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.
Breathing is kind of important. Agreed?
(Who knew we’d all be on the same page within 10 seconds of the start to a sermon?)
Breathing is important, but …some breaths are more meaningful than others:
The deep breath as you ask your first crush on a date.
A gasp when your significant other gets down on one knee.
The final Lamaze breath as your child enters the world.
Your first breath as you enter the world.
But…what if I told you the most important breath of your lifetime didn’t even take place in your lifetime?
MAIN BIBLE PASSAGES:
Matthew 27:45, 50-55
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[e] went into the holy city and appeared to many people. 54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” 55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph,[f] and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
I. The Most Important Exhale
It was Friday afternoon. Almost 2000 years ago. The people were doing one of the things they did for fun back then. No, they weren’t checking Instagram. No, they weren’t sampling their favorite sushi. No, they weren’t leaving work early to get on I—440 before it got hectic.
They were watching a crucifixion.
It was a larger commotion than normal. Three men were being executed. Two of them were fairly routine culprits — everyday thieves. But the third was of intrigue:
His name was Jesus. He was famous in the land of Israel. He had had quite a following and it was reported that he had done many miracles. And he wasn’t being killed for any of those. He was being crucified because he claimed to be the Son of God.
Now that is a strange claim, agreed? We’re getting used to strange claims though. Politicians make them all the time. “I’ll save you billions.” “You’ll never have to pay taxes again.” “I’ll fix America in a few months.”
But as outlandish as some of their claims are, I don’t think any of them have claimed to be the Son of God. If they did, we could go on Factchecker.com just to confirm, it ain’t true.
Here’s what’s interesting though – the fact surrounding Jesus seemed to point to the fact that it was true! He was reported as making the blind to see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear. He walked on water, stopped storms and changed water into wine. He healed the sick, drove out demons, and raised the dead.
Even his death had some strange, significant events surrounding it.
Around the 6th hour (which in Jewish time was about noon. 6 am was the first light and was therefore the first hour…making the 6th hour, 6 + 6 = 12 noon)…around the 6th hour darkness covered the earth. (Matthew 27:45) That word “darkness” there doesn’t refer to slightly overcast day. It’s a word used to describe the much thicker darkness of nighttime.
Nighttime darkness at noon? Strange.
Still the crucifixion continued as planned. In the darkness each one of the condemned slowly crept closer to death. Until in a loud voice, Jesus cried out “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Then, he exhaled.
And His followers watched.
They held their breath.
Nothing. His chest didn’t move. His mouth made no sound. His breath didn’t return.
But then, something.
Matthew 27:51 says, “The Curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” Notes on that curtain. (Cause if we don’t talk about it, it isn’t that impressive.) It wasn’t made from silk. It wasn’t made from Kleenex. It wasn’t made from those hippie beads that you can hang from the ceiling and tear in half with a wave of your hand. It was a long, woven veil. 60 feet long, 30 feet wide and 1 inch thick. It was heavy. In fact, it was so massive that it the Israelites used hundreds of priests to manipulate it. That’s not something that’s torn easily. Probably not torn without heavy machinery.
The fact that it was torn, completely half at the time of Jesus’ death? Strange.
But that’s not it. Matthew continues, “At that moment…the earth shook and the rocks split and the tombs broke open.” This wasn’t just a tremor. It was large enough on the Richter scale to split through large rocks that were used to mark the graves of the people. Also strange.
Now maybe if one of those three things happened the day Jesus died – the darkness at noon, the earthquake, or the curtain ripped in half, I’d say: It’s a coincidence. Even two? I can understand. Three…that might be pushing it, but not impossible.
But then a fourth thing happened that would be impossible if it happened all alone. Let alone in conjunction with the other things we have already mentioned. “The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the city and appeared to many people.”
Pastor, you don’t believe that! That’s impossible! It could never happen. Dead people don’t come back to life. That would be a miracle!
Um…isn’t that the point?
And notice that these resurrected people appeared to many people. It wasn’t just one guy saying, “I think I saw Aunt Edna last night.” It was a whole city that awoke to unexplained sightings. It wasn’t just the crazy guy down on the corner of Fayetteville St. It was real, everyday, respectable people. They all had seen these incredible thing!
Understand what the Bible is. It’s a record of some fairly incredible things. True. But it was written down at the same time that the people who saw these things had lived. It was written down, shared, made public, and approved by hundreds of people who saw the very things that Matthew wrote down happened.
That means that these incredible things aren’t a myth.
They weren’t an accident.
They weren’t a coincidence.
They were signs.
And just like you can head to the mall after church and find signs everywhere that say, “Meet Easter Bunny Here!” “1/2 OFF Easter dresses there” “Egg Hunt POSTPONED." These incredible signs were telling the people that something incredible just happened. Today these incredible signs are telling you – when Jesus breathed his last – something incredible happened.
What incredible thing happened? Take a look at Romans 4:25, “He was delivered over to death for our sins,” “on behalf of our sins,” or "because of our sins.”
Why? Because...God hates sin.
Like drunk driving. Does drunk driving make you angry? If you’ve ever been affected by it or lost a loved one, I bet it does. In fact, that message has gotten out there enough that – I imagine almost all of us – Republicans and Democrats are Independents – are against drunk driving. Mothers can belong to a group dedicated to prosecuting offenders (MADD). Even Budweiser ran a Super Bowl ad against it. So…when someone is caught drunk driving – there is punishment. We get it. We are ok with punishing that sin because that sin makes us angry.
Get this: That sin makes God angry, too. Actually, all sin makes God angry. Not just big sins like murder, theft, and adultery, but smallers sins: like a grabbing a few dollars from your co-worker's wallet, taking a quick peek down the secretary’s shirt, or making a tiny racist remark about your friend from another culture.
God hates those things. He hates it because they hurt others. These things hurt his children.
So he prosecutes sin.
He threatens to punish all sinners.
If you’re a sinner, he threatens to punish you. If you don’t like to hear that, tough. God will not be stopped.
But if you’re hearing me, if you’re convicted, if you know your sin and you know you deserve punishment, hear this: God doesn’t want to punish you. He never did. That’s why he died.
He was delivered over to death for your sins. To save you from sin’s consequence!
Which is a nice thought. But, how do you we know this worked? He died. How do we know this whole thing isn’t just one big made up, pretend thing that we celebrate at Easter to make the day a little sweeter?
II. The Most Important Inhale
Enter the inhale.
Same week. Three days later. Early in the morning a group of women were on their way to the graveyard. They brought with them some spices and special herbs. Traditionally these were things they would use to honor their dead – kinda like grabbing a bouquet of flowers to take and place on Grandpa’s tomb.
And as the crisp morning air awakened their senses, the tears started flowing. They missed him. He was their dear friend. He had shown them love when no other man had. He had rescued them from dark places. He had given them hope…and a future.
When he died, that hope had been ripped away. It felt like her heart was gone. They had killed him. They had killed her hope.
But their sadness was interrupted.
2 There was a violent earthquake. And an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.
Have you seen pictures of these stones? Jesus had been buried in a standing tomb. It was a rich person's tomb. And rich people won’t be buried in the ground with a tiny little grave marker. No. They had these big, cut out of a cliff walk-in tombs – with enough space for a small dinner party – if you wanted to have a small dinner party in a tomb.
For a door? They would use giant rocks to withstand grave robbers. I don’t know the exact size and weight of these rocks. But…I think it’s safe to say that rocks the size of a door are pretty heavy. I could probably do about a dozen bicep curls with these. And it isn’t even close to door sized.
Tomb door rocks were so big that they needed to be moved in place by a soiree of heavy duty Roman soldiers. In fact, this was such a problem that the women were even discussing amongst themselves whether they had made a mistake in coming out there in the first place. Who was gonna move the stone? There were guards in front of the tomb, but were there enough?
Turns out…they didn’t need to worry. An angel moved it out of place like Arnold Schwarzenegger moving a pair of 2&1/2 pound ankle weights.
If the earthquake and opened tomb wasn’t enough to stir up some excitement, the angel did! 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. In other words – he was glowing. Long before the days of face paint and special effects. There isn’t a pyro guy off in the corner trying to trick the women. It isn’t David Copperfield using the illusion of the camera to throw the ladies off guard.
In fact, the women weren’t the only ones to see the angels. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The big, tough, I’ll get killed if I screw up my job, Roman guards – fainted!
5 The angel held up a hand. He calmed them. He spoke gently to them. “Don’t be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
Process that for a moment. Jesus – the guy who died in front of hundreds – whose death was confirmed by the Roman soldiers at the cross, the Roman soldiers who took him down, his followers who left with tears, his buriers who took his body, the Roman governor who allowed them to take his body, and the Roman soldiers who had closed the rock door over Jesus’ dead body – that Jesus – who had really died….
…was alive again.
And just in case the women didn’t believe the angel, he let them see it for themselves. Go ahead. Look! He’s gone. He should be here; he died. But he’s not here. Miraculous? Yes! Impossible? Not with God.
