Sermon: God's Not Dead
Is God dead?
It certainly looks like it, doesn’t it?
Immorality is increasing at an incredible rate. New science studies “prove” that it was a Big Bang and not God. “And the article had 10,000 likes on Facebook so the conclusions must be true!” Random acts of nature – mudslides, disappearing planes, capsized boats. “If God were here, he wouldn’t let that happen.”
Then, there are our personal struggles – barely able to pay rent, job on the chopping block, strained marriages, struggles in school, life threatening illnesses. They all tempt us to one sad conclusion --
God is dead.
That’s a pretty scary conclusion isn’t it? It’s the exact same scary situation that a few women followers of Jesus found themselves in early the first Easter morning.
Their leader. Their God. Was certainly dead. And there’s plenty of reason to believe this to be truth nearly 2000 years later. Just look at the witnesses:
1) The crowd at the crucifixion. They had seen Jesus’ body go through a brutal beating. Punches, slaps, and kicks on Thursday evening. A barbaric scourging at the hands of professional Roman torturers Friday morning. A crown of thorns to rest his head, then, stakes through the hands and the feet all by lunchtime! Then, they watched for three hours until his body wore out, unable to push up at the bottom of the cross, Jesus took his last breath. Then knew he was dead.
2) But so did the soldiers. They were professionals at torture AND killing. If they didn’t get it right, they might die! So they were extra careful. Even though they were positive Jesus was dead, one soldier took a spear and stuck it into his side -- aiming for the heart. Now they knew he was dead.
3) The two men who had prepared Jesus’ body for burial knew he was dead, too. So they began traditional preparations for the dead. They covered Jesus’ hands, his feet, and his wrists with linens. They never saw his chest move. They felt no pulse. They didn't see his eyelids flicker. They knew he was dead.
4) His enemies even knew it! As the body was prepared, they came to Pilate and asked that armed guards watch over the tomb. Jesus had promised that he would rise again, but since they knew him to be dead, they were nervous that the disciples would steal his body. They asked for the guards to prevent a hoax.
5) The man in charge of the crucifixion allowed it. Because he knew Jesus was dead too. Likely, he had ordered plenty of crucifixions. No one came through them! Jesus was no different. His guards said he was dead. He was dead. They could have a guard if it made them feel better.
6) The grave workers then took their places. They helped ensure the body made its way into the tomb. They pushed a boulder in front of it. They sealed it with wax. They probably worked in shifts. One group Friday night. Another Saturday morning, Another Saturday evening. A final set early Sunday morning. None of these soldiers heard movement in the tomb. Because Jesus was dead.
7) Which is why the women early that Easter morning were so certain. They carried spices towards his tomb – not to repair him to health, but because that's how you honored the dead.
And Jesus was dead.
Even modern medicine agrees. Some people have this idea that Jesus went into a coma. "Maybe, he didn't really die. Maybe, the blood thirsty beatings, the extreme blood loss and the slow death on a cross didn't kill him. Just put him a coma." Modern medicine scoffs at such an idea. Dr. Robert Stein, one of the world's foremost pathologists wrote, "Jesus couldn't possibly have faked his death, because you can't fake the inability to breathe for all that long. Besides the spear thrust into his heart would have settled the issue once and for all...And EVEN if in some kind of miracle, he had only been in a coma, what would he have done? When he awoke in the tomb, he would have been so pathetically weak that he would have simply lay there unable to move the giant boulder that sealed him in!"
This is key then to understanding the Easter story. Jesus was certainly dead.
II. Certainly Alive.
As the women came to the tomb any fear they had from their leader having been killed must have intensified. There was an earthquake. The stone had been rolled away!!! The soldiers were passed out with shock! They appeared into the tomb.
IT WAS EMPTY! What had happened!?!
Then, they met their first witness.
His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. An angel. “He’s not here; he has risen…come and see the place where he lay! Then, go quickly and tell his disciples.”
