We were vacuuming up the dog hair (that gets all over your carpet when you have two dogs), when the vacuum stopped picking up the dog hair. It was just collecting it into a nice pile and not picking it up.
Then, it made a loud noise.
Then, it stopped making noise.
It was dead.
So, I went to the file folders that we have in our guest closet – and began looking for the warranty. Perhaps the company would fix it? Maybe they’d send a new one? Maybe we wouldn’t have to go out shopping?
I read the warranty.
Expired. About a month and a half ago.
Has something like that ever happened to you? Again – it’s not any good to never get coverage, yet it’s almost worse to have coverage and then lose coverage because the time has run out!
But what about God’s grace? We learned last week that it completely covers even the worst of sinners…
But for how long?
What are the terms?
Will it cover you 10 years from now?
Will it cover you 20 years from now?
Will it cover you…even after you die?
Today we are continuing our sermon series called Surprising Grace. Our goal is to examine the duration of God’s grace. We want to see: (1) How long his grace lasts (2) How long its benefits last (3) If you need to go looking for a replacement coverage anytime soon. 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. The Duration of God’s Coverage
To learn about the duration of God’s grace – we’re going to turn to a man who had been under God’s grace for quite some time: The Apostle John. John is interesting, because he is one of the first disciples to learn about God’s grace. He is one of the first disciples that Jesus recruits while John is busy fishing. John gets to follow Jesus and see his grace throughout his ministry on earth. He seems him graciously cause the blind to see, the lame to walk, to deaf to hear – and the guilty to hear about God’s forgiveness.
It’s later on in life, after he’s known about God’s grace for years, that the Apostle John writes the letter known as 1 John. It’s a letter written to Christians everywhere and in chapter 2 he writes about the duration of God’s grace:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the father, but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God the Father lives forever. (v.15-17)
I suppose the biggest problem with believing the long-lasting endurance of God’s grace is that nothing on earth lasts for that long of a time.
It’s true about neutral things.
A tree may last hundreds of years but eventually it falls down.
A flower may last for a season then winter comes and it dies.
A bag of Doritos is delicious, but lasts all about 3 minutes.
But it’s also true about sinful, worldly things. That’s essentially what John is referring to when he talks about the world and its desires in this section. “Things of the world” means “things born from the mind of the sinful world.”
What’s interesting is that we turn to these things for relief – for comfort.
A momentary high from that illegal drug.
A few hours of relaxation from drinking too much.
A few minutes rush from screaming obscenities at your family.
A few minutes rush from typing obscenities at that other political party on Twitter.
A few moments of private excitement with that person you aren’t married to.
These things offer moments of happiness…
…and a lifetime of regret.
A headache that lasts all morning.
An argument that lasts for hours.
An addiction that lasts for years.
A friendship spoiled for the rest of your life.
A guilty feeling that stays with you whenever you look at your spouse – for the rest of your life.
But should we be surprised? Look at where these highs are coming from. John writes, “These things do not come from the father, but from the world.”
Do any of you remember Oakley sunglasses? They were all the rage growing up. They had awesome aviator shades. They had a deep jet black frame. They were very durable and very cool.
But they also cost $250.
So -- many kids got imitation Oakleys. The ones from Walmart for $15 bucks. Problem is? You could tell they were phony. You could tell they were fake when they came apart at the hinges the first time you dropped them.
Should we be surprised that earthly things only last for a moment? They come from an earth that (in the grand scheme of eternity) will only last for a moment.
But God’s grace isn’t like that.
God’s grace isn’t from the world.
God’s grace is from God.
The world and its desires pass away, but the one who does the will of the Father lives forever.
What’s the will of the Father?
To believe in Jesus Christ.
To put your faith in the one who died, hit his expiration date, and then came back to life again.
To trust in the one who is indestructible, because his grace is indestructible – so that you too will be indestructible.
John knew this. He had seen it happen.
Lazarus was a friend of John’s. He was a friend of the entire family of disciples. He had sung hymns with them, said prayers with them, and told jokes with them.
Lazarus was also human.
Because he was a human he was susceptible to germs.
Because he was susceptible to germs, he got sick.
Because he was sick, he grew weak.
Because he grew weak, he started to die!
His body was from the earth which meant it was going to pass away.
And it died.
And he died.
They wrapped his body up in linens.
They placed him in a grave.
His family mourned their loss.
Then, Jesus came.
And Jesus spoke.
And Lazarus went right back to living.
It’s interesting, right before that happens Jesus explains why. He says this, “I am the Resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies; whoever lives and believes in me will never die!” (John 11:25-26)
Because God’s grace comes from God.
And God lasts forever.
So, his grace – lasts forever!
Another passage repeated throughout the old Testament says this, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good and his love endures forever!” Of course it does! God is eternal. He isn’t on the timeline. He doesn’t have an end and set time. His grace doesn’t have an end time. “His love endures forever,” is a phrase that lasts “forever!”
And this is comforting.
Because I heard about God’s grace a long time ago. I believed. God’s grace was mine.
But here’s a secret: I’ve sinned since then. I’ve even sinned since we talked about it last week.
Is God’s grace still enough?
Think of a jump rope. Maybe about 12 feet long? I want you to imagine for a minute that this jump rope covers all of eternity. That’s a long time. You and I exist on this tiny half centimeter right here.
God’s grace lasts longer than you.
It lasts longer than me.
What do you think? Can you outlast God’s grace?
God’s grace is forever.
But Pastor! People still die and miss out on God’s grace.
You’re right. That’s hell. But the problem isn’t with God’s grace. It's with people. People who throw away God's’ grace because they figure they can last on their own that’s like throwing away your insurance plan because you think you don’t need it. The problem isn’t the insurance plan. It's you.
And if you throw out God’s grace because you don’t think you need it anymore…The problem isn’t God’s grace. That’s on you.
But John continues, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us all our sins.” Even if that sin has been going on for a while – for your whole life – listen to God’s Word right now.
And be confident.
His grace is there.
II. The Duration of God’s Blessings
And its blessings are forever.
Take a look with me at a Bible book that was written even after 1 John. In fact, it’s the last book of the Bible to be written. It was written by the same John but at the end of his life. It’s a book called Revelation. It’s called Revelation because in the book, God gives John a revelation of what will happen in the future. Things that are easy for God to see, since He is beyond this whole timeline thing.
He writes this about heaven:
Believers are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
This is eternity. It mentions a few awesome things about the blessings that God has in store for us in heaven. Blessings that will endure forever:
(1) God’s Presence
That’s the first thing that pops out. The people are serving God day and night. They are with him. He’s at the center of the throne. You always know that he’s there.
Which isn’t always the case on earth.
We get nervous.
We get frightened.
We think: God, you left me! I’m all alone.
That’s never the case in heaven. Not that God has left us on this earth, he’s always there; but that we don’t always believe it. In heaven, that doubt is gone and God’s presence is completely obvious in a new, incredible way – as we serve him day and night.
Which sounds like work – except – notice – God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
It isn’t sad in heaven.
People don’t lose their jobs.
Finances aren’t difficult.
Friends don’t fight about politics.
Kids don’t tell parents that they hate them.
Parents don’t abandon kids.
People don’t call each other awful, racist names.
Because they are too joyful!
In fact, right before this section John writes down what those believers in heaven are saying. It’s isn’t complaining. It isn’t fighting. It isn’t arguing about who should get to take a break. It’s this: “Honor and glory and praise and thank be to our God and to the Lamb forever and ever! Amen!”
Do you have arthritis? Arthritis is something that kinda sorta can get the best of you. It’s this dull, achy, constant pain that affects your joints. So…how do you handle it? You take a pill. You have an Advil and water and you’re pain free! For about 4 hours. Then, you better take another pill before the pain comes back. And at the very best you can fall asleep and escape pain for 6 hours! Until it’s time to wake up and then the pain is even worse because the joint has been stiff all night long.
Heaven is final relief.
God’s grace brings forever relief. Revelation said, The sun won’t beat down on them nor any scorching heat. It won’t hurt. There won’t be any sunburn in heaven. That’s because there is no pain in heaven and that will last forever!
Think about it:
No hangnails ever.
No headaches ever.
No scraped knees ever.
No allergies ever.
No cancer ever.
No getting old…ever.
And no death.
John writes, “The Lamb will lead them…to springs of living water.” Springs that give eternal life. Springs that outlast death. Springs that allow us to say “that person is in a better place.”
Which is key.
Because death stinks.
This past Friday I went to Elmcroft Retirement home. It’s a place where I go to do a Bible study. I’ve been doing it for the past five and half years. And just about every one of those last five and a half years – an older woman by the name of Ms. Fannie has been there. It hurt her to get there. She had pain in her knees and she had struggles seeing. But she’d always be there.
Until this past Friday.
Because she couldn’t.
Because she passed away.
And it hurt. I was sad. This dear friend of mine had passed so quickly, so effortlessly, and life just moved on.
But then…I got to thinking – that’s why she always made sure she was there for Bible study. Because Ms. Fannie knew that life was short. Because Ms. Fannie knew that arthritis was temporary. Because Ms. Fannie knew that her momentary pain was just that – momentary.
And that Bible study? It contained the only thing that lasts:
Brothers and sisters, may we have that same attitude and do everything to hold until the truth that lasts forever. Amen.
Can you imagine going to the doctors and finding out that you aren’t covered?
And that they can’t remove the cancer?
Can you imagine standing before God and finding out that you aren’t covered?
That your sins are still there.
That your guilt is still there.
That the guilt you feel from that big ol’ sin, that bogs you down, day after day will be with you forever.
That you won’t be getting eternal life, but…
Today we are continuing our sermon series called Surprising Grace. Our goal is to look at the case study of the Apostle Paul and see why he was so sure that he was covered and to gain confidence that we are also covered. I want you to leave here today confident that you’re covered in God’s grace. But in order to do that, we’re going to need to hear God’s Word. 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. A Case Study: Paul
To learn about just who it is that God’s grace covers, we’re going to head to 1 Timothy 1. 1 Timothy is a letter written by one of Jesus’ disciples. His name was Paul. The Apostle Paul. Maybe you’ve heard of him? In fact, he’s probably one of the top 5 -- outside of Jesus -- famous people me in the Bible. Moses, David, Mary, Peter and Paul.
Paul is kind of a man’s man of Christianity. He always puts me to shame when I read about how he preached God’s message to an angry group of men that told him to stop or they would kill him. Paul went on a missionary journey by foot, traveled hundreds of miles, started about 10 churches, and then returned home to grab a Pop Tart, take a shower, and head on another missionary journey.
Paul went on 4 missionary journeys.
He started over 20 churches.
He wrote 13 books of the Bible.
It’s why we shouldn’t be surprised to find out that Paul is covered: I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. (v.12)
Paul’s a part of God’s service.
No one is a part of God’s service that isn’t covered in his salvation plan.
Paul is covered in God’s salvation plan.
And that’s probably not all that encouraging.
Paul is a answer to Bible trivia.
Paul has had churches named after him.
Paul has had hundreds of thousands of sermons preached about him.
Of course, he’s getting covered!
That’d be like an insurance company saying, “Don’t worry. We’ll cover you. Look over there? Do you see that insanely in shape 22-year-old? The one with the bulging biceps, no history of heart problems, and the lesson than 2% body fat? He’s covered. No worries.”
But I do worry. Cause I’m not in that kind of shape.
And I’m not in the kind of spiritual shape that Paul was in. You?
But that’s not entirely accurate. There’s more to Paul’s story than the famous Apostle portion of his story. Check out verse 13. “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man….”
Do you know the first time Paul shows up in the Bible? He actually has a different name. It’s like a superhero. He’s not originally known as the Batman, but billionaire Bruce Wayne. And Paul is not originally known as the incredible Apostle Paul, but lowly, mild-mannered Saul.
In fact, Saul was kind of an apprentice. But he didn’t work for the Daily Planet or work as a lab technician in a government factory.
He worked for the Pharisees.
The very people that hated Jesus.
The very people who spearheaded the movement to kill Jesus.
