Today we are looking at the final sermon in our EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS sermon series. It is based on the final time Jesus appeared to his group of disciples.
Have you counted up the appearances so far?
How many are there?
The other women.
The Emmaus Disciples.
The group of disciples on Easter.
The group of disciples - plus Thomas – one week later.
The group of disciples on the fishing trip.
That’s six accounts so far.
But that’s not all of them.
There’s another time that Jesus saw Peter – one-on-one. (1 Cor. 15:5)
There’s a time that Jesus appeared to a guy called James – either the disciple or Jesus’ half-brother. (1 Cor. 15:7)
There’s a time where Jesus gives his disciples the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-21)
There’s a time that Jesus appeared to more than 500 disciples all at one time (1 Cor. 15:6)
There’s even a time when Jesus appears to a guy named Saul who was hell-bent on destroying Christianity, but Jesus’ appearance transforms his heart into a guy named Paul who goes on 4 missionary journeys, starts 20 churches, and writes 13 books of the Bible (Acts 9).
If you were counting – that’s 11 different appearances to over 500 different people.
The resurrection is not made up.
It is REAL.
But if so…maybe you still struggle with this.
Because would it be so much easier if you could SEE Jesus?
If you could take a trip to the Holy Land and get a selfie with him?
If you could check out his Twitter handle for his perspective on any cultural situation?
If you could text him every time you had a question on a Bible passage…
Why did Jesus leave?
Why did he disappear?
Today’s EYEWITNESS account is the 12th recorded account in Scripture. It is the last one that occurs before he physically disappears. Today we want to learn (1) where Jesus went (2) why he disappeared (3) and what he wants us to do in the meantime. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The “Disappearance”
The lesson we are looking at to begin with comes from Luke 24:50-51: When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.
Timeline wise this is the 40th day after Easter. We find that out from Acts 1 – which is an expanded version of this same exact account.
Note that this final appearance starts with Jesus leading his disciples. That’s appropriate. He had led his disciples for 3 years. He had led him the last 40 days. He would lead them up until his last day on earth. In fact, that’s literally what disciple means: “follower.”
And he led them to Bethany. Bethany is a small town just to the east of Jerusalem. The city is the place where Jesus commandeered the donkey for his entrance into Jerusalem. In this instance, they are just outside of Bethany where a few hills are located.
And as they get to the top of the hill…
He disciples his disciples just like he had done so many times before.
Unlike so many times before…
His feet go up.
They lift off the ground.
And his body begins floating.
And he goes up.
And up. Until…
A cloud hid him from their sight.
Do any of you know who Criss Angel is? He’s like a tattooed, goth version of David Copperfield. He is famous for street magic.
One of the tricks that he did was he began to levitate in the air. Mind you – this is on the sidewalk, in the street, apart from a magician’s stage.
I thought that was amazing.
There’s a YouTube video of him explaining the trick. Essentially, he is wearing a special pair of pants that (1) break away in the front (2) have a mannequin’s foot attached to the back of it. This enables him to plant his real foot on the ground, balance, and go into a squat that makes it look like he is beginning to float parallel to the ground. The rest is misdirection and camera positioning.
And voila! Magic.
Jesus’ ascension is not a magic trick.
He isn’t floating on a false leg.
There isn’t camera misdirection.
He doesn’t hitch a ride on a hot air balloon, a jet pack or even a drone.
He goes all the way up to the sky
Without any strings attached.
Until he is hidden by a cloud.
This is a miracle!
This is Jesus’ ascension.
Jesus didn’t disappear; he ASCENDED into heaven.
This is a really important distinction.
Because if Jesus disappeared – we’re left confused and frightened.
But Jesus didn’t just disappear.
He ascended to heaven.
That word is really important. If any of you watched Game of Thrones – and I haven’t – but I think I can reveal this without giving a spoiler. I heard that at the end someone conquers all of the other people and ascended to the throne. He wins the Game of Thrones. He ascended to his position of power.
He did it because the struggle was over!
Jesus ascended because He conquered sin.
Jesus ascended because He conquered guilt.
Jesus ascended because He conquered shame.
Jesus ascended because He conquered death.
Jesus ascended because the work of salvation was completed.
That’s so important to remember!
Because Jesus’ whole purpose on earth was to defeat all of our spiritual enemies.
If he ascended to heaven? That’s because his work is done.
Remember that – it’s really easy to think:
I’ve got more to do.
I’ve got to become the perfect mom.
Jesus weakened sin, guilt and shame – but I have to finish them.
There’s even churches out there that preach – you’ve got more to do!
You’ve gotta get to perfection.
You’ve gotta improve.
You’ve gotta do some things to complete Jesus’ work for him.
Jesus doesn’t leave tasks unfinished.
Jesus always completes.
And Jesus completed completely conquering your sin.
If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have left!
Jesus ascended where he rules over all.
Ephesians says this: “He raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” (1:20-21)
Did you hear that?
The one who loves you more than you could ever dream is in control of all things.
He’s ruler over cities, counties, and states.
He’s ruler over kings, despots, and presidents.
He’s ruler over wind, waves, and the hot temperature outside right now!
He’s is ruler over all things!
Nothing’s more powerful.
Nothing can defeat him.
There’s one more place that he would love to rule:
I went to McDonald's the other day with a coupon for a free meal that someone had given me. After I ordered Value Meal number seven, I handed them the card and the person said: “Just a second. I can’t authorize this.”
She called over her coworker who looked at the card and said: “We need a manager to authorize this.”
She called over a shift manager who looked at the card and said: “I’m sorry. I can’t authorize this.”
She called over her manager who looked at the card, entered the code and authorized it.
It’s the same thing with life.
We want peace.
We want joy.
We want courage.
And we try to find it from all the things that don’t have the authority to give it:
Things like lust.
Things like greed.
Things like money, fame, career…a desire to be perfect!
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:15)
Because Christ is God.
Christ is the one true ruler.
Christ offers true peace.
And Christ also offers us direction.
II. Our Mission
Because if the boss leaves and you don’t know what to do, it can be stressful:
Should we finish the reports?
Should we work on new clients?
Should we try to recover old ones?
UGH! Maybe we should just drink all of the coffee.
Christ didn’t leave us unclear with what to do. Look at what he told his disciples before his ascension:
Jesus told his disciples, “This is what is written (that’s a reference to Old Testament prophecy.) The Messiah will suffer (Jesus suffered) and rise from the dead on the third day (Jesus did), and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”(That hadn’t happened yet…)
But then look at what Jesus says next:
“You are witnesses of these things.” (Lk. 24:46-48)
Do you get it?
The final part of God’s plan is bringing the message of forgiveness to everyone.
And while all the other parts happened through Jesus…
This is the part that happens through you:
Before being UPLIFTED, Jesus commanded us to UPLIFT.
You don’t need to be confused about your task on this earth.
You see a coworker who is down? Approach them, listen to them, and share the message of Jesus.
Tucking your kids in for the night? Tuck them in, kiss their forehead, and share the message of Jesus.
Have a spouse who doesn’t believe? Go home, give them a hug, and share the message of Jesus.
Serve in ministry here at school? Do the lesson plans, cut out the art project, and share the message of Jesus.
Serve in leadership here at church? Think about funding, consider maintenance, but don’t forget our goal is to SHARE THE MESSAGE OF JESUS!
But don’t think you have to do it alone.
“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” More specifically in Acts: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you….” (1:8)
Ten days later.
The disciples are in Jerusalem just like Jesus told them to be.
There’s the sound of a hurricane like wind without the wind coming from within the room they are staying.
They look around and they see tongues of fire appear on the top of each other’s heads.
They are able to speak fluently in languages that they have never even studied.
The Holy Spirit was with them.
And they immediately find courage. Because they go out that day and do some sidewalk preaching – in the middle of downtown Jerusalem – with the end result that over 3,000 people are baptized and believe.
The Holy Spirit was with them.
And the Holy Spirit is with you.
Jesus left you with the promise of the HOLY SPIRIT.
By faith, the Holy Spirit is with you and he does the impossible.
He made fire appear on the heads of disciples.
He made them speak in language they never learned.
He made the sound of a hurricane occur without any hurricane winds.
He does the incredible!
The seemingly impossible.
Working through you.
To bring others to faith!
But that’s not all.
Look at verses 49-50 of Luke 24:
When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, Jesus lifted up his hands and blessed them.
Throughout Scripture, whenever Jesus’ hands are involved, there are some amazing blessings:
In Luke 13 he lays his hands on a woman who had never been able to straighten her back…and instantly she did.
In Mark 7, he lays his hands on a man who is deaf and mute and…instantly he hears and speaks.
In Mark 8, he lays his hands on a blind man’s eyes and…instantly he sees.
In Mark 6, it simply says, “He laid his hands on…sick people and healed them.” (v.5)
Talk about blessings.
And then, there’s the final blessing that pours from his hands.
He heads to a cross.
They take his hands and nails them.
And then blood flows forth.
But not just blood.
Jesus left, but left us with BLESSINGS pouring from his HANDS.
Even though you can’t see his hands.
Even though you can’t touch them.
The truth is no less true.
The blessings are no less real.
It’s one of the reasons that pastors for centuries have continued this tradition. Using the words of Scripture – God’s Word – they lift up their hands. They communicate God’s blessings on the congregation. They say: “The Lord bless you and keep you.”
This is more than just wishful thinking.
This is God’s real blessing given to you.
III. What Now?
I think that if you were a passerby and saw the aftermath of the Ascension, you might have laughed.
Because there were 20 some dudes.
Eyes lifted upwards.
Staring into the cloud.
Gazing into the sky.
Mouths dropped wide open.
And this continued…
A tap on the shoulder:
“The angel said, ‘Why do you stand there staring up into the sky? This same Jesus who left you…will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:10)
In other words:
You have a job to do.
Stop looking into heaven.
And start looking around.
Don’t you see…?
There are souls who need this message.
Souls in your office.
Souls at the garage.
Souls in your neighborhood.
Souls in your kid’s room.
Souls in your kitchen.
Souls in the easy chair across from you while watching Netflix tonight.
Everywhere you look there is work that needs to be done!
What a privilege God wants to work through YOU!
Keep your eyes on the task that Jesus has given you
Be a WITNESS of the EYEWITNESS truth of your Risen Savior. Amen.
We are in the middle of our Eyewitness sermon series and so far, we have heard Eyewitness reports from Mary Magdalene and from the Emmaus Disciples (Named? Cleopas and the other guy). In addition, we heard there’s a group of at least three other women (Mary the mother of James, Joanna and others—Lk. 24:10) who saw Jesus alive as well. That means by evening on Easter Sunday there are 5 people who have witnessed Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
The unlikely story is building credibility.
DNA testing was introduced into our court system in the early 90s. Did you know that hundreds of people who were previously convicted by eyewitness reports have been found not-guilty thanks to the DNA Testing? In 70% of those cases, the reason for conviction was the eyewitness testimony of one or two people.
John Wixted, a psychologist for the University of California, San Diego – wanted to see how useful eyewitness testimony was. He conducted an experiment with police that focused on 348 robberies in 2013 that involved an eyewitness and a single suspect. He showed the eyewitness a group of 5 photos in which one was the convicted robber. The eyewitnesses got the correct suspect 1/3 of the time.
But…in addition to quizzing eyewitnesses on the correct suspect, he also asked them about their certainty – whether they were unsure, certain, or very certain.
Of the people who were very certain? They correctly identified the suspect 75% of the time.
And when there was even one other supporting eyewitness, the rate of correct identification shot up to 90%.
By evening on the very first Easter, Jesus was identified as risen by at least 5 eyewitnesses.
And their confidence? It was through the roof! They didn’t see Jesus running away or from a distance, but up close and personal.
But…they aren’t even the beginning of the eyewitness accounts.
Today we’ll look an eyewitness account that probably quadruples the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. The goal? Gain your confidence that Jesus is alive. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Eyewitness Account
The eyewitness account is recorded in both the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Luke. We’re going be in both, starting with John. It says, “On the evening of that first day of the week...the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders…” (Jn. 20:19)
The section starts by describing a group of disciples together. The Gospel of Luke helps us better define who the group was gathered together.
A few notes:
It doesn’t involve Judas – he betrayed Judas and took his life because of the guilt.
It doesn’t involve Thomas – take note – we’ll talk more about that next week.
It does involve the Emmaus disciples – Cleopas and what’s-his-name show up to tell them all about their eyewitness experience.
It involves the women – Mary Magdalene, other Mary and Joanna, the other woman – who had seen Jesus rise from the dead.
And…maybe even a few others.
In short, the group is somewhere around 15-20 people.
And the doors were locked. It’s almost a horror film like setting. The disciples have the doors locked, latched, barred, with a couple pieces of furniture stacked against the door – all because they are afraid of the Jewish leaders.