So they hurried away from the tomb! Excited, but nervous. Who would believe them? Is an angel to be trusted?
Then, they saw someone they knew could be trusted. The women saw Jesus! “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet. At that time, I'm sure they saw the wounds on both his feet -- right where the nails had been. As he clasped their shoulders to comfort them, they saw the holes in his hands. This was no imposter. This wasn't some groggy, just out of a coma Jesus...and since they all saw Him...it wasn't a hallucination.
Who was not dead, but alive!
But those women weren’t the only witnesses.
Jesus showed himself to Mary Magdalene. A woman who could have no doubts it was him. She would never forget the face of the man who would heal her and changed her life.
Jesus showed himself to two disciples walking to Emmaus. His knowledge of scripture was unmistakable. It was him!
He showed himself to the Eleven. Well, actually, ten of them first. Thomas was missing. But when Thomas complaind that he wouldn’t believe in the resurrection until he saw it, Jesus reappeared. He showed him his hands. His feet. He ate food in front of him. He allowed Thomas to stick his hand in his side! And even doubting Thomas was convinced – this isn’t Peter trying to play a trick on me. This is "My Lord and God!"
In fact, there is no shortage of witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. over 500 people in many different places, in different times and different places. Different people. All of them were convinced it was him!
Even one of Jesus' greatest enemies – Saul -- who was convinced that Jesus was dead and that this was all a lie...so much so that he imprisoned, beat, and killed anyone who confessed to following Jesus...Saul saw Jesus. He believed he was alive. He became a follower. He went on four missionary journeys, started over 20 churches, and wrote 13 books in the Bible! Why did he make such a change? Why did it happen over night?
Because he saw that Jesus was alive!
But Paul isn't even the greatest witness. The greatest witness lie in that empty tomb.
I like Chocolate Easter bunnies. But, at our house, you aren’t supposed to eat them until Easter Sunday. So, if Julianna finds a little bit of chocolate on the corner of my mouth and accuses me of eating the bunny, all I have to do is produce the chocolate bunny—whole, in package, and untouched.
If Jesus was still dead, all the Pharisees would have to do would be to produce the dead body.
"But the disciples probably stole it!" Right! An accountant and a few fisherman overpowered the first century equivalent of heavily, armored Navy seals, and threw open the sealed rock all before the soldiers knew what hit ‘em.
There’s another problem. Why would the disciples have perpetuated the lie even to their own deaths?
What happens on crime dramas when the perpetrator is confronted with absolute evidence that he is guilty? He stops lying. He gives the truth – no matter what it convict him of.
The disciples NEVER did this. Why? Because it was the truth! They had seen Jesus die and they had seen him alive! He was their God and God was not dead!
Brothers and sisters, no explanation fits the empty tomb except for the fact that he only thing that does fit and explain the empty tomb is a historical. Very real. Resurrection.
III. What it means for Us
What interesting is that there isn’t an Empire Strikes Back to the Easter Story. The Pharisees never find Jesus and try to kill him all over again.
The truth is this: God couldn't be killed then and listen to this God can't be killed now!
Now what we normally don’t try to do is kill God with a nuclear bomb or biological warfare. No, we use reason! "I don't think God could exist and it's not reasonable that Jesus could rise from the dead, so this is nothing more than a fairy tale." We use science. "I read an article that said science still can't find scientific proof for a God that created the universe. We use emotions, "I hate that God tells us that the way I want to live my life is a sin! Therefore, he must not exist."
But God didn’t stay dead at the hands of one of the most violent deaths in the history of the world. No amount of unbelief, no amount of scientific evidence, no amount of immorality, no amount of bad circumstances, no amount of hatred can kill God!
In fact, if you still insist that Jesus is not God and definitely not alive or even real, - especially in the face of today’s testimony - I’m very nervous for you. It’s not God's who's dead…it's you.