This brings us back to Romans 4. He was delivered over to death for our sins, but raised to life for our justification. Justification is a courtroom term. It’s the opposite of condemnation. If we are guilty we are condemned; if we are innocent, we are justified. Condemnation bad. Justification good.
Jesus’ resurrection is proof that we are justified! It was God’s almighty, Divine declaration about you and your life. Listen to it: Hear the rumbling of the earthquake, listen to the cracking of the rocks, and the shrieks of the guards and the voice of your LORD:
You are justified.
You have been declared innocent.
By faith in Jesus Christ, you are saved.
This is why the inhale is so important. If Jesus doesn’t take that breath in the grave on Easter Sunday morning, then you and I are still in our sins. Jesus’ death didn’t work. His promise of forgiveness didn’t mean a thing. You and I have to face God standing in the filthy, disgusting cesspool of all our awful sins.
In fact, 1 Corinthians 15:14 takes it a step farther. “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” In other words, if Jesus doesn’t take that breath in that tomb, then the Christian faith, is one big useless, irrelevant, irreverent, cruel joke! And I’m a big old fool for teaching it to you.
But…if Christ does take that breath, if his lungs do move again, if blood starts to circulate in his veins and brain activity returns to his nervous system. Then…there is no moment more important.
That breath means you are forgiven.
That breath means you are at peace.
That breath means that all will be well.
That breath means that God did what he said he’d do.
That breath means that God was victorious.
That breath means that you are victorious.
That breath means that God rose from the dead.
That breath means that you will rise from the dead.
Treasure it. Celebrate it. Take a breath…breathe out with joy! Jesus has inhaled. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!
The scene is so simple.
A stable with a few wooden poles holding up a thatched roof. A mother wrapping her child in linen clothes. A father smiling gently towards them as he feeds his donkey. A cow lazily rolling over to stretch his hinds legs. A few shepherds walking toward the singular light of the hanging lantern – rubbing their hands for warmth.
Simple. Beautiful. Christmas.
But if you dig a little deep, there’s a lot going on there than meets the eyes. This is where Christmas gets complicated. Take a look with me at Hebrews 1. The writer will explain to us just how complicated and yet how beautiful Christmas really is.
There’s a lot in that section. Let’s take it apart.
1) The Radiance of God’s Glory
The Greek word there implies that the Son is actually producing that shine of the Glory of God. This is an interesting thought considering all the incredible things that God has made. He makes snowflakes that twinkle in the morning sunlight. He makes the golden colors of leaves in autumn. He makes the quiet sparkle of stars on a midwinter's night.
Jesus outshines all of them. In fact, it is Jesus alone who produces God’s glory in it’s truest form.
It’d be like saying Jesus is the bulb in the lamp; the flame on the candle; or the glitter on the homemade Christmas ornament. He is the part that shines and he is the part that brings glory.
That’s a little strange when you look at him on Christmas and see nothing more than a regular looking infant. Not a lot of hair; not very big fingers; mouth – most likely—closed and asleep. Not a single tooth sparkling in the moonlight.
2) The Impress of His Being
The English says, “exact representation,” but the Greek is clearly using a word here that was often associated with coin making. There would be an imprint, a press, that would impress upon the metal of the coin the exact representation that was wanted. It’s a word that was used for contract signing – so that the exact seal of the covenanting family would appear on the paperwork.
Jesus is the exact impress of God. He is the same. In form. In being. In essence.
Ever been to a wax museum? The representations there are eery. Wax Spock looks exact like Spock. Wax Lebron James is as tall as and muscular as Lebron James. Wax Oprah Winfrey has the same smile as the real Oprah Winfrey.
But they are still wax. They aren’t real. They aren’t the same.
Jesus is of the same essence. He is eternal, all powerful, all knowing, and present. Even though he doesn’t seem to know how to ask for a second helping of milk yet.
3) Bearing All Things
He is…sustaining all things by his powerful word. That’s God’s Work. Yet here it is attributed to Jesus. God holds up the stars. God holds up the sun. God sends the wind and the rain and the snow and the cold.
Hebrews says that Jesus does the same. That gets a bit strange.
Think about it: The infant is being held up by a few boards of wood. But at the same time the infant is sustaining those boards of wood together.
Not to mention the planets, Red Dwarf stars, and all of the cosmos.
4) Purification Provider
Hebrews speaks about it in past tense because it was written after this baby grew to adulthood and then sacrificed his life on the cross for us.
Amazing isn’t it? This is a supernatural, miraculous thing. Because Scripture says adult humans cannot cleanse themselves of sin. Maybe you know that. We can’t cleanse ourselves from guilt before God. Not with bleach. Not with all natural oatmeal soap. Not with trying hard or doing good or placing a long amount of time between sins.
Cleansing from sin – something that adults – we could not do – this little baby was pledged to do.
Strange? After all this baby isn’t even able to clean itself. Probably needs Mary to dab some spit up every couple of minutes.
5) At the Right Hand
Scripture continues, “He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Again – past tense because the life of the baby had already happened. So look at God’s plan for the child. He will ascend to the heights. He be in heaven. He will sit at God’s right hand – the power hand. He will be as much in authority as God is in authority.
Again? Isn’t that pretty amazing? Especially considering the little child has not authority as to where he will go. He doesn’t even possess the speaking ability to demand Mary to transport him to one of the sheep for a sheepy back ride. He has no authority…
..and yet he has all authority?
6) Superior to the Angels
Hebrews continues, “He became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” It’s the greater than symbol. This Jesus is greater than the angels. He’s superior to them.
Angels are pretty great. They all shine brightly. They all frighten people whenever they appear. Some have wings. Some have instruments. They all have heavenly voices. A few are even given flaming swords to fight off the most powerful of demons.
This infant is greater? He can’t so much hold up a piece of straw to defend himself.
Angel means “messenger.” The baby? He is called “Jesus.” Jesus means “He saves.”
But what’s interesting is that the angels show no jealousy towards this infant. In fact, the angels prove all of these traits we’ve listed down. As strange as they might seem. These angels – who cannot sin – who are holy – who do God’s bidding. They appear to shepherds and they begin to sing the praises of this little infant child: "Do not be afraid; I bring you good news of great joy for all the people, today a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you; you will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in the manger.”
Did you hear that juxtaposition? Christ the LORD/baby lying in a manger. If he weren’t a holy, God following, speaking the truth announced by angels – we’d probably have to doubt him.
But he isn’t. In fact, the other angels have this angel’s back: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
II. The Awesome Part
It doesn’t stop there.
The next two verses of Hebrews reveal to us WHY all this is possible and yet; they open up a whole different set of questions – that are absolutely beyond our puny human minds: To which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father?” Or again, “I will be his Father and he will be my Son?”
These are Old Testament references. They are a part of God’s Word that reveal Jesus is not just some kind of super angel. He isn’t just some kind of mini God. He’s not just a Hercules-like man infused with God’s power.
He is actually, literally, really --- God’s own Son.
That doesn’t mean God’s son like we are all God’s children in the sense that we are all created by him.
This is God from God. Light from Light. True God from true God. Essence from essence. Being from being. Remember: An exact imprintation of his being – in every way. From ruling the stars above to wiping out sin below.
Then, to twist it one last time, look at verse 6: When God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “let all God’s angels worship him.”
Does anyone know the First Commandment? You shall have no other gods. Don’t worship them. Throughout the Old Testament the LORD shows how serious He is about that commandment. He destroys the followers of Baal. He punishes the Israelites for worshipping the golden calf. He sends them into captivity for setting up Asherah poles.
But Jesus? Here God says, “Worship him.” On Christmas night, he sent his angels to worship him. He predicted Jesus’ coming for thousands of years. He sent a star to guide magi from the east to him. He spoke at Jesus’ baptism and said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”
He brought Him back to life. Even after Jesus had spent his life telling the people to worship him as true God.
What does all this mean? Either God – who knows all and is everywhere – somehow missed this false revolt of Jesus or Jesus is God.
The infinite being contained within a manger.
The eternal of ages born on a Bethlehem night.
The all powerful Protector watched over by his step dad.
The all knowing Wisdom taking in his first glances of the world.
But also true.
True in every way. Jesus is true God come to save you.
Believe it. Amen.
Happy Fourth of July weekend! It’s a weekend in which people all over America celebrate Freedom.
Did you? Did you grab a sparkler and spell out the letters ‘F-R-E-E-D-O-M’ in cursive?
Did you throw a bunch of poppers on the ground and yell “freedom”?
Did you launch a bottle rocket and sing?
Everyone celebrates freedom on Fourth of July weekend. Yet throughout most of the year we complain about not being free.
What does freedom entail? What does freedom really mean? Are you really free?
Today we’re going to look at what freedom means to our culture and what it means to God.
I. The Source of Real Freedom
Ever visited ffrg.org? That’s the official website for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. It is a website that heralds “free thought” and “free thinkers.” Sounds nice right?