The Jewish leaders just killed Jesus.
They crucified him.
They acted like a mob, wrongfully arrested him, falsely accused him, illegally convicted him, and forced Pilate’s hand to have him crucified.
What if the leaders did the same to them?
What if they had 12 more crosses just waiting to be filled with 12 more disciples?
What if any encounter with a Jewish leader would end the same way that Jesus’ encounter did…death?
And so, they hid.
And…all day long people had been entering the room with really weird accounts.
“We went to the grave and we thought he’d be dead, but the stone was moved!”
“An angel. A brilliantly bright angel. He saw us and spoke to us and said Jesus was alive.”
“It’s true. We listened to Mary. We ran to look. There wasn’t a body in the tomb.”
“I came back later and saw Jesus himself! I know it…because I heard his voice. A voice that healed me from demons.”
“We walked on the road with him. We talked with him. Would we have come all the way back here from Emmaus – a 7-mile sprint? – if we hadn’t really seen something?”
And to be fair – the reports brought excitement.
They brought mystery.
They brought questions.
But mostly…they brought fear.
Lots and lots of fear.
Because this fear of the Jews – had obviously caused their friends – delusions….
…their mind was playing tricks on them!
…a slow descent into madness.
How long until it hit them?
In the midst of the fear, confusion and hushed conversations…
Another guest appeared into the room.
Everyone was so distracted that they did not hear him enter.
Granted --- he didn’t knock.
He just appeared.
While they were…talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36-37)
And the disciples…have anything but peace!
It’s the ghost!
He’s seeking vengeance.
He’s back to haunt us.
Jesus lifted up his hands.
The disciples braced themselves for the inevitable plasma-ball to come out and consume them.
Jesus said this, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (v.38)
One by one…the disciples looked at each other.
“Touch him? Touch the ghost?”
“You do it.”
“No, you do it.”
“I’m not touching the ghost!”
Finally, Peter pushes his brother Andrew forward.
He lifts up his hand.
He places it on Jesus’ hand…and…
“Whoa…Guys. It’s real.”
The other disciples quickly come over.
They feel the bumps on his skin.
They feel the hairs on his arms.
They touched the holes near his hands.
He has flesh and bone – just like any other living human has.
Jesus asks, “Do you have anything here to eat?” (v.42)
One of them hands over the fish sandwich.
They pass it to Jesus.
It’ll probably fall to the floor – he’s a spirit.
Jesus ate it in their presence. (v.43)
It went into his mouth.
Chewed by his teeth.
Tasted by his tongue.
Into his throat
Into his belly.
Just like it does with any living human being.
Then, Jesus gave them something else.
He said to them, “This is what I said would happen. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Old Testament.” (v.44)
I had to die.
And I had to rise.
Just as it was written:
“God, you will not abandon my soul to the grave, nor let your Holy One see decay.” (Psalm 16:10)
“After he has suffered, the Messiah will see the light of life…” (Isaiah 53:11)
“Just as Jonah was three days and night in the belly of a fish, so the Son of man will be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth.” (Mt. 12:40)
Friends I am alive.
Jesus’ words echoed…
And the disciples came to a realization.
This wasn’t a hallucination.
This wasn’t a vision.
This wasn’t even a ghost.
This was something much worse.
This was real.
And it couldn’t be more terrifying!
Because the last time most of them saw Jesus?
It was in a garden, late at night, running away as he got arrested.
They had abandoned him.
They had denied him.
They had watched…without doing anything…as he died a slow, painful death on the cross.
They sinned against him…
Now he was back.
Proof that He was who He said He was.
Proof that He was God Almighty who controlled hurricanes, volcanoes and flash floods.
Proof that He was real --- and He was back – and He was back for one reason only:
One by one by the disciples looked towards the grounds.
They knew they were sinners and they were awaiting their sin-hating God to utterly destroy them.
Instead he repeated:
“Peace be with you.”
I am God.
I am alive.
I have the power of life and death.
But I am not angry. (Isaiah 27:4)
I am not here to get you.
I am not here for revenge.
I am here because we won.
Because your sins are forgiven.
Because we are at peace.
II. Resurrection Truth
There it is. The biggest, most populated eyewitness account that we’ve encountered to date.
It’s filled with reasons for confidence.
It’s filled with truth.
What is that truth? Three things:
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Yep. Third time that it’s come up as a truth to learn from the eyewitness account.
Think about it. Jesus goes out of his way to prove that His physical, tangible body is in working order again.
His digestive system works.
His joints work.
His skin works.
He even invites the disciples – all 20-some of them – to do a full, thorough investigation.
Don’t you think they did everything possible to determine if it really was real or not?
Some tapped him.
Someone pinched him.
I gotta imagine someone might have even tried to pluck his arm hair out.
And Jesus allows it! Because it’s real.
And, it’s not just any old tangible working body, but his own working body.
He’s had the nail marks in his hands to prove it.
He’s had holes in his feet to prove it.
He had a big, old slit in his side to prove it.
If this was all one big ruse, then Jesus would have had to convince someone, “Hey, do you mind posing as me after I die on the cross? Really? Cool. Now…I know it sounds crazy, but would you be willing to shove nails into your hands, a stake through your feet and a spear into your side? We’re gonna need those wounds to heal up in order to convince people that it’s really me.”
It didn’t happen.
What did happen?
Jesus really, absolutely, complete rose from the dead.
And that’s important.
Because that means…
(2) We Have Peace
It’s a phrase that Jesus repeats a few times.
“Peace be with you.”
“Peace be with you.”
Because as hard as it might be to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, it might be harder to believe that we have peace with God.
Because we have guilt.
We have sinned.
We have shame.
Truth is – you might be believing that God is so angry with you.
Because of past sins.
Because of BIG past sins.
Because of repeated sins.
Because of unbelief.
Because of not following Jesus.
Because you haven’t been whom God called you to be!
And so…you don’t believe.
And the biggest reason you don’t believe in the resurrection is not be a lack of evidence.
But your biggest reason for not believing in the resurrection is the ramifications.
I am a sinner and lo, God hates me!
But…if Jesus rose.
Then, sin has been defeated.
And…if Jesus rose,
Your sin has been paid for.
And…if your sin has been paid for. Completely. 100% perfectly.
Then, God’s wrath has subsided.
And if God’s wrath has subsided.
Then, you have no reason to be afraid.
Hear Jesus’ words to you:
“Peace be with you.”
Understand. It isn’t because your sin isn’t a big deal – it’s a huge deal.
It isn’t because God doesn’t hate sin and evil – He absolutely does.
It isn’t because you’ve done enough to make up for it – you can’t, and you won’t.
It’s because of Jesus.
Unbelievable as it is – it’s true.
About as unbelievable as a resurrection – also true.
The visible nature of the resurrection provides tangible proof of the invisible truth of reconciliation with God. (Romans 4:25)
The resurrection is the visible proof of the invisible truth:
You have peace with God.
Which leads to our final truth:
(3) You have been Sent
To end his encounter with the disciples, Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Do you get it?
God sent Jesus to bring us back to peace with Him.
And He sent risen Jesus to His disciples to confirm that peace with Him.
And He is sending us to share that peace with others.
He is sending YOU to share that peace with others.
Because there are people out there who are far apart from God.
Who are entangled in sin.
Who are covered in guilt.
Who are like those disciples huddled in that room afraid to face the world because they have no peace.
You give them that peace.
You tell them about Jesus.
And there aren’t any qualifications!
He doesn’t say, “If you have Seminary Certification then you have been sent.” Nope.
Qualifications for sharing Jesus include:
(1) Believing in Jesus.
(2) Hearing his call to “Go” and “Be sent.”
Which you just heard…
SO…this means you!
If you’ve known about Jesus since you were a child? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you’ve known about Jesus since this last Easter. Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are a 40 plus year member of this church? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you aren’t even a member yet? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are going home to a retirement community? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are going home to hang out in your playroom? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a master’s degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a bachelor’s degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a high school degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you don’t have any degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live near people who look and act like you? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you live near people who don’t look and don’t act like you? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a Republican? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a Democrat? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a political agnostic? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Raleigh? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Durham? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Wake Forest? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
IF you live in Chapel Hill? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Cary, Zebulon, Fuquay Varina, Rolesville, Louisburg…or any other villle or burg that I’m forgetting to mention here:
Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are a someone or an anyone who knows about Jesus…
(And friends – Jesus is talking to you)
You have been sent. Go and tell about Jesus.
And the Holy Spirit will be with you. Amen.
Over this sermon series, we’ve talked a lot about Fighting Temptation. But…How confident do you feel that you can fight temptation and win?
Today we’re going to study God’s Word and my goal is to teach you why you have every reason in the world to Fight Temptation confidently. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Reasons for Lacking Confidence
The lesson for this morning comes from Isaiah. He was a prophet who lived around 640 B.C. Mainly he preached warnings about what would happen to the Israelites if they didn’t start fighting temptation.
But most people didn’t listen.
God, through Isaiah, even predicted that they wouldn’t listen.
It’s why he prophesied that they would be taken into captivity.
Which…is exactly what happened. In 597 B.C., the Babylonian army ransacked the country of Judah. They destroyed the infrastructure and took hundreds of thousands of Israelites captive as prisoners back to Babylon.
It was then, in captivity, that many of the people began to listen.
They looked back at the prophesies of Isaiah and discovered sections like this:
“Who handed Jacob over to become loot, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned? For they would not follow his ways;
they did not obey his law. So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart.” (v.24-25)
Can you imagine?
Being in captivity.
We didn’t follow his ways.
We did not obey his law.
We are in flames because of our sinful failures!
I can’t imagine that the Israelites had a lot of confidence.
Just a lot of “if onlys.”
If only I’d listened to God.
If only I had fought back against temptation.
If only I had told that merchant, “No. We don’t need your bejeweled god statues. We worship the one true, invisible God, the Lord.”
If only I had told my wife, “No, we aren’t going to teach our kids that worship isn’t important. We’ll tell them that worship is the most important thing to their eternal relationship with God.”
If only I had told my friends, “No, I’m not going to get drunk with you tonight…then I never would have done a lot of other things that I wish I had never done.”
If only I had told myself, “Get up. Fight these temptations. Stop being complacent and follow your God.”
Then, I wouldn’t be in captivity.
It feels too late.
I’ve failed too many times.
God has abandoned me.
Temptation will always win.
Can you relate?
Maybe your record against temptation isn’t good.
Maybe you keep losing in your personal battle against your personal demons.
Maybe you have a weakness that you’re so ashamed of – you question if you even belong in this church family.
Maybe you feel weighed down by guilt, alone in your battle, like you are in captivity to a particular sin!
Maybe you’ve tried psyching yourself up, waking up in prayer, saying, “Today is the day I beat that temptation,” only…to attempt your day…and…lose.
Maybe you feel alone like you are the only one who is fighting against a particular sin.
And, maybe, all of these thoughts convince you…
That you’ll never win.
That you’ll always fail against temptation.
That you have NO reason to be confident in ever winning again.
If that’s how you think…
II. Confidence from God Himself
Listen to Isaiah 43.
It’s written for God’s people.
It’s written for God’s people in captivity to Babylon.
It’s written for God’s people in captivity to their own sinful choices.
It’s written to God’s people – like you.
And it’s filled with confidence-boosting statements from God himself.
But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3)
Look at those words.
Do you hear God’s voice?
He’s speaking to you.
And giving you all kinds of confidence.
(1) “You are my Creation.”
Look at the first verse. It says, “This is what the LORD says, he who created you, O Jacob; he who formed you, O Israel.” (43:1) It’s not even an actual statement of God yet, but through it, God still communicates something to you.
“You are my creation.”
Over at Precious Lambs, the kids take their artwork very, very seriously. They are proud of their artwork. They love to show off their artwork. They love to show me their artwork. They love to bring artwork home for mom and dad.
And they get really, really upset if they lose their artwork.
There was a girl the other day whose conversation with mom went something like this:
“Calm down. Honey. What’s wrong!”
“You threw my artwork away!”
“Are you sure? I just threw some of the pictures with scribbles on them away.”
“It wasn’t scribbles. It was a picture of a unicorn!”
Kids love their artwork because it’s their artwork.
They created it.
They put it on paper.
Their imagination developed the piece.
The same is true with God and you.
You come from the annals of God’s divine mind.
He thought you up before you ever thought your first word.
He knit you together with his own powerful, yet gentle hands. (Psalm 139:13)
Do you think God will just leave you to suffer?
Do you think God won’t come to your rescue?
Do you think God won’t work tirelessly to get you back even after your own sins have left you feeling like garbage?
(2) “You are Redeemed.”
