t believe it at first either…but it’s really him. Truly him…I touched his hands. I felt his side!
It’s Jesus! It’s Jesus! Jesus is alive!
Thomas’ words had quite the bite. Enough! Stop being crazy. I don’t know what happened or what you think you saw – but whatever it was …it wasn’t Jesus. He’s dead. His body bled out. His lungs collapsed. The soldiers, who are paid professionals at killing people, killed him. They took his body down from the cross. They confirmed his death. They brought his body to others who confirmed his death. Our friend, Joseph, buried him! I think he would have stopped if he had noticed the lungs moving. But he didn’t. They buried him. They closed the grave…Do you know why?
The other disciples humored him.
Because he was DEAD!! D.E.A.D. DEAD! Dead – dead. Dead…dead…DEAD! And our discipleship is dead! If you want to stay here and make up stories and follow some imaginary friend, go right ahead. As for me, I’m going to go live. I won’t follow what’s dead. Because dead things are dead and dead things stay…DEAD!
It was quiet for a moment. Thomas’ chest stopped speaking to catch his breath – as his blood pressure sky rocketed.
Then, someone spoke.
Thomas. I know how you feel. I felt the same way. Even when I saw him…I thought it was just a ghost.
But then…Then, I touched him. I felt the hand that had helped me away from my sinful life. Then, I put my finger into the nail marks and I placed my hand into his side. I saw him eat – bread and fish --- just like a living human being. I thought he was dead. But, Thomas, I saw Him. I felt him. I was with him.
And all the other disciples concurred. They took turns telling how they had seen him, how they had touched him, how they had felt him. Surely, they couldn’t all be seeing things. Surely, they couldn’t all have been tricked. Surely, they couldn’t all be so foolish.
And Thomas listened.
And Thomas thought.
And Thomas laid down one simple ultimatum:
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands with my own eyes and touch the wound mark on his side with my own hands – I will not believe.” (20:25)
That’s Thomas. Affectionately known forevermore as Doubting Thomas. Which is unfortunate. Perhaps the man would have preferred to be known as Believing Thomas or Ravishing Thomas or Muscular Thomas. But he’s remembered mostly for one thing – doubting.
What about you? Is that the adjective that could describe you? Do you doubt or do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Do you believe he’s your Savior?
You have basically the same information:
You know that he died. Thomas knew that.
You have people telling you that Jesus rose – Thomas did too.
You know that typically dead people stay dead. That was something that Thomas knew and Thomas believed…deeply.
To be fair, Thomas had the miracles:
He saw the blind man see – and when he doubted it – he asked the blind man how many fingers he was holding up – and the blind man told him. Repeatedly.
He saw the lame man walk…and when he doubted it – he asked the man to stand – and he started doing the Electric Slide.
He saw the men with leprosy cured…and when he doubted it – and after much coaxing – he touched skin that felt as fresh and new as a Neutrogena model’s face.
Yet when Thomas is faced with the biggest and most impressive miracle of all – he doesn’t believe.
He gives an ultimatum.
Good idea? Bad idea? Giving an ultimatum to God. That’s like a little preschooler turning to his parent and saying, “Unless I see these so called ‘germs’, then I won’t wash my hands…!” The ultimatum is silly. The child should trust the parent. He knows way more. She understands way more.
And the ultimatum for God is just as silly. The child – (read: human) – should trust the parent— (read: God). He knows way more. He understands way more.
He is way more!
And yet. We aren’t that unfamiliar with ultimatums. In fact, Thomas’ nickname, did you see it? It’s Didymus. Didymus means “twin.” It probably meant that Thomas was a twin.
But I can’t help but notice how my language, sometimes, twins Thomas’?
Yes, God. I’ll believe that you’re with me as a pastor – as long as you add 12 new church members by the end of the week.
Yes God. I’ll believe that you’re with us, as long as you get groundbreaking going on the preschool by next Thursday.
Yes, God. I’ll believe that you love me as long as you stop people from being mean to me.
And when I talk like that. I can’t help but think that my last name must be Didymus.
I can’t help but think that I am Thomas’ brother.
Are you our relative too?
Sure, I’ll become a believer in Jesus – when he appears to me and proves it.
I’ll trust you more God…if you find me a job by the end of the week.
I will be an awesome believer – once you get me the perfect boyfriend.
I’ll really devoted myself to you – when you finally give me a kid.
I’ll believe in God – if he heals me from this cancer.
Here’s the deal with ultimatums -- If anyone should be giving anyone ultimatums, it’s God giving it to us.
He created the earth.
He provides for it.
He created you.
He provides for you.
He sent his Son.
He lived perfectly for you.
He rose from the dead.
He is the one with the right to an ultimatum because he’s the One with the power!
And (to be honest) he has given an ultimatum? Wanna hear it?
John 3 says this, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life…but whoever does not believe will be condemned, because they haven’t believed in his Son!”
In other words:
God came off his throne.
God became human.
God lived 33 perfect years when you couldn’t.
God died innocently in your place so you wouldn’t have to.
God rose triumphantly to prove it to you!
Finally, God used someone in your life – maybe a mom, maybe a dad, maybe a Sunday School Teacher…maybe me right now – to bring this message to you.
And if, after all that, your response is: I don’t believe it.
Well… God says you’ll believe it one day.
One day – when it won’t be a matter of faith.
One day when you feel the hand of his wrath.
One day when it’s too late.
II. Believing to See!
But don’t believe out of fear. Believe in the risen Jesus because it’s true.
Fast forward our story one week. The day of the week is the same. The time of day is the same. The cast of characters is the same. The door is locked the same. And Jesus appeared among them – the same. Listen to this. Verse 26 is almost a carbon copy of verse 19: Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
But one thing is different. This time Thomas is there. And Jesus walks right up to him.
“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (v.27)
Thomas felt the flesh of his hand.
Thomas felt the ridged remainders of the nail marks.
Thomas felt the jagged edges that the spear had left behind.
Thomas looked Jesus in the eyes.
And this time? He fell to the ground:
“My Lord and My God!” (v.28)
Jesus lifted him up. Jesus hugged him. Jesus forgave him.
And then, Jesus said something very interesting:
“Because you have seen me, you have believed. Thomas, blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
Is that you?
Do you believe even though you haven’t seen?
Do you believe even though you’ve only heard?
Then, you are blessed.
The blessings are numerous:
You have forgiveness with God.
You have forgiveness from all of your doubts.
You have forgiveness for your unbelief.
You have peace with God.
You have joy in your salvation.
You have God’s love.
You have none of God’s wrath and all of his blessing.
You have the promise that you will see him.
Can you picture that? That’s what heaven is. The moment when you and I will see our Savior with our own eyes!
You will see the nail marked hands – a testimony to his love for you.
You will see the flesh wound in his side – a testimony to his compassion for you.
You will see Jesus – move and breathe and being alive – a testimony to His Power.
Thomas believed because he saw.
Don’t ask to see and then believe; but believe and you will see.
