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.
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.
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.
There was something wrong with the night.
I mean, they knew that, they had been told that, but even so, even if you didn’t know – it just felt… off.
Maybe it was a chill beyond the usual that settled on the desert when the sun dropped beyond the horizon. Maybe it was the way all the people in the homes around them were also rushing about to make their final preparations, to make sure nothing had been overlooked. People were just a little more frenzied than usual for the end of the day. Even if you hadn’t been paying attention, you’d notice – something was wrong.
And something was wrong, after all. Death was coming that night. Not that their lives were any picnic either. Slavery in the desert was all they knew. Many of them each day were worked to death before night ever fell. But this was different. This time, there was a statement from God. This night, the oldest male of each generation, the firstborn son would be struck dead before dawn. The threat, the warning of God hung in the air like a fog that refused to move. And so the Israelites faced down this evening of death on their last night in Egypt.
There is something wrong with your life.
Maybe you know that already, maybe you don’t. But if you don’t, I doubt hearing that really shocks you.
Even if you don’t know it as head-knowledge, you can probably feel it already, can’t you? Something about your life just feels… off.
Maybe it’s just a feeling, like something just out of the corner of your eye that you just can’t see.
Something ominous and looming out there in the shadows – dangerous, but it’s never there when you turn around. I don’t mean there’s something literally stalking you though, I just mean this sense that there’s something wrong, there’s some danger there just out of perception but you can never quite look at it.
In fact, maybe you could see it if you tried, if you turned and looked. But the truth is you’re terrified to. After all, who knows what it might really be. No, no better to ignore it, better to stay distracted by what you’re doing than try to figure that out. Focus on what you’re doing right now, on the job, the wife, the kids, the checkbook. It’s probably just a trick of your imagination anyway, stop thinking about it and it will go away. Or at least, if you concentrate hard enough on what you’re doing, you won’t notice it anymore.
But even that doesn’t quite work. Rolling up your sleeves and plunging in elbow-deep to the work in front of you, it works sometimes, but it really doesn’t. It’s still wrong. Something is still wrong! Why? All the promises made to you when you were a child never seem to come true. You work hard, you try your best, you have at least some of the things you were promised would make you complete, right? A family, a home or a few nice things… where’s the peace? Where’s the contentment? Why does it still feel wrong? Maybe you’re still missing part of the puzzle. You search for the one missing thing – each one you think, “this is it, now that I have this, I’ll be good and that feeling will go away.” A vacation, a nicer house, a new home theater, a stronger relationship, a better paying job with less stress, each time something else and this time it will work.
But it never works. I told you, there is something wrong with your life. A statement from God himself hangs over your life like a fog that refuses to move. Death is coming. And not just any death. Not just the end of this life, the end of your life forever. God has programmed into you this truth; those who do evil will be punished. Evil, huh? Well then why am I nervous? I’m not evil. Aren’t you? The world around may lie to you, tell you that’s not you, but the disquiet within you says otherwise. You would never really ask those closest to you “do you think I’m evil?”, but even if you did they would say “of course not.” That doesn’t mean they’re right.
But you know things they don’t know. You know there’s not a perfect record stretching back across your life. You’ve worked hard, done your best, but it’s not been perfect. There were moments when you gave in and did what you wanted and maybe the cost for you or someone you cared about was high. Maybe there didn’t seem to be any cost at all, but you could tell it wasn’t right. And now you drag the guilt of that behind you.
I invite you to stop shifting your eyes away from it, to stop seeing this just out of the corner of your eye and look square at this; our God describes for us exactly what it is. It is ugly and it is scary, but we cannot deal with it if we do not know what it is. There is something wrong with your life; there is a hole running through you, a tear in your very self that we call “sin”. That doesn’t really tell us enough though.
What is “sin”?
Sin is what God is not. Sin is shadow and darkness when God is light. God is good, God is perfect. Sin is not. God operates on one driving principle; selfless love. God seeks the good of everyone else above his own at all times, regardless of what it costs him. Sin is the opposite; sin is to grab for yourself regardless of what it costs others. I hope you see that you do not qualify on your own for holiness.
Maybe you like to think of yourself as a pretty selfless person; but have you been at all times to everyone? Don’t lie to yourself, it does no good. We are all of us, unholy. Sinful.
Now understand this. Holiness and sinfulness are not just choices or lifestyles. In a sense, they are like forces of nature, light and dark, magnetic poles and gravity. Sin cannot exist in the presence of the Holy. And that is where the fear comes from. God is Holy. You are not. This life will end, and God tells us that you will either be brought in to be with him or you will be thrown out to spend eternity without him.
If you are sinful, and if sin cannot exist in the presence of the holy, then which will it be for you? This is what is wrong with your life. A sentence of eternal death hangs in the air….and there is nothing you can do about it.