Verse 2 says this, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.” (Isaiah 43:2a)
Redeem means to “buy back.” To “pay for.” To “purchase again.”
And God has redeemed YOU.
Because yes! We fell to sin.
Yes, we were owned by our guilt.
We were owned by our shame.
We were owned by our addictions.
We were owned by our brokenness.
Jesus came to earth.
He offered the most precious currency of all:
His perfect blood.
Jesus bought you.
Jesus paid for you.
Jesus redeemed you.
You do not belong to your addiction.
You do not belong to your temptation.
You do not belong to your sins.
You belong to God!
It’s like at Sola café: They have this little card at Sola café that if you remember to have it stamped every time you order a drink, the 10th drink is free! Even if you do what I do and order a small coffee, the cheapest thing on the menu, for the other 9 drinks, you can get a large, 6-dollar Caramel Macchiato for FREE. Fully paid for.
You have been fully paid for.
No matter how much sin you have fallen to.
You belong to God – fully and completely.
(3) “I know you.”
God says, “I have called you by name.” (Isaiah 43:2b) That’ s an uplifting truth.
Because it’s easy to feel like you are just a number.
It’s easy to feel as if God’s redemptive power is big and great, but not that personal.
It’s like calling for tech support. And you say, “Hi! I’m Phil calling from Gethsemane Church” and they say, “What’s your equipment ID number?” And you say, “I don’t know that. But I’m from Gethsemane Church, we have an account with you.” And they say, “Equipment ID Number please.” And you say, “I spoke with you about 15 minutes ago? Don’t you remember me?” And they say, “I remember you. You haven’t given me the Equipment ID Number yet.”
God says you are more than an Equipment ID Number to him.
You are you.
He knows your name.
He knows your first name.
He knows your last name.
He knows your middle name.
He knows your nickname.
He knows your maiden name.
He knows your username.
He knows your pet name.
He knows your surname.
He even knows your Superhero name – that you found out from that one Facebook quiz you took way back in 2014.
God knows you.
Personally knows you.
He knows your struggles.
He knows your weaknesses.
He knows the things you’ve told your friends.
He knows the things you’ve told your counselor.
He knows the things you haven’t told your counselor.
He stands beside you.
And whispers: “You have a new name.”
I will call you, “Mine.”
This is why he also whispers:
(4) “I am With You.”
God has Isaiah write this, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:3)
This is a metaphor.
Because in the Old Testament, the Israelite people had once been surrounded by their enemies and a deep, vast sea. They had no where to go! They were as good as dead.
But God was with them.
He split the waters and they crossed through on dry ground – fish and sea weed and currents on each side.
And again in the Old Testament, some men were thrown into a fiery furnace because they didn’t bow down and worship a giant golden statue of the king.
But God was with them.
He kept them safe in the flames so that not a hair, not a thread, not even a little piece of beard was singed in the fire. Neither did they smell of smoke.
And you…when you are surrounded by temptation.
When you feel all alone.
When you think there’s no way out.
When you are terrified of what’s going on in your life.
God is with you.
He will keep you safe.
He will help you out.
He will lead you safely – undrowned.
Victorious over temptation!
And here’s how he does it:
(5) “I am your Savior.”
God has Isaiah write this, “I am the LORD, your God, the holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (v.3)
That same powerful God who defeated split the Red Sea.
That same powerful God who kept the men safe in the furnace.
That same powerful God who died on the cross and saved you from sin – is your Savior.
It isn’t like waiting in the doctor’s office to see your specific specialist about your specific special problem and then someone walks into the room.
You don’t recognize them. You look closely at their name badge and it says: “Intern.”
God is your Savior.
Not your “might be Savior.”
Not your “Try-the-hardest-to-save-but-failing Savior.”
Not even “Everyone else’s Savior.”
No. Your Savior.
Which leads to a very powerful passage. Friends – write this down. Memorize it. Bring it from God’s heart to your heart:
“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions. I will forget your sins and remember your wickedness no more.” (v.25)
God has destroyed your sins so completely that he can’t even remember a single sin.
He can’t even remember that you’ve failed.
He can’t even remember that you’re a failure.
Because of him.
You are a winner.
III. What Now?
Fight like a champion.
And let me tell you:
Champions don’t come on out and let the other punch first.
They come out swinging.
They come out dodging.
They come out with a plan.
Do you have a temptation that you struggle against?
Come out swinging.
Come out dodging.
Come out with a plan.
(1) Come out Swinging
Because too often we are reactive against temptation. We wait for it to strike and hope that we can react when it does.
It’s like coffee. I drink too much.
Maybe…some of you knew that.
But here’s the thing…I know I drink too much yet, I put myself in the same situation each day.
I stay up later than I should.
I don’t have anything to drink until I have my morning coffee.
I hang out for the first hour of every weekday – within about 50 steps of the coffee pot.
No wonder I keep failing.
Why not go on the offensive? Romans 8:13 says: “By the Spirit, put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Don’t just punch them in the mouth or put them in a headlock. The language is stronger. Put them to death!
Talking about my caffeine struggle:
Why not drink 2 glasses of water before the coffee pot gets put on?
Why not go to bed 30 minutes earlier so that I’m not so tired?
Why not tell an entire congregation about it so that they can hold you accountable and tell you to drink a bit less?
Whatever your temptation is, think about it: how can you attack it?
(2) Come out Dodging
But there will be times when temptation blindsides you.
When suddenly you find yourself in situations in which things don’t look good.
When Satan pulls some guerrilla warfare on you.
The Bible tells the story about a guy named Joseph. He worked as a servant in the house of a rich government official. He loved working there. He respected his master. He wanted to keep his job.
One day – the government official’s wife – she developed a crush on Joseph – he was young and handsome – one day when noticed him working in the house when no one else is around. She said to him, “Come to bed with me. Sleep with me. No one is around. No one will know. You’ll be all mine.”
And Joseph said?
“I’m out of here.”
Literally – the Bible says that he runs away.
He dodges the temptation.
Why not do that?
Too often I think we tried to play the hero. We try to put ourselves in situations that we know we fail at – and wait to see if we might beat temptation.
The Bible says differently. 2 Timothy 2:2 says, “Flee youthful passions.”
Don’t hover over the page with all the scantily clad women -- click the “x” and get out of there.
Don’t hang around the coffee pot or water cooler that’s bringing up your favorite gossip. Leave.
Don’t sit at the dinner table, getting angrier and angrier ready to blow your top on your spouse – say, “Honey. Give me a second.” Walk away. Cool down. Don’t sin.
(3) Come out with a Plan
I imagine that’s what the final two teams in the NCAA tournament are doing right now. They are planning how to defeat each other. They are coming up with plays, they are coming up with values, they are getting ready to explain to their teams: “When we are in this situation, do this. When we are in this other situation, do this.”
It would be ludicrous for a team to be in the finals of the NCAA tournament and have their plan be, “I don’t have a plan. Try to win.”
It’s ludicrous for us to attempt to fight temptation without a plan.
Proverbs 14:22 says this, “Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.”
Friends, champions make a plan.
In Jesus, you are a champion.
Make a plan to fight against temptation.
If you have a sin that you struggle with…repeatedly, why not come up with a plan?
Why not take a moment and write it up. Literally write it up in a notebook.
Pray about it. Seek God’s wisdom about it. Ask a trusted friend about it. Then, write up your plan.
If you need help in this – I will help you.
So will the others at church.
That’s what I hope you’ll do for others.
Because that’s what church is.
Our goal is to help out, swing, dodge, and plan for your fight against temptation.
Which leads to our final point.
(4) View Yourself as the Champ!
Because it’s so easy to view yourself as nothing more than a sinner.
And to a certain extent that’s important. It leads us to Jesus.
But once we have heard the promise of God’s forgiveness and we leave these walls to battle temptation, it is so important that we see ourselves as God sees us – as winners in Jesus.
It’s like what happens during a basketball game. If you go into the game thinking, “We’ll probably lose because we are losers,” you’ll probably lose.
But if the coach can get you to think you have a chance or even that you’ll win, you have an advantage because you are already in a winning frame of mind.
Friend, you are a winner in Jesus.
Think of yourself as a winner.
Envision yourself squashing the devil and all of his foolish attempts – even if it’s a temptation by which he has squashed you over and over again.
Because you are in Christ.
Christ is in you.
He stomped the devil.
He stomped sin.
He stomped guilt.
He stomped shame.
He stomped death itself when…three days later…
Three days later, he rose from the grave.
Friends, as Christ is the winner, you are a winner.
Fight temptation. Amen.
Today we are taking a look at a guy with some really, really bad sins who is confronted by the Risen Lord Jesus himself. Our goal is to apply what he learns about his really, really bad sins and apply it to our own really, really bad sins. But before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Background
The guy we want to talk about has already made a few cameo appearances in the book of Acts. Maybe you noticed? Maybe you didn’t.
First, flash back to the end of Acts 7. That’s the section about Stephen, the bread delivery guy who told widows about Jesus -- and got killed because he delivered bread to widows and told people about Jesus. At the end of his trial, as the religious leaders are angry and picking up stones to hurl them at Stephen, Acts 7:58 says this: “Members of the Sanhedrin laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul and he approved of their killing him.”
Have you ever tried throwing a baseball in a sports coat? Or toss the pigskin in a three-piece suit? It’s not very easy. Usually, you take off the coat, so your arms are a bit freer.
These guys? They took off their coats because they wanted as little friction as possible for throwing stones at the “Jesus lover’s” head.
And Saul – he’s not in the game – but on the sidelines – holding onto the non-violent-stone-hurling-clothing and nodding and approving.
Essentially, this Saul guy got his start as the equipment manager for Stephen’s murderers.
In fact, this spurs Saul on to action. He didn’t want to be a benchwarmer forever. Look at 8:3 “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” He’s motivated. He sees a bunch of religious leaders kill an Ordinary Christian church member and he says, “Anything you can do, I can do better.” He goes on an assault as the main guy in charge of destroying the church.
He doesn’t just throw Apostles in jail.
He pursues ordinary church members.
And not just the guys either….
Saul crosses over into the field of throwing Christian women – usually untouchable because we should treat women with respect and take good care of them – but Saul brings his special form of violence against Christian women.
In short, if you are a Christian, you would have been a target for Saul.
Flashforward. The persecution in Jerusalem caused the church to spread. Christians scattered to the north south and west. As they spread, God’s Word spread.
The Unstoppable Gospel remained unstoppable. It’s what we talked about the last two weeks.
About how Philip shared the amazing, Unstoppable Gospel with Simon the dark arts magician and a town under his dark magic.
About how Philip dirty, rugged and sweaty shared the amazing, Unstoppable Gospel with the Ethiopian royalty in the middle of nowhere and he believed.
Saul persecuted the church in Jerusalem.
The church spread out and started growing outside of Jerusalem.
And Saul couldn’t stand it.
Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belong to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. (9:1-2)
It’s kinda like crabgrass. Any of you have crab grass? I’ve been trying to get rid of it by pulling the stuff that pops up or spraying on some crab grass killer. But then what happens is, I kill it in one spot and then it pops up in another spot. I’m thinking about torching the whole lawn, but the crab grass would probably be all that survived.
Saul viewed Christianity like crab grass.
He viewed it as a weed that needed to be destroyed.
He was willing to travel hundreds of miles to put a stop to it.
So, he asked the priests for letters – official recommendation letters stamped with the Pharisaical seal of approval – that he could take to synagogues in other towns. Letters he could give to his fellows Jews in the synagogue that read, “This is Saul. He’s cool. Let him kill off all the Christians in the area. It’s for the best.”
Saul asked for letters like that.
Saul received letters like that.
And Saul was empowered to kill because of letters like that.
II. The Confrontation
One particular eradication journey was to a place called Damascus. It was about 150 miles to the North East of Jerusalem.
That’s not an easy trip. But Saul goes – cause his hatred for all-things-Jesus is that much.
It was hot.
It was sweaty.
It was long.
But Saul kept himself occupied. As he travelled, surrounded by a group of vicious henchmen, he practiced swinging his sword, picturing it plunging into the heart of “a mouthy Christian” and he whistled. He was so happy to be doing God’s work and totally eradicating the message of Jesus.
He was carefree.
He was happy.
He was right.
A bright flash. (v.3)
Not the sun.
A brilliant, otherworldly like flash that filled the entirety of Saul’s vision.
Saul fell down.
He heard a voice:
Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (v.4)
Who was it?
Was it Peter?
Was it John?
Was it one his friends playing a prank?
The voice spoke again:
I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. (v.5)
Jesus? As in the guy that I’m persecuting?
As in the guy that my associates killed?
As in the guy that was dead?
As in the guy that supposedly came back to life, but that’s impossible so I have been dedicating my life to completely and absolutely eradicating all of his followers?