In fact, when we first see Saul it’s in Acts 7. Saul is on the job helping the Pharisees stop the message of Jesus as the Savior of the world.
How are they doing it?
They aren’t blogging against it.
They aren’t writing articles against it.
They aren’t even spray painting the disciple’s headquarters.
They were throwing stones at one of Jesus’ followers.
One by one.
Until he was dead.
57 At Stephen’s confession that Jesus was the Savior, the Pharisees covered their ears and yelling at the top of their voices,they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named – Saul.
“Nice shot sir. Hit that no good Jesus-lover in the throat.”
“Well, don’t guys. I love how he’s moaning for mercy.”
“Oh look out…you got a bit of blood on your coat. No worries. I’ll wash it out. You just keep killing.”
That’s the same guy from 1 Timothy?
I haven’t even finished yet. Because if you read on, the scriptures say that Saul was really moved by this gang murder. So much so that he spearheaded the movement to put an end to Christianity. In chapter 8, it says, he persecuted the church in Jerusalem and began to destroy the church…Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison…And in chapter 9 -- He was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.
Yes. This same guy. This same guy writes this in 1 Timothy 1:13 “Though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy…because I acted in ignorance and unbelief."
Which is such a strange reason for mercy. Because usually ignorance and unbelief do not lead to mercy.
Sorry officer I didn’t know that I was going 30 mph over the speed limit.
Sorry, officer. I saw the stop sign; I just didn’t believe that I needed to stop. No worries, right?
That’s not how it works. Ignorance and unbelief do not result in good things!
Ignorance and unbelief do NOT earn God’s mercy.
Sin deserves death.
Saul deserved death.
But he didn’t get death. Because of God’s mercy.
In fact, it had to be about God’s mercy. Just like we talked about last week. No one can earn God’s grace – God’s grace is a free gift to be given. Jesus came to Saul – literally when he was on the road to go throw more Christian men and women and children into jail, literally when he was about to take a sledge hammer to whatever house churches he could find – literally when he was going to post signs everywhere stated that “Any man or woman found practicing Christianity would be put to death,”
Jesus had mercy.
And it covered Saul! Not because his sins weren’t too bad. (we just heard – they were really bad!) God’s mercy covered Saul because God’s mercy was more than enough. (v.14) The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
It’s kind of like filling up a tea pot. Any of you have a teapot? I have a teapot that I use for coffee. But if you’re like me, I put it under the sink and let it start filling up --- then I go do something. I comb my hair. I brush my teeth. I pet the dogs. I read an article in Time magazine. I get distracted by a Facebook post. I put on my shoes. I get ready to leave and then I hear it!
I run back to the sink and find the teapot overflowing. And since the teapot is sitting over the drain, the teapot looks like it is soaking in a hot tub of water. There’s an abundant, overflowing amount.
That’s God’s grace. It overflowed to Saul. It overflowed so much that his past was completely washed away from God’s sight. It even washed away his old identity. He was no longer – Saul the blasphemer, but Paul the believer. He was no longer Saul the persecutor, but Paul the Apostle. He was no longer Saul the violent, but Paul – whom Christ suffered violently for.
Paul was completely covered by God’s grace.
II. A Case Study of You
And that’s awesome. Because it means something really, awesome for you.
And I don’t know how you take notes. But when you take notes and it’s an important point, you might do something to draw your attention to it. You might put an ink star. You might underline it. You might highlight it. You might highlight, underline and star it. You might put a bookmark in the Bible. You might make an audio recording of it. You might do something – anything to let you know about the note!
In the next verse, Paul has such an important note for you that he even takes the liberty of drawing attention to it for you. He says, in verse 15, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance…” That means: “LISTEN! PAY ATTENTION! IF YOU HAVEN’T BEEN PAYING ATTENTION TO ANY OTHER PART OF THIS SERMON, YOU NEED TO PAY ATTENTION NOW!”
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst!
This is so interesting, because usually the Bible puts us on equal footing. It says – “All have sinned and fall short and all are justified freely by Jesus.” (Romans 3:23) All are on the same playing field. That’s still true.
But humanly speaking we do put levels on sins.
“I didn’t really commit adultery – I didn’t have complete intercourse.”
“I’m not as bad as that guy because I wasn’t a knock out drunk.”
Paul knows the human heart. God knows the human heart. God has Paul write on that level of human wisdom. He says, “16 For that very reason, I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”
He says, “Do you really think you’re so bad that Jesus couldn’t save you? Do you really think you’ve done too much bad that Jesus’ forgiveness couldn’t cover you? Well. Let me ask you this:
Have you ever killed anyone for telling an elderly widow about Jesus?
Have you ever gone to church in order to tackle the pastor, handcuff him, and throw him into jail?
Have you ever taken a sledge hammer to the foundation of a church?
Have you ever sent email after email after email to a Christian friend – telling them they were the most vile person on earth and if they didn’t stop, you’d kill them!?!
God still had enough grace to cover him.
Paul was that bad.
But Jesus’ salvation was that good.
If God did that for Paul, won’t he do that for you?
In fact – that’s why Jesus came into the world: To save sinners! If you’re a sinner, Jesus came to die for you. He came to provide complete coverage for every last one of your sins. He came to completely cover you in his blood and conceal you in his pure and sweet forgiveness.
This is true for you.
No matter the sin.
Struggle with lust? Jesus came for you.
Struggle with hatred? Jesus came for you.
Struggle with greed? Jesus came for you.
Done something to get you in jail? Jesus came for you.
Done something to ruin your marriage? Jesus came for you.
Done something to ruin your relationship with your children? Jesus came for you.
If you’ve done something or anything sinful, Jesus came into this world to save you.
And? He did.
He lived perfectly.
He died innocently.
He rose triumphantly.
Jesus came into this world to save sinners – Jesus came into this world to save you!
Which means…You are fully covered.
III. What Now?
1) Revel in your New Identity
That’s what Paul did. He didn’t stay in the realm of “Woe is me! I’ve done so much wrong. I’m the worst of sinners.” He didn’t see himself like that because God didn’t see himself like that. In fact, the only reason he ever talked about it was to help others understand how incredible God’s grace was and is.
It’s like Halloween. At Halloween, you may have put on a mask. You may have been someone else. For the rest of the night – depending on how good you are at playing the part – you became a Dr. Who, Doc McStuffins or a Pokemon!
In fact, I came across one little kid who was doing an awesome job with his costume. He was pretending to be a ninja. He was such a good ninja. He was always tip toeing. He tried to sneak up on me a few times. He talked in a whisper. And when his mom came calling him to get him into the car, he was so into his character that he forgot about who he really was. He hid!
Understand this: Paul is not advocating that you play a character. He advocates that you revel in who you really are.
Child of God!
2) Honor the King!
Because there’s no reason to feel sorry anymore! We are forgiven. We are given grace. We are a part of his kingdom!
That’s exactly how Paul closes that section…which is so interesting, because it’s not even the end of his letter. He’s still at the beginning. But he can’t mention God’s incredible grace without breaking into praise. He says, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen!”
Make that your refrain.
Instead of posting on Facebook about how bad you’ve got it; post about the awesome you’ve got it in God.
Instead of getting to work to complain about the unfortunate consequences of sin; get to work tell others about the awesome consequences of God’s grace.
Instead of avoiding God in fear; come, worship Him – because his grace had completely covered you!
Today is Last Judgment Sunday. A day that we remember what’s coming up. A day when the Bible reminds us that one Day, Our King, Our Immortal, Incredible, Divine, earth shaking, mountain quaking, flood pouring, lightning storing God comes to earth and judges us.
Each of us.
And without coverage – that’s a terrifying thing.
But you have been covered.
You are covered.
By faith in Jesus, you will be covered.
Your words to him will not be – Please don’t! But filled with praise “To the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever!” (v.17)
It was Halloween about 25 years ago. I was dressed up as a fisherman. I had on my dad’s vest. I had my dad’s fisherman’s hat. I had my bright green, Oscar the Grouch fishing pole with a bright red and yellow bobber. I was carrying a mini-bucket in order to collect my candy.
It was going as expected. I went up to a house. I knocked on the door. I said, “Trick or treat.” I got a Tootsie Roll and moved on.
But then, we approached a house that was different. The candy was located outside. It was being held by a giant mannequin in a grey snowsuit with a hockey mask on. There was a sign attached to his suit that said, “Have one.”
I thought – “This is unexpected. It’s a little different. But it’s easier. I’ll be saving myself about 15 steps all the way to the front of the door and the awkward fifteen seconds waiting to see if anyone came. If more people did this, I could get more bang for my buck, save time and get more candy.” This is a nice surprise!
Then, I walked up to the mannequin. I reached out my hand. I grabbed a Butterfinger. And…
The mannequin reached out and grabbed my hand. I turned tailed, dropped the Butterfinger and ran as fast as my little Cabella boots could take me.
That was a scary surprise.
Today we are starting our sermon series it’s all about surprises. It’s called Surprising Grace. Our goal is to examine God’s grace through the lens of God’s Word and learn some surprising truths about His Grace. Some terrifying. Some wonderful. Before we take a look at some of the first surprises in God’s Word. 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. A Scary Price
Today we want to start our series by talking cost. (I know that sounds like a political ad), but I think it’s real important to talk cost when you’re talking about buying anything.
If you’re buying a home, you want to talk cost. Sure, you look at the floorplan, the rooms, the updated hardwood, the open concept living room, the backyard, and the location. But you’ve also got to talk cost. What’s the down payment? What’s the homeowner’s insurance? What’s the tax value? How much will renovations cost? Can you get the NC State Wolfpack washer and dryer set for free or not?
It’s the same with God’s grace. It’s filled with value. In God’s grace, we get forgiveness of sins, peace with God, the promise of heaven, a joy filled heart, the assurance that we are God’s children and a beautiful connection with people of all races, ages, and social status.
Those are some pretty awesome things. Those pretty, divinely, awesome things.
As your grandpa would say, “Sounds expensive.”
But God doesn’t deal in dollars and cents. That’s physical.
He deals in righteousness and perfection. That’s divine. In fact, God puts this rather simple yet expensive cost on His eternal and divine gifts – his Grace. The price tag is found in Leviticus 4:2:
Be holy as I the Lord you God am holy.
Holy seems like a key word then. Holy is what you’re going to need to get to heaven. Holy is what your gonna need to have peace with God.
What’s holy mean then?
Does that mean you go to church a lot?
Does it mean that you wear nice clothes to church?
Does it mean that you have a nice, holy, smile on all the time?
Nope. Holy means “without sin.” It means “without defects.” It means “without sin.”
Jesus helps us out with this when he quotes this passage and uses a Greek word that means “perfect” to translate “holy.” He says, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
So are you perfect? You’re going to need to be perfect to get to heaven.
Understand this. You can’t trick God. You can’t convince him that you're trying hard and doing your best and your good intentions are perfection. God knows a bogus holy payment when he sees it. That’d be like trying to take some Monopoly money to buy a house. It won’t work.
Let’s be real: What do you have lying around? What is in your spiritual piggy bank? I imagine it’s a lot like mine. I don’t have any perfection. I have imperfection.
I have a thing called Sin.
The Bible says this, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
The word for sin there is interesting. The Bible was written in Greek and the Greek word translated sin here is one of the most popular words for sin in the New Testament. It’s hamartia. Hamartia means to miss the mark or to be off target.
It’s like darts. Ever played darts? Your goal is to aim your dart and try to throw it onto the bullseye…or at least somewhere on the board. If you miss, you don’t score any points. If you miss the board entirely, you are a laughingstock to your friends.
That’s sin. God has given us a benchmark for our lives. He says, “Don’t lust. Don’t hate. Don’t be a jerk. Be king. Be loving. Help others.”
When we don’t do that, when we sin…it’s like we’re taking a dart, aiming carefully, and hitting the drywall about 3 feet to the left of the dartboard.
Now a bargaining man might ask – What’s my sin worth? I might not be able to get all of it, but how much of God’s grace can I get by offering him my sin?