Under the “About FFRF” tab on the website they tell you more about what they mean by free thinking: “The history of Western civilization shows us that most social and moral progress has been brought about by persons free from religion...”
In other words – if you want to be really free, you need to be free from religion.
It’s interesting though. Take a look at the first statement again. “…the most moral and social progress has been brought about by persons free from religion.” Isn’t the statement highly subjective – as in – it’s their opinion?
Isn’t it their opinion who the most influential people were in a movement?
Isn’t it their opinion how ‘free of a thinker’ and uninfluenced by religion a certain thinker was?
Isn’t it their opinion what moral and social progress is in the first place?
If all of these opinions must fit within the realm of the “free thinkers” established code of what established free thinking, then what about the thoughts that are free from free thinking?
I wonder what would happen if I sent them an email. “Dear Free thinkers, I have a free thought. It was developed apart from your website. I freely think that there is a God. It’s a freeing thought. Could you please add me into your Foundation? Thanks!”
Hmmm…I’m guessing there’s a reason that all of the people who are members of the organization are declared Atheists.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has become slaves to its own thoughts.
Jesus speaks differently. He says, “If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” This is such an interesting statement especially if you combine it with something Jesus will say in just a few chapters of John. “I am the Truth.”
Meld those thoughts together for a minute. Understand what’s going on. The Truth sets free. Jesus is the Truth, therefore Jesus sets free. “Then you will know the truth, me, Jesus, and the truth, I, your Lord, will set you free.”
Our world claims true freedom comes apart from all religion –including Jesus. Jesus says true freedom comes from Himself.
Who do you believe?
Let’s make it objective. Let’s objectively look at which one is understand freedom better.
Jesus was not bound by the laws of physics – he walked on water.
I Google searched it. There aren’t any atheists been able to that recently.
Jesus was not bound by the laws of medicine – he healed people of incurable diseases simply by touching them.
You can check scholarly journals. There aren’t any records of doctors able to work outside the realm of medicine.
Jesus was not bound by the laws of the universe – he stopped storms with a wave of his hand.
Scientists can’t even predict them correctly, let alone stop them. They are bound by their inability to control the weather.
Jesus was not bound by death – he died and came back to life!
If you go to the Free Thinker website, you’ll see that many "free thinkers” were unable to free themselves from death. In fact, they’ll freely admit that they aren’t expecting to escape it!
Objectively speaking – Jesus lived in real freedom. He’s the only one who lives in real freedom. So only he can bring real freedom!
II. Freedom from What?
The Pharisees didn’t. When the Pharisees heard Jesus’ claim that true freedom came from him, they immediately started to rebuke him. “We are Abraham’s descendant and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
They didn’t see any chains around their ankles. They weren’t wearing computer chips to let their masters know where they were. They weren’t even slaves to the cruel Egyptians like their forefathers had been at the time of Moses. They didn’t see themselves as slaves. They didn’t see any reason for them to need freedom.
“Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”
Think of what Jesus is saying:
If you are a sinner, you are enslaved by sin. Whether you believe sin exists or not, you are a slave to sin. Whether you are religious or not, you are a slave to sin. Whether you are a ‘free thinker’ or not, you are still a slave to sin.
If you were in prison, a good old fashioned, locked down, no TV, behind bars, sleep on a cold metal bed prison, it may seem “freeing” to think that you aren’t in prison. It might seem freeing to imagine yourself only a beautiful Pacific island. It might seem freeing to imagine that you can do whatever you want whenever you want.
But it will only seem freeing. You’ll still be in prison.
If we are honest, being a slave to sin is awful. Have you ever felt it?
I slept with that guy again and I feel so ashamed. I don’t want to do it again, but I feel like the only thing that will make me forget the shame will be to be with him again!
I have a terrible headache. I’ve caused all kinds of friction in my family. I cussed out my wife. I’m dealing with all kinds of guilt. I’d stop doing it, except that’s all there is to cure me of this guilt.
I just got done losing my temper. I don’t like that. I won’t do it again. I hurt people. Except – what’s that? Someone is coming to confront me? I won’t stand for that. I must lose my temper again!
I’m a very proud person. I hear you saying that in order to be saved I have to admit that I’m a sinner, just like anyone else. See I would do it, except the thing is, my pride won't let me do it – literally! It doesn’t want to be destroyed and has too much of a grip on me. My pride rules my life.
I’m trapped in despair. I feel terrible. I feel not good. I can’t get out of this feeling. I hear God coming for me, but I can’t see where He is.
Brothers and sisters, if you are slave to sin – it’s easy to feel like things are out of control and there’s nothing you can do. No matter which sin it is that enslaves you – hear the Good News of Freedom from Jesus himself, “If the Son, if I, set you free, you will be free indeed.”
This makes so much sense. This is like someone from the free world – a jailer – someone with freedom – coming down to your prison cell with a key to unlock the door. Who are you gonna believe knows the way to freedom? The guy who came from freedom? Or the curmudgeonly old prisoner in the back who long ago gave up on freedom being a true thing?
Jesus is free.. Follow him to freedom!
He gives us freedom from sin in three awesome ways:
Free from Sin’s Guilt. Jesus freely came to this earth as no slave of sin. He never let sin take a hold of him either. Not till the cross. And then, it wasn’t his sin. It was yours. It didn’t have a hold of him, he had a hold of it.
Jesus took your sinful slave drivers – addition, sexual immorality, pride, despair, lust, greed, and whatever else might have hold of you – Jesus took those sins captive and he took them to the cross. He forced them to die with him – never to return to God’s sight.
This means you are forgiven. Be free from your guilt. Hear that again. You. Are. Forgiven.
Free from Sin’s Punishment. God punishes only sin and those enslaved to it. You aren’t enslaved anymore. You’ve been set free from sin. You will not be punished by God’s Almighty wrath!
If you were on death row and new evidence came to light exonerating you from all crime, you’d be release. You wouldn’t be punished.
New evidence came to our eternal Father. It’s the perfect life of Jesus. It means you will be set free from punishment in hell. Rather, you will spend eternity in the freedom of God’s peace.
Free from Sin’s Power. This is the part that really affects your day to day living. Before Jesus, sin is your master. It controls you. It tells you what to do.
But after Jesus, it can’t do that anymore. You aren’t a slave. You are a son. You are a daughter. You are a child of God who lives and breathes to serve his father.
Galatians 5:1 empowers us to do just that, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Let us stand firm then and not be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
I mentioned in the children’s lesson how much my dog loves getting off of his leash. He runs around with his tail wagging and the dumbest dog smile on his face.
That’s what happens – usually.
Every once in awhile I let him off his leash and he lazily lays down by my feet. It’s like he’s still chained up. He won’t move.
Same thing with his kennel. Sometimes he just sits inside. I open the door and he doesn’t move.
“Come on! You’re free!”
That’s what God is frantically urging you this morning. “You’re free! Get out of your sin. Stop your addiction. Turn to me for forgiveness and live apart from that sinful relationship.”
Brothers and sisters, won’t you listen to his beckoning call? Won’t you follow the one who set you free?
When you think of someone wise, what does that person look like?
A pair of bifocals so that he can easily read the strenuous ideas of Voltaire and Shakespeare?
A sweater draped around his shoulders to keep him warm as he sits in the annals of the library?
Hair neatly parted in two, completely symmetrical and geometric?
A pipe -- filled with tobacco--allowing his mind a burst in thought with each puff?
John the Baptist didn't look anything like that.
He had wild hair.
He lived in the woods.
He wore camel skin for clothing.
He had pieces of leftover locust breakfast in his beard.
He probably didn't smell all that great, but he certainly looked foolish.
That's what the Pharisees thought. They were the wise people of John's day. They thought John looked foolish and they thought his message was just the ramblings of a lunatic hermit. "Water baptism for forgiveness? Repentance for the kingdom of God? What was he talking about?"
Then John said something that through them for a loop.
"Look the Lamb of God that takes away the Sin of the world."
They looked and they saw Jesus. He looked more put together than John, to be fair, but certainly not a Messiah. Another foolish thought from John.
Jesus approached John. John poured water on his head. Jesus came out of the water.
Then, the skies opened up. A brilliant light shone. A dove rested over Jesus. A loud voice from heaven spoke and said, "This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased."
Basically what John said.
Maybe John wasn't so foolish after all.
In America, we have our own definition of what wisdom looks like. God’s Wisdom often looks very different from that definition. So. Who’s right? Where is real wisdom? With God? Or with humans? Today is the next sermon in our CounterCultural sermons.
I. Human Wisdom Claims God’s Wisdom is Foolish
Take a look at the words from 1 Corinthians. Take note that 1 Corinthians is a letter written to a group of newbie Christians who lived in a very worldly society. There was false god worship, sexual immorality, and over drinking. There was also a place in the center of town where wise people could go to discuss the latest thoughts and ideas about the economy, philosophy, and theology.