Saul looked and believed the man.
And it wasn’t just the subtle glow of the light.
It wasn’t just the confidence in his voice.
It was the nail marks in his hands.
And a lump grew in Saul’s throat the size of a Passover matzo ball.
Jesus was real.
He had thought it was all a sham…
He had thought it was all phony…
He had thought it was all a demon inspired threat to the truth about God…
He was wrong.
Jesus wasn’t the demon inspired threat.
And Jesus? He must have come for revenge.
To zap him.
To destroy him.
To breathe murderous threats against him and take him as a prisoner to the tortures of hell.
Just not yet.
Get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do. (v.6)
Then, Jesus disappeared.
Thank God – he had a few more moments to live.
But…Saul blinked. He couldn’t see. The light was gone and there was only darkness. It was a chilling reminder of how he had been in darkness and completely wrong about Jesus.
He heard his companions voices:
Saul, are you alright?
Saul, we heard the voice?
Saul, what should we do next?
“Drop your swords.
Take my hand.
Get me to Damascus.”
III. The Change
Upon getting to Damascus, Saul changed his itinerary.
Instead of fighting Christians, he was fighting his own demons.
I was so wrong.
I am so guilty.
I persecuted God’s Son!
I killed his people.
I am a liar.
I am a murderer.
I am a sinner – guilty – and in danger of the fires of hell.
Saul didn’t eat.
Saul didn’t drink.
He allowed his physical body to go through the torture that his soul was going through. (v.9)
And then, on the third day…
A man named Ananias.
He was a disciple of Jesus.
He would have been one of the men that Saul came to kill.
Now he was blind.
He was weak.
Surely, Ananias had come to kill him.
“Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (v.17) You are his chosen instrument. He will work through you. He loves you. He died for you. He forgives you.
It was hard to believe!
He was such a sinner.
He was so guilty.
He had done so much wrong!
But …as soon as Ananias finished his message…God did something to emphatically prove Ananias’ point:
Immediately, something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see again. (v. 18a)
Visual proof of the invisible truth.
God had forgiven Saul.
But seeing spiritually that Jesus was his Savior.
Saul got up.
He got up and immediately was baptized. (v.18b)
He was loved.
He was accepted.
He was forgiven.
IV. The Truth
This true story is a true story about Saul.
It’s a true story about God’s grace to Saul.
But it’s also a true story with one very important truth for you.
Jesus died even for the really, really bad sins.
We shouldn’t rank sins. God doesn’t do that.
But humanly speaking, we rank sins all of the time.
There are certain sins that just stick with us. Certain sins we feel extra guilty for. Certain sins that we become convinced Jesus would never have died for.
Is that actually true?
Jesus died for all sins.
Jesus died for the small sins.
Jesus died for even the really, really bad sins.
For that arrest.
For cheating on your spouse.
For practicing homosexuality.
For those awful words you said.
For that violent thing you did.
For that racist blow-up at work.
Even the “worst” and most awful sins find their relief in Jesus.
Want proof? Saul later wrote this:
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Tim. 1:15)
Saul gets it.
He knows what it’s like to feel guilt.
Humanly speaking he did a great deal of sins.
Humanly speaking his sins rank up at the worst!
Yet he was forgiven.
If he was forgiven, you are forgiven too.
There is no sin too big.
No sin too bad.
No sin too “sin” for Jesus our Savior.
So…what now? Two things:
1) Lay Your Really, Really Big Sins at the Feet of Jesus
If Jesus removes even your really, really big sins, then stop carrying their guilt around.
You need to drop them.
You need to leave them at the foot of the cross.
At the gym, sometimes they make us carry Kettle Balls. Kettle Balls can be a lot of different weights. Sometimes, if you want to do the prescribed workout, the Kettle Ball can be up to about 70 lbs. You have to carry it in a lot of different ways. At your side. In a front rack. Even over your head. It can be tiring. Especially after walking a couple 100 meters.
Then, when you get to the end, you set them down at the rack and you stop carrying them. Like I never pick it up and go: “I wish we could carry these for another couple of hundred feet.” NEVER.
Why do the same thing with guilt?
Jesus died for your sin.
Jesus removed all your sin.
Jesus removed all your guilt.
There is no reason for you to pick it up and carry it with you.
God is strong enough.
God carried it to the cross.
Leave it at the cross.
2) Be Ananias for Others
Because Ananias had every reason to not share forgiveness with Saul! In fact, if we back up in the story – Ananias is a bit frightened to bring the message of Jesus to Saul, a known Christian persecutor, as he is a Christian.
I bet Ananias felt like saying: “Hi Saul! Ya big jerkface! I hope that God punishes you with hell.”
But he doesn’t.
Instead, he denies his own personal feelings and shares God’s forgiveness.
You do the same.
When someone has sinned greatly – against you – against someone else – share the Gospel.
Don’t do the thing where someone comes up to you and says, “I’m sorry,” and you’re like, “That was really, terrible and awful, what you did to me.”
And they say, “I know. I’m sorry.”
And you say, “Yes! It was awful! The worst!”
And they say, “I do regret it. I am terribly sorry.”
And you say, “You were so wrong. So very, very, very, very, very wrong.”
That’s not helpful.
That’s not God’s message to the repentant heart.
God’s message to the repentant heart is “Forgiven.”
That’s the message we share with the repentant heart. The message of “Forgiven in Jesus.”
This is not the end of Saul’s story. It’s only the page turn. Just wait – stick with it – you are going to watch Saul’s life totally transform in devotion to Jesus.
And that’s because Jesus was totally devoted to Saul.
That same Jesus was devoted to you.
That same Jesus devoted his life to you.
That same Jesus gave up his life for you.
In him, even the really, really bad sins are really, really forgiven. Amen.
People always talk about Easter being a magical time, a wonderful time, a special time, a time unlike any other.
Is it really?
You can color Easter eggs any day of the year. (They look the same in December as they do in mid-April)
You can buy chocolate bunnies any day of the year. (In fact, if you wait till the day after Easter, they cost a lot less.)
You can eat a big breakfast – any day that Waffle House is open.
You can dress up – any day of the year. (Trust me. Go to the mall. Somebody’s having a sale.)
You can even be reunited as a family – gasp - even on a non-holiday.
Here’s the truth:
A lot of the things that we think make Easter special – aren’t really that special.
They aren’t miracles so much as non-miracles.
Does that mean there’s nothing special about Easter?
Today we want to look at the one thing that makes Easter miraculous. A miracle unlike any miracle ever – a NEW kind of miracle. And we want to learn how that MIRACLE is still doing miraculous things in 2018. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. He’s Dead…Really Dead.
Our Easter lesson starts at the house of a woman called Mary.
Not Mary Magdalene.
Not Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
Mary. Mother of James and Joses.
Ever heard of her?
She hadn’t slept much that night. Not much the last couple of nights. The scenes that played out whenever she closed her eyes were too horrifying, too awful, too grotesque:
The repetitive fists connecting to the prisoner’s face.
The visceral shouts of “CRUCIFY HIM!”
The tearing of flesh with the 7 stranded, metal tipped, leather whip. (Being Flogged)
The blood drops popping out of the thorns smashed through his forehead.
And then…the hanging.
The hanging...and the dying.
The mother of James the Less stood up. She walked over to the window. The sun would be up soon. And…she needed to move on. She needed to move on because it wasn’t going to change: Jesus. Was. Dead.
She had seen him die.
She had seen his head drop and his body go limp.
She had seen the soldiers take the limp body off the cross.
She had seen the burial preparations that the make shift morticians had done to his body.
She had even seen the place where the put his body.
She had seen the door to the grave shut – sealing him in death.
Jesus was dead and there’s nothing she could do about it.
Suddenly, she heard a frantic knocking at the door. It was Mary Magdalene. Her hair was ragged. Her eyes were tear stained. Mascara running. She looked a bit…rough.
“Hurry. We’ve gotta get going. We’ve gotta be there for him. We’ve gotta.”
“I know. I know. Just a second. I’m almost ready.”
The mother of James the Less went behind the door and strapped on her sandals.
They were going to Jesus’ tomb.
They going to honor him.
They were going to begin healing from this tragedy.
She shut the door behind her and joined Mary in the streets. At the corner they met up with their friend Salome. She had her arms full – a few bottles of anointment in one arm – spices like balsam, saffron, frankincense and myrrh. “Don’t’ just stand there; help me with a few of these bottles.”
They nodded, grab some of the spices and continued their journey to the early morning graveyard.
The walk there was odd. There wasn’t much to say. There was the occasional sobbing…a few sniffles, and strange attempts at small talk.
“I think I saw a bird.”
“Do you guys thing saffron will taste good on a fish sandwich?”
“My neck is still sore from staring up at that cross.”
But eventually, a good question:
“When we get there, who’s going to move the giant stone for us?”
They hadn’t considered it yet. That stone was a good 500 some pounds. It was large enough to cover the entrance to the tomb. And it had been sealed – with the seal of Pontius Pilate – an extra precaution to ensure that grave robbers didn’t do anything to his body. They could ask the Roman soldiers on guard – another part of that security – but they were rather lazy oafs who didn’t care much about Jewish culture – let alone Jewish burial practices. Unless they had money, they might have to move that stone on their own.
But as they tried to figure out whether or not a bottle of myrrh was a good bargaining chip, they entered the grave yard. Th early morning light shone on something they weren’t expecting:
The stone was gone.
It was no longer at the front of the entrance at least.
It had been rolled away.
Set to the side.
Mary Magdalene panicked.
“What in the world? That’s too much. They torture him. They kill him and now this? Did they take his body and hang it on a pole. I can’t. I can’t…handle.”
Mary Magdalene dropped her bottles to the ground, turned around and ran out of there.
After a moment, Salome looked at the mother of James the Less, “Let’s go,” she said solemnly.
They both walked forward toward the tomb. As they got closer, they noticed a subtle glow coming from inside the tomb – as if the morning light was trapped inside.
They peeked in.
There was no body.
He didn’t look like a criminal.
He wasn’t wearing Roman soldier gear.
He was dressed in white – glowing white.
And he was smiling.
“Do not be afraid. You are looking for Jesus who was dead. He is not here. He has risen—just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
The women stood still for a moment.
Was this an angel? Did they dare go in?
Their curiosity was too much. They entered the tomb and began a frantic search of the area.
The body wasn’t in the grave clothes – they were folded nicely at the top of the stone bed.
And it wasn’t behind the stone.
And it wasn’t under that leaf in the corner.
And there wasn’t any sign of digging anywhere.
In fact, there wasn’t any sign of a struggle.
There wasn’t any blood.
There weren’t any footprints.
The body was gone.
Utterly amazed and slightly stupefied, the women turned to the angel. “Go and tell his disciples. They will see him again.” The angel said.
The mother of James the Less nodded.
Salome did too.
They were trembling.
They began to walk away from the tomb.
The walk turned into a trot.
The trot into a jog.
The jog into a run.
They didn’t stop and tell anyone on the way. No one would believe them anyway. They’d just call them a bunch of crazy women – off their rockers – insane.
They were almost in the clear.
Almost back without talking to anyone until…
A man…from behind a nearby bush.
The women stumbled.
And said, “Greetings.”
It was a voice they heard before.
They looked up to see who it was.
It was Jesus.
II. A Miracle Unlike Any Other.
That my friend is the true story of the resurrection.
That my friends is what makes Easter unlike any other holiday in history.
That is what makes today’s celebration miraculous.
Because – the miracle that occurred on that Sunday morning was unlike any miracle ever…
1. Jesus Did the Impossible…
To be fair – Jesus had done the impossible before. He had made blind people see. He had caused the deaf to hear and the lame to walk.
But death is much more than that.
Your eyes don’t work.
Your ears don’t work.
Your legs don’t work.
Your heart doesn’t work.
Your lungs don’t work.
Your body doesn’t work.
And…nowadays…we have some incredible advances in science.
We can use defibrillators to shock a heartbeat that has stopped back to beating again – as long as it’s only a been 2 minutes or less.
We can hook people up to breathing machines that pump air in the lungs electronically.
We can have people’s blood come out of the body and back into the body through a machine that is doing the job of a nonfunctioning liver.
We can keep organs moving and working – when there isn’t any brain activity – and we aren’t exactly sure if someone is dead or not.
He had been dead for over 36 hours.
His body would already have been decaying.
No amount of chest compressions.
No amount of defibrillator shocks.
No amount of forced air from an iron lung could do anything to help him.
He came back to life.
He did the impossible.
2. …In a State in which It is Impossible to do Anything…
A few weeks ago, someone hit a racoon near my house. It was out on the street squished to the ground. Kinda gross. And over the next couples of days I saw it on the road as I drive to and from work.