Ever heard of Kelley’s Blue Book? It’s a place online where you type in your car make, model, and year. You let them know what condition it’s in. You tell them if has a Smartphone port, a CD play or a (gasp) tape deck. You let them know if you have made any upgrade and whether or not those stains from that time your kid spilled red Kool Aid on the back seat are permanent. You enter in all that information and the website provides you with the appropriate value of your car.
Sin doesn’t work like that. You can’t type in the amount of sin, type of sin, year of sin and expect a price that it’s worth to come back to you.
Kelley’s Blue book for sin is called the Bible.
And the Bible places the same value on sin regardless of size, shape, and variety.
Romans 6:23: The wages of sin is death.
Let’s break that passages apart. First, zero in on the word wages. That means the payment. It’s a word that’s used to described what you get paid for raking the leaves – what you get paid for crafting a cabinet – what you get paid for working 40 hours a week at your job. A wage is what you get paid for what you do. It’s what you earn.
What is sin worth? What do we get paid?
Pay careful attention to that. Because the wages of sin is NOT a $20 offering. The wages of sin is NOT saying the Lord’s Prayer 10 times. The wages of sin is not 15 good deeds. It’s not 10 hail Mary’s. It’s not trying, really, really, really, hard for the next couple of weeks.
The wages of sin is death.
And it doesn’t matter what kind of sin it is.
Stealing a pencil from work? Death.
Calling your husband a loser? Death.
Not holding the door for the guy behind you because you don’t feel like it? Death.
Taking a second glance at the secretary who is not your wife, but is looking real good today? Death.
Checking your phone at church to see if your Fantasy team is set for today, because that’s more exciting to you than singing God’s praises? Death.
It’s all the same and it’s all worth the same. Death.
And notice this – Each sin is worth one death. One sin costs one death. Two sins cost two deaths. Seventeen sins costs seventeen deaths. One hundred-forty seven sins costs one hundred forty seven deaths. If you’re like me (and you are) then you have so many sins that you can’t even count.
An infinite amount.
An eternal amount.
Payable with eternal death.
Can you imagine your bill? Can you imagine how impossible this is? Because sin is all we’ve got. A piggy bank filled with sin. A bank account bulging with imperfect. A fully funded H.S.A. of death. This means that the surprising and terrifying truth about God’s grace is this:
You can’t pay for God’s grace.
You haven’t in the past. You can’t right now. You will never be able to in the future.
You can’t pay for God’s grace.
II. An Incredible Gift
That’s a keyword in Romans 6:23. “But.” It means there is more to come. It means the thought is going to change. It means there is a solution. It means there is someone who can help us. It means keep reading…
The wages of sin is death, BUT the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
Do you know what a Shopkin is? It’s these little plastic appliance action figures that kids love.
But here’s the deal – They cost a bit of money. And if, like any good Shopkins collector, your kid wants them all – they are going to have to turn to you for help. Mommy, can you buy this? Daddy, I don’t have the money?
Of course, the same thing is true when you’re an adult. You ask someone with the money to help you pay for something you don’t have the payment for.
Mom, help me with this car payment?
Dad, can you give me money for the new TV?
Credit card company, can you help me get these things that I don’t need?
It’s the same thing with all of God’s heavenly blessings.
We can’t pay for it for us.
We need someone to pay hundreds of thousands of deaths for us.
Someone who doesn’t have his own sins to pay for.
Someone who has an infinite life funding his death.
Someone like Jesus.
The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
That’s why he died! Jesus didn’t die because he owed God a death for his own sins. The Bible calls him perfect. The Bible calls him without sin.
Jesus didn’t die for his sins, but for your sins. Jesus died because you owed God a death for your sins.
That’s why he went through a horrific and terrifying, Halloween-esque death on the cross. It’s why he bled and hung with nails in his hands and through his feet. It’s why a crown of thorns was pressed into his skull. It’s why his lungs slowly stopped breathing.
Jesus was paying for sin. He was earning God’s grace. Jesus was buying your way to heaven. And his death was more than your average human death. It isn’t like he just died for one of your sins. He was the Son of God. He was the Divine Lord of heaven and earth himself. His death is worth a lot more than a normal human death. He’s got God blood. It paid for your first sin, your last sin, and the hundreds of thousands of sins in between. His death paid for your sin and your sin and your sin and your sin and your sin.
Want proof? Jesus came back to life! If he hadn’t paid for your sins, then, he would still be dead – still dying – still paying….like a Credit Card debt with interest that just keeps multiplying, he would have stayed dead.
But he didn’t stay dead. Three days later, he rose. That cross is empty!
This means that Jesus did paid for your sins.
He paid for all your sins.
He paid for every, last one of your sins.
Jesus paid the steep price for God’s grace.
Our first truth was terrifying. You cannot pay for God’s grace. But here’s something amazing. God’s grace is already paid for which means -
God’s grace is free. That’s what our passages says, “The gift of God is eternal life.” If it’s a gift, that means it doesn’t cost anything.
Think about your grandma. Maybe she has made you a nice sweater before or crocheted you a blanket or a pair of socks. If you open up your gift and look at the socks, and say “Thank You” and her response is, “That’ll be $42.50.” IT’S NOT A GIFT! It’s a wage.
God doesn’t do that. God paid for it all. The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
The gift of God.
That’s exactly what God gives you in Jesus.
He gives you forgiveness.
He gives you peace.
He gives you heaven.
III. What Now?
1) Stop Trying to Pay for the Gift!
Because it’s really quite rude. God bought you the gift. God paid for it all. God brings it to you in His Word.
And we say, “Nah, God. I think I’d rather try to pay for it by myself. I don’t trust your money. I don’t trust it’ll be enough.”
We’re the ones who don’t have enough. God is the only one who does. Stop trying to pay for God’s grace and simply rejoice in it!
There’s a change in the way you live your life. The burden is gone. There is no eternal debt over your head. You don’t have to sit there each day thinking, “I gotta be good. I gotta be good. I gotta be good. I gotta be…ahhh! I missed a chance to be good because I was too busy trying to remember to be good! That’s selfish. It’s another sin. Now I’ve got even more good to be doing!”
That’s foolish. It’s impossible.
It’d be like throwing away an all-expense paid gift card to Applebee’s. Racking up a $780-dollar bill on ½ price apps. But then, doubting that the gift card will work. Throwing it into the garbage and trying to pay with what’s in your wallet.
If you do that, you’re in trouble.
And if don’t trust Jesus, you will be in trouble.
2) Have Faith in Jesus.
But God is God.
God doesn’t lie.
He doesn’t change his mind on payment.
He doesn’t offer incomplete gifts.
He says, For God so loved the world that he gave His One and Only Son – that’s Jesus – that whoever believes in Him – and what he did! That he lived perfectly, died innocently, and rose triumphantly to pay every last bit of God’s grace for you – shall not perish, but have eternal life.
If you trust him, God’s grace is yours. As expensive as it is, as impossible as it is for you to earn – it is yours.
That’s life changing.
A while back I met a woman at the hospital. Maria. I stumbled into her on an elevator and we exchanged pleasantries.
How are you?
I’m fine; how are you?
How was the person that you came to see?
What treatment did the doctor’s recommend?
And so on…
I said to her before I left, “May God bless you and your family with healing.” I meant it to be nice – but she began to frown.
“God couldn’t be nice to me. I don’t deserve it.”
I stopped her. I asked her to explain. We sat down and I listened.
About how God couldn’t love her.
About how God had seen her do awful sins.
About how God had seen her do drugs and sleep around and cheat on her husband and even…try to take her own life.
She knew it was wrong. Oh, she knew it was wrong. She understood sin.
Because of it, she couldn’t ever earn God’s blessing.
She couldn’t earn his grace.
And I looked into her eyes. I looked past the tears. I smiled and said,
“You’re right. You can’t….But Jesus can.”
The wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. Amen.
I. The Worst Kind of Fear
The doors were locked.
A deadbolt. Another deadbolt.. A few boxes stacked in front of the door. One of those giant wooden planks that sits atop two metal supports on both sides. There was no way anyone was getting in.
It was evening on the very first Easter Sunday. The disciples were gathered together and talking in hushed voices:
“Do you think the Pharisees will come after us?”
“Do you think they’ll want us dead? Or was Jesus enough?”
“Do you think they know who I am? I can’t remember if they saw my face when we were running away last Thursday night!”
“Do you think crucifixion will be as bad as it sounds?”
Then, their hushed panic was interrupted by a knock on the door. A few of them jumped. Quietly Matthew peeped through the tiny hole in the door.
It was Mary Magdalene. They let her in, they told her not to scare them like that. But she wasn’t listening. She was a sobbing mess. “They’ve stolen his body!” She sobbed. “I couldn’t even see him.”
Peter and John put their arms around her. They lifted up their hoods so that they wouldn’t be seen. They ran with her to investigate.
As the other disciples waited, they heard another knock. Their breaths were short again. Slowly they opened the door to reveal the group of women that Mary had abandoned. They weren’t nearly stressed. In fact, they seemed joyful.
“Shhh!” Nathanael tried to quiet them down. “You’re making too much noise. They’ll hear us.”
“What of it!?!” Today is too great not to shout HALLELUJAH!” They began talking about angels – and resurrection – and how they had seen Jesus.
Okay. That was impossible. Jesus was dead.
Maybe, they needed to lay down. Maybe their emotions were getting the best of them.
But then, Peter and John returned. Yep. The tomb was empty alright. There wasn’t a trace of a body in there. And if you didn’t trust John, you could trust Peter. He was thorough like that.
Then, a third knock. “It’s Clopas!” said a voice. As they opened the door Philip exclaimed, “I thought you were heading to Emmaus today!”
“We were, but then…we saw Him….Jesus….He’s alive.”
As all of these stories marinated, the mood of the room changed. There was a buzz. Could it be? Could he really…? Could Jesus be...alive?
Then, someone else joined them.
Someone else who didn’t knock.
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them.
And at first, the disciples were shocked. Was this a hallucination? No, the others saw it too. Was it a ghost? No…the floor creaked when he walked. Was it a look alike? No…they had spent three years with the Lord, they knew his unmistakeable face.
Suddenly, a dread fell over the disciples. Jesus wasn’t a hallucination. Jesus wasn’t a ghost. Jesus wasn’t a vision. It was much worse than that.
Jesus was alive.
(1) They Had Wronged Him!
You might be thinking. Why? Why would that be bad news to them? Jesus was alive!
Tell me -- Have you ever had a bad morning? You’re on the way to work and you kind of brush past some guy to get into the elevator – you force him to take the next one – and about fifteen minutes later as your boss is leading the morning meeting for work – you see the elevator guy again – turns out; he’s the C.E.O.
Or maybe you’re at the edge of Falls of Neuse. You’re waiting…and waiting…and waiting to turn left onto it. Finally, you pull out just a tad close to a car that looks like its pretty far away, but as soon as the car turns on it’s flashing blues and reds, you realize that cop car was a lot closer than I thought.
This is exactly how the disciples felt!
Jesus was alive, sure. But he was also the guy they had just abandoned. He was also the guy some of them had just denied knowing. He was the guy they had let die on that cross.
(2) They Couldn’t Hide from Him!
Remember: The doors were locked. And that locked door was meant for the Romans. But when they looked behind Jesus, the doors were still locked. They couldn’t hide from Jesus.
That meant when Matthew tried to slip behind Simeon – “Maybe he can’t see me.” Or Andrew pretended to be asleep. And Philip sat in back thinking – “If I don’t move, maybe he won’t see me.”
Jesus still saw them. They couldn’t hide from Jesus.
(3) He was God!
Here’s the scariest part of all. It wasn’t like they had sinned against one another. It wasn’t as if one of them was yelling at the other one for stealing his favorite tunic without asking. It wasn’t as if they had sinned against another human.
If Jesus was really standing before him, it meant He had really risen from the dead. If he had really risen from the dead, it meant he really was God!
The God of heaven. The God of hellfire and brimstone. The God who when he got sick of storms told them to buzz off. The God who when he was angry with demons sent them away from this earth. The God who spoke to terrible disease and sent them packing with his burning anger.
What was to stop him from doing just that. To them. Right now.