And it happens so easily. Guilt over past sins smothers any hope in a God who forgives. Pride stamps out any obedience to a divine authority. Reason. Sinful, human reason loves to attack and destroy faith. And fear of what it might mean that God is real and Easter is true...kills your desire to find out.
But even if we are spiritually dead, there’s still hope. Because God’s not dead! In fact, he can’t be held down by death. That’s mortal stuff.
Why then did God die in the first place?
Scripture says, "He was put to death for our sins"-- the very Jesus who proved his authority to say things with his unmistakable death and resurrection – He taught all human beings are morally corrupt individuals who have done wrong against God and, as a result, die – and, when they die apart from God – die eternally!
Scripture says, "He was raised to life for our justification!" In other words, his death was the punishment for your sins. God’s wrath has been wiped away! Now, through faith in Jesus, you are forgiven and God declares you innocent of wrongdoing. In fact, he no longer threatens hell, but promises the eternal life of heaven.
3) This leads to the final truth: With faith in the God-Who’s-Not-Dead, you’re not dead! A more eloquent way of saying it this: With faith the God who Lives, you will Live! On high. With the Lord. In heaven.
This is huge!
I wish you could have met my Grandpa Dave. He was a wonderful man. I used to sit on his lap and eat Easter candy with him. I’d also try to keep the Easter candy away from the tattooed panther he had on his bicep. It didn’t like bunnies – he told me.
I haven’t celebrated an Easter with Grandpa Dave in years.
But I will. Because God lives. Through faith in him, you will too.
Dear friends. May this same ever living God be your hope this Easter and always. Amen.
Easter is 8 days away. There are a lot of different ways to celebrate. Some people I have talked to will be visiting the beach in order to relax. That’s nice. Others will spend money on nice new Easter clothes and 2 for 1 chocolate bunnies at the Dollar Tree. That’s nice too. Still others will pack up and go visit family. That’s usually nice.
But Christians…They’re planning on spending the week doing final cleaning at church. Some are making sure music is practiced and ready to go for worship. Others have volunteered time to go and invite the community to the service. Still more will attempt to reconnect with friends and family by inviting them one last time to Easter Sunday Worship.
Why not relax? Kick back? And Catch “It’s the Easter Bunny Charlie Brown,” on TV and call it an Easter celebration? Why get up and follow Jesus?
Over the past weeks, we have discussed how life is a Battleground. We fight temptations. We are in conflict with doubts. We alter our perspective. We fight alongside others who may be very different than us. We even stare death in the face with confidence.
It isn’t easy. So…why do it? Why follow Jesus?
Our Words from Zechariah will work to answer that question for us. Listen as he describes who Jesus is and what he brings. Then, see if there is any good reason not to follow him?
I. Consider Who He Is
Zechariah wrote, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey!” These words describe Palm Sunday 400 some years before it happened! And what it says about the one riding in on a donkey is astounding!
First, he’s righteous! Totally upright and completely just! How many politicians do you know like that? Yet, it sounds good when a political leader calls for some kind of moral improvement – even if they aren’t so moral themselves.
There are a few politicians who are taking flack for wanting to defend “Marriage.” They call homosexuality a sin (which it is) all while asking others to excuse the fact that they are on their third marriage.
Righteous? Not so much.
Here’s how righteous Jesus is:
Then, to top it all off, Jesus never sinned even once! It’s why the Pharisees had such a hard time condemning him. They couldn’t pin a single immoral word or action on him!
This ties into the second thing about Jesus. He is called victorious!
It’s good to follow a perpetually victorious leader. It’s why Duke fans always rest securely between basketball seasons. They’ve got Coach K. It’s proven to be victorious. They’ll be in the Title hunt next year – no worries!
Jesus marched into Jerusalem having won battle after battle.
Anybody else you know defeat death?
You might be thinking, “Jesus rode into Jerusalem righteous and victorious! But I’m lowly. I’m sinful. He wouldn’t want anything to do with me. I don’t know if he even wants me to follow him.”