Do you know what I saw happen?
The racoon did absolutely nothing. Because it was dead.
And dead things do nothing.
He was dead.
And he did the one thing impossible for any human to do while they were living.
Combine those two facts.
It isn’t like he lifted his finger.
He didn’t wiggle a toe.
He didn’t start whistling.
While he was a in a state in which it was impossible to do anything, he did the impossible!
The dead guy brought himself back to life!
But that’s just the beginning…
3. …As a Visual Proof of the Impossible Invisible Truth
1 Corinthians 15:22 says this, “As in Adam all die.” That’s a refence to the very first human being. A guy named “Adam” which literally means, “Man.” Adam was made perfect. Adam was made without sin. Adam was made not to die.
But then…he chose to sin.
He was no longer holy.
He was the opposite of good --
He was evil.
And as a result – people were going to die.
If you think it’s harsh that God would punish them with death, then you don’t understand holiness.
Imagine if a judge fined you for going 10 mph over the speed limit, but then didn’t fine the guy after you for going 15mph over. That’d be unjust. That’d be unfair. That’d be an unjust in support of wrong.
If a good God is like, “That bad isn’t so bad. I’ll let it be.”
Suddenly, he’s not a good God.
He’s tolerating evil.
He’s an evil God.
God can’t be in support of wrong.
He can only be against it.
That’s why Adam had to be doomed to death.
But here’s where it gets really sad. Because Adam and his wife passed the bad down to their children. It’s kind of like genetics. In genetics, you pass on your hair color to your children. You pass on freckles. My dad passed on my receding hairline and I look forward to one day passing it on to my son.
Adam? He passed on his sinfulness.
He and his wife were sinful humans who gave birth to sinful humans.
Those sinful humans grew up and gave birth to more sinful humans.
Until…eventually…you and me.
Sinful humans doomed to death.
Maybe you know that.
Whether it’s cancer.
Whether it’s old age.
Whether it’s losing a child.
Whether it’s a freak car accident.
Whether it’s terrorism or mass shootings.
You know our world is filled with death.
And eventually…it will come to you and me.
It’s impossible to get away from!
But “As in Adam all die, in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22b)
Jesus is different than Adam.
He was born of God who is holy, not Adam who is unholy.
He lived perfectly.
He was good.
He did not deserve death.
Allow me to explain with a simple kitchen sponge. Do you all own one of these? (Most are nodding heads – a few single guys are like – What’s a sponge and what is it for?) A sponge soaks up dirt. It soaks up grime. If you spill orange juice, a sponge soaks up the orange juice off of the counter and removes it from the counter. It soaks up the coffee from the coffee table and removes it from the coffee table. It soaks up the failed science experiment of red food dye, baking soda and lemon juice and removes from the science table.
Before use – the table is dirty; the sponge is clean.
After us – the sponge is dirty; the table is clean.
And that’s what Jesus did for us.
He soaked up our sins on his body.
He took them on himself.
He soaked up our greed, our lusts, our selfishness, our gossip, our gross sinful failures – even the ones that stain our hearts deeply.
He became dirty and left us clean.
And since he was dirty – that’s why he died.
It’s what happens to any dirty, disgusting sponge, it gets thrown away.
God the Father threw Jesus onto across and into a tomb.
You are now without a stain.
You are clean because of Him.
In other words – God forgave you.
Which sounds awesome. But hard to believe.
Because you can’t see sins evaporating into thin air.
Nobody has a halo around their head this morning.
The fact is we still sin.
How do we know Jesus cleaned us?
Because the very thing that caused Jesus to die – our sins – no longer kept him dead.
Jesus rose; he left your sins in the tomb.
Jesus annihilated your sins.
Jesus destroyed your guilt.
Jesus killed death.
And that’s what this passage is saying, “In Christ all are made alive.”
Now we are no longer born of sinful Adam, but of sinless Christ.
We are no longer born of unholy Adam, but of holy God.
We are no longer born of destined to die, but destined to live Jesus Christ.
THIS IS WHAT MAKES EASTER SPECIAL:
Jesus did the impossible while in a state by which it is impossible to do anything as proof that the invisibly impossible had been done.
This is a message for you. Believe.
Believe that Jesus died.
Believe that Jesus rose.
Believe that Jesus has done the invisibly impossible and cleaned you from all of your sins.
That’s what In Christ means. It means believers in Christ. Unbelief means rejecting his work, running into the empty tomb, grabbing those dirty sponges of yucky sins and saying, “I prefer to live in filth.”
Yuck. Condemnation is deserved.
But belief in Jesus means trusting that he has cleansed us from our sins.
It means trusting in his forgiveness.
It means trusting that because of Him, you will live.
No matter who you are.
Because the women in the story today are the first two to see Jesus’ empty tomb. Did you remember their names? It’s Salome – a woman that’s only mentioned during this resurrection time period and Mary the mother of James the Less. A woman known simply for being a mother.
It’s not Peter.
It’s not John.
It’s not Pontius Pilate or one of the Pharisees.
It’s not even Mary Magdalene.
It’s two seemingly insignificant players in the story of Jesus’ life whose only appearance is on that weekend.
You might feel like a Mary, the mother of James the Less.
You might feel like a Salome.
You might feel not all that important, not all that godly, and not all that much like God could care about you.
But he does.
He lived for you.
He died for you.
He cleaned you.
He rose for you to prove it.
That’s the miracle of Easter.
A miracle unlike any other.
A miracle that still works the miracle of faith today. Amen.
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
Have you ever had one of those moments of sheer terror at being caught? I mean the total anxiety panic of knowing… there is no way out of this. If you know what I mean, it was probably when you were younger? Though maybe not, contrary to what we like to think of ourselves, the youth do not corner the market on stupid decisions.
Whatever it was you were doing or did, I’m sure it was very attractive. The thought of all you could gain from going down that path was irresistible. It was so simple, required so little effort, and the benefits, well, they were pretty amazing. I’m guessing that the thought of being caught or the consequences never actually entered your mind. Maybe you had to think about one or two ways to smartly keep it hidden, but the fact that it was just wrong never really was part of the decision-making process.
At least, until you were caught.
You were… not so clever as you thought. Or you over-reached out of greed and arrogance. And if you’re remembering that moment from your life right now just like I am, you can feel the panic. Feel the fear grip your heart as you face whatever might be coming.
And that might be the worst of it. You don’t know what might be coming. I suppose it depended on what it was, how old you were and the like? Maybe privileges would be taken away. Maybe it would just be the shame of letting someone else down. Maybe it would break a relationship. Maybe it would be legal action. But the fear of knowing you’d been caught and there was no getting out of it, that tightening of your heart… that’s what I’m talking about.
Now why… why would I make you relive something like that this evening? It’s bad enough when those memories haunt us at quiet moments during the day or night. Why drag them up on purpose?
Well because that is exactly the feeling I want you to think of when you picture what it’s like to stand before God almighty and try to justify yourself to him.
To better appreciate this evening, I’d like to walk you through… well it’s a metaphor. This isn’t really how things will happen at the end, not literally. But the truth of it holds. So, imagine with me. Imagine the moment comes. Your earthly life has ended, and you are waiting to see what happens next. You’ve heard that Heaven is the place to be and Hell, well not so much.
Though there is some nervous anticipation, you’re feeling – pretty good about what’s to come. You’re a good person. You were a good son or daughter, a good spouse or a good parent. You did right by the people around you. You worked your job, you went to church, you helped those in need. This should go well.
And the time comes that your name is called. You are escorted from a waiting area into a courtroom. There is no jury, only the judge. And there are no witnesses, only the judge. God. One look from his piercing stare and it all comes crashing down. The intensity of that gaze opens your own eyes and you know. You know, and you remember everything he knows about you.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;
The façade of goodness that you wear becomes as flimsy and fragile as tissue paper. All the selfishness that backed all those “good” deeds. All the times that the cost of doing the right thing was a little too high for you so you just walked by on the other side of the street. The secret thoughts, the greed, the lust, the selfishness, the anger, and more than any of that all the times you just thought you knew better than God.
That’s the panic moment. You’re caught, there’s nowhere to go, and you are utterly guilty. You did all of it, thinking no one was looking, no one would notice, but he saw it. There’s nothing to say in your defense. Anything you could think of in your own mind falls so flat that you can’t even utter the words.
Is there nothing to be done? You survey the crowd. Surely someone could speak up on your behalf and ask for leniency, mercy, or just to ask the judge to let this one go? Someone some authority or power or charisma or money could maybe do something for you…
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
A man does step forward. Not the one you were looking for. He is not wearing anything fancy. He has no regal bearing about him. You do not recognize him as anyone rich or influential. He instead looks like someone in as much need of help as you are. If you were not simply frozen by the terror of the moment you might motion for him to blend back into the crowd.
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
He draws the judge’s attention. The man speaks.
“I did it.”
“Every charge you are about to read. That was me. I openly confess to every one of those crimes. I did it.”
“You are aware of the punishment?” the judge asks.
“I am. It was me.”
The confession is accepted. The man is bound and led away. What could you do? It might seem dishonorable to let him go in your place, but the terror of what waits at that end is too much to face. You let him go.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
You know what it means for that man. You know what you were expecting. The terror of hell itself. That the mercy and grace of God would be completely cut off from you. Absolutely lost in the outer darkness where there is no light and no hope and nothing but terror and pain forever. Maybe you didn’t grasp it before but you do now. That’s death. To be cut off from the source of life and creation is death.
It should’ve been you, but it wasn’t. What he suffers is of your making, no mistake. You earned and created the hell he is suffering now. You can’t help but stare at the door they led him through. It’s conflicting. You’re haunted by what he suffers in your place but there is still relief that it won’t be you.
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
As you muse, the judge speaks again.
“The guilty party having confessed and punishment rendered, the accused is declared not guilty. With no outstanding accusations, you are free to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Dumbfounded, you step forward. Heaven? You started with confidence you had no right to. It was quickly crushed and for what seems like an eternity you stood there with no hope, trying to accept the fact that you were going to die. And now so quickly that has changed to heaven? It seems so impossibly unlikely, but it’s happened.
You walk to the exit of the courtroom and the entrance of the kingdom. The reward is not just a perfect kingdom, it’s a perfect you. The last remnants of evil within yourself are stripped away and now you not only live in a place that will never cause you pain – you yourself will not be the cause of your own pain anymore.
This is your end. The eternal, loving, unchangeable God as your perfect king. The one who cares for you perfectly. You, made perfect, and living the life you were meant to live from the beginning. All the things from before that gripped your heart with fear are just… gone. There absolutely cannot be a better end. And this is your end.
And what of that man that so boldly confessed to your crimes? The one that was led away to die in your place?
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
He lives. He is your king. He is the judge. He is your God. He died. He lives. You live.
There it was.
Mary had refused to face it earlier that day – but after complaining to the disciples and an hour or so of shedding tears, Mary stiffened up. She calmed her voice. She fought back tears; and she made her way back to the entrance of Jesus’ tomb. But as soon as she saw the stone rolled to the side of it – she broke into tears all over again.
How could they? How could they do this? They killed him! Wasn’t that enough? They killed him and now they were off doing who knows what to his body! How could you do that to such a man?
He was my friend. He was my friend when no one else was. I had demons inside of me. Seven of them, to be exact. Demons that I struggled with. Demons that controlled my life. Demons that caused me to do awful things. Demons that made people avoid. Demons that made people look the other way and mouth, “Who wants to talk to that crazy person?”
But Jesus didn’t avoid me.
Jesus came up to me.
Jesus was a friend.
Jesus healed me.
More than my friend, he was also my Savior. He brought me peace with God. He offered forgiveness. He promised to take away my sins!
But…now he’s dead. He hasn’t done any of that. I feel as guilty now as I did before. I’m a lost cause. I’m a dirty, rotten, no good, very bad, shameful sinner, far apart from God– and there’s nothing that dead Jesus can do about it.
Mary stumbled, loudly fighting back tears, to the entrance. This time she looked inside, hopelessly.
What she saw – what she saw was something that should have given her hope. Two angels. Dressed in white. Glowing with God’s glory. Divine. One on each end of the rock bed where Jesus’ body had been laid – like some kind of blinking, neon sign to say – “Hey look Mary! He is risen!” (v.12)
But Mary kept sobbing.
The angels spoke to her, “Woman, why are you crying?” The irony apparent in the allusion: “Why are you crying at the grave of a man who has risen from the dead? Surely that’s good news.”
“They’ve taken my Lord away; and I don’t know where they have put him!” she retorted. Not for a moment thinking that the two men dressed in brilliant, shining, otherworldly white might have an idea or two about his whereabouts.
She turned to leave. Walked a few steps. And her knees hit the ground with a thud—the kind of thud that happens when you no longer care about standing in the slightest.