But the Israelites in Egypt were not panicked. Frenzied, hurried, maybe even a little fearful, sure. But not panicked. God told them, warned them what was coming. But he also told them exactly what was needed to escape the death that came that night. It would take the blood of a lamb. A single ewe lamb, one year old, spotless and without defect. The lamb would die instead, the blood was to be painted on the door frames of their houses. God would see the blood shed, and spare those inside.
So they did this. That night, as God promised, an angel of death passed over Egypt as by God’s decree, the firstborn son of each household was struck down in his sleep. But wherever there was the blood of the lamb, the angel stayed his hand. The angel saw the household through the blood, and they were spared. God had given the warning to all of Egypt, and he had given his directions just the same. Those who ignored the feeling that something was wrong; those who did not listen and did nothing about it – there was death in that house that night. Those who listened to God, who trusted his words of warning and deliverance were safe.
And so, I am not panicked either, and neither should you. Yes, there is something wrong with our lives.
We should feel the weight of how important this is. Yes, we should maybe even be a little fearful just because of the stakes involved. But truly afraid? No. God has warned us about this hole in our lives, about the holiness we are missing not to terrify us, but so that we pay attention, because of just how important this is. He shouts that this is life and death to get eyes on him. Because God tells us exactly what we need to escape the death that’s coming for us. It will take the blood of a lamb. A single ewe lamb, spotless and without defect. The lamb will die instead and his blood will cover you; and death will pass over you.
As a remembrance of what he had done for them, God commanded the Israelites to observe the Passover every year. At the same time of year, at the same day, at the same hour, each household would again sacrifice a single ewe lamb, one year old, without defect or blemish, to remember how God spared them from death. Then, over a thousand years after the first Passover, on Friday of that week, the day that the lamb was killed, just before the moment when the sound would resonate from the Temple informing everyone that now was the time to sacrifice the lamb; the following happened:
After this, knowing that everything had now been finished, and to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus said, “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine was sitting there. So they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished!” Then, bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.
The time had come, the lamb was to be sacrificed. But not just any lamb. The real Lamb. The one who was intended all along. Everything that went before it was a show, foreshadowing. It had no real effect.
Only an equal sacrifice could count for you. It had to be another person. Yet if it was just another person, what good would that do? Even if that person didn’t need saving themselves, their sacrifice would only save you. But what if God himself were both a person and God? How could you ever tip the scale of human life to outweigh that? You can’t. The one sacrifice would pay for everyone. And the Lamb did just that.
You are not holy? Jesus is. You committed crimes against God? Jesus didn’t. The Lamb had no defect and no blemish. He is what you are not. He has what you lack. God was ready to pour out his justice against all the evil ever committed, all in one fell swoop. Jesus, his Son, the Lamb, stood up and took your place. He climbed on the cross and there he took everything that your sin earned. He became your sin, he became your curse. And when it was done, he uttered those words. “It is finished.”
One word really, and I’d like to render it a little differently tonight if you’ll permit me. “Complete.” That is what happened on the cross right then. God’s plan to stand in your place so you would not suffer was completed – he died in your place. The foreshadowing he’d been showing the world since the first Passover meal was completed – the Lamb was sacrificed so that death would pass over you. You, missing the holiness God requires to be in his presence forever, you are completed. At that one moment, everything was made complete, everything was made the way God intended from the beginning.
Look at the cross. Realize what the sacrifice there has done for you. There may have been something wrong with your life once, there may have been a hole, something missing, something terrifyingly wrong, but Jesus has filled that with his death. The blood of the lamb was shed for you and so death holds no power over you. You are complete with Jesus’ gift of himself. You are given what you once lacked. God the Father will gladly welcome you into his kingdom when this is all over. You are complete in him.
Tonight, we gather in reverent awe to pay our respects for the tremendous sacrifice our Lord went through on our behalf. There is sadness, yes, because when I look at him hanging to die I know it is my fault he is there. When his lifeless body is removed and placed in the grave, it is because of me that this happened. But we are not here to leave this evening morose and depressed. We know that God did this willingly, out of love for you, individually. He knew you. He knows who you are. He could’ve spared himself that much more suffering by not including you in his sacrifice, but he didn’t. He wanted to do it. And as we close the tomb and walk away tonight we needn’t pretend we don’t know what Sunday will bring. If Sunday did not bring what it does, then tonight would be meaningless. We may leave tonight somber and reverent, but we still leave with hope and joy in our hearts. We know what this night means for us. Jesus made us complete. In him, we are what we are meant to be forever.