Listen to the third thing about his ride into Jerusalem. See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey!
I could probably think of about a thousands scenarios in which a hero of Jesus’ fames ride into Jerusalem that seem more appropriate. A white stallion. A chariot. An elephant. He could have come as the Messiah year’s later and chosen a tank. Air Force One. A Hummer. A Limousine! Even a moped wouldn’t have been so smelly.
Yet there he was…on a stinky, stubborn, braying donkey. Bumping up and down as he tried to balance on the stubborn mammal’s back.
Why would Jesus choose such a ride?
Philippians 2 offers us a clue. It says, "Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Jesus’ entire life had been one incredible paradox! With his miracles and works, he proved himself divine. He was God worthy of all worship. Yet he humbled himself by coming down from heaven and becoming a man! Understand how that’s humbling:
o He has all authority, yet he lived by the rules of his mom and dad.
o He is all knowing. Yet he grew and learned just like the other children.
o Jesus is God. Almighty! Yet, he became a man and needed rest.
o He is eternal – yet he would – later on this Holy Week – die.
o And not even a noble death! He was crucified with the worst of sinners.
This paradox is clear on Palm Sunday! Jesus is totally righteous and absolutely victorious and completely worthy of the palm branches and songs of praise. Yet he rides on a donkey. Humble.
This is only a microcosm for how he comes to you! Sin separated you from him. He had to go through this sin to get to you. So he did! Even if the only way to do this was to suffer and die a terrible death on the cross for your sins. Jesus was willing to humiliate himself in this way in order to get to you.
And the gifts he offers you? Those are incredible too!
II. Consider What He Brings.
A) Peace for the nations
Listen to what Zechariah describes: 10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations.
And what a marvelous thing peace is! At times of political unrest among other nations (even within our nation) how beautiful peace is.
But, you might be thinking, “Jesus came and went…and there’s still war. There’s still violence. There’s not peace.”
Not among humans…not now, no. But the peace Jesus proclaims is greater than that. It’s the divine kind of peace. Peace with God!
Because on your own, there is no peace between you and God. You’re a sinner. You’ve offended God – who hates anything not associated with perfect love – with your thoughts, words, and actions.
But with Jesus, that sin is forgiven. There is reconciliation. There is a peace that says, “God, the Almighty sin hating, fire in his eyes, righteous Lord of heaven and earth, whom I’ve countlessly offended…
…is my friend.”
B) A Global Rule
Look at the next part of verse 10: His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. King Jesus brings a global rule!
Just think about it. We’re reading about Jesus’ Palm Sunday ride today. That happened in the Middle East long before iPhones, Twitterfeeds, and TV. There weren’t even printing presses!
Yet, here we are today. Jesus’ news of peace with has crossed the Atlantic ocean. It’s in Raleigh. Think of how incredible this is!
I know that not all parents are excited about the school district that their kid might go to here in the Triangle. Where you live determines the district. Many think that therefore, some schools are better and the same opportunities aren’t available in all schools so you might even have to move in order to get your kid into a good school.
There’s no need to change districts to fall under God’s love. Jesus lived perfectly, died innocently, and rose triumphantly for every school district in America! “Whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life!” (John 3:16)
C) Freedom from the Pit!
These gifts really lead to the third one. Listen to how verse 11 describes it: As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
A waterless pit doesn’t sound like a good place to spend spring break. Dark. Treacherous. No nourishment. No hope of survival. Just a slow, sad, lonely, pointless death.
Whether your pit is real or spiritual, Jesus sets you free. When you are haunted by your sins, when you are longing for love, when you are frightened by the darkness of your guilt and screaming for help.
Jesus reaches out. Not just with one arm, but with both. (on the cross) And he lifts you out of the pit. He frees you.
But Jesus doesn’t free you and let you go get entangled in some other messy, abysmal pit. He has a place for you to be.
D) A Fortress of Hope.