Do you understand the disciple’s fear? Maybe you’ve wronged God. Maybe you’ve done some pretty bad sins. Maybe you came here today troubled by something awful that you did just last night. In fact, maybe that’s why it was hard to get here today. (Or maybe it's why you are only reading this online.)
But here's the problem...
Have you ever played hide & seek with some kids before? Kids have pretty good hiding spots. They can get into a lot better hiding places than dad. Dad gets to hide behind the shower curtain and behind the door and that’s about it. (And now I just gave away my two best hiding spots.) Kids can get into really good spots though. Behind the washing machine, inside the cupboard, under the bed.
But what happens when you find them. What do kids do? They cover their eyes. They cover their eyes because they figure that somehow you can’t see them, if they can’t see you.
Do you ever get so scared of God that you think like that? That you figure – as long as I don’t approach God – as long as I don’t go to church – as long as I don’t read that one part in the Bible – then, I’m good.
That doesn’t work. You can’t hide from God.
He sees your sins. He sees all your sins.
Even the sins that you think he doesn’t see – He sees.
The pornography at night?
The flirting with the guy that’s not your husband?
The cheating on the test when the teachers isn’t looking?
Stealing that money from your friend's purse?
Others might not see it. God does. God hates sin. He hates it with a hellfire vengeance.
II. The Best Kind of Antidote
Do you feel that? I do. It’s fear. Fear because we’ve sinned. Fear because God knows it. Fear because that sin was against God.
That’s the kind of fear the disciples were experiencing. They trembled. Each hoping that Jesus would make it quick and painless. Then, Jesus moved. His mouth opened. The disciples braced themselves. He spoke:
“Peace be with you!” As in…It worked. As in…You have been saved. As in…You’re forgiven.
Can you imagine that collective breath that was let out in that room? Jesus wasn’t there to get revenge. He was there to give them assurance. He was there to tell them of their salvation. He was there to tell them that his sacrifice had worked. He was there to tell them that He was victorious and they were at peace with God!
Because that’s what the resurrection means. Jesus’ resurrection means that he defeated sin, death, and hell. It means that those who believe in him are forgiven. It means that you are forgiven!
Pastor, I know all that. But I still get scared. Life is tough. Finances are difficult. Relationships are hard. My job is in the air. The devil…the devil loves to make me doubt this peace I have with God. What do I do when I’m scared?
A couple things.
1) Don’t Hide.
We already said that doesn’t work. God sees all things. God is there for all things. It’s like when you see your kid do something he isn’t supposed to. He might as well come clean. You saw him do it.
God’s already seen it. Don’t lie. Don’t hide it. Bring it to him.
Secondly, bring it to him, because he wants PEACE with you. Even though He isn’t the one who wronged your relationship – that’s on you – God still wants peace with you. That’s why he came to this earth. That’s why he died on the cross. That’s why he rose from the dead and spoke to the disciples and had the disciples write it down so that you would hear His desire. PEACE.
Scripture says this, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just. He will forgive us all our sins.”
Confess your sins to God. Confess the ones that are public. Confess the ones that are obvious. Confess the ones that are private, hidden, known only to you and God. Confess your sins – and hear his promise of forgiveness.
2) Come Back to Reality
I remember the very first haunted house I ever went to. It was a gym at our local grade school – with a few spooky cobwebs hanging from the basketball hoops. But there was one part that was creepy. They made me put on a blindfold and reach my hand into a bowl. I grasped what I thought was earthworms and eyeballs!
I was bawling. I threw them on the ground. I was panicking as we left – so badly that my dad took me back inside to show me that I hadn’t touched worms and eyeballs but spaghetti and meatballs.
Oh. Thanks for that reality check.
That’s what Jesus helped the disciples do. A smile. Kindness. Words of promise. The reality was that Jesus wasn’t dead. He wasn’t dead and he wasn’t mad at them. He had died for their sins and there was no reason to be afraid.
When you’re dealing with fear, come back to reality.
When you think you’re all alone, come back to reality – Jesus is with you.
When you think everyone is against you, come back to reality – Jesus has your back.
When you think God can’t handle this, come back to reality – Jesus died and came back to life!
3) Examine His Wounds
That’s one of the things Jesus did for his disciples. He showcased that it was really him. He let them run their hands on the nail marks in his hands and place their hands into the spear mark in his side.
When they touched his wounds, they didn’t just see some kind of really cool scars.
They saw his love. “He did this for me?”
They saw his power. “These scars defeated death?”
They saw his resurrection. “They are moving; he is still alive; praise God!”
Pastor – how can I do that? I don’t get the privilege of seeing the resurrected Lord Jesus with my physical eyes like the disciples.
I’m gonna tell you the same thing we said last week. If you want to examine his wounds, examine the Scriptures. Read his Word. It’s not overkill that God’s telling us to do it a second time. In his Word we see the pain God went through. We see the pangs that his heart goes through as we sin against him. We see the pain he suffers at his betrayal. We see the awful suffering of his crucifixion. You’ll see that he did this for you. Because he loves you that much.
4) Understand this Phrase: “Peace be With You.”
That’s God talking! There is no one higher. It isn’t me talking. It isn’t an angel talking. This is a message of peace, straight from the top!
If you’ve got peace with him…
Romans 8 says just that. Take a look. It says this, “31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things…35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" Can money troubles? Bill collectors? Cancer or AIDS? Drugs or alcohol? Divorce or loneliness? Terrorists, explosion and attacks? NO!
"37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!"
May these words keep us from fear now and always. Amen.
When my parents came down a couple of weeks ago, they brought down a few items that were still stored at their house from the two weeks Julianna and I lived there before moving to our own apartment in Raleigh. One of the items they brought down was Julianna’s wedding dress. And…she tried it on. She fit into it perfectly and looked as beautiful as ever.
So…I got to thinking…I wonder if my suitcoat still fits. The other day I went into my closet. I found what I think was my suitcoat and I tried it on.
It was a little tighter than I remember it. I had to “suck it in” in order to get the pants on. In fact, the suit was tight enough that it was a little more difficult to breathe.
The same thing can happen spiritually. Grief, sadness, and gloom can get to be too much. They can tighten themselves around you like a two sizes too small suit. Grief can metaphorically make life so stressful that it literally makes it more difficult to breath.
Perhaps there is no one who understood the suffocation effect that grief has more than Mary Magdalene. Open up your Bibles and find her story in John 20 beginning at verse 1.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. This is what Matthew 28 talked about last week as Mary was a part of that group of women who were heading toward the tomb. But John indicates that Mary was not a part of the women that made their way to the angels. Rather, she ran away from the tomb. She ran to Peter and John and told them that the tomb was open. While she was telling them this, the other women were talking to the angel and hearing the glorious message that Jesus had risen.
But Mary missed that. Instead, she must have followed behind Peter and John. Crying. Stumbling. Sobbing.
Jesus had been the one man who had ever shown her unconditional love. He had gone near her when no one else would. He had talked to her when everyone else ignored her. He had healed her…when she thought all was lost.
Scripture says, Mary had been possessed by seven demons. Jesus had driven them out.
And when Jesus had driven those demons out – he had driven out other demons. No longer did she feel unlovable. No longer did she feel unloved by God. No longer did she feel completely worthless. Jesus’ actions had shown she had value and that she had purpose.
But…they had taken that away from her. The had taken her Lord away from her.
They had killed him.
Now to make things worse, someone had added insult to injury and stolen his body. She couldn’t even give him a proper burial. She couldn’t even search from some kind of closure at his gravesite.
Eventually, she made her way to the entrance of the tomb. The guards were gone. The other women were guard. Peter and John were gone. Only Mary – Mary and an empty tomb – Mary, her broken heart and her empty tomb.
She sobbed – grief was pressing on all sides of her. It was hard to catch her breath as she collapsed in front of the door. Slowly she lifted her head. Slowly she looked inside – hoping to see a piece of his garment…a left behind hair. A sandalmark. Something to remind her of the good times. Something to remind her of her Lord.
Something to give her hope.
What she found was so much more incredible. 12 Mary bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head of the stone gurney and the other at the foot.
Now – if ever there was something that might jar Mary out of her sadness, it might be an angel. Bright, shining, gleaming. You don’t see them every day. Imagine if one appeared on Falls of Neuse as you were fighting traffic to work in the morning. Suddenly, you’re wide awake. The doldrums of the morning drive are quickly shaken off.
Mary should have noticed. She should have been filled with hope. She should have been excited. She should have at least been a bit frightened. She had divine, holy angels in front of her. Angels who would have answered her questions. Angels who could have given her good news. Angels that maybe she should have investigated.
Instead, she simply answers their question: They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have put him. And fixated on that terrible thought, filled with grief that her Savior was dead, she turned around and left.
Does that ever happened to you? Does grief ever become so great that it’s hard to focus on anything positive – even if it’s staring you in the face?
Essentially that’s what clinical depression does. It becomes a dark cloud over your life. It overshadows everything that you do.
A young woman named Erin wrote about what depression was doing to her on her blog. She said, “I feel stifled and so alone. I can’t focus and all I can write about is how much pain I’m in physically and emotionally, how tired I am, and how lost I feel. And just thinking about those things makes them worse. I am really really struggling.”
For some of you that might happen a lot. For others not as often. But hopefully you can relate.
Is it a chemical imbalance that leads to depression? Sure. Science has documented that. But –somewhere along the line – we have to admit that there’s a much greater cause for depression. One that can’t be counteracted with medicine and psychotherapy.
It’s called sin.
Sin that someone did to you.
Sin that you did to someone else.
Sin that you did to you.
Sin doesn’t like to be ignored.
Do you remember the story of a tell tale heart? In it, the killer takes the body and stuffs it into the floor. At first, he’s ok. But soon every time he passes that body he hears its heart beating. As if it were a loud drum, he hears it beating and reminding him day after day, moment after moment of what he’s done.
Sin is a lot like that. It beats loudly. It beats steadily. It loves to remind us over the awful, grievous things we have done –
Sinner – sinner –sinner.
Scum – worthless – unloved – sinner.
Know what? If the world is as Mary Magdalene thought it was, then Jesus is dead. There is no reason for hope. “If Christ has not been raised…you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor. 15)
There is only sin.
There is only hatred.
There is only death.
There is only eternal damnation in hell.
If Christ hasn't been raised...
II. Grief Relief
Mary staggered out of the tomb. It was all too much. She fell to the ground. Her tears hit the dirt and changed it into little salty mud droplets.
Then, a twig snapped. The quiet swish of grass blades being displaced caught her ears.
Footsteps. They spoke, “Dear woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
She looked up. Her tears were so great – she didn’t recognize the person in front of her. He must have been the gardener. Maybe he had some answers. Maybe he could help her.
She choked out the words between sobs. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
What she heard next was something she had before. Something that had accompanied her freedom from the demons. Something that had been accompanied by kind words of God’s love. Something that had been spoken by her dearest friend – in that exact same way.
She turned toward him. She cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” Which means “Teacher.” Suddenly a smile adorned her face. The tears of sadness turned to tears of joy. The grief was replaced with incredible exuberation!
It was Jesus. He was alive!
We looked at this scripture earlier. Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…That means it isn’t hopeless. It means it isn’t worthless. It means that you are not in your sins. It means the devil doesn’t win. It means death is not the end. It means you are not destined for hell. It means that by faith in Jesus you are headed to heaven!
This is incredible news.
It’s kind like driving a car out to the country in the middle of the night. Turning the headlights off for a few moments. Looking at all that’s around you. Allowing your eyes to adjust. Seeing nothing but darkness. Then, immediately switching the headlight to high beams! Man is it bright!
Jesus’ resurrection is like that. It plows through the darkness. It shines a lot on the dismal things in our lives. He will brighten every aspect of your day from now until eternity.
But pastor I’m a Christian. I still struggle. I still feel filled with grief sometimes. How do I breathe a sigh of relief? How do I stay positive when depressing things are going on all around me?
For Mary, that was what did it. She saw her Savior. She saw him living. She saw him breathing. She saw his eyes tracking her movements. She saw his chest moving as oxygen flowed in and out of him. Seeing her resurrected Savior was key.