I cannot tell you what will happen in your life in the days between now and the time you are called eternal rest in him. I can tell you that in Jesus and his sacrifice, it doesn’t matter. In him, your end is set and will not be changed. Your life is complete. In Jesus, your sins are paid for, the gift of holiness is given to you, heaven is yours. There is nothing else to chase after. There is nothing else to fear. There is nothing else wrong with your life. The Lamb has made you complete. Amen.
It’s Holy Week. People everywhere are preparing for special services, religious traditions and special ceremonies. That’s why we’re gathered here tonight. To celebrate a special supper that connects us with Jesus our Savior.
But if you go down the street – to the left about 3 blocks. You’ll find another place of worship. Temple Beth Meyer. A synagogue. There’s another one on Falls of Neuse – Temple Beth El. These are places similar to this church. A place people gather for worship. A place for those of the Jewish faith.
And people who belong to that faith are having a ceremony tonight too. They’re gathering together around 6p. Decorations on the table – blue and white hanging from the ceiling. Everyone sits down and they sing some religious songs and read some religious readings – in Hebrew, not English – but still. They eat some bread. They drink some wine. They say, “Happy Passover” in Hebrew.
But as similar as it might sound.
It is not the same ceremony that we’re having.
It’s not the Lord’s Supper.
Is Passover something that is completely Jewish?
Does is have nothing to do with Christianity?
Is something of a different religion? Or does it help us connect with Jesus?
Tonight we’re looking at the institution of the Passover in Exodus 12. We’re going to see that a correct interpretation of the Passover not only is very Christian – but connects us to Jesus. Let’s say a prayer and ask God to help us: Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is 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. A Jewish Celebration
This takes place in Exodus 12. A brief summary of what’s going on. The Jewish people have been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. God heard their cries for help and God decided to use his miraculous power to set them free. He does this through a man named Moses. God uses Moses to send messages to the king of Egypt – Pharaoh.
The conversation quickly becomes very repetitive. Moses tells Pharaoh to let the Jews go. Pharaoh refuses. Moses says that God will send a plague if he doesn’t. Pharaoh still refuses. God sends a plague (millions of locusts all over the land, frogs in your kitchen and bedrooms and bathrooms, a giant hailstorm to destroy all the crops, a week of nothing but darkness over all the land). Pharaoh summons for Moses. He pleads with Moses to pray to God to stop the plagues – then he’ll let the people go. Moses prays. God stops the plagues. And Pharaoh says, “Just kidding. You are still my slaves.”
Until we get to the tenth plague. God tells Moses. “Moses, Pharaoh will let you go this time. Because this plague is awful. This plague is terrifying. I will send the angel of death to kill the firstborn son of every family in Egypt—from the maidservant all the way to Pharaoh’s family. The son will die.”
But God didn’t want that terribly sad result to happen for the people of Israel. Not for his people – believers. He tells Moses the following:
“This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people here are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.” (Exodus 12:2-6)
The initial instructions are interesting. God tells the Israelites to get themselves a lamb. Not from the store. Not from the local Whole Foods. Not even from the local Gyro restaurant. (I don’t even know if Gyros were around back then). They are to go out back, grab one of the lambs that their family owns, one that’s almost been like a pet to them – providing wool, blankets, clothing.
And kill it. Clean it. Wash it. Prepare it.
Then, eat it.
But notice it isn’t just any lamb. It’s the lamb without defect. There weren’t any spots on it where the wool wasn’t coming in. There weren’t any sickly parts. There weren’t any malformed limbs or cross-eyed lambs being sacrificed.
The best lambs were killed.
The ones that were in great condition.
The ones that were perfect.
But they weren’t just using the lamb for food. They were also using it for exterior trim paint.
Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door frames of the houses where they eat the lambs.
Picture that – Blood drained into a bucket. A paint brush. Dipping it into the blood. Painting it carefully, gruesomely over the frame of the house.
On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you.
God’s wrath will pass over.
God’s wrath will pass over because of the blood.
God’s wrath will pass over because of the blood of the Lamb.
That’s what happens. The angel of wrath kills the first-born sons of the unbelieving, unrepentant, rebellious Egyptians. But He has mercy on all who trust God’s Word and trust in the blood of the lamb. The Israelites are set free.
That’s a big deal. A moment in history that the Jewish people want to remember. It’s why they celebrated Passover for years after that – to remember God’s mercy to the Jewish people.
II. With Worldwide Consequences
Fast forward thousands of years. That’s exactly the meal that Jesus was celebrating with his disciples. They were eating the unleavened bread so they could remember how quickly this happened. Eating the bitter herbs to remember the slavery of Egypt. Eating the lamb to remember the lamb and drinking the wine to remember its blood.
But in the middle of the meal Jesus does something different.