How awful. How terrible. He’s dead. My Savior is gone. I’m still in my sins. I’m forever guilty. I’m an outcast again.
In between loud sniffs, Mary heard a few gentle steps approaching.
Dear woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?
She looked up. Her eyes filled with tears and her vision blurred. It must be the gardener. That jerk! “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him!” (v.15) Please. Help. Me.
But the gardener didn’t answer her question.
In fact, he ignored it.
He simply said, “Mary.” (v.16)
And when he said it, Mary’s soul instantly quieted. She had heard that voice before.
It was the voice that told her demons to leave.
It was the voice that told her she was free.
It was the voice that had forgiven her.
“Teacher!!” She cried while simultaneously standing up and throwing her arms around him. “Teacher you’re alive!” And as she soaked in that moment – a reunion with her Savior – her tears of sadness were turned to joy. Her fear of God was turned to joy in God. Her guilty heart became guilt free.
I. Guilt Blind Us from the Truth
This section from John 20 is very moving. Our sermon today is about leaving guilt behind. Mary is a great case study on the effect that guilt can have on us. Because think of what she saw on that first Easter morning! It’s not like she went to the tomb and found Jesus’ body torn to pieces by a wild animal or one of the disciples murdered and lying next to him.
She saw angels.
She saw an empty tomb.
She saw the risen Jesus himself.
But she greets all of these things with melancholy.
That’d be like someone going to the ice cream shop and bringing you back a big banana split with all of your favorite toppings – hot fudge, caramel, rainbow colored sprinkles, a dollop of whipped cream and one of those bright red cherries on top – and they say, “This is for you.” And you respond: “Life is terrible.”
It doesn’t make much sense.
But the reason Mary misses it is that she’s so filled with grief and guilt from the past days. She’s blinded by it. Scripture is really interesting here, because particularly when it mentions Jesus – it says that Mary didn’t realize it was Jesus. It’s interesting because in a similar situation with two disciples travelling a road from Jerusalem to Emmaus—they don’t realize it’s Jesus either. But in that instance Luke records, “They were kept from recognizing him.”
That means that Jesus isn’t hiding anything from Mary! The empty tomb and the angels are shouting the same thing at her – Rejoice! Jesus is alive!
But she misses it.
She’s blinded by guilt.
The same thing happens to us. Guilt blind us from seeing the truth.
You know Jesus died.
You also know that Jesus has risen.
You know that means your forgiveness of sins!
But even though you and I know that – how often do we find ourselves thinking --
My sin is too big.
My sin is too much.
My sin is too often.
My sin is too awful.
My sin is too dark.
My sin is too shameful.
It’s like the guilt overtakes us. It blinds us. It shows us only our actions on replay again and again and again.
We miss the whole resurrection. It’s like we’re viewing him as dead…even when he’s alive right before our very eyes!
II. The Resurrection Means Guilt is Gone
And that’s no good. Remember our passage from last week. 1 Corinthians 15 says, “If Christ has not been raised – you are still in your sins.” That means you aren’t forgiven. It means God hates you. It means that God will punish you will hell.
But Christ has been raised.
And you are not in your sins!
Another passage that brings this out is from Romans 4:25. It says this, “Jesus…was raised to life for our justification.”
Justification is a courtroom term. So, think of Judge Judy or Judge Joe Brown. Ever seen those TV shows? At the end of the show, they offer a verdict. They bang their gavel. They call one of the parties GUILTY and the other INNOCENT – justified.
It must feel pretty good to be proven innocent in a court of law.
It must feel even better to be proven innocent in a court of law when you’re actually guilty.
That’s what Jesus resurrection means for you. It means that God has tried you and found you innocent.
He found you innocent because he already found Jesus guilty for your sins.
If you want to remember justification (Write this down) Think: Just as if I hadn’t sinned! Because that’s how God sees you – as innocent. Because of Jesus.
That’s true, no matter your sins.
No sin is too big.
No sin is too much.
No sin is too often.
No sin is too awful.
No sin is too dark.
No sin is too shameful.
Christ died. Christ has risen. And you have been declared free from guilt!
III. What Now?
1. Hear His Voice
Because maybe you noticed this about Mary. She missed all of the joyous things right before her face. Even those joyous things didn’t make her feel better. It wasn’t the empty tomb. It wasn’t the shining bright angels. It wasn’t even Jesus – there in the flesh right in front of her.
It was His voice.
The loving voice of God himself.
That same voice speaks to you and me. It speaks to us in His Word. It calls out gently to you and says, “__________ (insert your name here), you are forgiven. You are loved. Your guilt is gone.”
When you’re dealing with guilt, it’s heavy and it’s a burden – listen to his voice. Take a moment and meditate on the resurrection story. Memorize and repeat Romans 4:25. Look at a cross – and notice that it’s empty – meaning you are forgiven.
2. Leave Your Guilt Behind
Because guilt is kind of like picking up a big old bag of garbage. It’s heavy, there’s wet sand and a broken pieces of concrete in there and carrying it with you everywhere you go - it’s heavy. It’s a burden. It makes life hard.
Carrying around guilt is like that. It’s heavy. It’s a burden. It’s hard.
But there’s one more aspect of this illustration. Because carrying around guilt after you know Jesus is also unnecessary.
It’s like picking up that big old bag of garbage – from the side of your road where it was already waiting for the dump truck! And Dad pokes his head out the window – “What are you doing? Why are you moving it? Someone already did! It’s right where it needs to be.”
If you know Jesus as your Savior and you’re still carrying around guilt, Jesus says something similar:
“Why are you carrying that around? I carried it to where it was supposed to be. I took it to the cross. I deposited it in the grave.”
Why not leave it there?
Brothers and sisters, listen to Jesus. Leave your guilt at the cross. Leave today unburdened. Leave forgiven…because in Jesus…you are. Amen.
Sometimes it’s hard to wake up. At least for me.
Maybe you’re one of those “early birds” who likes to catch the “early worm” and you have no problem getting up at 5am, running a 5k, coming home, baking cookies, cleaning the whole house and alphabetizing your spice rack all in the amount of time it’d take me to put on a pair of socks.
But you get it. There are those mornings where it’s just hard to wake up. Especially if you don’t have a good reason! If you’re going to the same job you go to everyday to make the same amount of money that barely covers the same bills for the same people – it can feel kind of doldrum. Especially if it’s been stressful lately AND things haven’t been going your way AND you’re even a bit sick.
Just about the only thing that gets you going is an IV drip of Starbucks French Roast inserted into your arm.
But imagine you’re having one of those days. A day where the sun is shining through the window, but you’ve got a pillow covering your head – convincing you that it’s still nighttime. When suddenly, your spouse bursting into your bedroom and shoves the smartphone in your face:
Look! Look at this! Remember that loved one – that loved one that died? Look at this news article. It says that this loved one’s grave –- is empty.
Would that be enough to get you up?
Would that be enough to get you to RiseUp?
I. The Empty Tomb
That’s exactly what happened to John.
John had had a pretty terrible weekend. His confidant; his leader; his friend – had died. Not from a heart attack. He had been crucified. Nailed hand and foot on two giant wooden beams and left to die.
And John had seen it. He had been right there – at the foot of the cross as he gave up his last breath. It was why every time he closed his eyes he could see horrific images -- the whip tearing into his flesh; the fist connecting with his already swollen eye; the blood dripping from the thorns that pierced his forehead; the blood and water pouring out of his side after the soldier stabbed him with a spear.
It was all too much.
And he was physically exhausted. Besides the stress, he had been up all Thursday night – watching his friend’s conviction and all Friday night trying to comfort family and friends who had seen him die. He caught a wink of sleep early Saturday morning but then he was having to deal with a host of emotions from friends in the small apartment -- denial and anger; sadness and bitterness.
As he lay there early Sunday morning, he found himself in that weird place where he couldn’t get up but he wasn’t really sleeping either. Sure, Peter’s loud snoring from the bunk next to his didn’t help, but more than that he found himself battling his own thoughts:
What was all of that for?
Why did I spend three years of my life following that man?
Why did I think he was the Messiah?
Why did I believe in him?
Suddenly John’s thoughts were interrupted by a loud persistent, almost maniacal knocking at the door. “Let me in! Let me in!” Peter did one of the startled snores as he woke up. John shook his head and went to unlatch the door.
It was Mary Magdalene – a friend of theirs and a follower of Jesus. Her hair was wild and her eyes were tear stained as she spoke: “I can’t believe it! How could they do it! They killed him. They crucified him. They made a mockery of him. But they aren’t even done. They must want to flaunt it some more.”
“Mary, Mary, calm down. What’s the problem?”
“It’s his body! They’ve taken it away. We went to the tomb – Early this morning to pay our respects and put spices on his body, but when we got there, the grave stone was rolled away. His body was gone. Jesus is gone.”
John embraced her and tried comforting her as Peter rose up from his cot.
“Those jerks. I can’t believe. Listen – we’ll go check it out. John and I will check it out.”
John gently released his grip and nodded. “We’ll go see what happened.”
The two of them quickly laced up their sandals and threw on outer cloaks at the door. Then, they headed out the door. Walking at first – thinking – wondering – “Could it be? As he said?” And as the possibility of something much greater than a grave robbery occurred in their minds, their pace quickened. A jog and then a sprint.
Being the younger one – by quite a bit – John made it through the city streets and into the memorial gardens first. He ran through the trees, jumped the brook, and past older graves until he made his way to wear Jesus’ body had been laid.
As he reached the tomb, his feet came to a slow halt.
It was open. The stone had been rolled away. Yet, there wasn’t a sign of the guards that had been placed at the tomb. There wasn’t blood on the ground – no sign of a struggle. The stone was on its side like a bunch of grave robbers would have done as they broke in.
It was simply open.
John stooped down and looked inside the tomb. The morning light that made its way into the tomb revealed there was nobody and no body in the tomb. There was a pile of cloths. Folded. Nicely. In a square and resting on the bier where the body would have been.
Why would anyone take the time to do that? Wouldn’t they just take his body and all of the linen clothes that he had been wrapped in and just gotten out of here? As it was, the cloths were folded so evenly, so perfectly, it was as if his own mother had robbed the grave!
John’s thoughts were interrupted by some plodding steps and heavy panting. Peter had caught up. And he wasn’t slowing down. John moved out of the way just as Peter stumbled into the tomb. Pete looked around – his heavy breaths connecting with the chirping of the birds in the air. Peter bent down and picked something up.
“John! Check it out. It’s his face cloth.”
At this, John entered the tomb. He scanned every corner of the place. He ran his fingers alone he walls. He held the cloth in his hands.
Suddenly, John started to have other flashes. Other flashes of memories before Jesus’ death.
“Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it again in three days.”
“Just as Jonah was in the belly of the way three days and came out alive; so will I be in the belly of the earth and emerge alive.”
“I have the authority to lay my life down and the authority to take it up again.”
“I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
“I will die and three days later, I will rise.”
But how could that be? That never happens. That’s impossible. John had seen him die!
John shook his head.
John stopped reasoning.
John looked around once more.
John saw and believed. (John 20:9)
II. What It Means
What John saw he wrote down.
What John wrote down – we read.
What we read is what happened.
Which means a lot of really incredible things for you and for your life. Allow me to mention three:
1) This Faith is NOT Worthless
One of my favorite fast food promotions of all time is the Monopoly game at McDonald’s. I love trying to match up all the little board pieces and try to win a 10-speed bike OR a trip to Hawaii. Worst case scenario – you just get a large fry and that’s not a bad thing either.
But one time I thought our family had won a MILLION dollars. I remember we were on vacation and we stopped at McDonald’s. My mom peeled a Park Place off of her Coca Cola. And I got real excited:
Mom! We have Boardwalk at home! We are millionaires. At first, mom didn’t believe me. But I talked it up throughout the trip. We could spend extra money now, because we would be millionaires soon. We had even decided how we’d spend it – I’d get ½ since I ordered the cheeseburger –that mom bought – and she and dad could split the other ½ since it was her money.
It was really exciting. Till we got home. I ran to my sock drawer and pulled out my Monopoly piece collection to reveal – Park Place.
We didn’t win anything.
Check out 1 Corinthians 15:17. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” In other words – if Christ isn’t risen, you don’t get anything. You’re still sinners. You’re still expecting eternal hellfire wrath from God. You will not be in heaven.
But – what did John just tell us? The tomb was empty. Jesus was alive!
SPOILER ALERT: If you read on, Jesus actually appears in the flesh to John. Also to Peter, Andrew, James, Thomas, Matthew, Philip, Bartholomew, James, Jude, Simon and over 500 other people. Those who write it down: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, Jude, and James make it clear. Christ has been risen!