But we don’t get that opportunity. We weren’t there at the tomb. We aren’t anywhere near Israel or 36ish AD. How do we see Jesus?
John 1:14 says, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only."
That’s Jesus. He’s the One and Only. He’s the Word.
Understand then that we see Jesus when we open up this Bible. Every time you’re in church. Every time we read a lesson. Every time we sing a Bible based hymn. Every time you turn on your Bible app at lunch. Every time you go old school and open your Grandma’s KJV at her house. Every time you are in God’s Word – you see Jesus.
You see his heart. You see his love. You see his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of his sins.
Trust God on this! It will affect your mood. It might not be a total immediate transformation. But it will work, because that’s what God’s Word does.
Listen, you wouldn’t give up taking an antibiotic after one try would you? Especially if the doctor told you to take two, 3x a day for a whole week. Don’t stop reading God’s Word ever. It produces joy!
2) Make Sure your Joy is in the Lord!
Philippians says, “Rejoice in the Lord, always!” Do you know who wrote that? The Apostle Paul. Do you know when he wrote that? He wrote it while he was in prison for telling people about the Lord.
That’s not the most compelling circumstances for joy.
Yet notice he doesn’t say, “Rejoice in the fact that today’s food is better than yesterday’s.”
He doesn’t say “Rejoice in the fact that the shackles are more comfy in this cell than the guy next door’s.”
It doesn’t even say “Rejoice in the fact that I’m smarter than my captors.”
He says, “Rejoice in the Lord!” The Lord who called me. The Lord who found me. The Lord who made me his own. The LORD who lives and breathes and is alive forever. The Lord who promises me a home with him.
Keep this in mind. It’s easy for us to want to find joy in earthly things. I got a new job. I got a raise. I got a new friend. But those things might not last. And when they do fail, you will fall back into the doldrums of sadness.
Rejoice in the LORD! He lasts forever.
This interesting. Because Mary had been sad for a few days. Yet as soon as she felt the joy of seeing her risen Savior, Jesus had work for her. He told her to get up, not to hold on to him, and instead to go and tell his disciples that he would see them soon.
Really….it makes a lot of sense. Mary had just been lifted out of sadness. She had breathed a sigh of relief. There were others who needed that news too. Others who needed their guilt lifted away.
Others who needed to know that Jesus lived.
Do you know people like that? Let me change that…You do know people like that. The only way you don’t is if you are a hermit.
Why wouldn’t you share the Gospel with them?
You might be thinking Pastor...Easter is over. You don’t have anymore of those invite cards. There isn’t a breakfast to invite people to anymore. Call me again next year!
What if you were doing some spring cleaning with your spouse and you were moving some boxes from the garage to the attic and suddenly the box filled with all of your paper weights – and in this illustration you have a lot of paper weights – a paper weight collection – what if it got to be too much and your spouse lost his balance and lay on the ground caught underneath the weight of the box?
How long would you let him wait?
Why would you let your friends wait under the weight of their sins and guilt?
Help them breathe. Share the Gospel. Tell them of how Jesus died, but also of how he came back alive. Tell how his breath allows us to breathe a sigh of relief. Amen.
Breathing is kind of important. Agreed?
(Who knew we’d all be on the same page within 10 seconds of the start to a sermon?)
Breathing is important, but …some breaths are more meaningful than others:
The deep breath as you ask your first crush on a date.
A gasp when your significant other gets down on one knee.
The final Lamaze breath as your child enters the world.
Your first breath as you enter the world.
But…what if I told you the most important breath of your lifetime didn’t even take place in your lifetime?
MAIN BIBLE PASSAGES:
Matthew 27:45, 50-55
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[e] went into the holy city and appeared to many people. 54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” 55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph,[f] and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
I. The Most Important Exhale
It was Friday afternoon. Almost 2000 years ago. The people were doing one of the things they did for fun back then. No, they weren’t checking Instagram. No, they weren’t sampling their favorite sushi. No, they weren’t leaving work early to get on I—440 before it got hectic.
They were watching a crucifixion.
It was a larger commotion than normal. Three men were being executed. Two of them were fairly routine culprits — everyday thieves. But the third was of intrigue:
His name was Jesus. He was famous in the land of Israel. He had had quite a following and it was reported that he had done many miracles. And he wasn’t being killed for any of those. He was being crucified because he claimed to be the Son of God.
Now that is a strange claim, agreed? We’re getting used to strange claims though. Politicians make them all the time. “I’ll save you billions.” “You’ll never have to pay taxes again.” “I’ll fix America in a few months.”
But as outlandish as some of their claims are, I don’t think any of them have claimed to be the Son of God. If they did, we could go on Factchecker.com just to confirm, it ain’t true.
Here’s what’s interesting though – the fact surrounding Jesus seemed to point to the fact that it was true! He was reported as making the blind to see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear. He walked on water, stopped storms and changed water into wine. He healed the sick, drove out demons, and raised the dead.
Even his death had some strange, significant events surrounding it.
Around the 6th hour (which in Jewish time was about noon. 6 am was the first light and was therefore the first hour…making the 6th hour, 6 + 6 = 12 noon)…around the 6th hour darkness covered the earth. (Matthew 27:45) That word “darkness” there doesn’t refer to slightly overcast day. It’s a word used to describe the much thicker darkness of nighttime.
Nighttime darkness at noon? Strange.
Still the crucifixion continued as planned. In the darkness each one of the condemned slowly crept closer to death. Until in a loud voice, Jesus cried out “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Then, he exhaled.
And His followers watched.
They held their breath.
Nothing. His chest didn’t move. His mouth made no sound. His breath didn’t return.
But then, something.
Matthew 27:51 says, “The Curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” Notes on that curtain. (Cause if we don’t talk about it, it isn’t that impressive.) It wasn’t made from silk. It wasn’t made from Kleenex. It wasn’t made from those hippie beads that you can hang from the ceiling and tear in half with a wave of your hand. It was a long, woven veil. 60 feet long, 30 feet wide and 1 inch thick. It was heavy. In fact, it was so massive that it the Israelites used hundreds of priests to manipulate it. That’s not something that’s torn easily. Probably not torn without heavy machinery.
The fact that it was torn, completely half at the time of Jesus’ death? Strange.
But that’s not it. Matthew continues, “At that moment…the earth shook and the rocks split and the tombs broke open.” This wasn’t just a tremor. It was large enough on the Richter scale to split through large rocks that were used to mark the graves of the people. Also strange.
Now maybe if one of those three things happened the day Jesus died – the darkness at noon, the earthquake, or the curtain ripped in half, I’d say: It’s a coincidence. Even two? I can understand. Three…that might be pushing it, but not impossible.
But then a fourth thing happened that would be impossible if it happened all alone. Let alone in conjunction with the other things we have already mentioned. “The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the city and appeared to many people.”
Pastor, you don’t believe that! That’s impossible! It could never happen. Dead people don’t come back to life. That would be a miracle!
Um…isn’t that the point?
And notice that these resurrected people appeared to many people. It wasn’t just one guy saying, “I think I saw Aunt Edna last night.” It was a whole city that awoke to unexplained sightings. It wasn’t just the crazy guy down on the corner of Fayetteville St. It was real, everyday, respectable people. They all had seen these incredible thing!
Understand what the Bible is. It’s a record of some fairly incredible things. True. But it was written down at the same time that the people who saw these things had lived. It was written down, shared, made public, and approved by hundreds of people who saw the very things that Matthew wrote down happened.
That means that these incredible things aren’t a myth.
They weren’t an accident.
They weren’t a coincidence.
They were signs.
And just like you can head to the mall after church and find signs everywhere that say, “Meet Easter Bunny Here!” “1/2 OFF Easter dresses there” “Egg Hunt POSTPONED." These incredible signs were telling the people that something incredible just happened. Today these incredible signs are telling you – when Jesus breathed his last – something incredible happened.
What incredible thing happened? Take a look at Romans 4:25, “He was delivered over to death for our sins,” “on behalf of our sins,” or "because of our sins.”
Why? Because...God hates sin.
Like drunk driving. Does drunk driving make you angry? If you’ve ever been affected by it or lost a loved one, I bet it does. In fact, that message has gotten out there enough that – I imagine almost all of us – Republicans and Democrats are Independents – are against drunk driving. Mothers can belong to a group dedicated to prosecuting offenders (MADD). Even Budweiser ran a Super Bowl ad against it. So…when someone is caught drunk driving – there is punishment. We get it. We are ok with punishing that sin because that sin makes us angry.
Get this: That sin makes God angry, too. Actually, all sin makes God angry. Not just big sins like murder, theft, and adultery, but smallers sins: like a grabbing a few dollars from your co-worker's wallet, taking a quick peek down the secretary’s shirt, or making a tiny racist remark about your friend from another culture.
God hates those things. He hates it because they hurt others. These things hurt his children.
So he prosecutes sin.
He threatens to punish all sinners.
If you’re a sinner, he threatens to punish you. If you don’t like to hear that, tough. God will not be stopped.
But if you’re hearing me, if you’re convicted, if you know your sin and you know you deserve punishment, hear this: God doesn’t want to punish you. He never did. That’s why he died.
He was delivered over to death for your sins. To save you from sin’s consequence!
Which is a nice thought. But, how do you we know this worked? He died. How do we know this whole thing isn’t just one big made up, pretend thing that we celebrate at Easter to make the day a little sweeter?
II. The Most Important Inhale
Enter the inhale.
Same week. Three days later. Early in the morning a group of women were on their way to the graveyard. They brought with them some spices and special herbs. Traditionally these were things they would use to honor their dead – kinda like grabbing a bouquet of flowers to take and place on Grandpa’s tomb.
And as the crisp morning air awakened their senses, the tears started flowing. They missed him. He was their dear friend. He had shown them love when no other man had. He had rescued them from dark places. He had given them hope…and a future.
When he died, that hope had been ripped away. It felt like her heart was gone. They had killed him. They had killed her hope.
But their sadness was interrupted.
2 There was a violent earthquake. And an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.
Have you seen pictures of these stones? Jesus had been buried in a standing tomb. It was a rich person's tomb. And rich people won’t be buried in the ground with a tiny little grave marker. No. They had these big, cut out of a cliff walk-in tombs – with enough space for a small dinner party – if you wanted to have a small dinner party in a tomb.
For a door? They would use giant rocks to withstand grave robbers. I don’t know the exact size and weight of these rocks. But…I think it’s safe to say that rocks the size of a door are pretty heavy. I could probably do about a dozen bicep curls with these. And it isn’t even close to door sized.
Tomb door rocks were so big that they needed to be moved in place by a soiree of heavy duty Roman soldiers. In fact, this was such a problem that the women were even discussing amongst themselves whether they had made a mistake in coming out there in the first place. Who was gonna move the stone? There were guards in front of the tomb, but were there enough?
Turns out…they didn’t need to worry. An angel moved it out of place like Arnold Schwarzenegger moving a pair of 2&1/2 pound ankle weights.
If the earthquake and opened tomb wasn’t enough to stir up some excitement, the angel did! 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. In other words – he was glowing. Long before the days of face paint and special effects. There isn’t a pyro guy off in the corner trying to trick the women. It isn’t David Copperfield using the illusion of the camera to throw the ladies off guard.
In fact, the women weren’t the only ones to see the angels. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The big, tough, I’ll get killed if I screw up my job, Roman guards – fainted!
5 The angel held up a hand. He calmed them. He spoke gently to them. “Don’t be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
Process that for a moment. Jesus – the guy who died in front of hundreds – whose death was confirmed by the Roman soldiers at the cross, the Roman soldiers who took him down, his followers who left with tears, his buriers who took his body, the Roman governor who allowed them to take his body, and the Roman soldiers who had closed the rock door over Jesus’ dead body – that Jesus – who had really died….
…was alive again.
And just in case the women didn’t believe the angel, he let them see it for themselves. Go ahead. Look! He’s gone. He should be here; he died. But he’s not here. Miraculous? Yes! Impossible? Not with God.