He took bread, gave thanks and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat; this is my body; given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks and gave it to his disciples saying, “Drink from it all of you; this cup is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28)
Why? That’s not how the Passover meal goes.
1 Peter 1:19 says this, “Jesus is a lamb without blemish or defect.” That’s not a reference to his appearance. It doesn’t mean that every piece of beard hair was in perfect order. It means he was perfect. He had no moral flaws. He never rebelled against God. He always obeyed God. He had no sins.
1 Corinthians 5:7 says this, “Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed.” He was killed on a cross. He shed his blood. His body is broken. His blood is spilled – it’s painted on wooden frame. Whoever believes in him is covered by his blood. God’s wrath against his sin passes over him or her. His wrath passes over you.
In fact, that was the point of the original Passover – the whole time! Look at what Colossians 2:16-17 says, “Don’t let anyone judge you with regard to a religious festival…These are a shadow of things to come. The reality is found in Jesus.”
That means the Passover was like a shadow. Shadows aren’t real. If you see a shadow on the ground, try to step on it. It won’t feel it. You need to follow the shadow to the real thing. The real thing casts the shadow.
The Passover is the shadow. What is it casting the shadow?
He’s the real Passover Lamb. He’s the real perfect Lamb. He’s the one whose real blood covers our sins. He’s the one that gave the original Passover lambs their strength. He’s the one who really shows God’s mercy. He’s the one that the Passover lambs were pointing to for thousands of years.
The Lord’s Supper, then, make a wondrous connection with the Passover. As the Passover pointed forward to Jesus – the Lord’s Supper points backwards to Jesus.
More than that it points downward to His Word where he promises us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation in this supper. It even points upwards as it reminds us of God’s final plan for us – because of His mercy – because of the lamb – because of the blood of THE PASSOVER Lamb.
I look forward to celebrating the death of the Passover Lamb with you tonight. Amen.
The scene was amazing.
Coats and jackets – big and small – new and old-- strewn on the ground – a make shift red carpet for the coming of the Messiah.
Palms branches broken off of trees and lining the streets – waving in a jubilant fashion. Like big foam fingers long before big foam fingers existed.
And shouting. Oh the shouting. Shouting from people to the left and the right. From the balconies and the gutters. Shouting for Jesus:
Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!
It was a straight up street party.
But not everyone was happy.
There was a certain group that was strangely silent on this occasion. Normally, they loved to be heard; but today they sat aside in bitter silence. They were standing at the entrance to the synagogue, wearing their finest religious clothing and decadent religious jewelry. They also had on their very best SNEERS.
They made a beeline for the ceremony. A group of them stood in the middle of the road – protestors. They were there to stop the celebration. As Jesus stopped the young colt and motioned for their leader to come near – the one with the longest beard made his way over. He leaned his mouth to Jesus ear and protested:
“Teacher, rebuke your disciples. Tell them to SHUT UP! Stop this party!”
And Jesus looks at him thoughtfully.
And Jesus smiles.
And Jesus leans in real close- - “I would; but then the stones would cry out!”
In other words – this party is off the chain – and there’s no stopping it.
Now if you’re a fan of parties, you might think of the Pharisees as a bunch of wet blankets – the bad guys in the story. But I think the situation is deeper than that. It poses an important question:
Is Palm Sunday worth it?
Is Jesus worth shouting about?
Is Jesus worth getting your kids to shout about?
Today we hope to find the answer as we study the account of Luke 19. Before we begin, let’s say a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is 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. Why so quiet?
A bit about the Pharisees -- The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day. They were the ones that told people about spirituality. They were the people you would go to for all your spiritual needs. They were the ones who knew the names of every religious fabric and when to use what incense on what day and how many minutes of fasting a particular sin needed to be fasted for in order to bring you back to God.
But recently – with the arrival of Jesus – less and less people had stopped to question them. Less and less people looked up to them. More and more people went to Jesus.
And the thing about Jesus’ message -- it was completely different from what they taught. In fact, we could summarize their problems with Jesus’ message in 3 BIG ways.
1) He Treated Bad People the same as Good People.
If you want to find an example of this, back up in the very chapter of Luke 19 that we’re examining. In verse 1, Luke writes about a man named Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. That means he worked for the Roman government. It means he got paid by telling people they owed more money than he did. It means he stole.
The Pharisees considered people like Zacchaeus a lost cause -- a sinner through and through. There was no hope for his soul. No hope for his righteousness. No hope for God to ever love him and no hope for them to ever spend a moment eating with them. He was bad; they were good.
He ate with the man!
He had dinner with the sinner! (Sounds like a failed Dr. Seuss book.)