That’s what faith is. Hebrews says this, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for; and certain of what we do not see.”
And what do we hope for? That we too will conquer death. That we too will be in heaven. That we too will be with God. That we too are forgiven!
And what we do not see? Jesus’ hands. Jesus’ feet. Jesus’ side. We don’t see the risen Lord Jesus.
But just like Thomas didn’t see Jesus; it doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t risen.
And, in fact, it almost makes you wonder if Thomas’ absence wasn’t God ordained.
God knew Thomas would doubt.
And God knew we would doubt.
So, God led Thomas away.
And Thomas doubted.
But then Jesus appeared.
And Thomas’ doubts went away.
And if doubting Thomas, doubting skeptic, I’ve seen Jesus do all kinds of miracles, but I won’t believe this miracle to be true – Thomas doubts, but then believes.
That means the truth? Is true.
It’s not a myth.
It’s not fake new.
It’s not a fairy tale.
Jesus has risen. You are his.
Stop doubting and believe. Amen.
Rise Up and Don't Be Afraid
Andrew looked around as he held his finger to his lips. Through the dim candlelight, the expression on the faces of his comrades was very clear:
Eyes were wide.
Perspiration beaded on their foreheads.
They were scared.
Ok. I think they’ve past. It’s alright to whisper (and make sure you whisper!)
Slowly faint murmurs trickled back into the night air.
I thought that was chainmail for sure.
Sooner or later it will be and the soldiers will knock down the door and they’ll corner us and they’ll arrest us and we’ll be crucified too.
They will if you can’t keep your voice down!
It was an undisclosed room in the heart of the city. The building was non-descript and unlabeled. The old sandy bricks blended in with the bricks next door. The lights were low – to not attract attention and the doors were barred – to not let anyone in. Because of the wind, it was hard to hear any noise come from inside the building.
For all intents and purposes, the building was abandoned.
But inside the building? It was full of life – hearts beating at a steady 120 bpm. It looked like a triage unit…for spiritual warriors. These men had seen their leader die no more than three days earlier. It was an awful death. They had seen blood dripping from his forehead, blood spurting out of his wrists, blood falling down his back and blood coughing up and dripping down his beard as his lungs breathed his last.
That’s what the Jewish leaders had done to Jesus.
That’s what the Jewish leaders were going to do to them.
But that wasn’t the worst of it.
A few hours ago – one of their friends had told them that Jesus was alive. Some women had seen him. Mary Magdalene had seen him. Peter had seen him. And about half an hour ago – two more disciples had burst through the door saying the same thing.
That should have been exciting.
It was confusing.
Confusing and a bit terrifying.
Because last they saw Jesus – Jesus who loved them – who cared for them – who gave them hope – who gave them purpose and meaning – who healed them and promised them peace – that Jesus – last they saw that Jesus?
They abandoned him.
They left him for dead.
They pretended like they didn’t even care for him.
If the reports were true, then…he had conquered death.
He was unstoppable.
He was God.
And He was out for vengeance.
James could picture it now. Soon Jesus would show up, eyes like fire – and zap them with his miracles. He’d send Legions of demons into Andrew. (Mark 5) He’d stuff Philip full of all 12 baskets of bread. (Jn. 6) He’d warp Peter into a raging sea where he wouldn’t reach down and rescue him from drowning. (Mt. 14) And give the rest of them advanced stages of leprosy. (Lk. 5)
And me? James gulped. He couldn’t escape the feeling that Jesus would call down fire on him – the very fire he had once asked Jesus to call down on those who didn’t follow him. On those who abandoned him. On those who pretended like they didn’t know him.
You know. People like him.
I. Be Afraid to Hide
I know how the disciples feel.
They had sinned against God.
They had sinned against Jesus.
They had done it – even after they had become convinced that Jesus was God.
I’ve done that.
It’s kind of like when you’re shopping at Kohl’s – and there’s a sale, because there’s always a sale – and as you’re rifling through the dresses you catch a glimpse through the CLEARANCE rack of that one friend – that former friend – that you badmouthed and wronged and called four letter names. What do you do? Duck down real low and seem real, real interested in whether that blouse is cotton or polyester.
Or if you’re at a restaurant, having a good time with your family, stuffing a piece of pizza into your mouth and suddenly you almost choke on your pepperoni. There’s that one gal you used to date that ended when you were a jerk. So, what do you do? Keep your eye on where she is sitting and be sure to look everywhere but where she is sitting when you are leaving.
It’s so easy to do that with God.
In fact, it’s really easy.
Here’s a quick 5 steps to avoiding God:
1) Don’t Open your Bible. Read Facebook. Read Harry Potter Books. Just don’t read the book about God and what he expects of us. In fact, to be sure that you don’t open it on accident, why not simply glue it shut?
2) Don’t Even LIKE Any Jesus Things. The Instagram algorithm will see that you liked a passage and they will star to show you (horror of horrors) more Bible passage. Just remember – Swipe left.
3) Screen Pastor’s Calls. In fact – block him and all of the elders completely. Then you won’t even be bothered by guilty feelings for not answering.
4) Never drive by church. In fact, enter it into your GPS as a route to completely avoid church. Live right next to church? Simple. Just get an UBER and sit in the back with a blindfold.
5) Get rid of all your Jesus friends. Peer pressure isn’t good. Why would you want peer pressure to spend time with God? Instead – drop all of your church friends. Don’t talk to them. Don’t text them. Don’t snap them. Ignore them. Sooner or later they’ll get the hint…leave you alone…and you’ll never have to think about God again!
But here’s the problem with this fear – hiding from God doesn’t fix anything!
Your sin remains and you can’t hide from him.
Just ask Adam and Eve. (Genesis 3)
Or Jonah. (Jonah 4)
Or Saul. (Acts 9)
Or how about Psalm 139:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
You can’t hide from God.
Eventually God and you will meet.
Eventually you will stand before the center of his throne.
Eventually you will face Him.
Where were you?
And if you’re response is: Sorry, God. I was hiding from you.
How do you think he’ll respond? (HINT: Divine fireballs from heaven; that isn’t too far off. )
II. Don’t Be Afraid to Come Near
This was why James was on edge.
This is why he was frightened.
This is why he was watching that front door like a hawk.
It’s also why he almost passed out when someone appeared behind him.
On the evening of the first day of the week…the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus appeared among them. (Jn. 20:19)
Pay careful attention to what it says. There is no knock. There is no ringing of the doorbell. This is no verbal conversion, no opening of the door, and no sneaking in the back.
Jesus simply appears – a miracle.
And it’s silent.
James’ heart is racing.
James’ fear is at an all-time high.
It’s him. He’s here to get us!
Jesus looks at them.
Jesus looks at him.
Jesus opens his mouth.
He lifts up his hands.
James ducks for fear of the fireball death.
And Jesus speaks:
Peace be with you.
As in – My brothers.
As in – I defeated your sin.
As in – I defeated death.
As in – I am alive.
As in – Your sins are remembered no more.
As in – I forgive you.