Some of their godless thoughts were conflicting with Godly thought. So Paul writes an important reminder to this young church. He says in 1:18, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Focus in on the first half of the verse. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.
Have you ever heard of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? It is the official deity of the Pastafarians – a play on Rastafarianism, but also a parody of the Christian faith. The whole point of this religion is to mock the foolishness of religion. That’s clear as soon as you enter their website and read their "tagline.”
“The Flying Spaghetti Monster boiled for your sins! Be touched by his Noodly appendage before it is too late.”
To the world that’s hilarious – “Yep, Christianity is foolish! Virgin births, talking bushes, universal floods, a non evolutionary beginning. The message of the Bible is foolishness.”
But to believers – to us—it isn’t so much funny, but it’s heinous.
Why is there such a disconnect? Why is God’s wisdom in such direct contradiction to human wisdom? Here are three reasons.
1) The Time Gap
The saying goes: “With age comes wisdom.” It’s more than just something to keep those of us growing older calm. It means that the more experiences you have and the more time you’ve been around, the more you will learn.
Think of an electric outlet. Hopefully you have experienced enough in life to know that it is unwise to get your finger wet and sick it directly into the hole. A young child may not. Unfortunately, they might not listen to wisdom and have to learn just how bad of an idea it is through experience.
Same thing with your high school student. You might warn them about just how bad over drinking while underage will be for them. But, they might not listen after your talk. But after the experience of the awful hangover, a flood of guilt, and getting kicked off of the sports team, they might listen.
God has way more experience than human beings. The oldest person on earth is 121 years old. He has 121 years of experience. He has had 121 years to fill his brain with knowledge.
But that’s nothing compared to God. God is eternal. God has been around forever. He has been around longer than all of our ages in this church and in Raleigh combined.
In fact, he’s eternal! He existed before time began. He’s the one who began time. He’s the one who began the world. He’s the one who invented history. He’s the one who invented experience.
When you compare the knowledge of someone who has been around from before the beginning of time and someone who has been around for 30ish years, there will be a contrast in knowledge. Even if the younger one thinks he's smarter (your three year old as to when his bedtime should be) it doesn't mean he is!
Just cause we think we've lived enough years to think we're wise, doesn't mean we are! It's probably why older people are more patient in this area than young professionals. They've lived life. They've learned they aren't always right. They learned humility and they realize that they don't know everything.
That makes them wiser, wouldn't you say?
It's true with us and God. We need to stop thinking that "We're adults now. We can do this on our own," and start trusting the One who has been around forever.
2) The Knowledge Gap
I don’t know a lot about rocket science. In fact, if I took a look at the mathematic formulas necessary for getting into space – it would look like a bunch of gobbledy gook to me! Numbers, letters, strange symbols. I don’t see the wisdom in any of it!
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t wise. Just because I can’t understand it, doesn’t mean that the formulas for rocket fuel are unwise. It just means I’m unwise.
But it’s an interesting phenomena, isn’t it? The mind with less knowledge writes off greater knowledge simply because it doesn’t understand it!
Don’t you think this happens with God?
Take the definition of marriage. God says it’s between one man and one woman. God – the one who’s been around from eternity. The one who has an infinite knowledge of the universe. God who has an infinite knowledge of you and me.
Yet here we stand as 21st century beings whose 30 year old brain can be contained within a baseball hat and we say, “God, you’re wrong. Let’s change the definition.”
I love the story of Job. Job lost everything that he owned in the first two chapters of the book. Then the next 36 chapters relay a dialogue between Job and his friends in which his friends try to get him to curse God. They want him to ridicule God and basically confess, "God, I'm smarter than you and I would never have let this happen."
In the last three chapters, a new character is introduced. It’s God. In chapter 38, God makes a few very sarcastic (yet very good) points:
“Job...Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?...Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place?...“Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? ... Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?...Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this. What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!"
In short, God’s response is this: Job, you aren’t so smart. Stop trying to think you are. Stop trying to think that you’re smarter than God.
3) The Sin Gap
Yet humans still do. This leads to the third, final, and biggest reason that there is such a difference between Godly wisdom and human wisdom. The sin gap.
God is holy. He is just. He does not sin. He cannot sin. That means that his mind works perfectly.
Humans? Not so much. We’re filled with sin. Sin surrounds our lives. It affects our actions and it affects our minds. Our minds don’t work so perfectly. We aren't sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners!
Sin doesn’t just cause us to say hurtful things; it causes our minds to think, “I want to say hurtful things.” Sin doesn’t just cause us to engage in premarital sex; it causes our minds to think, “I want to engage in premarital sex.” Sin doesn’t just cause us to do the opposite of what God says; sin causes our minds to think “I want to do the opposite of what God says.”
Sin leads us to categorically and naturally rebel against all of God’s wisdom, because that’s what sin does!
Romans 8:7 says this, "The sinful mind is hostile to God’s Word. It does not submit to Him, nor can it do so.”
Siebert Becker, a former seminary professor, wrote an awesome book entitled “The Foolishness of God.” In his study, he makes this assessment: Humans reject the Bible, not because they don’t understand it, but precisely because they do understand it.”
Isn’t that the truth? The main reason we reject God isn't because God's Word is too difficult for us to understand, but because we don't want to.
For the times that when our tiny, unexperienced, sinful minds have rebelled against our timeless, all knowing, holy God’s wisdom – we ask God for forgiveness.
II. God Proves Human Wisdom is Foolish
While humans think that God’s wisdom is foolish, God has done things in a bit different fashion. God doesn’t just think human wisdom is foolish, God proves human wisdom is foolish. In two specific ways.
I. With Miracles…
Take a look at verses 19-20:
It is written: ‘I, the LORD, will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
Suddenly these categorical statements of human wisdom look absolutely foolish! God has proven it. He’s the one who created this world. He’s the one who knows the mysteries of this world. He’s the one who has no problem opening up the manipulating the current laws of science and gravity in order to show human beings that maybe we aren’t as smart as we think we are.
II. In His Salvation Plan
Verse 21 says this, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was therefore pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength."
Earlier today – what did the kids say was God’s plan of salvation? Jesus died. Our sins are gone. Through faith we’re saved. When you break it apart, it sounds foolish.
To the Jews, they said, “There needs to be some kind of fantastic incredible miracle taking place –a Laser light show or an awesome battle – when God comes to save us.” Jesus came back to life, but they still didn’t believe.
The Greeks demand, “We want wisdom. We want to have to search for truth and talk about truth and mull over truth and then once with have the truth we’ll believe it.” Jesus said “Found it! It’s me.” But they didn’t believe.
My Jewish neighbor once said to me, “You Christians are so crazy. You believe that there’s nothing you can do to save yourself, that Jesus did it all, and through faith you are forgiven and saved without having to do anything to be saved.”
My answer sounded foolish in my mind before I said it, but I said it anyways:
The Gospel is foolishness to human wisdom. But the Gospel doesn’t come from human wisdom. It comes from God. Therefore “through the foolishness of what was preached…God has saved those who believe!”
Through the foolishness of what was preached, God has saved you and me.
This is the reason that God chose this way for salvation: Listen to what Paul says next:
“26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth."
I love this passages because Paul is using the Corinthians as an example of unwise people being saved. “Ya’ll aren’t that smart. Ya’ll aren’t rocket scientists. You’re fishermen, prostitutes, and farmers.” You didn’t have jobs that required a Master’s degree!
"But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
Because boasting doesn’t work. Being a Christian isn’t about “I figured it out.” It isn’t about “I’ve got the truth and you don’t.” It isn’t about “I was smart enough to figure this whole thing out.” If it were, then millions would be lost because they didn’t think they were smarter enough to figure salvation out, and millions more would be lost because “I am smart and have figured out salvation,” when in fact they haven’t.
No, Christianity isn’t about our wisdom. It’s about God’s wisdom. Trusting in God’s wisdom necessitates that we stop trusting in our wisdom. It necessitates that we say “God, I don’t know it all. God I need you. God you are wise and I trust you.”
And when we do that – when we admit that we aren’t as wise as we think – then, here’s the kicker-- we have true wisdom.
Therefore, it is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God our righteousness, our holiness, and our redemption.
Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
“I’ve got a God who walks on water.”
“I’ve got a God died and comes back to life.”
“I’ve got a Jesus who is 100 percent true God and 100 percent true man at the same time.”
“I’ve got a God who is three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – all at once, yet there aren’t three God, there’s only one.”
No…I can’t explain all those things. I’m not that wise!
But my God is. And I trust Him.
TRUST GOD…When It Doesn’t Make Sense
Have you ever needed the help of the Geek Squad? These guys specialize in fixing your computer when it’s got a virus.
I always enjoy the explanation when I go to pick up the computer:
“There was a problem with the beta delta that was hidden in the drop files of the D drive’s code code. So I bypassed the cortex backup using the dual processor 12 and recovered 15 gigabytes which I transferred to the RAM. That was enough to help me break into the BIOS, rediscover the syntax binary, perform a Carthusian wipe on the system, wipe out the virus, and restore power to your system. Make sense?”