That’d be like Jesus holding a party for all of his closest friends. You pull up in the parking lot and there’s the people you expect. The usher, the lady who arranges flowers, and the organist. But as you walk through the parking lot there’s a car or two that’s unexpected. You get into the fellowship area and find your spot at the table.
Hi – I’m a member of this church. What do you do?
Me? I’m a drug dealer. Jesus invited me. This is my friend the pornography actress – she’s sitting over there next to the known terrorist. I can’t believe he sprung the money to get us all steak dinners.
Does that sit well with you?
Steak dinner just like all the other “Sinners?”
Then you understand the Pharisees.
2) He Acted like He was God.
This is illustrated in one particular occasion. There’s this paralyzed man. He’d never been able to walk in his life. His friends bring him to see Jesus. The house that Jesus is inside of is so packed that friends have to climb up to the roof of the house. They use a handsaw to cut a hole in the roof. They lowered than man down via rope until he lands at Jesus’ feet.
What an entrance! If Jesus can help him walk, awesome.
But that’s not what Jesus does first. First, Jesus turns o the man and says, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven.”
The Pharisees – again – lose their minds! How can he say that? He’s not God! No one can forgive sins but God. This guy needs to be shut up! He’s teaching a deadly, false doctrine.
He’s telling people that he’s God! He’s teaching the children that he’s God!
Not that long ago there was some confusion at Precious Lambs. It was one of the kid’s first days. It just happened to be a chapel day. At the end of the day as mom was picking her up and she was leaving past my door she said, “Bye God!”
I immediately of course corrected her. “I’m not God.” I apologized and pointed out repeatedly, obnoxiously, “We definitely do not teach that I am God in any way shape or form.” If I did, I imagine that we would not have so many kids in our program.
But Jesus did teach he was God.
And he looked like an everyday, normal person.
Can you understand as to why the Pharisees wanted him to shut up?
Why they wanted him to stop teaching the children such stuff?
3) He Revealed their Evil Plans.
Fast forward two days from Palm Sunday. Luke 20. Jesus tells the Pharisees a parable:
A man planted a vineyard. He rented it out and went away for a long time. Then he sent some servants to give him rent payment. They refused. He sent another servant. They beat him up. They sent a third. They left him for dead. Finally, he sent his son, “They’ll respect him. He’s my son.”
They didn’t. They killed him.
When Jesus finished the story, he said to the Pharisees, “What do you think will happen when he owner of the vineyard comes back?” The Pharisees – in all of their arrogance and pride answer correctly: “He’ll kill them. He’ll get revenge. He’ll get justice.” Jesus looked directly at them and said,
“The story is about you.”
Can you imagine the backlash from the crowd? “The Pharisees are planning on killing Jesus? How awful? They really are #Insecure.” Their personas took a nose dive! This was horrible press. I’m sure they started telling everyone that this was Fake News at its finest!
Never mind the fact that as soon as they get behind closed doors -- they respond to Jesus’ claim that they are trying to kill him by finalizing plans on how to kill him. Who would like a guy like this – that has no problem dropping truth bombs – that you are all sinners in front of all your friends?
No wonder they didn’t want to join the party!
No wonder they weren’t making any noise.
No wonder the rocks were louder than them.
II. Why so Loud?
But the Pharisees were the minority at the impromptu block party. The majority of the people there were shouting his praises and having a blast. Why? Right kind of music? Nope. They also had their reasons:
1) He Treated Bad People the same as Good People.
Take Zacchaeus. (We mentioned him earlier). He probably didn’t have a lot of friends. Stealing from others and working for the IRS are not exactly the best recipe for friendships.) Zacchaeus had a lonely life. A friendless life. A life filled with guilt. No matter how he tried to ask for forgiveness, to change, to invite people over for hot wings and watching the big game – no one came.
No one forgave him.
No one thought he could ever be good.
Except for Jesus.
In fact, that’s exactly why Jesus came to Zaccahaeus’ house. He said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have come to seek the lost.” Zacchaeus was lost. Zacchaeus was found.
I bet you Zacchaeus was showing off his best dance moves on the streets of Jerusalem.
This is good news for you.
If you’ve done bad.
If you’ve done wrong.
If you think of yourself as the hussie, the jerk, the manipulative, the heathen, the drunkard, the addict, the homosexual, the one that God could never love! --- Jesus does.
Jesus loves you.
Jesus lived for you.
Jesus died for you.
Jesus wants to be with you.
And he has the power to do something to change you.
2) He WAS God.
Remember the story of the lame man that Jesus told his sins were forgiven?
Remember how people didn’t exactly believe that Jesus could do such a thing?
Remember how they were mad that they were equating himself with God?
Look at Jesus’ response. He said to the crowd of Pharisees:
“Which is easier to say: Your sins are forgiven OR get up and walk?”