As in – I. Love. You.
But Pastor – that’s what Jesus said to the 12 disciples. I’m not one of those. They were only gone for 3 days. I’ve been gone lots longer.
Check out Romans 5:1. It says this, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And that “we” there? That’s the Apostle Paul talking to the citizens of Rome. Citizens who didn’t know Jesus – citizens who had been apart from God their entire life.
Paul is announcing what God announced at Jesus’ resurrection: “You – humans – have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I am announcing what Paul announced that God announced at Jesus’ resurrection: You have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The reason for the peace? It isn’t that your sin isn’t so bad. It isn’t that you weren’t gone so long. It isn’t that at least you weren’t as bad as your neighbor.
“Since we have been declared innocent through faith…” (Rom. 5:1)
That faith? It’s in Christ.
That Christ? He declares us innocent.
That innocence? It declares us at peace with God.
To put it simply: God isn’t angry at you, because of Jesus.
And yes! That’s hard to believe. It was hard for the disciples. So, what does Jesus do? After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. He proved that he had risen. He proved that he was alive. He proved that he had defeated death and sin and everything that separated them from God.
The response? The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
He had risen.
He wasn’t angry.
They were no longer afraid.
III. WHAT NOW?
1. Come Near God
Disciples go towards Jesus – see his open hands – and are encouraged. In fact, Overjoyed!
You go near Jesus. Heed his words of warning – hear his words of comfort.
Julianna – a text of forgiveness – how much better to hear it from her lips – same with God.
2. Share Peace
Because it’s really interesting what Jesus says next: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)
Do you know someone who needs peace? I bet you do. Listen to what Jesus tells. It isn’t ignoring them. It isn’t send them a Facebook like. It’s sharing PEACE with them.
Tell them about Jesus. Tell them about the cross. Tell how he lived for them. Died for them. Rose for them. Tell them about how he forgives sins and proclaims peace to all who believe.
My wife and I like to have fun with our dog. Sometimes when we come home (and discover that he has an obnoxious amount of energy) my wife will head up stairs and I'll head outside. Then, I'll call to him, "Come Clay!" and he'll run real fast to come find me. Then, as soon as he gets to me, my wife calls from the upstairs window, "Clay come!" He leaves and runs to her. This goes on for awhile until he get tired and finds himself running back and forth -- unsure of whose voice to listen to.
(The same phenomenon occurs when a bunch of guests come over at once. He runs around the room -- looking to be petted -- but unsure who the best option might be.)
It's hard to be a dog.
Then again, it's also hard to be a human.
If you’re a Christian in modern America, maybe you’ve faced situations similar. You know Jesus is calling you. But – there are lots of voices out there telling you to stop following him and start following them! These voices are tricky. Because when you don’t listen to them, they can get violent. They mock. They yell. They make you ‘uncool’ at school. They post angry messages on your blog.
And you start to think -- Is it worth it?
Whose voice should I follow?
We’re going to John 10 today– to listen to Jesus’ words as to why to follow his voice – the voice of the Good Shepherd. Before we look at his treatise, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Danger of the Thief
The illustration Jesus uses in this section is one that would have been very common to ancient Israel – an agrarian community. Listen to the illustration:
Very truly I tell you, Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice. (John 10:1-5)
Notice to whom the illustration is given. It’s given to the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a group of people who hated Jesus. They didn't believe in him. In fact, their mission during Jesus' life seemed to be intimidating people into not following Jesus.
In the chapter right before John 10, Jesus heals a man who was blind from birth. Instead of being amazed, the Pharisees arrest the blind man and charge him to badmouth Jesus. They insist there must have been foul play in this healing. (A satanic ritual or illegal drugs -- something!) But the man refuses. As a result, they throw him out of the synagogue because he is a 'no good follower of Jesus.'
It’s really interesting that this illustration begins with the illustration of the thief. “Anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.” (v.1) If the guy isn’t coming through the gate, then he isn’t the shepherd. He goes to the side, because doesn’t have the key – or (if you live in a fancy, uppity shepherding neighborhood) he doesn’t have the keycode to open the gate.
And since he can’t get through the gate, he has to wait until night. He has to sneak.in. He has to climb over the fence. He grabs one of the sheep, jumps back out and the sheep are never to be heard from again.
If you haven’t guessed already, you are the sheep in this parable. I’m a sheep too. Jesus isn’t the thief; he’s the shepherd.
Who’s the spiritual thief then? The spiritual thief is the one who doesn’t come in from the gate. I think this is pretty interesting. If you jump forward to verse 7 Jesus defines the gate. He says, “I am the gate for the sheep.” That means the spiritual thief is the one who enters the sheep pen apart from the message of Jesus.
Do you get it?
Jesus was calling out the Pharisees! They weren’t leading people to the Gate! They weren't leading people to Jesus. In fact, they were intimidating people like the formerly blind man into denouncing the real shepherd.
They were the thieves.
The Pharisees as an organized group that are not around today. Are spiritual thieves still a problem today? Oh yeah. Here are a few common ones;
False Teachers. This is essentially what the Pharisees were. Instead of pointing people to salvation by faith in Jesus alone, they pointed people to salvation by doing Jewish thing...Lots of Jewish things...Jewish things that they were probably not going to be able to accomplish because they weren't awesome like the Pharisees
False teachers are still around today. You might find them on the radio, online or on TV. Listen to their message. All the fine sounding sermons and well dressed speakers in the world cannot make up for a lack of Jesus Christ. If they don't point you to Jesus, they aren't going through the Gate. They are robbers. Watch out!
Political Movements. Because Political movements have somehow become more important than following Jesus. Political movements (democrats, republicans and any other political movement) have plenty of non-Jesus like aspects to them. When these things enter through the side gate and steal you away from following Jesus – taking up all of your time reading blogs, posting things on the internet, and ignoring your Bible. You’re in danger; the thief has ahold of you.
Sexual Liberation Movement. Don’t get me wrong – sex is a good thing! God is not a prude. God simply wants to protect your heart and the hearts of others. That’s why God wants sexual relations practiced within the marriage covenant. But this movement proclaim “It’s your body. If it feels good, do it – Who cares about the consequences and who cares who I harm and who cares if I don’t follow God!”
But that line of thinking isn’t a Jesus line of thinking. Jesus cared whom he harmed. Jesus cared about following God. Meaning this current of thinking doesn’t come through the gate. It comes from hopping the fence! IT’S A THIEF! And if you’ve been finding yourself listen to that current of thought lately. You’re in danger; the thief has a hold of you.
Your friends. That’s a hard one to hear. But think about it. If your friend is making fun of Jesus…If your friend is making you question your faith…If your friend is leading you to do things outside of your…If your friend is ridiculing you and giving the impression that unless you give up your faith, the ridicule will only increase. YOU’RE IN DANGER! Your friend is a thief. Knowingly or unknowingly…they are leading you away from the only one who offers salvation.
Here’s the thing. The thief doesn’t actually care about you. The thief only cares for himself. He only cares about the money they’ll get from the wool or the tasty meat that’ll fill his belly later.