I don’t get it. But they’re the experts. I trust them. Just as long as they can get me back up and running before my latest Trivia Crack game expires.
Today we’re looking at something else that doesn’t make sense. It’s the next sermon in our series on Old Testament Faith Tests. In it God asks the Israelites to do something that doesn’t make any sense at all. As you listen, think about your life. Would you have trusted God in that situation? Will you trust God even when it doesn’t makes sense?
I. The Snakes
This test is found in Numbers 21:4-9. A little bit of background. At this point the Israelites had been wandering in the desert for years. They had adding up a lot of mileage by foot and horseback. Israelite parents were sick of hearing the question: “Are we there yet?”
The Israelites were fed up. This aimless wandering didn’t make sense anymore! They made themselves clear with this complaint to the Almighty: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
Let’s examine their four complains:
1) Wandering didn’t make any sense.
If you go back to chapters 13 & 14 of Numbers, the Israelites had actually come to the promised land. Unfortunately when they saw the size of the people living there, they were frightened. The majority agreed that they should turn back to Egypt.
God heard their request. He responded by turning them around. Just not to Egypt. He said they would wander around for 40 more years before their children would return to the Promised Land.
Obviously this was punishment for doubting God. But the Israelites didn’t seem to see it this way. To them it didn’t make sense. Why make it so far to turn back? Did God even care about them?
2) The desert didn’t make any sense for food.
At this point there were thousands of Israelites. That meant there were thousands of mouths to feed. Thousands of little voices complaining “Mom, what’s for dinner?” A scorpion? A tumbleweed? Dust mush?
True—God was providing them miraculous food that fell from the sky. But they didn’t think that wasn’t sustainable. Why hadn’t God taken them to a place with fertile soil? Why hadn’t he helped them set up some kind agricultural infrastructure? Why did he continue to have them dwell in a place that didn’t grow so much as a stalk of celery?
3) The Desert didn’t make sense as a source of water.
That’s what a desert is. Hot. Dry. Not a lot of lakes. Not a lot of water.
True, God had provided water to them in miraculous forms – whenever Moses spoke to a rock – a river came out. But that too wasn’t sustainable. Who gets the first drink? Who gets to shower first? How much water do you get to wash your hair? How were they supposed to set up a water park at this rate?
4) The taste--didn’t make sense.
Maybe you’ve been to a restaurant where that’s the case. They put so many spices on it and try to be so creative that it just doesn’t taste that good.
For Israel, they were tired of eating the same food all the time. Yes, God was providing for them, but couldn’t he do so in a more delicious way. Chocolate manna? Cinnamon manna? Buttered manna? Dorito flavored manna?
This just didn’t make sense. They complained to God, “What’s the point of all this? It doesn’t seem like we are ever going to get to our destination. We aren’t getting to the promised land! THIS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE!”
It isn’t recorded that God said anything in response to these complaints. He didn’t defend himself. He didn’t point out the fact without him they’d still be brutally beaten slaves in Egypt. He didn’t point out that without Him they would have been slaughtered at the banks of the Red Sea. He didn’t point out that without Him they wouldn’t have gotten any food or any water. He didn’t even mention the fact that they had been to the gates of the Promised Land once already, but it was the Israelites, not God, who were too frightened to enter.
The Lord didn’t speak. He simply did.
The Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.
One of the many complains of Atheists and unbelievers in our society is that the God of the Old Testament is a terrifying and awful character. They claim that he is one big jerk and is very cruel to his people.
At first glance, this account doesn’t seem to help his case.
But take a break with me for a second. Here are two reasons that God is absolutely in the right by sending the poisonous snakes:
1) God Hates Sin
Basketball season is upon us. The ACC Tournament is in full swing. That means when Duke is playing UNC, UNC fans won’t be cheering for Duke. Nor will Duke fans be cheering for UNC. State fans won’t be cheering for either of those teams—at least—until they are out of the playoffs altogether.
God is like that. He is good and against sin. Therefore, God loves everything good and hates everything that isn’t good. In the same way, sin loves everything that’s bad and hates everything that is good. Sin and God are utterly opposed to one another. They can’t stand together. God can’t condone bad ever—not even remotely!
That’s exactly what the Israelites were doing. We call it complaining or doubting. God called it evil.
If God didn’t do anything about this evil, then we should be concerned that God just doesn’t care. Racism is wrong. Hatred is wrong. Sexual immorality is wrong. Violence is wrong. Complaining, doubting, and rebelling against God…is wrong! God proves that He thinks so in verse 6. And no amount of – ‘we are God’s special people’ – can stop him from punishing evil.
2) The Real Poison was Unbelief
If you look carefully at the first words of this section, it says that the Israelites were invoked to anger. That verb gives us the sense of stirring up and inciting a feeling. It’s like a sibling who’s poking his brother with no other reason than he wants to get his brother angry.
This is what was happening in Israel. A few people were stirring up other people. It had happened already with a man named Korah. You can check out the story in Numbers 16. It was happening again a few chapters later. People who no longer trusted God were inciting other people to stop trusting in him as well.
Thank goodness social media wasn’t around yet.
Yes—God could have spared their lives. He could have let them continue in unbelief and rebellion against him. But then – eventually – there’d be nothing but unbelief left. As each family taught their children, “God is a big terrifying and awful being. Have nothing to do with him.”
God didn’t want this for the people – even if they deserved it. Because ultimately unbelievers gets exactly what they want– an eternity apart from God in hell.
Can you blame God for thinking that a few people dying physically was worth saving thousands of lives from dying eternally?
TRUTH OF THE WEEK:
The snakes weren’t sent because God is some terrifying and awful being.
The snakes were sent because God is good.
II. The Test
God’s plan worked. As the snakes went throughout the Israelite camp terrorizing the people. The Israelites came to repentance. Check out verse 7, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you.”
The Israelites understood. They realized that they were the ones who didn’t make any sense. God had been protecting them. Yet they had opposed Him. It didn’t make any sense for them to ever question God.
They asked for God’s help. “Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” Their hope was that God would just help control collateral damage. Maybe he would send the vipers away before they all died.
Here’s where you see God’s character. Take a look at God’s response: “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”
That’s a very strange prescription isn’t it. Who here has ever went to the doctor and been told, “You’re cold isn’t so bad. Stop at Walgreen’s. Buy a box of Kleenex. Duct tape it to a broom stick. Then…look at it. You’ll be cured.”
That doesn’t make any sense.
How much less sense with a snake bite? Why didn’t God gift Moses with a vile of medicine? Why didn’t he give the people directions to a nearby plant with healing powers? Why didn’t God make any sense!?!
That’s the test. Did the Israelites really trust him? Did they truly trust Him…even when it didn’t make sense? They weren’t before, would they now?
Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. And you can see God’s mercy by what happens next. When anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. They were healed. The poison was gone from their body – physically. The poison was gone from their hearts—spiritually.
They trusted God once again. God saved them physically. But he also saved them spiritually.
III. What about You?
Three things to keep in mind as you go about the rest of your week.
1) Get Rid of the Poison In your Life
This isn’t a rant about watching out for chemicals and growth hormones in your food which slowly poison your body. This is a rant about chemicals and growth hormones in your spiritual life which slowly poison your soul.
Think about it: What or who causes you to doubt God?
Is it someone on Facebook who repeatedly sends out messages blasting Christianity and its teachings?
Is it your drinking buddy who mocks you for not going drinking with him?
Is it your boyfriend who constantly nags you to sleep with him?
Is it song lyrics that teach you sin isn’t that big of a deal?
Is it a cute social media video which pushes a non-Christian message?
There is a pretty popular video on YouTube that calls Christianity into question. If you look in the comments section, there are lots of people who respond with things like “I knew it wasn’t real. I knew Jesus wasn’t to be trusted. Thanks for helping me with the truth.”
You can Google it later to find a whole website devoted to exposing the lies in this video. But what we’re interested in is the premise: When did looking at an amateur YouTube video produced by a man called TheAngryAtheist sound like a better way to discover truth than going to God himself?
Stop looking to the world to see if God should be trusted! Instead, look to God to see if the world should be trusted. This is what the Israelites should have done. They didn’t and paid the price.
Learn from them.
If there is something in your life not trustworthy – get it out of your life! Do it now before the spiritual poison ruins your faith.
Block those posts on Facebook.
Stop hanging out with the friends that are leading you to sin.
Stop listening to false teachings.
Stop going with your gut reaction to whether something is right or wrong.
Stop scouring science, atheism, and pop culture for answers – when God has given you the answers right here!
Why go to God?
2) REMEMBER: God Has Your Best Interest in Mind.
We saw that in the case of the Israelites. Even when poisonous snakes were attacking, God allowed it to save them eternally.
This is why parents discipline their children. Whether it’s a spanking to keep them away from running in the road or three weeks of grounding to make sure that they don’t get involved in that illegal drug…parents discipline out of love. Even if the kid is screaming and yell and says something like “I hate you.” The parent still does it—because it’s for the good of their child.