This brings us back to Romans 4. He was delivered over to death for our sins, but raised to life for our justification. Justification is a courtroom term. It’s the opposite of condemnation. If we are guilty we are condemned; if we are innocent, we are justified. Condemnation bad. Justification good.
Jesus’ resurrection is proof that we are justified! It was God’s almighty, Divine declaration about you and your life. Listen to it: Hear the rumbling of the earthquake, listen to the cracking of the rocks, and the shrieks of the guards and the voice of your LORD:
You are justified.
You have been declared innocent.
By faith in Jesus Christ, you are saved.
This is why the inhale is so important. If Jesus doesn’t take that breath in the grave on Easter Sunday morning, then you and I are still in our sins. Jesus’ death didn’t work. His promise of forgiveness didn’t mean a thing. You and I have to face God standing in the filthy, disgusting cesspool of all our awful sins.
In fact, 1 Corinthians 15:14 takes it a step farther. “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” In other words, if Jesus doesn’t take that breath in that tomb, then the Christian faith, is one big useless, irrelevant, irreverent, cruel joke! And I’m a big old fool for teaching it to you.
But…if Christ does take that breath, if his lungs do move again, if blood starts to circulate in his veins and brain activity returns to his nervous system. Then…there is no moment more important.
That breath means you are forgiven.
That breath means you are at peace.
That breath means that all will be well.
That breath means that God did what he said he’d do.
That breath means that God was victorious.
That breath means that you are victorious.
That breath means that God rose from the dead.
That breath means that you will rise from the dead.
Treasure it. Celebrate it. Take a breath…breathe out with joy! Jesus has inhaled. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!
“Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29)
Last week was Easter! IT WAS AWESOME! The breakfast was delicious. The flowers smelled sweet. The church was full. The dresses were beautiful. The music was inspiring. Most important of all we heard the foundational message of our Christian faith: Christ is Risen! HE is risen indeed!
You went back to work. Your boss filled your desk with things to do. The pollen took over the city of Raleigh. Traffic was hazarodous as always. Coworkers were rude as always. Your family wasn’t very kind as always. The news was filled with more sad stories of humanity’s sinfulness.
Did it appear at all like Easter was a mirage? Did it feel like it’s a nice story, but how could the message of Easter – Christ risen and sins forgiven – be real.
Did you at all start to doubt?
In today’s lesson we’re going to her a story that literally took place one week after Easter. While some of the disciples were undoubtedly still filled with the Easter Gospel, others…at least one, was filled with doubt.
Here's the story of Doubting Thomas.
“Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came." Maybe he was out getting some food. Maybe he was out for an evening walk to clear his head. Maybe he was returning the Old Testament scroll he had been searching for signs of Jesus’ return to the local Hebrew Library.
Whatever the case. Understand this: Thomas missed it! He didn’t get to see Jesus on Easter Sunday. He didn’t get to experience the initial joy of seeing the Lord alive and well with his fellow disciples.
So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
Can you imagine how excited they were to tell him? “So there we were sitting around in doom and gloom, frightened of the Pharisees, and talking about how awful it was Jesus had died, when BAM! There he was. Jesus. He looked just like him. The piercing eyes; the kind smiles; the gentle beckoning. At first, we thought it was real (I mean, I believed it more than Andrew did) but we thought he was a ghost. Then, he had us touch him. His wounds were right where the nails had been. The spear mark was right where John had seen it go into his side. He ate some food for us and it didn’t fall on the floor like it would if it were a ghost. Sure enough – Mary’s best fish recipe disappeared as fast as it does when Peter eats it. Thomas it was amazing! We saw the Lord. He’s alive!”
Instead of believing them. Instead of jumping for joy. Instead of joining in the celebration with his brothers who hours earlier had been as dismal and unbelieving as he had been, Thomas doubted.
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Ever seen a magic trick before? If you’re like me, then the only reason you are watching magic is because you want to turn to your friends and tell them exactly how they did that trick. You want to prove it wrong. So…when Carl the Magician asks some kid to examine an egg and make sure it’s an ordinary egg, before he changes it into a real live baby chick, you start thinking, “If only he had asked me to examine it, then the trick wouldn’t have worked.”
Thomas felt like that. He felt that his friends had been duped. Or that his friends were duping him. He wanted to examine this supposed resurrected Lord of heaven and earth, because he doubted their story. He doubted their sanity.
He doubted Jesus.
He made his demands. He wanted to “See the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and put his finger where the nails were, and put his hand into Jesus’ side, then, (and only then) he promised that he would believe”
Ever felt like Thomas? Not just about a story that your friend told you, but about God’s Word? Ever doubted that Jesus is real? Ever doubted that Jesus didn’t exist? Ever doubted that this is all one big, useless, irreverent, irrelevant, cruel, and useless joke!?! (Everyone is keeping their necks stiff. Don’t want to be caught admitting to doubting Jesus in church.)
I’ll start us off then. I doubt. Yes, the supposed Pastor, the leader of this congregation, the “Professional Christian” struggles with doubt.
“Really? You think in Baptism sins are washed away? It’s just water and a few words. Do you see any sins washing off the child? Can’t see them. I doubt it.” “And Communion. Some bread and wine, yes. But Jesus’ body and blood? You can’t see it. I doubt it.”
“I’ve never actually seen a dead body rise from the dead…how can you tell that poor widow that she will see her husband again?”
Didymus, Thomas’ second name, means twin. Did you know that? Sometimes I feel like Thomas’ long lost cousin. I doubt.
Do you too? Are we triplets?
If so, then join me in panicking, because we are doubting God. The incredible, Almighty, Divine master of the Universe, who never lies, and in fact, cannot lie, and for whom nothing is impossible has been told, “I doubt it,” by measly peons like us.
That’s a terrible thing.
Because what happens when humans doubt each other? What if you saw a story on the news and you tell your friends all about it and they say, “I don’t think so. I doubt that’s what happened.” Don’t you get incredulous? “I saw it with my own two eyes. I swear.” They still doubt. Then you start yelling, “I mean it. I absolutely saw it. How can you doubt me?” Then, we pick up our bags and leave in a huff.
Is that how God will react to us? He should. How many times has he told us this stuff. How many times has he assured usof his love. How many times has he told us the exact truth of what he has done.
And yet we still doubt God!?!
God should shout at us.
He should leave us.
He should let us stew in our unbelief and eternal misery.
But God doesn’t.
He doesn't act as an impatient, angry, sinful human being, but as the loving, compassionate God who came down and died for our sins of doubt. Take a look at what Jesus did for Thomas. A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
Again – it’s the same amazing love as last week. Only this time Thomas isn’t just ignoring all of Jesus’ miracles, all of the Old Testament prophecies, the reports of the women, and Jesus’ own words –Thomas also had ignored his comrades in the ministry.
Jesus should call Thomas out and fire him from the Twelve.
But he doesn’t. He makes a second appears. He makes himself visible to Thomas. He comes in peace.
Then He, the Almighty Risen, taking orders from no one, God of the universe, responds to puny, sinful, Thomas’ three fold request. 27 He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hands and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
And Thomas? Well. He’s convinced. Doubting Thomas – becomes Seeing Thomas becomes Believing Thomas. But not just a “believe that Jesus is alive.” It’s greater than that: Thomas said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
Brothers and sisters – Doubting Thomas was convinced. Are you?
Here’s the deal. God is coming at you. Today. Tomorrow. Everyday. He comes at you again and again patiently, reassuring you. God comes at you again and again –patiently, lovingly, reassuring you.
He wakes us up from our stupor by splashing the water of baptism over us – providing tangible evidence that we’ve been buried and risen with Him. He invites us to stretch out our hands and take and eat, and taste and drink and taste that all of our doubts and fears are groundless. He speaks softly in his Word. He says, “I love you.”
How wondrous that our risen Lord doesn't waste his best strength upbraiding us for littleness of faith. Instead, he pours his best efforts into up-building us: fanning dying embers into a roaring blaze.
It’s as if Jesus comes into the room a second time, a third time, a fifty-seventh time – to tell you yet again: “Yes. It’s true. I died for you. I rose for you. Through faith in me, you are forgiven. Stop, doubting, but believe.”
If you’ve found yourself repeating Thomas in his doubts of Jesus, may God also cause you to join Thomas after seeing Jesus yet again, “My Lord and My God!”
Remember our second lesson for today. James 1:6 says, “Do not doubt, because the one who doubts is like the wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” It’s like being a surfer on a wavy day. You might stay afloat for awhile, but then, you fall in. Maybe you get back up on your own, but you’ll lose your balance again. In fact, if you surf much like I do, then you’ll spend 99% of your time on this great sea of your life, doubting. Drowning.
How do you stop? Wince really hard? Tied a red ribbon on your finger? Lock yourself in your room never to see or run into anyone or anything that might make you doubt?
Scripture says, “Doubting is like being tossed by the wind.” Scripture also says that he who stands on God’s Word – stands on a Rock. (Mt. 7:24) A solid rock. A rock that gives us firm footing. A rock that keeps us afloat. A rock that saves us from drowning.
A rock that gives us confidence.
So. Go to Him. If you have doubts, go to God.
Don’t turn on your smart phone and ask Siri, “How do I know if God is real?” Then, listen to her read to you a capitalized and unpunctuated post from YahooAnswers.com and call it good.
Go to God! Pray to Him for courage. Pray to him for confidence. Run to your Bible and hear his gentle voice – “God loved the world (and you) so much that he gave his only Son that whoever believe in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” Join us in church to hear his powerful Word – “Sanctify them by the truth O Lord. God’s Word is truth!” (Jn. 17:17) Feel the gentle waters of your Baptism --- cooly touching you, gently consoling you -- “Your sins were washed away. You were made holy. You were made right with God…in the name of the Lord Jesus!” (1 Cor. 6:11) Approach the Lord’s Table to hear his confident word, “This is my body given for you. This is my blood given for you.” (1 Cor. 11:24-25) Then, taste his body broken for you. Taste the bitterness of his blood – shed for you. Find God right where he promises to be – in His Word – in his visible tangible word – Baptism and Lord’s Supper – Find God and be confident.
Is your child afraid of the dark? Maybe you too were once afraid of the dark. I was too. But, do you know what helps with that, a lot? Knowing that just down the hall—no matter how many times you run there for help, no matter how many times you scream out of fear, no matter how many times you shed tears because you doubt you’ll make it through the darkness alive…
…your parents – are right there waiting for you. Ready to assure you. Ready to wipe away your doubts.
That’s God. Always there. Always waiting. Always ready to assure you that I’m alive. I saved you. I love you. Amen.
Easter is here. Little girls are wearing colorful Easter dresses. Houses are decorated in light pastel colors. Neon colored Easter eggs are sitting on the dining room table. There’s candy and bunnies, and marshmallow, sprinkled baby chickens. The greatest time of year is here.
It's scary isn't it?
Now you might be thinking, “Pastor, I think you’ve got Easter confused with Halloween. There are no zombies or werewolves at Easter. I mean, I’m scared that someone might eat the ears off of my chocolate bunny, but that’s about it.” No…Easter isn’t scary.
Did you know that the very first Easter was very scary? Especially for Jesus’ own disciples.
Today we’re going to take a look at why it was scary for them, why it might be scary for us, and how Jesus calms all those fears.
We’re taking a look at John 20:19-23. This is the account of what happened to the disciples on the first Easter Sunday. A disciple is a follower of Jesus. It’s also a special term used to denote twelve men who were hand selected by Jesus to learn from him and grow in faith by him. They loved him. They followed him. He was their leader.
Only a few days earlier, he had died.
So can you imagine their state of mind? Take a look at verse 9. On the evening of that first day of the week…the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders…That’s not even a full sentence and already we’ve learned a lot. Take note of a few things to better understand the disciples state of mind.
“Evening of that first day of the week.” This gives us a time frame for when this is taking place. The last day of the Jewish week was Saturday. The first day was Sunday. Jesus had died on a Friday. So this means that Jesus has been dead for three days now. The disciples have now spent the better part of three days dissecting Jesus’ death: They were leaderless. They were directionless. What would become of them? Why did they spend all that time following him? They feared for their future.