As for the sheep? Well…
He doesn’t care if he hurts the sheep.
He doesn’t care if the sheep bleat in terror as he loads them in the back of his truck.
He doesn’t care if the sheep get bruised as he stuffs them into the back of his truck and peels out of there not to get caught.
He doesn’t care if the sheep is absolutely miserable.
And the reality? These spiritual thieves do not care about you and your eternal good.
II. About the Shepherd
(1) He Owns the Sheep
But the shepherd isn’t a thief. The shepherd is a caretaker. The shepherd goes through the gate. Verse 2 says, “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the Sheep.” He’s got the keys. This is his field. He belongs here. In fact, the gatekeeper opens the gate for him. “Good to see you Frank! Things are going pretty well in the field over there. Do you want a cuppa Joe before you head in?” Everyone’s friendly to the shepherd because he belongs there. He belongs there because the field is his.
And the sheep are at ease. He’s there to check on them. To feed them. To give them water. To fix that break in the fence. To scratch the hard to reach spot behind their ears.
The motives of the shepherd are entirely different from the motives of the thief.
The motives of Jesus are entirely different from the motives of spiritual thieves.
The thief cares about himself.
The shepherd cares about the sheep.
The spiritual thief cares about himself.
The Good Shepherd, Jesus, cares about you.
(2) He Calls You by Name
And yes… I said you. That’s not a generic – “Pastor-is-talking-to-a-lot-of-people-here-but-probably-specifically-didn’t-mean-me” you.
It’s a You – specifically you – you. Look at verse 3 He calls his own sheep by name. He doesn’t shout “Here Sheepy, Sheepy, Sheepy!” like the thief trying to get you into the big burlap sack so he can run off to you. He calls out your name – specifically – because he means you – specifically - and he loves you – specifically!
That’s so different from the spiritual thief. The spiritual thief doesn’t care about your name. They think of you as a dollar bill. As a vote. As a notch in the belt. As a like on Facebook. As a building block to their own pride.
But your shepherd? He knows you intimately. He knows your name. He knows your middle name. He knows your last name – and how to pronounce it correctly. He knows your nick name; your pet name; and the super hero name you gave yourself when you were 7.
He knows all about you.
And he loves you:
He loved you enough to die for you.
(3) He Lays Down His Life for the Sheep
In John 10:11 Jesus says, "I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep."
Because the reality is that we sheep got ourselves into trouble. Thieve, wolves, terrorists, and all kinds of awful were attacking. You might know them as sin, death, and the devil.
But Jesus picked up his staff. It looked stunningly like a cross.
He lived perfectly when you couldn't.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
He died for the sheep!
But unlike any other shepherd in history, the Good Shepherd also rose from the dead. He came back to life on Easter. That means he's not done with us. That means he has good places to lead us:
(4) He Leads the Sheep to Wonderful Places
That’s the final part of following this shepherd. Verse 4 says, He calls his sheep by name and he leads them…He goes on ahead of them.
Take Psalm 23 – it’s well known; we read it earlier says this:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me besides quiet waters.
He restores my soul.
Our shepherd does that for us. He makes us lie down in the nourishing greens of his word. He leads us to the trickling brook of his promises. He quiets our souls with the gentle words of his love.
This is key because sometimes life leads you to scary places. Places only described as “The valley of the shadow of death.” Places like financial barrenness. Places like cancer wards. Places like a turbulent workplace.
I will fear no evil. Your rod and your staff – they comfort me.
As in, your shepherd is with you.
As in, your shepherd he won’t leave you.
As in, your shepherd will lead you out of that valley of death and into the banquet of heaven.
In fact, that’s how Psalm 23 ends:
He spreads a table before me…goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.
Jesus is an awesome shepherd.
III. How Do His Sheep Respond?
(1) Listen to His Voice
Because sheep are used to the voice of the shepherd. They hear it call them for food. They hear his voice tell them where water is. They hear his voice call them and soothe them when they are afraid.
The sheep of the shepherd listen to the shepherd because it’s a voice they recognize.
The same is Jesus’ sheep. They recognize his voice.
It’s a voice that knows your name.
It’s a voice that loves you.
A voice that cried out in agony on the cross for you.
A voice that stopped working…and then 3 days later worked again.
When you don’t know where to go in life – how to act in a certain situation, listen for his voice!
You’ll find it in Scripture. You’ll find it in his Word. Find his voice. Find a section of Scripture that speaks to your life right now. Listen to it!
(2) Run from the Thieves
Verse 5 says this, The sheep will never follow a stranger in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize him.
It’s similar to a stranger at the mall with a scratchy, raspy, obviously bad news voice opening up his big white van and saying, “Hey kid – want some candy!” The sheep of the shepherd do not run to him; the sheep of the shepherd run away!
What’s that look like in your life? It means running away from the spiritual thieves!
Cut out the porn! In fact, get a filter on your computer and give a friend the password.
Stop sleeping with the person you aren’t married to.
Turn off the politics!
Get away from the negative comments and get off of Facebook. It’s ok. You’ll live.
Run away from these spiritual thieves. They steal your soul; lead you to sin.
And if you follow the spiritual thief long enough, suddenly you start to trust them.
You follow them willingly.
You wake up and realize that you don’t have any idea where the Shepherd is and you don’t know how to get back to him!
Maybe you’ve been lost.
Maybe you are lost.
Because the shepherd doesn’t let his sheep stay lost.
(3). Follow Him
In fact, Jesus tells the story of a shepherd who owns 100 sheep (that’s a lot of sheep). But unfortunately, he wakes up one morning, goes out and counts the sheep and realizes that he is down 1. There’s only 99. He counts them again. He starts to panic.
And he tells the gatekeeper to watch the sheep while he puts on his coat and puts on his boots to go out in the rain and find the sheep.
You’ve got 99 sheep sir! Why do you need to go get that one?
The shepherd answers – Because. I love her.
He goes out in the storm. He walks over hills. He chills his body to the bone. He walks through mud and thistles and searches and panics until: The sheep! Over there in the bramble. Bleeding. Unable to move.
He swoops in – tears in his eyes. He hates to see this sheep in pain. He takes out some snips. He cuts the sheep free. He grabs her in his arms and brings her home.
What was lost is found.
That’s your shepherd. That’s Jesus.
That’s someone worth following.
Rise Up and Ignite Your Faith
Do you know anyone with a really strong faith?
The kind of person who always has a Scripture.
The kind of person who’s always praising God.
The kind of person who always trusts that God is in control…even when it looks like He isn’t.
I do. Her name is Aunt Marce. She’s has been an influential faith figure throughout my life. She’s given me cards to encourage my faith, Christmas ornaments and Easter decorations that do the same. When I got older she sent letters encouraging me and encouraging me to be a pastor. She always talked about Jesus with me – and her house had many reminders of her Savior.
But now that I’m older – I’m beginning to realize that she had this faith through some difficult circumstances.