That means this faith is not worthless.
Which is key. Because it’s hard to believe in someone these days. Whether it’s politicians breaking promises, a boyfriend leaving you, a spouse breaking faithfulness, a coworker stabbing you in the back or even a parent disowning you. It’s hard to find someone to believe in.
But you can believe in Jesus. Because Jesus died and came back to life. He did the incredible! He did the supernatural! He did the impossible!
Faith in Jesus is not worthless; it’s the only thing worth it.
Because if he’s more powerful than death, then…
He’s more powerful than your sickness.
He’s more powerful than your mortgage payment.
He’s more powerful than your addiction.
He’s more powerful than your relationship struggles.
He’s more powerful than your disease.
He’s more powerful than your demons.
He’s more powerful than your stresses.
He’s more powerful than life.
He’s more powerful than death.
He’s more powerful than guilt.
And He’s more powerful than one of the worst things in this world…sin.
2) You are NOT in your Sins.
Which leads us to our second key point. Because the Tomb is Empty, you are NOT in your sins.
You can picture sin like a big old pile of dog hair. If you sit in the dog hair, you will be covered in it. Especially if you are wearing a sweater. (Dog owners you know what I’m talking about and you know what outfits you cannot wear on near your dogs).
But if a loved one buys one of those special vacuums and spends time deep cleaning the couch with all of the adjustments and then takes one of those lint rollers and rolls all over the couch disposing about 28 little sticky patches and then get one of those brushes that sucks up all the rest of the dog hair.
You can sit on your couch. You’re not in your dog hair.
That’s what Jesus did to us and for us! Because “If Christ has indeed been raised form the dead” you are not in your sins. Jesus has removed every last one of them. He picked them up from the crevices of your heart, swept them away from every part of your past, stuck them to himself and died!!!
Because “The wages of sin is death.” Since Jesus had your sins, he died!
But remember what John wrote – the Tomb was empty! Jesus wasn’t there anymore. Which means there weren’t any sins left for him to pay for (because if there were he would have stayed dead).
That means that your sins – yes, even your sins – even the big ones – even the memorable ones – even the ones that make you feel really guilty – are gone!
3) In Jesus, You will Live
And if the wages of sin is death,
And Jesus paid the wages of your sins,
Then, what’s left for you to pay?
This all leads to the final truth: In Jesus, you will Live! In fact, that’s why John wrote what he did. Listen to what he says, “These words are written (the words of the account of John’s interaction with Jesus) those words – are written that you may believe Jesus is the Christ and by believing have life in his name.” (John 20:31)
Because that’s the message that saves. Jesus is your Savior; Jesus is your resurrected Savior – is the message that saves you from death to life!
We live in a dangerous world. Nerve gas; gigantic bombs; nuclear war head parades; school shootings; terrorism; racism; even cancer, car accidents and old age. They are all scary!
But not with Jesus. You can trust him.
He rose from the dead while he was dead.
What do you think he’ll do while He’s alive?
What do you think he’ll do for you?
By believing – you will have life in his name.
III. What Now?
Don’t think you can do it without him.
Don’t try to put trust in yourself in your own abilities and your own goodness. God says the wages of sin is death. If you have sin, you are owed death – and that’s all there is too it. No amount of money; no amount of religious looking Easter egg decorations; no amount of impressive looking Easter ties will save you from death.
But Jesus can.
And Jesus will.
“Whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Still you may need some convincing.
Still you may be doubting.
You may be in need of faith!
Run to the Tomb!
That’s what John did. He saw the empty tomb. HE saw the folded grave clothes. He saw the lack of tampering AND HE BELIEVED!
Granted – You may not have money for a plane trip to the Holy Land – to Israel. Even if you did, no one knows with any certainty which grave his might have been.
…You can still see the empty tomb.
…You can still hear the words of the eyewitnesses.
…You can still hear Jesus’ own voice saying, “Behold; I am alive!”
It’s in his word. When you doubt, when you’re nervous, when you’re frightened, -- run to God’s Word.
Read the story in the Bible (Start with John. If you’ve never read John, won’t you do so?)
Join a Bible study. Make church a priority. Come back and see me next week -- because we’re going to run to the empty tomb again – and then the week after that---and the week after that—and the week after that.
And yes. I get it sometimes you don’t want to get up. Sometimes you don’t want to face the day. Sometimes you don’t want to get here.
But today, just like every day, there’s awesome news for you to here. Jesus is alive! Your faith isn’t worthless. You are NOT in your sins. You will NOT die, but live!
That’s a message worth getting up for. Amen.
There was something wrong with the night.
I mean, they knew that, they had been told that, but even so, even if you didn’t know – it just felt… off.
Maybe it was a chill beyond the usual that settled on the desert when the sun dropped beyond the horizon. Maybe it was the way all the people in the homes around them were also rushing about to make their final preparations, to make sure nothing had been overlooked. People were just a little more frenzied than usual for the end of the day. Even if you hadn’t been paying attention, you’d notice – something was wrong.
And something was wrong, after all. Death was coming that night. Not that their lives were any picnic either. Slavery in the desert was all they knew. Many of them each day were worked to death before night ever fell. But this was different. This time, there was a statement from God. This night, the oldest male of each generation, the firstborn son would be struck dead before dawn. The threat, the warning of God hung in the air like a fog that refused to move. And so the Israelites faced down this evening of death on their last night in Egypt.
There is something wrong with your life.
Maybe you know that already, maybe you don’t. But if you don’t, I doubt hearing that really shocks you.
Even if you don’t know it as head-knowledge, you can probably feel it already, can’t you? Something about your life just feels… off.
Maybe it’s just a feeling, like something just out of the corner of your eye that you just can’t see.
Something ominous and looming out there in the shadows – dangerous, but it’s never there when you turn around. I don’t mean there’s something literally stalking you though, I just mean this sense that there’s something wrong, there’s some danger there just out of perception but you can never quite look at it.
In fact, maybe you could see it if you tried, if you turned and looked. But the truth is you’re terrified to. After all, who knows what it might really be. No, no better to ignore it, better to stay distracted by what you’re doing than try to figure that out. Focus on what you’re doing right now, on the job, the wife, the kids, the checkbook. It’s probably just a trick of your imagination anyway, stop thinking about it and it will go away. Or at least, if you concentrate hard enough on what you’re doing, you won’t notice it anymore.
But even that doesn’t quite work. Rolling up your sleeves and plunging in elbow-deep to the work in front of you, it works sometimes, but it really doesn’t. It’s still wrong. Something is still wrong! Why? All the promises made to you when you were a child never seem to come true. You work hard, you try your best, you have at least some of the things you were promised would make you complete, right? A family, a home or a few nice things… where’s the peace? Where’s the contentment? Why does it still feel wrong? Maybe you’re still missing part of the puzzle. You search for the one missing thing – each one you think, “this is it, now that I have this, I’ll be good and that feeling will go away.” A vacation, a nicer house, a new home theater, a stronger relationship, a better paying job with less stress, each time something else and this time it will work.
But it never works. I told you, there is something wrong with your life. A statement from God himself hangs over your life like a fog that refuses to move. Death is coming. And not just any death. Not just the end of this life, the end of your life forever. God has programmed into you this truth; those who do evil will be punished. Evil, huh? Well then why am I nervous? I’m not evil. Aren’t you? The world around may lie to you, tell you that’s not you, but the disquiet within you says otherwise. You would never really ask those closest to you “do you think I’m evil?”, but even if you did they would say “of course not.” That doesn’t mean they’re right.
But you know things they don’t know. You know there’s not a perfect record stretching back across your life. You’ve worked hard, done your best, but it’s not been perfect. There were moments when you gave in and did what you wanted and maybe the cost for you or someone you cared about was high. Maybe there didn’t seem to be any cost at all, but you could tell it wasn’t right. And now you drag the guilt of that behind you.
I invite you to stop shifting your eyes away from it, to stop seeing this just out of the corner of your eye and look square at this; our God describes for us exactly what it is. It is ugly and it is scary, but we cannot deal with it if we do not know what it is. There is something wrong with your life; there is a hole running through you, a tear in your very self that we call “sin”. That doesn’t really tell us enough though.
What is “sin”?
Sin is what God is not. Sin is shadow and darkness when God is light. God is good, God is perfect. Sin is not. God operates on one driving principle; selfless love. God seeks the good of everyone else above his own at all times, regardless of what it costs him. Sin is the opposite; sin is to grab for yourself regardless of what it costs others. I hope you see that you do not qualify on your own for holiness.
Maybe you like to think of yourself as a pretty selfless person; but have you been at all times to everyone? Don’t lie to yourself, it does no good. We are all of us, unholy. Sinful.
Now understand this. Holiness and sinfulness are not just choices or lifestyles. In a sense, they are like forces of nature, light and dark, magnetic poles and gravity. Sin cannot exist in the presence of the Holy. And that is where the fear comes from. God is Holy. You are not. This life will end, and God tells us that you will either be brought in to be with him or you will be thrown out to spend eternity without him.
If you are sinful, and if sin cannot exist in the presence of the holy, then which will it be for you? This is what is wrong with your life. A sentence of eternal death hangs in the air….and there is nothing you can do about it.
But the Israelites in Egypt were not panicked. Frenzied, hurried, maybe even a little fearful, sure. But not panicked. God told them, warned them what was coming. But he also told them exactly what was needed to escape the death that came that night. It would take the blood of a lamb. A single ewe lamb, one year old, spotless and without defect. The lamb would die instead, the blood was to be painted on the door frames of their houses. God would see the blood shed, and spare those inside.
So they did this. That night, as God promised, an angel of death passed over Egypt as by God’s decree, the firstborn son of each household was struck down in his sleep. But wherever there was the blood of the lamb, the angel stayed his hand. The angel saw the household through the blood, and they were spared. God had given the warning to all of Egypt, and he had given his directions just the same. Those who ignored the feeling that something was wrong; those who did not listen and did nothing about it – there was death in that house that night. Those who listened to God, who trusted his words of warning and deliverance were safe.
And so, I am not panicked either, and neither should you. Yes, there is something wrong with our lives.
We should feel the weight of how important this is. Yes, we should maybe even be a little fearful just because of the stakes involved. But truly afraid? No. God has warned us about this hole in our lives, about the holiness we are missing not to terrify us, but so that we pay attention, because of just how important this is. He shouts that this is life and death to get eyes on him. Because God tells us exactly what we need to escape the death that’s coming for us. It will take the blood of a lamb. A single ewe lamb, spotless and without defect. The lamb will die instead and his blood will cover you; and death will pass over you.
As a remembrance of what he had done for them, God commanded the Israelites to observe the Passover every year. At the same time of year, at the same day, at the same hour, each household would again sacrifice a single ewe lamb, one year old, without defect or blemish, to remember how God spared them from death. Then, over a thousand years after the first Passover, on Friday of that week, the day that the lamb was killed, just before the moment when the sound would resonate from the Temple informing everyone that now was the time to sacrifice the lamb; the following happened:
After this, knowing that everything had now been finished, and to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus said, “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine was sitting there. So they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished!” Then, bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.
The time had come, the lamb was to be sacrificed. But not just any lamb. The real Lamb. The one who was intended all along. Everything that went before it was a show, foreshadowing. It had no real effect.
Only an equal sacrifice could count for you. It had to be another person. Yet if it was just another person, what good would that do? Even if that person didn’t need saving themselves, their sacrifice would only save you. But what if God himself were both a person and God? How could you ever tip the scale of human life to outweigh that? You can’t. The one sacrifice would pay for everyone. And the Lamb did just that.
You are not holy? Jesus is. You committed crimes against God? Jesus didn’t. The Lamb had no defect and no blemish. He is what you are not. He has what you lack. God was ready to pour out his justice against all the evil ever committed, all in one fell swoop. Jesus, his Son, the Lamb, stood up and took your place. He climbed on the cross and there he took everything that your sin earned. He became your sin, he became your curse. And when it was done, he uttered those words. “It is finished.”
One word really, and I’d like to render it a little differently tonight if you’ll permit me. “Complete.” That is what happened on the cross right then. God’s plan to stand in your place so you would not suffer was completed – he died in your place. The foreshadowing he’d been showing the world since the first Passover meal was completed – the Lamb was sacrificed so that death would pass over you. You, missing the holiness God requires to be in his presence forever, you are completed. At that one moment, everything was made complete, everything was made the way God intended from the beginning.
Look at the cross. Realize what the sacrifice there has done for you. There may have been something wrong with your life once, there may have been a hole, something missing, something terrifyingly wrong, but Jesus has filled that with his death. The blood of the lamb was shed for you and so death holds no power over you. You are complete with Jesus’ gift of himself. You are given what you once lacked. God the Father will gladly welcome you into his kingdom when this is all over. You are complete in him.