Answer: Your sins are forgiven. Because I can say it and there’s not any proof in any way that what I just said actually happened. (Sins don’t start flying off of the body nor do you see someone’s heart change from black to bright pink!)
But if you tell someone to get up and walk – who has never gotten up and walked before in his life—he better do it. Or everyone will know you’re a phony.
So…to give people visual proof of the invisible truth?
Jesus turned to the man and said, “Get up. Take your mat and walk.”
And the man does just that.
Visible proof of the invisible truth.
And it’s not the only visible proof.
He made the blind see.
The deaf hear.
The mute talk.
He made storms clouds stop storming.
He made sick people stop being sick.
He made people who were dead come back to life.
The reason people were shouting his name in the streets? Because they had seen these miracles! They knew he wasn’t a phony. They knew he was the Son of God!
They knew he could do what he said he was going to do.
He was going to win them forgiveness.
He was going to restore peace with God.
He was going to bring peace between them and heaven.
He was going to -- and now has – brought peace between you and heaven.
Between you and your God.
3) He Revealed His Plan to Defeat their Evil Plan
Because if you follow the Holy Week narrative – Jesus doesn’t seem ready to defend himself. If he knew the Pharisees were plotting to kill him, why does he go out into the temple courts preaching and teaching in front of their face? Why did he approach the mob that met him in the garden with his hands turned upside down – peacefully ready to be arrested?
It was all a part of his plan.
Because three days after he dies.
Three days after he was silenced.
Three days after the shouts of the party had been replaced with shouts of CRUCIFY…
…A rock shouts Jesus’ praises.
…A rock quakes with the loudness of a magnitude 7.
…A rock rolls away from a grave and screams for the world – for you and me to look inside.
He is not dead. He is alive. – The best visual proof of the invisible, incredible truth.
You have a Savior.
Your Savior won.
Death has been defeated.
By faith in him, you will live in heaven.
III. What Now?
What about you? Are you louder than a rock?
Here’s a rock. Notice – there’s nothing all that impressive about it. I’ve flip it over and over and over again. There is not a mouth on his rock. There is no way for it to shout. No way for it to whistle. No way for it to hoot or holler or even blow a kazoo!
Are you louder than a rock? If you have a mouth, a pair of hands and feet, the answer is yet.
But – the question you need to ask yourself on a week to week basis – Am I louder than the rock about Jesus?
Who mentions Jesus more times on a daily basis? Or are you about the same?
Whose Facebook account talks more about the Savior? You? Or this inanimate chunk of minerals?
Who has said Hosanna more this year? Is it tied at zero? Are you winning by the number of Hosannas that we already mentioned in this service?
Wherever you’re at in your life -- be louder.
Be louder than this rock.
Talk more about Jesus than the rock.
That’s what the people did. Whether it was a hand me down coat, or a branch from a tree or their hands – the people used what they could find to shout Jesus’ praises.
Pastor – I don’t know how to play trumpet! Sing some Gospel music.
Pastor – I don’t sing very well. Tell your next-door neighbor Jesus’ loves them.
Pastor – I don’t know what to say. Bring an Easter invite along and invite them to see their Savior.
Pastor – I feel nervous to do that. Send an email. A text. Snapchat a video of you dressed as a dog inviting them to come learn about Jesus.
I don’t care. Use what you got. Use what you have. Share the message of Jesus. Be louder than a rock.
Because here’s the truth – there’s no stopping this party. HOSANNA! Jesus is the Savior! Hallelujah. He defeated sin. He defeated death. Such that – even when we die, we enter into an eternal party that makes Palm Sunday seem like a Sunday School picnic.
The party will go on.
The party will be loud.
There’s a spot for you at the party – consider yourself invited.
My only question is –
Will we need a rock to fill your spot?
Or are you joining in?
There probably aren’t many scarier sentences in the English language. Although: It’s fatal. You’re dying. Or you only have a few months left, may come in as close runner ups.
Maybe you’ve heard words like that.
Maybe you’ve haven’t.
But you’ve probably thought of death.
Today we’re taking a look at Psalm 16. It’s a Psalm for the Dying. It is a Psalm for those with terminal diagnoses and it is a Psalm for those of us in the latter years of our lives, but it is also a Psalm for all of us – because all of us are humans – and all of us are dying. That’s why we need to hear a psalm like this. A Psalm filled with hope. Before we begin, let’s say a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is 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 Comfortlessness of “not gods”
Psalm 16 is written by King David. King David was someone that was constantly confronted with death. Whether at the hands of a lion, a bear, a 7 ½ foot warrior, the King of Israel and all of his angry men, or the Philistines, a neighboring country who place King David on their Most Wanted list – David knew what it was like to face death.