I imagine they were exhausted. It’s hard to be that level of stress for that long a time. The exhaustion would have only increased their jumpiness.
Take a look at just how jumpy they were. It says, “the disciples were together with the doors locked…”
Now why do you lock your doors? Ever been to a shady looking neighborhood at night? Maybe you click the lock shut. Guys, if you don’t want your honey to see you uneasy, you do it real sly like.
The disciples locked the door for the same reason They were scared. Not just cover their eyes scared, but lock the doors scared.
But it wasn’t just because of their future without a leader. Scripture says, “The doors were locked for fear of the Jews,” that is, the Jewish religious leaders who had been behind Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and death.
If these men did that to Jesus, what would they do to his followers? If they didn’t lock the doors and stay quiet, maybe the door would break down any moment with Roman soldiers slaughtering every last one of them. They locked the doors in fear. They didn't want anyone to get in.
Except…someone did. When the doors were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them.
Now you might expect the disciples to be joyous. Afterall, their leader was back. But far from it. In fact, Luke tells us that their first reaction was one of fear -- a greater fright than before.
Why? Here's three reasons:
Fear of the Supernatural. After all Jesus had died! If they were looking at Jesus right now, then he must be some kind of ghost or a zombie. It was as if they were stuck inside of an Alfred Hitchcock horror film. They were afraid of the supernatural.
Fear of the Insane. Because if it wasn’t a ghost, then what? A hallucination? Hard to believe that the same hallucination would come upon all of them at once, but perhaps each of them individually thought that they might be going insane. Was a straight jacket OR the Shalom Insane Asylum in their future?
Then, there was the scariest option of all: This was all real.
Because, if it was, well, the last time that many of them had seen Jesus, was with quick glances over their shoulders as they ducked between trees. He had been arrested and they had run away.
They had abandoned them. They had hidden. They had stayed away. They had let Jesus die on that cross. Peter, one of their more vocal members, had at least made it to Jesus’ trial, but when he was there he didn’t support Jesus at all.
He had pretended that he didn’t even know him.
If this was the real Jesus then, then a real miracle just happened and he really was the Son of God. What would He say to them?
Hence their final fear. The Fear of Failure.
Perhaps they could hear Jesus' voice scolding them:
“You ignorant fools. You traitors. How dare you abandon me? How could you let me die? After all that time I spent with you – three years I was your friend – three years I instructed you – you promised to never leave me and then, at the first sign of trouble – you leave me all alone! You pathetic excuse for human beings. I will destroy you with hellfire from my Almighty Father in heaven.”
The disciples trembled. They had failed.
I asked earlier if Easter made you afraid. Maybe it doesn’t. But if not, what does make you afraid?
I was watching a show on Hulu called “Solitairy.” It’s a Reality TV show in which they lock you into a room and you stay all by yourself for a long time. On one episode they do an experiment. They turn off all the lights and the computer animated voice tells them to begin describing their greatest fears.
It was interesting. No one said “snakes.” No one said “spiders.” No one said “clowns.”
Repeatedly. Repeatedly everyone’s greatest fear was FAILURE! Failures in the past resurfacing or failures in the future.
How big a role does failure play on your fears? Do you have any failures that you are dealing with this Easter? Failure to have enough money. Failure to keep that job. Failure to find a job. Failure to make your marriage perfect. Failure to make that relationship turn into marriage. Failure to stay healthy. Failure to keep your promises to your kids.
Failure to God? Because that's a whole other level. This is where the reality of Easter gets real scary. Because if Jesus really rose, then he also really died for the very real reasons that he said he died. He died for your failures before God. He died for your sins.
That’s hard to face. It’s extremely frightening for humans beings to face their failures. It’s why on Fear Factor they have people eat bugs or bungee jump off a building. Those things are scary. But not as scary as listing all your failures on national television. Can you imagine that as a challenge? “Now tell everybody our deepest, and darkest failures. Don’t minimize them. Don’t blame others. Own up to them. Face them.” No one would do it.
Maybe that’s why so many prefer to think of Easter as a fairy tale. It’s why the world loves candy, chickens, and fluffy bunnies. They are a good distraction from the scary reality of Easter. Because the reality of Easter begins in a graveyard and ends with God coming back to face all those who have failed Him.
It ends with God coming face to face with you.
Back to that tense locked room again. The disciples are shaking with fear. Their fists are clenched. Their hearts are beating. Their minds are racing. All of their eyes are on Jesus.
He speaks, “Peace be with you.”
Not, “You fools.” Not “You failures.” But “Peace.”
Remember who’s talking!?! This is the guy who claimed to be the Son of God and then, when he died, he came back to life. Three days earlier he had been dead. Many saw him die. The soldiers took his body down. Men wrapped him in cloths for burial. They placed his body in a tomb. Soldiers guarded the entrance.
Yet…here he was alive. It’s impossible. It’s a miracle. It’s a God thing!
Understand then who it was speaking peace to his disciples: It was God himself! The one whom the disciples had wronged, the one whom the disciples had failed, the one who had the power to destroy them, just spoke peace to them. He had forgiven their failures.
But it almost seems too good to be true.
Jesus gives the disciples plenty of reason to believe him. He showed them his hands and side. He let them touch his flesh. He let them examine his bones. He let them tangibly feel the very wounds that three days earlier had been formed by nails and a spear.
The disciples were overjoyed. This was no fake. This was reality. They were really seeing the Lord and they were really forgiven.
They must have shouted: Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
Look at what Jesus closes with. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
This was another encouraging word for the disciples. Soon – Jesus would ask them to preach this good news. Soon they would be arrested. Soon they would be standing before courts and soldiers with the authority to kill them.
They needn’t fear. Jesus would be with them. The Holy Spirit would be with them. God the Father, in charge of the whole plan, would be with them!
Why would they ever need to fear again? They had had ENOUGH!
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
How can Easter drive out your fears? What does the Easter message mean for you? Three things to take home in your heart this week:
1) At Easter, God speaks Peace
You might be frightened to approach God. You might be scared because of your past to get involved at church. You might be nervous to really dive into this God thing because your past failures really do haunt you -- and you don't know how God will react.
Does today's lesson give you an indication?
Scripture says this, “When you were dead in your sins…God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.”
This means that when you approach God in confession, when you approach God with your sins, when you approach God with your failures, God forgives. He is at peace with you.
Now God isn't at peace because suddenly he decided sin isn't that big of a deal. It is! If you reflected on Good Friday, you understand that our sins caused Jesus to die a gruesome death on the cross. That's how big of a deal it was.
But we do have peace with God because of Jesus. Because of his death. Because of his resurrection.
2) This Easter Peace is Real.
The other day was April Fools Day. I was reminded on my Facebook feed that you've gotta be careful of your sources when reading headlines on April Fools Day. I read that Aaron Rodgers -- my beloved Green Bay Packer Quarterback -- had been traded to the archrival Bears.
My heart skipped and then I saw where the story was coming from -- The Onion.com
What is the source for this message of Easter? It's God's Word. Inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit -- he caused the very men who saw these things about Jesus to write them down for us. These men told the account of how Jesus was seen in various times, in various places, by various people. In fact, at one time over 500 saw Jesus at once!
To combat this story, all the bad guys had to do was find the dead body. If they got it out of the grave all this resurrection stuff would have stopped.
The Easter bunny’s story isn’t as impressive. Here’s some real chocolate and some real jelly beans – they really taste like blueberries.
Jesus says this to you today: “You really did fail. You really did sin. But I really did die. I really did rise. Through faith in me, you really are forgiven. You really will live in heaven.”
3) This Resurrected, Real Jesus is With you.
Financial struggles? God is with you. Broken relationship repair? God is with you. Reconciling with a spouse? God is with you. Looking for a job? God is with you. Sick? God is with you. In the Hospital? God is with you. Past failures? God is with you. He forgives you because of Jesus. Your future? God is with you. He will guide you in Jesus.
1 John 4:8 says this, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”
There is no other perfect love than this: Jesus died for your sins. His perfect love rose from the dead. The message of Easter drives out fear. It says, “In Christ I am forgiven. In Christ, I see the reality of my forgiveness. In Christ, I know God is with me every step of the way.”
What do I have to fear? Christ is Risen; He is risen indeed!
I Witnessed an example of this the other day.
I met a woman from a far away country who didn't know much about Jesus. Honestly she was kind of scared to find out about Jesus and about God. She said that she had done many wrong things. She had cheated on friends and as a result had been called many awful names.
She was frightened to hear what God might call her.
I told her about Jesus. I told about his life. I told about his death. I told of his resurrection. I told what Jesus means for her.
She said, "This is amazing. God loves me that much. I feel different. I feel loved. I feel….brave."
“There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear.”
Today is Easter. Today Jesus says, “Enough Fear!” There is no need for fear anymore. And we believe it. We believe it because Christ is risen; He is risen indeed! Amen.
I’m sure it seemed like every other, run of the mill crucifixion.
As the Roman soldier adjusted his cincture and wiped his brow after hoisting the heavy cross under the hot Middle Eastern sun, he was prepared for things to go just as they normally did. There would be cries of pain and moan of agony from the convicted. There would be crowds of people gathering to watch, more for the sport of it, than out of compassion. There would be curses hurled at the criminals, blood splattering the dust, and a few tears from the loved ones of the condemned. Slowly, just as always, he would have a front row seat as he watched the life of another human being gradually drift away from him.
At first, it looked like every other crucifixion he had been a part of. But then, it became very different.
It started with the criminal. Usually they were no good, scum of he earth types. They would curse those who were cursing htem. They’d spit and spew forth insults as their dying breath enabled them.
But this guy, this Jesus, remained silent. He didn’t say much. He didn’t sweat. He didn’t insult. In fact, the first time he spoke, he said words of kindness.
“Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
This Jesus had a sign above his head. It was common for crimnals to have signs which explained their crimes. But the sign above Jesus didn’t say, “Murderer,” or “Adulterer.” It didn’t say, “Thief,” or even “Tax Evader.”
It said: “King.”
And the crowds. Never before had so many come to watch a crucifixion. The tone of this crowd was violent too. They vehemently hated this man. They despised him. It seemed that they couldn’t get enough of hurling insults at him.
But others…others loved him. As the soldier stood at his post, he couldn’t help but overhear some of the things they called him, “Savior,” “Redeemer,” “Messiah,”….”Friend.”
Then things got very strange. It was the middle of the day, the hottest part of the day, the part when the sun is the strongest.
That’s when it grew dark. Nighttime dark. Can’t see your hand in front of your face dark.
While the soldier couldn’t see; he could hear. He heard the voice of this JEsus. Strong. Convicting. Careful. Loving. The gentle words of this Jesus penetrated and haunted his brutal, Roman heart.
Then, Jesus cried out. He cried out and shouted, “It is finished.” With finality. With authority. With joy…almost.
Then, he spoke once more, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Then, he died.
And as he died, at that exact moment of his death, the One who controls earthquakes, seemed to respond. The earth began to shake. It trembled. It trembled a powerful tremble – and as the soldier braced himself against he foot of the cross – he saw rocks splitting into two.
Then, the earth calmed. The soldier thought. He thought about what had happened. He thought about who this Jesus was.
He came to a terrifying conclusion: “Surely this was the Son of God.”
Can you imagine the terror going through his mind? He had just participated in the killing God’s divine Son? He had killed the divine Savior. He had murdered God Himself!
I’m sure his mind began racing. “What have I done? How will I ever be forgiven? I won’t. I killed God’s son. He’ll come after me. The Lord of heaven and earth will come after me, find me, and obliterate me.”
The soldier beat his chest. This was a terrible realization.
But to be fair. This soldier was not alone in killing God’s Son. He wasn’t the reason Jesus had died. Nor was it the fault of the other soldiers, the crowd that chanted “Crucify,” Pontius Pilate who condemned Him, or even the chief priests who plotted this whole death months in advance.
These people didn’t killed Jesus.
Romans 4:25 says this, “Jesus was delivered over to death, for (or “because of”) our transgressions.”