Listen to verse 12: “Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you!”
Do you know where the President goes in a time of crisis? To a fortress. Hidden underground this fortress is able to withstand nuclear holocaust! Bombs, bullets, and explosions will have no effect and all that are inside will be safe.
Jesus is an even stronger fortress. A mighty fortress of hope. With our eyes on him and his promises of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life in heaven – nothing that the devil attacks us with can make us hopeless! God’s Word surrounds us with hope that refuses to give up. That knows God’s love is unfailing and unending.
And when you’ve spent plenty of time in that fortress of hope, then you will undoubtedly be given the final blessing of Jesus.
E) A Wake Up Call.
Verse 13 has God’s promise, “I will bend Judah as I bend my bow and fill it with Ephraim.” In other words, and this is a cool picture, God’s going to use his people of Judah and his followers in Ephraim, as a weapon. To accomplish his purpose.
And with archer like precision that’s better than Robin Hood or William Tell, God chooses his arrows and shoots! He awakens his people in order to share his message with the world!
Who is God shooting you at?
It’s one week till Easter! The highlight of the church year. We’ve been inviting people for three weeks now.
Who is God aiming you at? A friend. A relative. A neighbor.
If God has aimed you than, don’t backfire! God wants to use you to share that message of love! Could one more invitation do the trick? Could one more email reminder be helpful? Could a quiet conversation where you open your heart and explain why Easter is so important be the conversation that person needs?
“But I don’t feel up for the task!”
Don’t worry. It’s not about you. Listen to the last part of verse 13. I will rouse your sons, Zion, against your sons, Greece, and make you like a warrior’s sword.
Did you see that? "I rouse you. I will make you.” In other words, God is the one in charge. He has equipped you with his love and a knowledge of his Word to share this wonderful message this Easter. Don’t be frightened. Aim and shoot! Follow in your King's footsteps and share the message of his love!
There's a lot of leads to follow this Easter. Peter Cottontail. Hershey's chocolate. The call of the beach. Whatever you feel like doing.
Why not follow Jesus? He's our righteous, victorious, and humble king. A king who brings peace around the world. A king who has rescued you from the pit and placed you in a fortress of hope. A king who needs you!
Follow his lead this Holy Week and always! Amen.
Lenten Reading: Betrayal
Besides fitting into the trendy, one word serial drama (Revenge, Believe, Resurrection), this ABC show stars a photographer, who begins an affair with a married lawyer working the opposite side of a high profile murder trial.
Betrayal. Intrigue. Immorality. It makes for a winning show.
I've got another idea for a hit drama. It's about a guy who betrays his mentor of three years. All for a chunk of money. It'll have greed. And murder. (Two things that sell big in Hollywood). Plus, the script is already written!
OK. It's not so much a script as a portion of Holy Scripture. Check it out from John 13 below:
18 “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’ 19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. 20 Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me."
21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”
22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”
25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 28 But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.
Can you believe Judas? Betraying the Lord! He leaves and with his actions sentences Jesus to death. The very Jesus who had called him. Who had taught him. Who had loved him.
But does the same story ever play out, albeit in a less intense way, within your own life?
* "Yes, I've always followed Jesus and I love everything he's taught me, but I need to drop "Christian" from my Facebook profile, because all of my friends have been calling Christians bigots lately...and I don't like it! Instead, I'll just like a few 'progressive' stories (and totally betray the very Lord I love!)"
* "I cherish the story of Easter, but I just saw another Christian at work get ridiculed for believing that the Bible is true. I'll pretend I think it's a joke too. I'll even laugh at a few anti-Bible jokes. Quick. Let me search on Google for a few anti-Christian comics. Maybe I can find one to distance myself from this stuff."
* "I grew up in Sunday school, always went to church, even enjoyed the delicious Chocolate chip cookies afterwards. But now I am older. My college friends won't take me seriously. They think that Christianity is a joke. I'm starting to get left out of event invitations. Maybe, I'd be cooler if you just stayed out all night drinking this Saturday. I'll just trade in my Savior for a bottle of PBR."