God has that same kind of love for you. A love willing to do anything—even the hard things – even shaking you up and making you a little uncomfortable – in order to save your soul.
3) Trust God When it Doesn’t Make Sense--
Is God’s Word hard? It is counterculture? Might it get our laughed at because “that doesn’t make any sense!?!”
Nowhere is this more clear than in the matter of your spiritual salvation. Take a look at this passage from the Gospel for this morning: "14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
Consider what Scripture is teaching you: Some guy 2000 years ago, said some nice things, did some nice things, then he was arrested and killed, but with his death he made you right with God? He forgave you all your sins? If you simply trust in him as your Savior you will be in heaven, not in hell? Is that really what we believe?
Does it make sense? Not to the world. The world doesn’t get God. It can’t. God has heavenly wisdom. Psalm 145 says this, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.”
But just because we can’t fathom it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Take Easter for example. There’s a reason that I’m so excited for Easter – 3 weeks away – because it is the heart and soul of our faith. Jesus had told his disciples he was going to do something that didn’t make sense. He told them he would die and come back to life.
Then -- he did just that.
If he did that why wouldn’t he be able to forgive all your sins?
If he did that why wouldn’t he be able to bring you at peace with God?
If he did that why wouldn’t he be able to secure your place in heaven?
If he did that why wouldn’t he be able to make whatever strange, countercultural, opposite of modern thought thing he asks you to do in Scripture work out for your eternal good?
Brothers and sisters – TRUST God. He is the expert on a lot of things. He is the expert on you. He is the expert on getting rid of sin. He is the expert of getting to eternal life. He is the expert on living int his world. He is the expert on living for the next world. He is the expert of eternity, divinity, and true love.
He is the expert. Won’t you trust him…even when it doesn’t make sense? Amen.
During midweek Lenten services we will be having some guest speakers come and visit. What would you do if I told you that next Wednesday Stephen Hawking – professed atheist and extreme evolutionist were leading worship here. Then, a week later the highest ranking ISIS officer we could get a hold of would be preaching. Finally, to wrap up our series Ozzy Osbourne – the self professed “Prince of Darkness” would come to challenge your minds.
Some of you are shaking your head. The people I just mentioned are enemies of Christianity. They are enemies of Jesus. They don’t agree with his theology. They don’t believe in him. They don’t want his message to succeed. An enemy of Jesus would make for a bad sermon…
Over these coming weeks we will have guest speakers and they will not be enemies of Jesus. They will be fellow Christian pastors. However in our sermons we will be examining a few key statements of Jesus’ enemies. Statements that unwittingly and unbeknownst to them made for some great sermons in Jesus’ favor.
The first sermon we’ll look at took place in bad guy headquarters. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and all the Teachers of the law – a collection of men who hated Jesus -- had gathered together to plan evil things. They were like the Secret Society of Supervillains that used to fight against Superman, Batman, and the Justice League.
Now these groups of people didn’t normally get along. The Pharisees believed in a resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees did not. Often they would quarrel about who was right.
Not on this day. On this particular day they gathered together with one express purpose. They only had one item on the agenda –Jesus.
Jesus had been significantly weakening their religious status. The people were listening to Him and not them. Each one of their groups saw less and less people gathering for their Thursday night Rabbinical studies.
But it was more than that. Jesus had been embarrassing them. He had embarrassed them with his knowledge of the Sabbath. He had pointed out where they were wrong in Scripture. He had called them sinners –perish the thought – and then went to spend time with dirty thieves and prostitutes. Real “sinners.”
Jesus had been making them look bad. But that wasn’t what bothered them the most. Take a look at John 10:47-48 “The chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
Do you see the problem? It wasn’t just that Jesus was speaking a message opposed to the message that they promoted. They had dealt with that before. It was that Jesus’ message was accompanied by signs.
A man with a shriveled hand had it restored to full health by Jesus.
A man who couldn’t see had his sight restored by Jesus.
Most recently a man who had died – Lazarus – had his life restored by Jesus.
Note this – these leaders don’t question whether these miracles happened. They don’t gather together to send out a task force investigating whether these were real or not. They believed they were. They believed the miracles had happened. They knew Lazarus had died and they had heard solid evidence that he was alive again.
They didn’t disbelieve the miracles. They just didn’t believe in Jesus.
“If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
It was becoming chaotic in the room. Sniveling. Whining. Anger. Everyone talking at once. Everyone offering their concerns. No one knew what to do? How could they stop this Jesus!
Then, one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up.
Caiaphas was not your run of the mill temple officials. He garnered respect. He had earned respect. His position as high priest warranted respect. When he spoke, picture the whole room quieting down. He had something important to say:
“You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
Everyone quieted down. Everyone nodded. They agreed.
From that time on they plotted to kill him.
But the other teachers weren’t the only ones who agreed with what Caiaphas had to say. Take a look at these Old Testament passages:
“He was led like a lamb to the slaughter…He was cut off from the land of the living…He was assigned a grave with the wicked. He poured out his life.” (Isaiah 53)
"And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced…" (Zechariah 12:10)
"(The Messiah will be) poured out like water, and all (his) bones are out of joined….God lays (him) in the dust of death.” (Psalm 22:14-15)
Caiaphas, who taught Old Testament, didn’t believe that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament, was now agreeing with the Old Testament about Jesus’ death on earth?
It wasn’t just the Old Testament that agreed with Caiaphas. Jesus himself had spoken similarly.
1 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)
Jesus was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” (Mark 9:31)
33 “We are going up to Jerusalem,” Jesus said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:33-34)
Caiaphas, who hated Jesus, was now in complete agreement with Jesus on what should happen to Jesus next.
But it wasn’t just Jesus.
Remember what the Jewish people referred to the Old Testament as. They called it the Word of God. Remember what God the Father had spoken from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. With him I am well pleased!”
If God the Father was the ultimate author of the Old Testament and He had spoken from the cloud approval with Jesus, then it was his plan too. It was God the Father’s plan that Jesus would die in place of many people!
But while Caiaphas was in agreement that one man should die for the people. His reasoning was much different than God’s reasoning. Caiaphas thought they needed to kill Jesus to keep him from stirring up the people more. If they got too stirred up, the Roman government which was in control at the time would certainly put a stop to his rebellion. They would send soldiers. They would send more soldiers. They would slaughter the rebellious Jews. Caiaphas wanted Jesus dead before that could happen.
But God the Father wanted Jesus to die for an altogether different reason:
Scripture says this:
“The Wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)
“The one who sins is the one who will die.” (Ezekiel 18:4)
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
God wasn’t concerned with the Romans killing the Jews. God was concerned with sin killing them. Eternally.
God wasn’t just concerned with the Jews either. God was concerned with all people. He was concerned for you and me.
God wasn’t just concerned about a physical death. But an eternal death. A forever death in hell.
So God planned it as Caiaphas said it, “It is better…that one man die for the people…”
If you had a chance to go back in time and kill Hitler as a young man, would you do it? You’d probably save hundreds of thousands of lives. How about Osama bin Laden? What if you could prevent 9/11?
Do you understand God’s reasoning for killing Jesus? This is exactly what John explains about Caiaphas’ statement. 51 "He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.”
It wasn’t as if Jesus was an enemy who would kill me. It wasn’t as if Jesus needed to die because he was bad.
Jesus needed to die because he was good. He was the only one who was good. He was the only one who didn’t earn a punishment in death and therefore was the only one who could be a substitute in death.
· Jesus died as a ransom to set them free from sins. (Hebrews 9:17)
· God made (Jesus) who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)
· He died for sins once for all. (Hebrews 7:27)
God’s plan worked. God’s plan was better.
Do you question it?
If it wasn’t for God’s plan and Jesus’ death, then what?
You’d gather to confess your sins tonight and I’d say, “Too bad.”
You’d pray to God for forgiveness and search the Bible only to find, “God hates you. There’s nothing you can do.”
You’d turn to me in counseling, confess a sin, and I’d say, “Here’s a bottle of Scotch. I don’t know what else might make you feel better about your impending doom.”
But Jesus did die.
He did die for your sins.
You gather to confess your sins tonight and God says, “You’re forgiven.”
You pray to God for forgiveness and find in the Bible, “You are my child.”
You turn for help from a Christian friend and hear, “Jesus died for you. Your sins are forgiven. You will not die, but live.”
That’s better. Better by far.
Thanks be to Jesus for making it so. Amen.
“You’re the Christ! The Son of the Living God!” (Mt. 16:16)
The others stood around in shock. Yes. They had been thinking the same thing. The voice at his Baptism. The urgency in his preaching. The casting out of the demons. The healing of the sick. Jesus. was not an ordinary teacher, but none of them were bold like Peter to make that statement.
Jesus stood up. They looked on with anticipation and tension. Had Peter just spoken blasphemy?