One of her sons grew up and moved far away from her.
Another son committed suicide.
Now she’s older and she’s developed Alzheimer’s.
That’s hard stuff.
That’s faith questioning stuff.
Yet when I saw her at my Grandma’s funerals recently – she was still in love with God. She told me that it was nice to have everyone together. I mentioned that Grandma was in heaven. She didn’t miss a beat and responded, “Yes. Of course, she is. Jesus loved her!”
In amazing circumstances.
How do you get a faith like that?
How do you grow a strong faith?
Try as you might – running to the corner, clenching your fists together and muttering, “Believe,” over and over until you are blue in the face won’t work.
I. The Case of the Emmaus Disciples
Check out Luke 24. It’s the afternoon of the very first Easter. Two men are travelling on the road from Jerusalem to a surrounding village about 7 miles out called Emmaus. Granted – 7 miles doesn’t seem like a very long journey, but this is long before cars and these men don’t own a horse. They are walking. So, they’ve got about 4 hours’ worth of walking to do.
And as they walked, they talked. But their discussion wasn’t very uplifting. They talked about Jesus’ arrest. They talked about Jesus’ false trial. They talked about his conviction and his crucifixion. They talked about how they thought he had been the Messiah, but now…they were certain he wasn’t. And they also talked about what they had heard that morning – that some women went to the tomb and supposedly saw him.
But they weren’t uplifted by this.
They were discouraged.
They were confused.
They were losing faith.
Until a stranger interrupted them. He happened to be going the same way and he wanted some company, too. He asked them what the news was around Jerusalem.
Have you been living under a rock? Don’t you know what’s been going on? Don’t you know what happened? With Jesus? With the crucifixion?
So, they told him:
“Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
That, good sir, is what’s been going on.
That, good sir, is what’s got us bummed.
The man looked at them. He shook his head. And called them FOOLS.
And for a moment, the disciples stopped looking sad. Now they looked a bit angry.
The man continued, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? Didn’t he?” (v.25-26)
The disciples looked at each other. They shrugged their shoulders. It didn’t look like they got it.
So, he explained.
Didn’t Adam and Eve sin? Didn’t their sin plunge our world into darkness? Weren’t things hopeless? Wasn’t the devil laughing at his victory? And didn’t God step in and make a promise? Genesis 3:15 “I will put enmity between you and he woman – her offspring will crush your head, though you will strike his heel.”
Wasn’t this offspring the promise of the Messiah?
Didn’t it promise that the Messiah would be suffer pain – a venomous bite to the heel?
Doesn’t it also promise that this bite to the heel would be nothing compared to the crushing of Satan’s head?
Doesn’t a death on the cross that ends in a resurrection 3 days later fit nicely?
Didn’t this promise continue through the centuries?
Didn’t this promise make its way to the Psalms?
Don’t the Psalms say that the Messiah would be mocked? That men would cast dice for his clothing? That he would be pierced? Even that his tongue would be dry and they would give him gall to drink?
Didn’t those exact things happen to Jesus?
Didn’t Isaiah prophecy about this too?
Didn’t it say he would be pierced?
Didn’t it say he would be crushed?
Didn’t it say he would suffer punishment?
Didn’t it say the Messiah would see the light of life?
Didn’t that happen to Jesus?
As the man talked, the disciples hung on his every word. They were so intrigued that they barely noticed they were passing the boulevard to their home.
Stay with us sir; for it is nearly evening. The day is almost over.
And we want to hear more.
I’m not even sad anymore.
I actually…feel pretty good.
So the fellow obliged.
He went in.
He washed up.
He sat down.
He gave thanks.
He broke bread.
He began to pass it out.
And then…something happened. Maybe it was the way that he broke the bread. Maybe it was this that seemed familiar. Maybe it was the certainty with which he spoke to God.
“Their eyes were opened and they recognized him as Jesus.”
And then he was gone.
He vanished from their home.
But in his place…?
In his place he left something behind.
II. How to Ignite Your Faith
This is pretty amazing. Because in the span of a few hours, the disciples go from sad and confused, to joyous and confident! Their faith goes from smoldering to a full-on bonfire. How do we know? Look at what they do next! They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. (v.33) They did the 7-mile journey all over again! Who cares if their feet were tired? Who cares if they had to work tomorrow? Who cares if it was getting dark? They grab some bread for the road, slap on some peanut butter and go right back to Jerusalem – They can’t wait to share their story.
How did that happen?
How do you duplicate it?
Take a few notes from the story?
Because you might say – The answer is obvious pastor. Their faith was burning because they saw Jesus – risen from the dead -- with their own two eyes. If I got to see Jesus, my faith would move mountains. If I could see one of those miracles, I’d be one of those Bible Bangers on late night TV.
But look closely at verse 32. It’s right after Jesus leaves them. They say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They don’t say, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us after we saw him alive again!” Cause that’s pretty awesome! That’s what we’d expect to be the catalyst for their burning faith.
But it’s not. In fact, their hearts were burning before they realized they were in the presence of the risen Jesus. Their hearts were burning – on the road. On the road as they talked about: The Scriptures.
You know: This thing. The Bible.
It’s not like it’s any different. We have the same Old Testament that they have. In fact, dare I saw – we have it better. We’ve got the New Testament—a wonderful explanation of all Jesus did and how he fulfills all the Old Testament prophecy.
We have the exact tool necessary to ignite our faith.
2. Ignite Your Faith with God’s Word
You could picture God’s Word a lot like a lighter then. When our faith is smoldering, when it looks like it’s about to go out – even when it does, it is God’s Word that lights it back on fire again.
Actually, scratch that. God’s Word is more than a lighter. It’s like a blow torch or a big old Homecoming bonfire. (You know the type. The school letter burning out on the field as some really bad sketch comedy happens in the foreground presented by the Freshman class.) God’s Word is a bonfire because it’s powerful. It’s has incredible, glorious, faith relighting and igniting truths all throughout.
Truth like Jesus saves.
Truth like Jesus brings us peace with God.
Truth like Jesus removed all of your sins.
Truth like Jesus removed all of your guilt.
Truth like Jesus removed the sting of death.
Truth like Jesus brings forgiveness.
Truth like Jesus rose from the dead.
Truth like you too will rise from the dead.
Truth like you will live in heaven eternally.
Truth like it has been God’s plan to have you in heaven to eternity—from eternity!
Truth like “yes” God does love you.
A taking his last breath on the cross bunch.
If you want to have a burning faith, head to the bonfire of God’s Word. Reignite it on his awesome truth.
Don’t do that thing where you pray: “Dear Lord, please light my faith on fire for you. Amen.” Then, your phone buzzes. You open up your text messages and it’s a reminder of Bible study going on at church tomorrow night – so you swipe left. I don’t have time for Bible study. I’m waiting for God to answer my prayer and give me faith.
That’s not how God works.
That’s not how he worked with the Emmaus disciples.
It’s not how he will work with you.
He will work the same way he worked in the story – through God’s Word.
So…Study God’s Word. Simple as that.