Betrayal. It might not make it to the small screen. It might not even make it to the "TV Shows you've never heard of" section on Hulu, but it is betrayal nonetheless.
Thankfully, He never betrayed us. He never betrayed his plan to save us.
It would have been so easy. He knew that Judas went to go get the soldiers. He knew that if he went to the garden, he would be arrested, falsely tried, and condemned. He knew about our future betrayals! All Jesus had to do was not go to the garden later that night and he wouldn't have had to suffer for a bunch of people who had betrayed him.
But Jesus went anyway.
He could not betray you! He loved you too much. He had to finish his mission -- however terrible -- in order to save you from eternal death in hell! He did that so "whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
This is what Jesus did for you. It means that through faith in him you are forgiven for all of your past betrayals!
And now? I'd like you to think about Jesus again. Unlike your friends who have backstabbed you, your coworkers who use you to get to the top and even your family who have turned on you in the past, Jesus has NEVER betrayed you.
So...why would you ever betray him?
Instead, stand behind him. Speak his truth boldly. Confess his name clearly. Never give up the fact that you are child of God and a follower of your righteous Lord.
That's an Emmy award winning moment.
PRAYER: Lord Jesus forgive me for all the times that I have betrayed you in order to save myself. Forgive me because you never betrayed me. It's why you went to the cross. Lord in the wake of this forgiveness empower me to day to withstand all the pressures of Satan and this world to betray you. Instead, lead me to speak the truths of your Word in love and clarity. In Jesus' name, Amen.
"You need to wash those before you sit on the furniture."
At the church work day this past week, I did some gardening. Unfortunately, standing in the soil all day had gotten my feet quite dirty. They were dirty enough that I needed to take a shower right away before they would be allowed on the ottoman.
I really wanted to watch an episode of Kitchen Nightmares, so I trudged to the bathtub.
I didn't even THINK of asking her to wash them for me.
In today's lesson that's what Jesus did. He's starting washing the feet of his disciples. This was a job usually reserved for the servants, now done by their leader. Plus this was at a time when sandals and walking in the desert left feet much dirtier than argyle socks, black shoes, and an office complex did.
Why would the Lord of heaven and earth lower himself to such a lowly job? See if you can grasp why...
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Peter was indignant! Why would Jesus, his master, lower himself to such a level? This was his 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' not 'plebian' and 'servant'. Jesus was above doing such work. And he, Peter, was above having his feet washed! So he tried to stop Jesus.
But then, Jesus stopped him:
"Unless I wash you, you have no part in me."
Now Jesus wasn't just talking about having clean feet. Certainly, as they walked the roads earlier that very day, their feet had gotten dusty. Yet Jesus hadn't sent them away from him. He wasn't offended by dirty skin.
He was offended by a dirty soul.
Because as dusty as his big toes may have been, Peter's soul was a mess. Just like any human being it was filled with the ugliness of hatred, lust, pride, and selfishness.
It was so dirty that not even a mother would love it.
And, as God himself describes, not even He could love it. "The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time." (Genesis 6)
It's a disturbing thought.
More disturbing is God reacts to such dirty souls! Just like a wife who tells her husband he'll need to clean his feet before setting foot in her living room, so God tells us that we'll need clean souls before setting foot in his heavenly house!
And how do you clean a dirty soul when the soul that tries to clean it is dirty too?
That was Peter's problem! "Stop it! I can do it myself!"
It's a problem that we are often plagued with too. "Lord, Jesus, I don't need your help. I have a neighbor who wears tattoos and is struggling with homosexuality. He needs your help. But not me. I don't need to be cleaned. I'm just fine!"
Listen to the words of Jesus to such an attitude. "Unless I clean you, you will have no part with me."