But Jesus warmly smiled. “Blessed are you…this has been revealed to you by God!” (Mt. 16:17)
Then, Jesus sat down. He began to explain to all of this what this meant. He explained that he needed to head to go Jerusalem. While he was there, he would be arrested, he would suffer at the hands of the chief priests and teachers of the law, and then he would be crucified. He, the Son of God, would die.
Peter spoke again: “Never! You won’t die. You’re God’s Son. I won’t let it happen.” Surely, the other disciples nodded in approval. They just discovered and understood this awesome truth. They didn’t want to forfeit it away. Surely, Jesus would understand.
But Jesus got angry.
“Away from me Satan,” he said to Peter, “You don’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (16:14)
Interesting isn’t it? The disciples had just identified Jesus as God. Then, they question his judgment. Had they already forgotten?
8 days later Jesus give them proof that he is God. Proof they wouldn’t forget.
I. On the Mountain
Mark 9 say this: Jesus led them up a high mountain. There he was transfigured before them
Back when I was shopping for an engagement ring for Julianna – it turns out -- there are many things about diamonds that I just did not know. They come in 8 different shapes, clarity can have many imperfections or even be FLAWLESS with ZERO imperfections. I learned that a carat is a weight, not simply a vegetable, and that each diamond has a different color. (They aren’t just diamond colored.)
There are lots of things to look for in a diamond! But perhaps the best thing to look for in a diamond is the “WOW” factor. Look for something that will take the breath of away of the one who takes your breath away.
When Jesus was transfigured, He took away his disciple’s breath – he did it in an otherworldly way. He declard himself as God.
It started with his clothes. Verse six says that, “his clothes became dazzling white.” That’s a pretty awesome Greek word. It means “shimmering’ and “shiny.” Elsa and Anna would be jealous!
But his clothes weren’t just white. They were “whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” Whiter than White out white. Whiter than Clorox white. Whiter than OxiClean white. Whiter than Sherwin Williams’ Absolute White or Pure White.
Ask yourself: Who alone can invent a new color? One long before the 64 pack of Crayola crayons? And never duplicated in today’s modern art? Why not the one who created color and the eyes that see color?
Jesus is God.
Matthew’s account tells us that Jesus’ face shone like he sun. Have you ever had that problem? Woke up in the morning only to be blinded by the radiance of your own face? I’ve had a zit here or there, but a blinding, otherworldly radiance of light?
Try as I might I can’t get it to happen. The only ones who can do so with CGI animation on IMAX theater movie screens – not on skin and bones.
Ask yourself: Who alone can cause skin to light up like the sun? Perhaps it is the one who created skin and sun?
Jesus is God.
Next a few friends join Jesus. Verse 4 says, “And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.” Which, at first glance, seems amazing in the fact that these two weren’t there before and now they suddenly appeared. A vaporation!?!
It wasn’t just any vaporation. These two men were very famous -- It would be like having dinner with President Obama and Michael Jordan. These were two very famous men. Moses had delivered the law that they read in their synagogues and posted on their doorways. He had given the Ten Commandments. Elijah was a very fiery prophets. He had defeated hundreds of prophets of Baal with the help of the Lord.
Moses stood for the Law and Elijah for Prophecy. What kind of money would it have taken to get these two there?
But the miracle is greater than just surprising the disciples with the appearance of two very famous men. Because Moses and Elijah were both hundreds of years old. Neither had been alive for hundreds of years. They had been in heaven.
Ask yourself: Who can have conversations with those in heaven? Who can take people out of heaven? Isn’t it the one who owns the gates of heaven Himself?
Jesus is God!
7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud – not from a loudspeaker, not from a microphone, not from a megaphone. It wasn’t even their friend Thomas hiding in the bushes, cupping his hands, and doing his best God voice.
This was the voice of the Father. Listen to what he says: “This is my Son, whom I love.” Which if you have been carefully following this sermon series is the exact same thing the Father’s voice from heaven spoke at Jesus’ Baptism. Jesus was his Son. He loved Jesus.
This is a big deal. It means Jesus was still succeeding in his mission. He still pleased the Father in every aspect of his life. He was still holy in his living. He still didn’t have any sin. He still had never done anything – not even a smidgens of something – that would make his Father say, “I am no longer proud of you.”
Remember God is Holy! If Jesus would have sinned, he would not have been proud. He would have condemned Jesus.
The fact that He still speaks so glowingly means that Jesus had lived up to God the Father’s standards. He had lived perfectly.
Ask yourself: How could Jesus do that if he was born a sinful human being like the rest of us? How could He live a holy life, if He wasn’t in fact holy himself? And how could He be Holy unless Jesus was…
Jesus is GOD HIMSELF!!!
We’re halfway through the sermon. What’s the application for you? What are you to learn? Jesus is God himself. He is not just a good teacher. He’s not just a shifty salesman. He’s not a good magician. He’s no myth. He’s no bedtime story. He’s no comic book hero. He’s no politician, money maker, or rebel rouser.
He is the Divine Lord of Heaven and earth and…he should…be listened to. He should be listened to where his words have been recorded for him to speak to our hearts:
II. …In His Word
Pay careful attention to what the voice of the Father from the cloud says next. He says, “This is my Son; whom I love. Listen to him!”
Do you think it made Peter tremble just a tad? A week earlier he had rebuked Jesus. “No, what you are saying is wrong. You will not be arrested. You will not die. You will not be a sacrifice.” At the time – that seemed like a good idea. Like he was stopping his friend from having a very bad idea.
Now in the presence of the blinding heavenly light, surrounded by men from heaven, and listening to the booming voice of the Divine Father – maybe – Peter was wishing he had been quiet.
He should have listened.
What about you? Do you listen to God? Or do you like to have knee jerk, Peter like reactions?
· Jesus, I hear you, but I think I know more about my life than you do.
· Jesus, you think that’s a sin? Haven’t you been on Twitter recently? Our society thinks it’s ok now.
· Jesus, I understand you’re point –as Lord of heaven and all, but I gotta make my own decisions.
· Jesus, thanks for the advice. I’ll take it into consideration.
Careful. If you ignore Jesus’ words, then you ignore his authority. If you ignore Jesus’ authority, then you ignore God’s authority. If you ignore God’s authority, then…well…BAD IDEA.
And if you ignore God’s Words in favor of doing what you want, then who are you really listening to? Who are you giving authority? Who are you setting up as God? Whether it’s subconscious or consciously aren’t you making yourself and your ideas into the ideas of God himself?!?
GUEST WHAT: The Transfiguration is not about the revelation that you are God. But it is about the revelation that JESUS IS GOD. Heed the Father’s advice. Listen to Him!
If you have ever ignored God, if you have ever rejected the Bible, if you have ever refused to listen to what Jesus says in Scripture, then maybe you feel like Peter, James, and John. Perhaps you feel like falling to your knees, face first, and pleading with God -- HAVE MERCY!
You need to listen to what Jesus would do shortly after this Mt. of Transfiguration. It’s what he had told his disciples he would do and what Peter had rejected: Mark 8: 32 -- Then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed…
Don’t look at this from the perspective of the suffering human being that the world saw in those first Lenten days. Instead, look deeper. Look at Him from the Mount! See that this is the Holy One – God Himself suffering for you. It his plan. It is his good plan. It is His Divine God plan for saving you. He would suffer for all of the times you have not listened to God.
Amazing isn’t it? God, whom you needed to listen to (and haven’t listened to), listened to you. He heard you cry for mercy from eternity. He heard your cry for help. He stepped out of his Heavenly throne to answer your call to save you.
But it was more than just a death. Take a look at the tagline at the end of verse 32 after three days Jesus would rise again.
Impossible, right? How could Jesus do that?
How about the same reason that he could turn his clothes heavenly white, shine his face like the sun, talk with two heavenly souls, and have the Father speak pleasure with his holy living?
JESUS IS GOD!
This is exactly what happened. Death couldn’t hold Jesus, because it couldn’t hold God. Death couldn’t hold Jesus, because Jesus was God and nothing is impossible with God! (Luke 1:37)
So…Listen to Jesus! Even when it seems impossible.
When he says, “Take heart. You’re forgiven.” Listen to him, He’s God.
When he says, “Peace be with you.” Listen to Him, He’s God.
When He says, “I know theplans I have for you.” Listen to him. He’s God. (Jr. 29:11)
When He says, “I’m always with you.” Listen to Him. He’s God. (Mt. 28:21)
When he says, “Whoever believes in me, will not perish, but have eternal life.” Listen to him. He’s God.
When he says, “I have a room in heaven for you.” Listen to him. He’s God.
Once you hear him speaking on the impossible, listen to him in the more mundane things of day to day life.
Listen to him when he tells you to abandon your sin. He’s God.
Listen to him when he tells you to hear his Word. He’s God.
Listen to him when he tells you to be baptized. He’s God.
Listen to him when he tells you to sing his praise. He’s God.
Listen to him when he tells you to pray. He’s God.