3. Fan the Flame
That’s one of the first things your dad teaches you when you go camping. The campfire needs air. So, once you’ve constructed the perfect fire – scrapes of newspaper (aka kindling) on the bottom, teepee of sticks over the top, and bigger logs ready to catch fire once it’s going. Dad takes two sticks. He rubs them together. Until there’s a spark. And then? He blows on it. Singes a few whiskers, but he blows on it. That acts like fuel and causes the fire to grow into a blaze.
Do the same with your faith. 2 Timothy is a letter where Paul, the older pastor, writes to a young pastor. He says, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God!”
And faith is one of those gifts from God. Don’t let it go out. Don’t forget to feed that faith with God’s Word. Don’t think, “I have faith now. I’m sure that I’ll be able to go through all of the awful hardships, challenges, and adversities of this sinful, no good, everyone’s out to get you world without ever touching a Bible again.”
You need God.
You need God’s Word.
You need the fuel of God’s Word to fuel that flame in your heart.
If you want a strong faith, make this a priority.
If you want to keep faith, make this a priority.
In fact, make it THE priority.
God will do the rest.
God will set your hearts on fire.
That’s what my aunt did. In fact, that was her secret. It wasn’t some miracle she witnessed. It wasn’t a direct communication with God’s voice. It wasn’t a secret green elixir that she drank each morning.
It was a Bible study.
It was reading a chapter a day.
It was going to church.
Now that may sound simple. Maybe even unimpressive.
But it works. It ignites your heart again and again.
Rise Up and Leave Guilt Behind
There it was.
Mary had refused to face it earlier that day – but after complaining to the disciples and an hour or so of shedding tears, Mary stiffened up. She calmed her voice. She fought back tears; and she made her way back to the entrance of Jesus’ tomb. But as soon as she saw the stone rolled to the side of it – she broke into tears all over again.
How could they? How could they do this? They killed him! Wasn’t that enough? They killed him and now they were off doing who knows what to his body! How could you do that to such a man?
He was my friend. He was my friend when no one else was. I had demons inside of me. Seven of them, to be exact. Demons that I struggled with. Demons that controlled my life. Demons that caused me to do awful things. Demons that made people avoid. Demons that made people look the other way and mouth, “Who wants to talk to that crazy person?”
But Jesus didn’t avoid me.
Jesus came up to me.
Jesus was a friend.
Jesus healed me.
More than my friend, he was also my Savior. He brought me peace with God. He offered forgiveness. He promised to take away my sins!
But…now he’s dead. He hasn’t done any of that. I feel as guilty now as I did before. I’m a lost cause. I’m a dirty, rotten, no good, very bad, shameful sinner, far apart from God– and there’s nothing that dead Jesus can do about it.
Mary stumbled, loudly fighting back tears, to the entrance. This time she looked inside, hopelessly.
What she saw – what she saw was something that should have given her hope. Two angels. Dressed in white. Glowing with God’s glory. Divine. One on each end of the rock bed where Jesus’ body had been laid – like some kind of blinking, neon sign to say – “Hey look Mary! He is risen!” (v.12)
But Mary kept sobbing.
The angels spoke to her, “Woman, why are you crying?” The irony apparent in the allusion: “Why are you crying at the grave of a man who has risen from the dead? Surely that’s good news.”
“They’ve taken my Lord away; and I don’t know where they have put him!” she retorted. Not for a moment thinking that the two men dressed in brilliant, shining, otherworldly white might have an idea or two about his whereabouts.
She turned to leave. Walked a few steps. And her knees hit the ground with a thud—the kind of thud that happens when you no longer care about standing in the slightest.
How awful. How terrible. He’s dead. My Savior is gone. I’m still in my sins. I’m forever guilty. I’m an outcast again.
In between loud sniffs, Mary heard a few gentle steps approaching.
Dear woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?
She looked up. Her eyes filled with tears and her vision blurred. It must be the gardener. That jerk! “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him!” (v.15) Please. Help. Me.
But the gardener didn’t answer her question.
In fact, he ignored it.
He simply said, “Mary.” (v.16)
And when he said it, Mary’s soul instantly quieted. She had heard that voice before.
It was the voice that told her demons to leave.
It was the voice that told her she was free.
It was the voice that had forgiven her.
“Teacher!!” She cried while simultaneously standing up and throwing her arms around him. “Teacher you’re alive!” And as she soaked in that moment – a reunion with her Savior – her tears of sadness were turned to joy. Her fear of God was turned to joy in God. Her guilty heart became guilt free.
I. Guilt Blind Us from the Truth
This section from John 20 is very moving. Our sermon today is about leaving guilt behind. Mary is a great case study on the effect that guilt can have on us. Because think of what she saw on that first Easter morning! It’s not like she went to the tomb and found Jesus’ body torn to pieces by a wild animal or one of the disciples murdered and lying next to him.
She saw angels.
She saw an empty tomb.
She saw the risen Jesus himself.
But she greets all of these things with melancholy.
That’d be like someone going to the ice cream shop and bringing you back a big banana split with all of your favorite toppings – hot fudge, caramel, rainbow colored sprinkles, a dollop of whipped cream and one of those bright red cherries on top – and they say, “This is for you.” And you respond: “Life is terrible.”
It doesn’t make much sense.
But the reason Mary misses it is that she’s so filled with grief and guilt from the past days. She’s blinded by it. Scripture is really interesting here, because particularly when it mentions Jesus – it says that Mary didn’t realize it was Jesus. It’s interesting because in a similar situation with two disciples travelling a road from Jerusalem to Emmaus—they don’t realize it’s Jesus either. But in that instance Luke records, “They were kept from recognizing him.”
That means that Jesus isn’t hiding anything from Mary! The empty tomb and the angels are shouting the same thing at her – Rejoice! Jesus is alive!
But she misses it.
She’s blinded by guilt.
The same thing happens to us. Guilt blind us from seeing the truth.
You know Jesus died.
You also know that Jesus has risen.
You know that means your forgiveness of sins!
But even though you and I know that – how often do we find ourselves thinking --
My sin is too big.
My sin is too much.
My sin is too often.
My sin is too awful.
My sin is too dark.
My sin is too shameful.
It’s like the guilt overtakes us. It blinds us. It shows us only our actions on replay again and again and again.
We miss the whole resurrection. It’s like we’re viewing him as dead…even when he’s alive right before our very eyes!
II. The Resurrection Means Guilt is Gone
And that’s no good. Remember our passage from last week. 1 Corinthians 15 says, “If Christ has not been raised – you are still in your sins.” That means you aren’t forgiven. It means God hates you. It means that God will punish you will hell.
But Christ has been raised.
And you are not in your sins!
Another passage that brings this out is from Romans 4:25. It says this, “Jesus…was raised to life for our justification.”
Justification is a courtroom term. So, think of Judge Judy or Judge Joe Brown. Ever seen those TV shows? At the end of the show, they offer a verdict. They bang their gavel. They call one of the parties GUILTY and the other INNOCENT – justified.