Of course, when we accept that hard truth, Scripture urges us to turn to Jesus! He is our Lord, our Master, the great One from Above, yet he is not above getting his hands dirty...
...even with blood.
That's why he was on the cross. Because "the blood of Jesus...purifies us from all sin." (John 1:7) Jesus served us in a way even greater than cleansing our feet. He cleaned our souls.
This was way more degrading than getting on your hands and knees to scrub the grime off of our dirty heels. He was horribly mocked, terribly ridiculed, and cruelly treated like the scum of the earth in order to cleanse the grubbiness of sin from our spirit.
Yet he did it. Even though he is the great ruler of the universe deserving of all praise!
What motivated him to get himself dirty in this way?
Yes, washing the feet was a nice thing for Jesus to do. He helped to relax and refresh the disciples for a time. But the washing that Jesus would do on the next day was even greater. It was a thorough cleansing of their souls. It would relax them with the joy of having God's love. It would refresh them with the peace of sins forgiven. It's a cleansing that lasts forever.
This is the same cleansing that God has given you. Through faith in Him, you are clean!
Now...you can pulled up the heavenly ottoman.
PRAYER: Dear Lord, forgive me for selfishly thinking myself above a Savior. Forgive me for comparing myself to others and labeling myself as 'more pure' because of my own actions. Instead, cleanse me. Cleanse me with your Word and the promise of Jesus' purification on the cross. Hold me in faith that I may stand before you with a heart of purity in heaven. Amen.
Lenten Readings: Famous Jesus
Ever meet someone famous?
Sometimes it doesn't go as you plan. You bring a pen. A shiny piece of memorabilia. You hold up your Smartphone to show your capabilities for a quick photo.
And they ignore you. They move along with their bodyguards right past you as if you don't exist.
It's much different than the kind and loving boy-next-door he plays on TV.
In today's reading from John 12, a group of Greeks come looking for Jesus. He was like a celebrity at the time. Famous for his teachings and his miracles. I'm sure they were super excited to meet him. But maybe...it didn't go quite like they planned.
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. 27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Can you imagine? The Greeks meet this celebrity who begins talking about death. A strange metaphor about a seed implying his death and the death of those who follow him. Then, the promise of eternal life.
A little strange.
But what was stranger was what happened next.
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
Incredible. Remember this is before the days of the microphone and hefty sound systems. In fact, it's before the days of electricity in general. That means that trickery is right out.
The voice from heaven WAS REAL.
More importantly, it meant that what Jesus was talking about was real. God was giving his divine seal of approval to everything that Jesus had said and did!
This means that YES, Jesus would die. YES, Jesus' death would be a payment for sin. YES, he would rise again. YES, those who put their faith in him as their Savior would have eternal life too!
Just as a seed planted into the ground grows up, produces more seeds, and produces more plants, so would Jesus' death and subsequent resurrection produce more seeds of faith and more living plants. So Jesus' would go into the ground, but then he would spring us. His resurrection would then sprout seeds of faith that grew up into eternal life!
BOTTOM LINE: His death and resurrection means that you too will live eternally!
I guarantee this was not what the Greeks expected from this celebrity. Maybe, all they wanted, was a handshake and a selfie.
But Jesus gave them so much more. He gave them hope.
He gave us hope.
PRAYER: Dear LORD, help me to see you as more than just an important historical figure. Teach me to see you as the divinely sent Messiah. My true, one, and only God. Help me to put my trust wholly and firmly in you. Amen.
Integrity. HighTower. Bluefin. CreditKarma. Transcendent One.
Those aren't the names of super heroes. They are financial companies.
I know because now that my wife and I have all of our student loan paid off, we think it's wise to start investing.
Jesus thought investing was wise too. He said so in a parable. But, since it was a parable, it's fair to say that this had less to do with making a physical fortune and more to do with making a spiritual fortune. Check it out:
Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28 “ ‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’"
It's a harsh punishment from the master. To throw the servants out into the streets. But it's understandable. He's firing his guy because his guy didn't do any work for him. He simply took what was given him and hid. He didn't use it.