Listen to him when he tells you to gather at church. He’s God.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
This may have been the most difficult thing for the disciples to listen to. Think about what they had just seen. Think of the glory they had just seen.
But nowhere is it recorded that they told anyone about this until after he had risen from the dead. As hard as it was to do, they remembered who it was that was speaking to them. God himself.
Whatever God is asking you to do. Whatever God is asking you to believe. May you be like the disciples. Remember who it is that is asking you. See that Jesus is God.
As Christmas approaches, you’ll see that phrase in a lot of different places. Painted in sparkles and decorating a plaque on a tree. Written in cursive icing over the top of a gumdropped Gingerbread house. Sung in wispy, happy , 80’s voice at the end of a made for TV holiday Classic.
OK...the message is clear. One thing you’re going to want to do this Christmas is to BELIEVE.
But…believe in what? Believe in elves? Believe in the power of the mistletoe to bring couples together? Believe that the next helping of figgy pudding will be a healthy choice? (It’s got figs in it afterall). Believe in the magic of the iPhone 6 to make sure all of your kids have a Merry Christmas and never ever sass you again? Believe in the power of the human spirit? Believe that if you just want it hard enough and wished for it with all your heart, this will be a good Christmas?
Did you know that BELIEVE is also a message that was a part of the very first Christmas? In fact, about a year before the first Christmas – just a little bit earlier than Walmart puts their Christmas decorations out – an angel brought that very news to a man named Zechariah. Only what the angel asked Zechariah to believe was much different than believing in Santa Claus or a Red Nosed Reindeer.
It was real.
Here’s his story.
Zechariah lived at a time that wasn’t filled with a lot of hope. His country was dealing with foreign opposition. In verse 1 it says, “…Herod was king of Judea.” King Herod was the appointed representative of the Roman Empire from around 49 B.C. to 4 B.C. And the history books record him as kind of a tyrant.
Times were hard for the Jewish People. They were not in charge of their own country and didn’t have a lot of say in their government. They dealt with angry Roman soldiers, over taxation and over bearing Roman laws. It wasn’t exactly a magical winter wonderland filled with belief.
Then there was his personal life. Zechariah was a priest. He had devoted his life to God. In fact, Scripture mentions that Zechariah was blameless which – while it isn’t the same as sinless, because no one is sinless – it does mean that Zechariah was a generally respectable and faith-filled guy. – Always in church, always in prayer, always working hard to obey God’s laws.
Yet…in spite of all this, Zechariah had no children. He had served the Lord, worked in the church, devoted his life to God and he was still childless!
I’ll bet it bugged him. Bugged him when he saw others with kids. Others who didn’t spend their lives devoted to God, who weren’t even married—even godless Romans had families! This didn’t seem fair.
And now? He was old. Too old. Both he and Elizabeth were past their childbearing years. Scripture says that Elizabeth was barren.
Imagine what this was like. Kids running into temple for Hebrew school were just another reminder that he would never teach his own son the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Playful shouts from the marketplace were reminders that he would never bend over to play tag with his boy. The neighbor boy didn’t just leave his toys in his yard…he left a reminder of the scars on his heart.
Do you see why it would have been hard for Zechariah to have hope? Hard for him to BELIEVE?
One day Zechariah was on duty with his division of priests and was chosen to into the temple and burn incense. An honor that was only given to one priest at a time every so often. Zechariah went in and began going about his duties. He lit a candle. Gathered more incense. Set it on fire. Then he backed up to watch the sweet smelling smoke rise to heaven.
Then, he saw it. Behind the thin wavering lines of the smoke was a light. Dim at first. Then, as the light sifted through the smoke it became clear.
It was an angel!
The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. God has heard your payer. Your wife Elizabeth will have a son, and you will name him John."
I’ll bet Zechariah blinked his eyes. This angel’s message was so incredible. Think about what the angel was saying:
First, that God had heard his prayers? He had been praying those prayers days after day and night after night for years. Never did his wife get pregnant. Never did he receive an answer. Never did he get so much as a sign that God had actually heard him.
Was he really to believe that God had heard him all this time?
Second, that he would soon have a son. Did the angel get the wrong priest? Was he off a week with his visit? Did he know how old he was? Didn’t he know that his wife was barren? That he was known as “Zechariah—the old priest with no children…”
Was he really to believe that God would give him a son after all this time?
Then the angel’s message got even more incredible. 15 As far as the Lord is concerned, he will be a great man... He would bring many people of Israel back to God. He would have the power of Elijah and be filled with the Holy Spirit even at birth. He would prepare people for the Lord –as the director prophetic forerunner to the Christ!
Was Zechariah really to believe that his ‘son’ would be a special servant of God?
Perhaps for a second, a glimmer of hope glistened in his eye. But then…that hope was clouded. Doubt took over. Grumble and unbelief voiced its opinion: “What proof is there for this? I’m an old man, and my wife is beyond her childbearing years.”
I don’t know that angels know how to speak sarcastically. Yet… 19 The angel answered him, “I’m Gabriel! I stand in God’s presence.” In other words, I’M AN ANGEL!!!! Zechariah wanted a sign? What did he think he was looking at? “Talk to a bright, shining, winged, otherworldly being” was not on the list of temple duties that Zechariah was to perform that day. Wasn’t the angel himself proof that something incredible was happening?
Secondly the angel added, “God sent me to tell you this good news….You Zechariah, should believe me, because this message is from God. God who created life out of nothing and who would have no problem creating life in a barren womb. Zechariah, you should believe me because God said so.”
"But because you didn’t believe what I said…God will give you a sign. A reminder each day for the next nine months of your unbelief and of God’s promise: You will be unable to talk until the day this happens.”
Zechariah was speechless.
The angel left and Zechariah stumbled out of the temple. Crowds of people gathered around him. What did you see? Why did you take so long? Are you alright?
Zechariah couldn’t say anything. He couldn’t muster a word. But he didn’t need to. That smile on his face said it all.
What about you? Do you believe?
It's easy to feel like there’s not a lot to believe in this Christmas. Like Zechariah, our country has its own gloomy problems. The still struggling economy means you might not be able to get every gift you wish you could get your kids just like last year. Emergency news stories about violence and hatred are more common than seasonal specials about the peace of the season. Estranged relationships keep your family from any kind of holiday togetherness. Silent Night means grabbing a Jack and Coke to sip on while sitting by yourself with your feelings of loneliness and solitude.
Understand what God’s message is for you today. No matter how lonely, no matter how inadequate, no matter how scared, frightened, or hopeless your life feels right now, God wants you to BELIEVE! BELIEVE…in HIM!
It all seems a little foolish. In our high tech, high business, highly practical, no room for faith world, this seems a little foolish. It may seem silly in this struggling economy and take a break and gaze at a cute little stable scene: A cow. A horse. A few sheep. A mother. A manger. A child. All under a sign fastened to the top of the stable: A SAVIOR IS BORN!
Do you understand what those words mean? Do you understand what God wants you to believe?
BELIEVE: At Christmas God enacts his plan of salvation.
BELIEVE: God placed the Christmas family together in his divine providence.
BELIEVE: The baby born in the manger is your Savior.
BELIEVE: The baby born in the manger is God himself.
BELIEVE: God grew up and never sinned.
BELIEVE: God was put to death for your sins.
BELIEVE: You are forgiven by God.
BELIEVE: God came back to life on Easter.
BELIEVE: God promises eternal life for you.
BELIEVE: You are loved by him.
BELIEVE: You will be in heaven with God.
This is the message of Jesus. This is the message of Christmas.
Want proof? Don’t look to me. I’m not an angel. I don’t have wings. I probably won’t leave you speechless. But I can point you to where the proof is. In the Bible. God’s message.
In the Bible, this baby boy grows up to change water to wine, to heal men with the incurable disease of leprosy, to make a lame man walk, a mute man speak, and a dead girl live.
Anyone else you know do that? Why not believe!?! Believe as our verse of the day says, BELIEVE based on the evidence of the miracles themselves!
Even today’s miracles which took place before Jesus was born at the announcement of Jesus’ cousin are proof that this “Jesus” is someone special. Think about it – (1) an angel (2) a barren woman made pregnant AND (3) a voice removed for nine months! This is miraculous.
BELIEVE based on the evidence of the miracles themselves!
You wanna know what happened to Zechariah? SPOILER ALERT: He became a father. He went home and Elizabeth was pregnant. Nine months later he held his baby boy in his arms and that baby boy grew up to serve the LORD in a very special way.
God’s promises are real. They do not falter.
In the coming weeks, you’ll see the phrase BELIEVE more than once. When you do, BELIEVE. But not just in the generic magic of Christmas…believe in something real. Believe in God. Believe in Jesus. Believe in your Savior.
And when you BELIEVE – I guarantee your holidays will be brighter. Not because you’ll get lots of toys or your family will magically get along, but because you will be attached to your Savior. You will have the peace of sins forgiven. You will have the hope of eternal life in heaven.