It must feel pretty good to be proven innocent in a court of law.
It must feel even better to be proven innocent in a court of law when you’re actually guilty.
That’s what Jesus resurrection means for you. It means that God has tried you and found you innocent.
He found you innocent because he already found Jesus guilty for your sins.
If you want to remember justification (Write this down) Think: Just as if I hadn’t sinned! Because that’s how God sees you – as innocent. Because of Jesus.
That’s true, no matter your sins.
No sin is too big.
No sin is too much.
No sin is too often.
No sin is too awful.
No sin is too dark.
No sin is too shameful.
Christ died. Christ has risen. And you have been declared free from guilt!
III. What Now?
1. Hear His Voice
Because maybe you noticed this about Mary. She missed all of the joyous things right before her face. Even those joyous things didn’t make her feel better. It wasn’t the empty tomb. It wasn’t the shining bright angels. It wasn’t even Jesus – there in the flesh right in front of her.
It was His voice.
The loving voice of God himself.
That same voice speaks to you and me. It speaks to us in His Word. It calls out gently to you and says, “__________ (insert your name here), you are forgiven. You are loved. Your guilt is gone.”
When you’re dealing with guilt, it’s heavy and it’s a burden – listen to his voice. Take a moment and meditate on the resurrection story. Memorize and repeat Romans 4:25. Look at a cross – and notice that it’s empty – meaning you are forgiven.
2. Leave Your Guilt Behind
Because guilt is kind of like picking up a big old bag of garbage. It’s heavy, there’s wet sand and a broken pieces of concrete in there and carrying it with you everywhere you go - it’s heavy. It’s a burden. It makes life hard.
Carrying around guilt is like that. It’s heavy. It’s a burden. It’s hard.
But there’s one more aspect of this illustration. Because carrying around guilt after you know Jesus is also unnecessary.
It’s like picking up that big old bag of garbage – from the side of your road where it was already waiting for the dump truck! And Dad pokes his head out the window – “What are you doing? Why are you moving it? Someone already did! It’s right where it needs to be.”
If you know Jesus as your Savior and you’re still carrying around guilt, Jesus says something similar:
“Why are you carrying that around? I carried it to where it was supposed to be. I took it to the cross. I deposited it in the grave.”
Why not leave it there?
Brothers and sisters, listen to Jesus. Leave your guilt at the cross. Leave today unburdened. Leave forgiven…because in Jesus…you are. Amen.
Rise Up and Believe
Sometimes it’s hard to wake up. At least for me.
Maybe you’re one of those “early birds” who likes to catch the “early worm” and you have no problem getting up at 5am, running a 5k, coming home, baking cookies, cleaning the whole house and alphabetizing your spice rack all in the amount of time it’d take me to put on a pair of socks.
But you get it. There are those mornings where it’s just hard to wake up. Especially if you don’t have a good reason! If you’re going to the same job you go to everyday to make the same amount of money that barely covers the same bills for the same people – it can feel kind of doldrum. Especially if it’s been stressful lately AND things haven’t been going your way AND you’re even a bit sick.
Just about the only thing that gets you going is an IV drip of Starbucks French Roast inserted into your arm.
But imagine you’re having one of those days. A day where the sun is shining through the window, but you’ve got a pillow covering your head – convincing you that it’s still nighttime. When suddenly, your spouse bursting into your bedroom and shoves the smartphone in your face:
Look! Look at this! Remember that loved one – that loved one that died? Look at this news article. It says that this loved one’s grave –- is empty.
Would that be enough to get you up?
Would that be enough to get you to RiseUp?
I. The Empty Tomb
That’s exactly what happened to John.
John had had a pretty terrible weekend. His confidant; his leader; his friend – had died. Not from a heart attack. He had been crucified. Nailed hand and foot on two giant wooden beams and left to die.
And John had seen it. He had been right there – at the foot of the cross as he gave up his last breath. It was why every time he closed his eyes he could see horrific images -- the whip tearing into his flesh; the fist connecting with his already swollen eye; the blood dripping from the thorns that pierced his forehead; the blood and water pouring out of his side after the soldier stabbed him with a spear.
It was all too much.
And he was physically exhausted. Besides the stress, he had been up all Thursday night – watching his friend’s conviction and all Friday night trying to comfort family and friends who had seen him die. He caught a wink of sleep early Saturday morning but then he was having to deal with a host of emotions from friends in the small apartment -- denial and anger; sadness and bitterness.
As he lay there early Sunday morning, he found himself in that weird place where he couldn’t get up but he wasn’t really sleeping either. Sure, Peter’s loud snoring from the bunk next to his didn’t help, but more than that he found himself battling his own thoughts:
What was all of that for?
Why did I spend three years of my life following that man?
Why did I think he was the Messiah?
Why did I believe in him?
Suddenly John’s thoughts were interrupted by a loud persistent, almost maniacal knocking at the door. “Let me in! Let me in!” Peter did one of the startled snores as he woke up. John shook his head and went to unlatch the door.
It was Mary Magdalene – a friend of theirs and a follower of Jesus. Her hair was wild and her eyes were tear stained as she spoke: “I can’t believe it! How could they do it! They killed him. They crucified him. They made a mockery of him. But they aren’t even done. They must want to flaunt it some more.”
“Mary, Mary, calm down. What’s the problem?”
“It’s his body! They’ve taken it away. We went to the tomb – Early this morning to pay our respects and put spices on his body, but when we got there, the grave stone was rolled away. His body was gone. Jesus is gone.”
John embraced her and tried comforting her as Peter rose up from his cot.
“Those jerks. I can’t believe. Listen – we’ll go check it out. John and I will check it out.”
John gently released his grip and nodded. “We’ll go see what happened.”
The two of them quickly laced up their sandals and threw on outer cloaks at the door. Then, they headed out the door. Walking at first – thinking – wondering – “Could it be? As he said?” And as the possibility of something much greater than a grave robbery occurred in their minds, their pace quickened. A jog and then a sprint.
Being the younger one – by quite a bit – John made it through the city streets and into the memorial gardens first. He ran through the trees, jumped the brook, and past older graves until he made his way to wear Jesus’ body had been laid.
As he reached the tomb, his feet came to a slow halt.
It was open. The stone had been rolled away. Yet, there wasn’t a sign of the guards that had been placed at the tomb. There wasn’t blood on the ground – no sign of a struggle. The stone was on its side like a bunch of grave robbers would have done as they broke in.
It was simply open.
John stooped down and looked inside the tomb. The morning light that made its way into the tomb revealed there was nobody and no body in the tomb. There was a pile of cloths. Folded. Nicely. In a square and resting on the bier where the body would have been.
Why would anyone take the time to do that? Wouldn’t they just take his body and all of the linen clothes that he had been wrapped in and just gotten out of here? As it was, the cloths were folded so evenly, so perfectly, it was as if his own mother had robbed the grave!