He knew where to put his hope and he knew where not to put his hope. Look at what he wrote:
1 Keep me safe, my God,
For in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
Apart from you I have no good thing.”
4 Those who run after other gods
Will suffer more and more.
Pay close attention to verse 2. Notice it sounds very similar, I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord.” But that’s where the English translation is missing something very important. The first LORD there (it should be in all capital letters in whatever Bible you are using) is the Hebrew word YAHWEH. It means simply, “I am.” It’s the name that God identifies himself as. “I am.”
The second “Lord,” is not in all capital letters. That’s because this Lord simply means “master.” A hint of C.E.O. with a large portion of leader. It’s a name synonymous with God.
Listen to verse 2 again then, “I said to I AM,” specifically, “the God revealed to Old Testament Jews, worshipped by the Old Testament Jews and written about in the Old Testament,” I said to that LORD, “you are my Lord… my God. My Master. My Leader. And apart from you, I have no good thing.”
Because what happens if your comfort is not in the Great I Am?
The Great I AM is not the only “god” mentioned in the Old Testament. Other nations worshipped other gods. There was a god named Baal. He was a statue made of bronze that looked like a half man/half cow. There was a god named Dagon. He was a statue that looked like a fish man that the Philistines worshipped. There was a god named Ashtoreth. People made poles and had sex in front of them in order to worship them.
How do these gods hold up in the comfort department?
“I just got diagnosed with cancer. But…I baked some bread and placed it in front of my Baal statue so…it’s still there, but. I’m sure Ball will help.”
“My wife found out that she has six weeks to live. It’s ok though. I was praying in the Dagon sanctuary all night long. I think it worked too. I think I saw him wink at me!" (That or I’m really, really tired)
“Hey buddy…I heard you’re nervous about what might happen to you when you die. Put your faith in my Asherah pole. It cut it to regulation length and sanded it so that it’s smooth to the touch. If anything can grant you eternal life, it’s this 8-foot piece of dead tree.”
How do these gods hold up in the comfort department? They don’t. And neither do the ‘not-gods’ of today.
There is no comfort in Buddha, that, “you may be going through excruciating pain, but it will be worth it when you come back as a butterfly! Or…maybe a slug.”
There is no comfort in Allah, that, “you go ahead and explode in a fiery way and if Allah is pleased with the fireworks show then, you’ll be eating grapes forever.”
There is no comfort in the Jewish religion version of the Old Testament God that “if you do Jewish things, you’ll get to heaven. But if you accidentally mixed up your milk cooking pot with your meat cooking pot that one time --- you’re eternally cooked.”
There is no comfort in science that “I’ll go into the ground and bugs will eat my body, but hey…at least I did some good…sometimes…when I remember.”
There is no comfort in the most popular “not God” of modern America.
There is no comfort in you.
Have you ever noticed that most funerals people like to mention all the good things that people did, but never mentioned the bad things? They mention the charities, the kindnesses, and the goodness. But have you ever noticed that no one ever mentions the bad things?
The real things?
· “He was a good husband…except for the times when he yelled at me and I feared for my bodily welfare.”
· “She was a great wife. Except for the times when she called me every swear word that she could think of.”
· “He was a great coworker – when he wasn’t drunk.”
· “She was a great neighbor -- too much so. She did sleep with about every guy on the block.”
You know why we don’t mention those things? Because they aren’t comforting. Because those are bad things. Because those bad things deserve death.
Romans 1:32 says, “People know God’s righteous decree that those who do wrong things deserve death.” That’s justice. True Justice. If we are turning to ourselves and our own deeds and our own accomplishments to comfort us in death -- you won’t find comfort. It’s like trying to take a nap on a bed of nails! It’s not comforting at all!
Because when you look at your own accomplishments and your own life for comfort in death, you’re actually looking at the very thing that causes your death in the first place.
II. The Comfort of the One God
There is no comfort apart from the true God.
That’s what the town of Nain was discovering. A beloved widow – the kind who knew everyone’s name – the kind who baked muffins for your birthday – the kind who always gave you a hug – had just lost her son.
Her only son.
The entire town was out for the funeral procession. There weren’t any rousing speeches. There weren’t any words of comfort. There weren’t any songs of joy.
It was a sad affair. Cries mixed with wailing mixed with murmurs of curses at God.
He was the affair from afar.
He told his disciples to wait.
He walked through the crowd;
He passed right by the widow.
He smiled, reached up and touched the young man’s hand.
“Young man – live.”
Suddenly, Jesus brought a comfort that no one could bring that widow.
Jesus literally brought her son back to life.