Do you understand what that is saying? It says that the reason Jesus was up there, the reason Jesus died, The reason he hung on the cross was your sins. He hung as a substitute. He hung to take the brutal punishment that your sins deserved.
It really forces you to rethink sin, doesn’t it? It’s so easy for us to go through life and think of sin as “no big deal.” “I’m not perfect.” “Everybody sins.” “I’m not as bad others.”
But you are bad enough that your sins resulted in Jesus dying on the cross.
I don’t care what kind of sin it was either. Your sins led to this. Whether “big sins” like adultery, murder, or brutal violence – or “smaller sins” greed, a white lie, a little name calling, not really worshipping God with all your heart.
Sin is Sin. Sin caused Jesus to die. Sin killed Jesus. Your Sin killed Jesus. My sin killed Jesus.
Our sins killed God’s Son.
The soldiers was right. Surely this was God’s Son. It’s a terrifying thought.
But we are gathered here today, not because what happened thousands of years ago is terrifying. But because it is good. Good Friday.
Consider Romans 4:25 again, “He was delivered over to death for our sins.” He was the substitute. He took the brunt force of God’s wrath against sin and there is no force of wrath left for you.
It’s true that you deserved to be on that cross 2000 years ago, but it’s also true that Jesus died for you. The punishment that happened – is over. There is no punishment that remains.
How do you know it’s true for you? How do you know that it’s not just true for his followers – his really good followers – the people who haven’t done as much wrong as you?
Remember the words of the soldier: “Surely, this was the Son of God.”
Jesus’ life was no ordinary life. His death was no ordinary death. His blood was no ordinary blood.
Jesus’ death covers your sin. And your sin. And your sin. And your sin. It covers every last one of your sins.
It covers the big sins that haunt your heart. It covers the repeated sins that you struggle against.
It cover the sins that have ruined relationships. It covers the sins that have kept you from God.
The Son of God is powerful. Just as he had done miracles all his life, so he did miracles on that Good Friday. As he had cleansed men from leprosy, so he cleansed you from sin. As he cast out demons, so he cast out the devil. As he made the mute to speak, so he causes us to shout in joy. As he restored the health of the sick, so he restored our spiritual health. As he stopped storms, so he stopped death. As he brought people back to life from the dead, so he brought us back from the dead—he gave us spiritual AND eternal life.
I read the first part of Romans 4:25 earlier, “He was delivered over to death because of our sins.” Now…let me read the second part, “He was raised to life because of our justification.”
Keep this in the back of your mind. Jesus’ substitute worked. The Father looked down at his Son and said, “Well done.” He looked down at the world and said, “Be at peace.”
He looked down at you and said, “You are forgiven.” He said, "You are my child." He said, "One day, by faith in my Son, you will join me in heaven...forever escaped from the very things that made Good Friday so sad."
No more Sin. No more sadness. No more pain. No more sorrow.
No more death.
And Jesus? Don't worry about him. In fact if you look at the words of the soldier one last time there is reason to rejoice:
"Surely this is the Son of God."
"Surely death cannot hold him."
"Surely he will rise."
Please join us for Easter. Amen.
Is God dead?
It certainly looks like it, doesn’t it?
Immorality is increasing at an incredible rate. New science studies “prove” that it was a Big Bang and not God. “And the article had 10,000 likes on Facebook so the conclusions must be true!” Random acts of nature – mudslides, disappearing planes, capsized boats. “If God were here, he wouldn’t let that happen.”
Then, there are our personal struggles – barely able to pay rent, job on the chopping block, strained marriages, struggles in school, life threatening illnesses. They all tempt us to one sad conclusion --
God is dead.
That’s a pretty scary conclusion isn’t it? It’s the exact same scary situation that a few women followers of Jesus found themselves in early the first Easter morning.
Their leader. Their God. Was certainly dead. And there’s plenty of reason to believe this to be truth nearly 2000 years later. Just look at the witnesses:
1) The crowd at the crucifixion. They had seen Jesus’ body go through a brutal beating. Punches, slaps, and kicks on Thursday evening. A barbaric scourging at the hands of professional Roman torturers Friday morning. A crown of thorns to rest his head, then, stakes through the hands and the feet all by lunchtime! Then, they watched for three hours until his body wore out, unable to push up at the bottom of the cross, Jesus took his last breath. Then knew he was dead.
2) But so did the soldiers. They were professionals at torture AND killing. If they didn’t get it right, they might die! So they were extra careful. Even though they were positive Jesus was dead, one soldier took a spear and stuck it into his side -- aiming for the heart. Now they knew he was dead.
3) The two men who had prepared Jesus’ body for burial knew he was dead, too. So they began traditional preparations for the dead. They covered Jesus’ hands, his feet, and his wrists with linens. They never saw his chest move. They felt no pulse. They didn't see his eyelids flicker. They knew he was dead.
4) His enemies even knew it! As the body was prepared, they came to Pilate and asked that armed guards watch over the tomb. Jesus had promised that he would rise again, but since they knew him to be dead, they were nervous that the disciples would steal his body. They asked for the guards to prevent a hoax.
5) The man in charge of the crucifixion allowed it. Because he knew Jesus was dead too. Likely, he had ordered plenty of crucifixions. No one came through them! Jesus was no different. His guards said he was dead. He was dead. They could have a guard if it made them feel better.
6) The grave workers then took their places. They helped ensure the body made its way into the tomb. They pushed a boulder in front of it. They sealed it with wax. They probably worked in shifts. One group Friday night. Another Saturday morning, Another Saturday evening. A final set early Sunday morning. None of these soldiers heard movement in the tomb. Because Jesus was dead.
7) Which is why the women early that Easter morning were so certain. They carried spices towards his tomb – not to repair him to health, but because that's how you honored the dead.
And Jesus was dead.
Even modern medicine agrees. Some people have this idea that Jesus went into a coma. "Maybe, he didn't really die. Maybe, the blood thirsty beatings, the extreme blood loss and the slow death on a cross didn't kill him. Just put him a coma." Modern medicine scoffs at such an idea. Dr. Robert Stein, one of the world's foremost pathologists wrote, "Jesus couldn't possibly have faked his death, because you can't fake the inability to breathe for all that long. Besides the spear thrust into his heart would have settled the issue once and for all...And EVEN if in some kind of miracle, he had only been in a coma, what would he have done? When he awoke in the tomb, he would have been so pathetically weak that he would have simply lay there unable to move the giant boulder that sealed him in!"
This is key then to understanding the Easter story. Jesus was certainly dead.
II. Certainly Alive.
As the women came to the tomb any fear they had from their leader having been killed must have intensified. There was an earthquake. The stone had been rolled away!!! The soldiers were passed out with shock! They appeared into the tomb.
IT WAS EMPTY! What had happened!?!
Then, they met their first witness.
His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. An angel. “He’s not here; he has risen…come and see the place where he lay! Then, go quickly and tell his disciples.”
So they hurried away from the tomb! Excited, but nervous. Who would believe them? Is an angel to be trusted?
Then, they saw someone they knew could be trusted. The women saw Jesus! “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet. At that time, I'm sure they saw the wounds on both his feet -- right where the nails had been. As he clasped their shoulders to comfort them, they saw the holes in his hands. This was no imposter. This wasn't some groggy, just out of a coma Jesus...and since they all saw Him...it wasn't a hallucination.
Who was not dead, but alive!
But those women weren’t the only witnesses.
Jesus showed himself to Mary Magdalene. A woman who could have no doubts it was him. She would never forget the face of the man who would heal her and changed her life.
Jesus showed himself to two disciples walking to Emmaus. His knowledge of scripture was unmistakable. It was him!
He showed himself to the Eleven. Well, actually, ten of them first. Thomas was missing. But when Thomas complaind that he wouldn’t believe in the resurrection until he saw it, Jesus reappeared. He showed him his hands. His feet. He ate food in front of him. He allowed Thomas to stick his hand in his side! And even doubting Thomas was convinced – this isn’t Peter trying to play a trick on me. This is "My Lord and God!"
In fact, there is no shortage of witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. over 500 people in many different places, in different times and different places. Different people. All of them were convinced it was him!
Even one of Jesus' greatest enemies – Saul -- who was convinced that Jesus was dead and that this was all a lie...so much so that he imprisoned, beat, and killed anyone who confessed to following Jesus...Saul saw Jesus. He believed he was alive. He became a follower. He went on four missionary journeys, started over 20 churches, and wrote 13 books in the Bible! Why did he make such a change? Why did it happen over night?
Because he saw that Jesus was alive!
But Paul isn't even the greatest witness. The greatest witness lie in that empty tomb.
I like Chocolate Easter bunnies. But, at our house, you aren’t supposed to eat them until Easter Sunday. So, if Julianna finds a little bit of chocolate on the corner of my mouth and accuses me of eating the bunny, all I have to do is produce the chocolate bunny—whole, in package, and untouched.
If Jesus was still dead, all the Pharisees would have to do would be to produce the dead body.
"But the disciples probably stole it!" Right! An accountant and a few fisherman overpowered the first century equivalent of heavily, armored Navy seals, and threw open the sealed rock all before the soldiers knew what hit ‘em.
There’s another problem. Why would the disciples have perpetuated the lie even to their own deaths?
What happens on crime dramas when the perpetrator is confronted with absolute evidence that he is guilty? He stops lying. He gives the truth – no matter what it convict him of.
The disciples NEVER did this. Why? Because it was the truth! They had seen Jesus die and they had seen him alive! He was their God and God was not dead!
Brothers and sisters, no explanation fits the empty tomb except for the fact that he only thing that does fit and explain the empty tomb is a historical. Very real. Resurrection.
III. What it means for Us
What interesting is that there isn’t an Empire Strikes Back to the Easter Story. The Pharisees never find Jesus and try to kill him all over again.
The truth is this: God couldn't be killed then and listen to this God can't be killed now!
Now what we normally don’t try to do is kill God with a nuclear bomb or biological warfare. No, we use reason! "I don't think God could exist and it's not reasonable that Jesus could rise from the dead, so this is nothing more than a fairy tale." We use science. "I read an article that said science still can't find scientific proof for a God that created the universe. We use emotions, "I hate that God tells us that the way I want to live my life is a sin! Therefore, he must not exist."
But God didn’t stay dead at the hands of one of the most violent deaths in the history of the world. No amount of unbelief, no amount of scientific evidence, no amount of immorality, no amount of bad circumstances, no amount of hatred can kill God!
In fact, if you still insist that Jesus is not God and definitely not alive or even real, - especially in the face of today’s testimony - I’m very nervous for you. It’s not God's who's dead…it's you.
And it happens so easily. Guilt over past sins smothers any hope in a God who forgives. Pride stamps out any obedience to a divine authority. Reason. Sinful, human reason loves to attack and destroy faith. And fear of what it might mean that God is real and Easter is true...kills your desire to find out.
But even if we are spiritually dead, there’s still hope. Because God’s not dead! In fact, he can’t be held down by death. That’s mortal stuff.
Why then did God die in the first place?
Scripture says, "He was put to death for our sins"-- the very Jesus who proved his authority to say things with his unmistakable death and resurrection – He taught all human beings are morally corrupt individuals who have done wrong against God and, as a result, die – and, when they die apart from God – die eternally!
Scripture says, "He was raised to life for our justification!" In other words, his death was the punishment for your sins. God’s wrath has been wiped away! Now, through faith in Jesus, you are forgiven and God declares you innocent of wrongdoing. In fact, he no longer threatens hell, but promises the eternal life of heaven.
3) This leads to the final truth: With faith in the God-Who’s-Not-Dead, you’re not dead! A more eloquent way of saying it this: With faith the God who Lives, you will Live! On high. With the Lord. In heaven.
This is huge!
I wish you could have met my Grandpa Dave. He was a wonderful man. I used to sit on his lap and eat Easter candy with him. I’d also try to keep the Easter candy away from the tattooed panther he had on his bicep. It didn’t like bunnies – he told me.
I haven’t celebrated an Easter with Grandpa Dave in years.
But I will. Because God lives. Through faith in him, you will too.
Dear friends. May this same ever living God be your hope this Easter and always. Amen.