John’s thoughts were interrupted by some plodding steps and heavy panting. Peter had caught up. And he wasn’t slowing down. John moved out of the way just as Peter stumbled into the tomb. Pete looked around – his heavy breaths connecting with the chirping of the birds in the air. Peter bent down and picked something up.
“John! Check it out. It’s his face cloth.”
At this, John entered the tomb. He scanned every corner of the place. He ran his fingers alone he walls. He held the cloth in his hands.
Suddenly, John started to have other flashes. Other flashes of memories before Jesus’ death.
“Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it again in three days.”
“Just as Jonah was in the belly of the way three days and came out alive; so will I be in the belly of the earth and emerge alive.”
“I have the authority to lay my life down and the authority to take it up again.”
“I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
“I will die and three days later, I will rise.”
But how could that be? That never happens. That’s impossible. John had seen him die!
John shook his head.
John stopped reasoning.
John looked around once more.
John saw and believed. (John 20:9)
II. What It Means
What John saw he wrote down.
What John wrote down – we read.
What we read is what happened.
Which means a lot of really incredible things for you and for your life. Allow me to mention three:
1) This Faith is NOT Worthless
One of my favorite fast food promotions of all time is the Monopoly game at McDonald’s. I love trying to match up all the little board pieces and try to win a 10-speed bike OR a trip to Hawaii. Worst case scenario – you just get a large fry and that’s not a bad thing either.
But one time I thought our family had won a MILLION dollars. I remember we were on vacation and we stopped at McDonald’s. My mom peeled a Park Place off of her Coca Cola. And I got real excited:
Mom! We have Boardwalk at home! We are millionaires. At first, mom didn’t believe me. But I talked it up throughout the trip. We could spend extra money now, because we would be millionaires soon. We had even decided how we’d spend it – I’d get ½ since I ordered the cheeseburger –that mom bought – and she and dad could split the other ½ since it was her money.
It was really exciting. Till we got home. I ran to my sock drawer and pulled out my Monopoly piece collection to reveal – Park Place.
We didn’t win anything.
Check out 1 Corinthians 15:17. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” In other words – if Christ isn’t risen, you don’t get anything. You’re still sinners. You’re still expecting eternal hellfire wrath from God. You will not be in heaven.
But – what did John just tell us? The tomb was empty. Jesus was alive!
SPOILER ALERT: If you read on, Jesus actually appears in the flesh to John. Also to Peter, Andrew, James, Thomas, Matthew, Philip, Bartholomew, James, Jude, Simon and over 500 other people. Those who write it down: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, Jude, and James make it clear. Christ has been risen!
That means this faith is not worthless.
Which is key. Because it’s hard to believe in someone these days. Whether it’s politicians breaking promises, a boyfriend leaving you, a spouse breaking faithfulness, a coworker stabbing you in the back or even a parent disowning you. It’s hard to find someone to believe in.
But you can believe in Jesus. Because Jesus died and came back to life. He did the incredible! He did the supernatural! He did the impossible!
Faith in Jesus is not worthless; it’s the only thing worth it.
Because if he’s more powerful than death, then…
He’s more powerful than your sickness.
He’s more powerful than your mortgage payment.
He’s more powerful than your addiction.
He’s more powerful than your relationship struggles.
He’s more powerful than your disease.
He’s more powerful than your demons.
He’s more powerful than your stresses.
He’s more powerful than life.
He’s more powerful than death.
He’s more powerful than guilt.
And He’s more powerful than one of the worst things in this world…sin.
2) You are NOT in your Sins.
Which leads us to our second key point. Because the Tomb is Empty, you are NOT in your sins.
You can picture sin like a big old pile of dog hair. If you sit in the dog hair, you will be covered in it. Especially if you are wearing a sweater. (Dog owners you know what I’m talking about and you know what outfits you cannot wear on near your dogs).
But if a loved one buys one of those special vacuums and spends time deep cleaning the couch with all of the adjustments and then takes one of those lint rollers and rolls all over the couch disposing about 28 little sticky patches and then get one of those brushes that sucks up all the rest of the dog hair.
You can sit on your couch. You’re not in your dog hair.
That’s what Jesus did to us and for us! Because “If Christ has indeed been raised form the dead” you are not in your sins. Jesus has removed every last one of them. He picked them up from the crevices of your heart, swept them away from every part of your past, stuck them to himself and died!!!
Because “The wages of sin is death.” Since Jesus had your sins, he died!
But remember what John wrote – the Tomb was empty! Jesus wasn’t there anymore. Which means there weren’t any sins left for him to pay for (because if there were he would have stayed dead).
That means that your sins – yes, even your sins – even the big ones – even the memorable ones – even the ones that make you feel really guilty – are gone!
3) In Jesus, You will Live
And if the wages of sin is death,
And Jesus paid the wages of your sins,
Then, what’s left for you to pay?
This all leads to the final truth: In Jesus, you will Live! In fact, that’s why John wrote what he did. Listen to what he says, “These words are written (the words of the account of John’s interaction with Jesus) those words – are written that you may believe Jesus is the Christ and by believing have life in his name.” (John 20:31)
Because that’s the message that saves. Jesus is your Savior; Jesus is your resurrected Savior – is the message that saves you from death to life!
We live in a dangerous world. Nerve gas; gigantic bombs; nuclear war head parades; school shootings; terrorism; racism; even cancer, car accidents and old age. They are all scary!
But not with Jesus. You can trust him.
He rose from the dead while he was dead.
What do you think he’ll do while He’s alive?
What do you think he’ll do for you?
By believing – you will have life in his name.
III. What Now?
Don’t think you can do it without him.
Don’t try to put trust in yourself in your own abilities and your own goodness. God says the wages of sin is death. If you have sin, you are owed death – and that’s all there is too it. No amount of money; no amount of religious looking Easter egg decorations; no amount of impressive looking Easter ties will save you from death.
But Jesus can.
And Jesus will.
“Whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Still you may need some convincing.
Still you may be doubting.
You may be in need of faith!
Run to the Tomb!
That’s what John did. He saw the empty tomb. HE saw the folded grave clothes. He saw the lack of tampering AND HE BELIEVED!
Granted – You may not have money for a plane trip to the Holy Land – to Israel. Even if you did, no one knows with any certainty which grave his might have been.
…You can still see the empty tomb.
…You can still hear the words of the eyewitnesses.
…You can still hear Jesus’ own voice saying, “Behold; I am alive!”
It’s in his word. When you doubt, when you’re nervous, when you’re frightened, -- run to God’s Word.
Read the story in the Bible (Start with John. If you’ve never read John, won’t you do so?)
Join a Bible study. Make church a priority. Come back and see me next week -- because we’re going to run to the empty tomb again – and then the week after that---and the week after that—and the week after that.
And yes. I get it sometimes you don’t want to get up. Sometimes you don’t want to face the day. Sometimes you don’t want to get here.
But today, just like every day, there’s awesome news for you to here. Jesus is alive! Your faith isn’t worthless. You are NOT in your sins. You will NOT die, but live!
That’s a message worth getting up for. Amen.