Tonight, we gather in reverent awe to pay our respects for the tremendous sacrifice our Lord went through on our behalf. There is sadness, yes, because when I look at him hanging to die I know it is my fault he is there. When his lifeless body is removed and placed in the grave, it is because of me that this happened. But we are not here to leave this evening morose and depressed. We know that God did this willingly, out of love for you, individually. He knew you. He knows who you are. He could’ve spared himself that much more suffering by not including you in his sacrifice, but he didn’t. He wanted to do it. And as we close the tomb and walk away tonight we needn’t pretend we don’t know what Sunday will bring. If Sunday did not bring what it does, then tonight would be meaningless. We may leave tonight somber and reverent, but we still leave with hope and joy in our hearts. We know what this night means for us. Jesus made us complete. In him, we are what we are meant to be forever.
I cannot tell you what will happen in your life in the days between now and the time you are called eternal rest in him. I can tell you that in Jesus and his sacrifice, it doesn’t matter. In him, your end is set and will not be changed. Your life is complete. In Jesus, your sins are paid for, the gift of holiness is given to you, heaven is yours. There is nothing else to chase after. There is nothing else to fear. There is nothing else wrong with your life. The Lamb has made you complete. Amen.
Have you ever heard of Angie’s List? It’s an online service that lets you hook up with various contractors in all kinds of areas. From painters to dry wallers, from lawn care to carpet care, from lizard wranglers to sheep shearers -- you can find the professional you need on Angie’s List
But you might wanna shop around. The truth is there are usually more than one company you can go with. Take plumbing, for example. If you need a plumber, you might like Plumberee – with lots of experience and fine craftsmanship, but a fine way of breaking the bank. Then again, there’s Bargain Plumbers less expensive, but so is their work. There’s Plumber’s R. Us. A bit corporate in its structure – so you know they can get the job done, but bad customer service. Then, there’s Frank’s Plumbing. Not as well known, but you can almost always get him on the phone and he does a fine job -- just as long as you don’t mind the smell of cigarettes that he brings with him everywhere he goes.
Who do you choose? The wise person shops around first, before making his decision.
Is the same thing true about grace? The last couple of weeks we’ve talked about the blessing of grace that Jesus brings. It’s without cost. It covers even the worst of sinners. It lasts into eternal life. It brings forgiveness for all your sins.
But…the wise person shops around first so…
What about Buddha? What type of grace does he offer?
What about Mohammed? I hear he has a good plan.
What about doing your best, trying your hardest, and earning some grace with the human spirit? That’s the American ideal. Plus you can get away with a lot more sins.
After all, doesn’t it kind of depend on your geography?
Different gods? Different traditions? Different religions?
Today we are finishing our series called Surprising Grace by looking at the exclusivity of grace. We’ll see why Grace must be from Jesus and how that’s true, no matter who you are or where you’re from. Before we do that, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Shopping Around for Other Options
Today’s account is taken from Revelation 5:1-12. Revelation is the final book in the Bible. It’s written by the Apostle John. It’s called Revelation because it’s a revelation that John received from God. A revelation of the future.
That’s why it has to be from God.
Remember: Time is like a jump rope. You and I are on the jump rope. Somewhere within this tiny ½ cm. It means we can only see behind us – as much as is preserved by history – and we can’t see too far in front of us – only making best guess predictions.
But God is of the timeline. He’s eternal. He sees everything from 6000 years ago to 15 years from now like it’s happening before his eyes.
That’s why God was able to tell John about the future in this revelation. He could see it happening. So, when we read Revelation, we find out about the future. We find out that sometimes – the future is comforting. Sometimes it’s scary. And sometimes…well…it’s strange.
John fell to his knees. The sight before him was too much.
For starters, there were these beasts. 4 incredible, terrifying beasts watching his every move. They were kind of like earthly beasts – and kind of not. One looked like an eagle. One like a lion. One like an ox. One like a man.
But they were only like these things. They were radiating. They were flying. They each had eyeballs all over them. Each eyeball blinking in tune with John’s every movement.
The beasts weren’t the only ones watching John. Surrounding him were 24 smaller thrones. Each throne had 24 elders – dressed in white and crowns of gold on their heads (v.4) Long, flowing, divine white hair gently flowing in the breeze – as if they were floating on water.
But the gentleness was interrupted. Flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder came from the center of the room. There stood a gigantic throne. There was a bright light radiating right in front of it. A white, bright light. The bright kind that makes you squint your eyes if you don’t have a pair of sunglasses.
But this light wasn’t coming from the sun. It wasn’t even coming from outside. It was coming from an ethereal rainbow that had fashioned itself at the top of the throne – marking and identifying the one who sat upon the throne.
Whose throne was it?
If John hadn’t figured it out yet – the melody of the elders made grew until it was at a thunderous level made him certain:
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (v.11)
John again looked to the ground in horror.
He was before God Almighty. He was before the Creator of heaven and earth.
He was before the one who makes volcanoes explode, tectonic plates shake, and flood water engulf the earth.
He, a sinner, was standing before the All holy, sin hating God.
But God wasn’t fixated on him. Not at the moment. At the moment, God was fixated on what he had in his hand.
It was a scroll. An ancient version of a eReader or book. Divine parchment tightly rolled up and sealed tightly with seven seals. (5:1)
What was in the scroll? Well there’s two books mentioned in the book of Revelation. One is called the Book of Life. That’s an important book. Because there is written the names of every person who has life – every person who is allowed to enter into heaven. Picture it like a divine guest list – only the bouncer isn’t some tough looking Italian guy named Guido.
It’s God himself.
Meaning this scroll was important. Without it, there was no way of knowing who it is that is allowed into heaven.
And…for whatever the reason, God wasn’t opening it.
In fact, one of the angels, a mighty angel, the king angel with bulging veins in his biceps and a heart tattoo on his left delt, started shouting in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” (v.2)
No one moved.
He repeated himself. Louder. “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”
John looked around. Why wasn’t anyone trying to do it? Sure, the seals looked intimidating, but they were in God’s throne room. Why wasn’t he burly angel giving it a try? Why didn’t the ox-like thing try smashing it with his hoofs? Why didn't the eagle like thing try dive bombing it from on high? Why didn’t the 24 elders work together to develop some kind of divinely inspired Rube Goldberg machine to open it up?
But none of them were making their way to the scroll.
None of them were lifting a hand to break the seals.
Mostly, they were just shaking their heads – their divinely, haloed, eye-filled heads.
John began weeping. If that scroll wasn’t opened, then he wasn’t getting into heaven. Then, his friends weren’t getting into heaven. Then, none of his loved ones and fellow believers were getting into heaven.
v. 3 No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside of it.
Pay attention here. Because this has everything to do with God’s grace. Because we need God’s grace to get into heaven. We need God’s grace to get our names onto the pages of the Book of Life.
And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could write our names in there. In fact, they couldn’t even open the scroll or look inside of it.
Not anyone in that throne room. Not the mighty angel. Not the eagle. Not the ox. Not anyone on below that throne room either. Not Zeus. Not Hades. Not Hercules. Not Buddha. Not Mohammed. Not Vishnu.
Not a president. Not a king. Not any member of congress. Not a brilliant scientist. Not a billionaire business man.
Not even a guy who tries really hard and does his best and hopes that it’s enough to get his name in the book of Life.
There is no one else. No one who can get your name on the Book of Life.
No one who can win your forgiveness.
No one who can offer you’re an eternity in heaven.
II. The Exclusive Answer
“Do not weep!” cried one of the elders. His mouth agape in excitement. “Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
John took a deep breath. Of course! A lion. Lions are the King of the Jungle for a reason. They have majestic manes and fierce teeth for sinking into their prey. They have powerful jaws and swift, fierce claws. Lions were some of the most muscular and magnificent creatures on earth. A divine, heavenly version of it would have no problem destroying those seals!
John looked up with excitement. He covered his ears anticipating this miraculous roar!
But what he saw wasn’t a Lion.
It wasn’t fierce.
It wasn’t intimidating.
It didn’t roar.
Then, I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne. (5:6)
John turned his head in shock! A Lamb? Lambs aren’t intimidating! They don’t have claws – they have unbalanced hoofs. They don’t have majestic manes, but soft, gentle wool. They don’t roar – they baaa!
How was this creature – a creature of nursery rhymes and preschools – supposed to be the one to open the seals?
And this one wasn’t even in good health? It was looking as if it had been slain. (5:6) It looked like it was limping along. It needed to be held. It needed to be nourished. It didn’t need to be trying to open up these incredible seals.
John looked around. Is anybody going to stop this?
But no one else shared his concern. In fact, the others in the room – the elders, the winged creatures, the mighty angel – God himself – smiled at the sight of the Lamb and erupted into a magnificent song….
…to the Lamb:
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain. (5:9)
Suddenly, it hit John.
The Lamb. The Lamb of God. He had heard that before.
He had read about it in the Old Testament – as the blood of innocent lambs foreshadowed this moment.
He had heard it from John the Baptist as he pointed at his leader “Look! The Lamb of God! Who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
He had seen it from his fellow disciple Peter who wrote, “-- a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:1
That’s who the Lamb was.
That’s why he was slain.
That’s why he alone could open the scroll.
Because that Lamb was Jesus!
Brothers and sisters, understand this! There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth who can open the scroll.
There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth who can get you into heaven.
There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth whose grace is enough for your eternal life.
No other being than Jesus Christ.
The Bible is simple then.
The Bible is clear.
God’s eternal vision has been revealed to you.
Do you desire forgiveness for your sins? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire to lose your guilt? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire to escape hell? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire eternal life? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire peace with God? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire eternal joy? Trust Jesus.
There is no one else who can provide these things – because the only one on the spiritual Angie’s List for salvation is The Lamb – Your Savior, Jesus Christ!!!
III. What Now?
(1) Celebrate this Exclusivity
Because what do they say? The only thing you don’t want to talk with people about are politics and religion. But…as this past election showed us – we had no problem talking politics. I’m friends with most of you on Facebook. I know this.
So why not religion?
Better yet…why not your Savior?
Better, better yet…why not the only one who provides forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation?
The elders didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
The four living creatures didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
The mighty angel didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
Even John – stopped being nervous and frightened and as he watched Jesus open up that scroll shouted: Worthy is the Lamb!
You do that too. In fact, why do you get on your Smartphone today and make that your status. #WorthyIsTheLamb
Don’t be afraid to let others know who it is that you trust. Don’t be afraid to let them know who it is they can trust.
(2) Celebrate Diversity
Because notice what it says about the Lamb in verse 9 You are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
I love that. It means Jesus is your exclusive king no matter who you are.
It doesn’t matter what tribe you’re from. Which may be the closest Bible words for “race.” This is key, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, Asian or Latino, middle Eastern, Native American, combination of the above.
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And it doesn’t matter what language you speak. He’s the answer if you speak English or Spanish. Italian or German. Nigerian or Malawian. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Sign Language…even if you speak in emoji!
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And it doesn’t matter where you live. It doesn’t matter if you live in America or Iraq. Whether you live in Russia or China. Whether you live in Mexica or Canada. It doesn’t matter if you live in Durham or Cary or Chapel Hill or Knightdale or Morrisville or South Raleigh or North Raleigh or anywhere else on this planet!
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And if Jesus is king of us all – that means we’ve got to celebrate that diversity just like Jesus does. We’ve got hug those from different backgrounds. Speak with excitement – show excitement – to those who speak different languages. Grab hands and go to work with those from different places.
Celebrate Diversity because that’s what Jesus celebrates!
(3) Celebrate Unity
Because diversity…sometimes leads to division. I fear it’s happened to America. There’s so many different people in America that we let our differences get the best of us and we fight.
The same is true in Raleigh. It’s a global, multicultural, multigenerational community. It’s started to get divided.
The same could be true for our church. More and more God has enabled us to reflect the global, multicultural, diverse community that He will have in heaven.
How do we stay united?
Look carefully at verse 9 again You are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom.
Did you hear that?
Not many kingdoms.
No a White kingdom and a Black kingdom and an Asian kingdom and a Hispanic kingdom.
Just a kingdom.
Jesus creates only one kingdom.
And we stand together as one kingdom, by remembering who it is that created that one kingdom.
And that’s kind of what happens at the end of the section. Everybody remembers that it’s all about Jesus and they started shouting – despite their differences – despite some being angels and some being lions and some being elders and some being many-eyed-flying-ox-like creatures.
Then, I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice, they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"
But that’s not it. Because then, John prophesies about us. And he says this:
Then, I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea and all that is in them saying – (and since you are one of those creatures – please, say it with me ) “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!”
And the elders said “Amen!”
And I say “Amen.”