Wouldn't you expect the same thing for the fast food employee who was left to clean the walk in cooler, but three hours later hadn't started because he didn't want to make it look worse? The parable makes sense from an earthly perspective.
But parables are earthly stories with heavenly meanings. There is more to it here.
God is the master and we are the servants. He has given all of us gifts to serve him. These gifts range from monetary to musical, from administration to athletics!
But remember this is spiritual. God's goal isn't that we put what we have to work for the growth of our own kingdom, but for the growth of his kingdom. In every case God provides the correct combination of abilities, talents, responsibilities, and opportunities, so that all of us can be of real service to him in his kingdom.
This means you too!
God has given you exactly what you need to serve him. So...PUT IT TO USE to grow his kingdom.
Jesus used everything he had for you. He didn't just use his gifts to serve himself. He used them to serve you. He used his perfect life to earn eternal life. He died an innocent death to pay the price for your sins. He used his Almighty power to defeat rise from the dead to prove his victory. He used his loving promise to hold out for you the joys of heaven through faith in him.
Jesus didn't bury these talents in the ground. He put them to use. He wanted to grow in his kingdom. He wanted to add someone.
He invested in you!
Isn't it worth investing in Him?
PRAYER: Lord, thank you for all of the gifts that you have given me. Help me to recognize my talents and gifts and to use them for service in your kingdom. Please give me strength to serve you. Amen.
The other day I was waiting for somebody to pick me up at our apartment.
I was certain that they wouldn't come for a while though, so I was on the couch in my Green Bay Packer Zubaz sweatpants lounging and eating a bag of chips.
Then, there was a knock at the door.
I brushed off the chip crumbs and hobbled embarrassedly to the door. I opened it a crack and told him I'd be out in a few minutes. I ran to the bedroom threw on some jeans and hustled outside.
Good thing he wasn't in a hurry, because I wasn't ready.
Jesus told a similar parable:
1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
9 “ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. (Matthew 25)
One needs to understand the way things worked in first century Jewish weddings. The virgins were basically bridesmaids and they weren't yet at the wedding celebration. They were waiting for the groom to come and pick them up. In order to make it easy for the groom to identify them, they would carry lamps (think torches) that were fueled by oil. When the groom saw these lamps, he would know whom he needed to bring to the wedding.
The wise ones made sure they had enough oil to be ready. The foolish ones did not and they missed out on everything!
The way Jesus takes us to his heavenly banquet works a little differently. It has nothing to do with oil and fire and everything to do with faith in his Son, Jesus Christ as our Savior.
But faith isn't just something where you close your eyes, clench your fists, and think "I believe" as hard as you can. It's not something that you "earn" once and then have for the rest of your life. Faith needs to be fed. Just like those lamps needed oil to stay burning so our faith needs fuel to stay burning.
Only the fuel isn't kerosene. It's God's Word.
How are you at keeping your faith burning? Do you run to God's Word on a daily basis? Do you take advantage of opportunities to hear His Word at your church? Do you have a Bible study you attend? Or devotionals sent to you on a daily basis?
There is nothing more important.
Sometimes we get to thinking: "I need to go to exercise, make breakfast, go to work, drop the kids off at softball, get a haircut, and read two hours worth of blogs on Facebook or my day isn't complete!"
Yet there is often something conspicuously absent from that list. Let's rethink that. If you don't remember to feed your faith, your day isn't complete.
Your faith needs to be fed the nutrients of God's promises, the vitamins of God's guidance, and the assurance of God's forgiveness. Why go a day without it?
Jesus could return at any time. Repent and turn to his Word. He will create a burning fire in your heart. The Holy Spirit will feed your faith. The Lord Jesus Christ will personally come and escort you home to heaven.
Even if you're wearing Green Bay Packer Zubaz Pants.