This is why David tells us to find comfort in the One True God:
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
My body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me o the realm of the dead,
Nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
Pay very close attention to the phrase in verse 10. You will not let your Holy One see decay. In a certain sense, David was talking about himself. He knew that he would not die. He knew that he would have eternal life because God had made him righteous by faith. For years, I’m sure that was the understanding of that passage.
But…fast forward a couple 800 some years.
Paul, a Christian teacher, is teaching about Jesus. He says, “Do ya’ll remember that passage from Psalm 16:10? Remember how confident David was that his body would not decay? Do you also remember that David’s body decayed? Literally – let’s go find his grave. Let’s dig it up. We won’t find anything but soil and worms.”
Because David wasn’t talking about himself. David was talking about Jesus.
Jesus who died on a cross.
Jesus who was buried.
Jesus who came back to life.
His body didn’t even decay! Two of his disciples prepared him for burial, wrapped him up and placed him in a tomb and before his body did not begin to rot before the white blood cells were detoxing his body yet again. His lungs didn’t begin to lose their shape, before they filled with air once more. His flesh did not begin to smell, before he was outdoors smelling the rose yet again!
Look at David’s confidence in this same Jesus: 11 You make known to me the path of life! You went through death. You came out alive. And you’ll lead me to do the same.
I remember once time in college I was short on cash and found an ad on the campus bulletin board for help needed raking leaves. $15 per bag! I was excited. So, my friend and I typed the address into MapQuest (this was before Smartphones – am I dating myself?) and started driving. We got into the countryside and farmland of small town MN, when the directions got very interesting.
Take HWY 17. Ok. Done.
Turn right onto County Road 18. Got it.
Turn left onto Unnamed Road.
God’s not like that. He doesn’t have some really difficult to follow directions. He won life for us and he made it so easy to attain. John 3:16 says simply this, “God so loved the world that he gave his One and Only Son, that’s Jesus, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.”
You know this is true because Jesus is the Great I AM.
Jesus is the God that David was talking about in Psalm 16.
Jesus is the author of Life.
Jesus is your life.
Jesus will not abandon you to the grave.
He won’t let you die in some hospital all alone.
He won’t shut you up in some Assisted Living Home and forget all about you.
He won’t put you on Hospice care and let others deal with you.
He will not abandon you on this side of the grave
Nor the other side.
III. What Now?
David said that’s what he was not going to do anymore: “I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods.”
Because back then one way you’d worship those “not gods” is by making a sacrifice, collecting the blood and pouring it out on the altar of a false god. That showed your allegiance to the false god. That showed trust in that false god. That showed you were a follower of that false god.
But if you trust in the true God, why do you need the false gods?
Now there aren’t any false gods that require blood sacrifices in 21st century America. But think about your actions – stop pouring out libations to them.
Do you give financial gifts to an organization that’s helps share the teaching of a false god? Stop it.
Do the Facebook posts you share support false teachings – which is a false view of God? Delete them.
Does your politically correct office talk give the impression that “It’s no big deal. God can be whoever you want him to be. If you want that coffee pot to be your god man, he’ll be your god. Cool. I’m sure you’re saved.” Stop talking in such a way.
Stop pouring out libations to “not gods.”
(2) Take Refuge in God
That’s what David started out with. In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge.
It’s like when a hurricane is coming. You want to find refuge in a good shelter. It’s not a great idea to go set up a tent and go camping. For a powerful hurricane, the more fortified the building the better. You want to be safe from rain, from wind and flying debris.
Finding refuge in ‘not gods’ is like preparing for a hurricane by covering up with a few newspapers.
Finding refuge in the God, Jesus Christ means that you will not die, but live.
And you’ll find hope as you face death. Hopes that lasts forever.
(3) Measure out Your Boundary Line
Of course, death can still be intimidating. Death can still be scary. If the doctor has had bad reports for you, then it can certainly leave you scared.
That’s when you need to measure out your boundary line.
I think that’s an interesting phrase in verse 6. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. You might think – that’s easy for David to say. He was King of Israel. He had a gorgeous palace. God expanded his empire while he was king.
Me? I’ve got a 1100 square foot ranch house. Plus, my neighbor and I have been arguing about whether or not that dogwood tree is mine or his for the past 3 years!
But this Psalm isn’t about David’s earthly inheritance.
This Psalm is about David’s eternal inheritance.
His eternal inheritance is the same is yours.
Do what David suggest. Take a moment – today, tomorrow – anytime you’re feeling intimidated by death – and gaze at your inheritance.
It’s a nice little bungalow.
There’s no sin there.
The flowers bloom eternally – they never die.
No need for an AC or a furnace because the weather is always perfect.
The area is pretty neat – there are eternal pleasures on every street corner.
Your next-door neighbor? He’s pretty cool.
It’s God himself.
One day – you will live by him. Amen.