When I was in Seattle, WA, I had the goal to get to the top of the highest point in the lower 48 states, Mt. Rainier. I bought the right gear. I went into training. I learned from a woman who had been up Mount Everest three separate times.
On the day of the climb, we hiked up to Camp Muir, a base camp about 10,000 feet up. From there, we slept in a tiny wooden cabin to acclimate to the altitude and rest up for the final ascent. We went to bed at 6pm and woke up around Midnight. (You have to leave early in order to cross the ice bridges before the daylight gets too hot, the bridge melts and you fall to your death.)
It was about eight hours up when a blizzard kicked in. The air was sparse. The wind was frigid. My fingers were frozen. And it was only getting nastier. Some of the other climb groups had already turned around and gone back.
About an hour from the top, the lead expeditions said:
“This is getting pretty bad. I haven’t seen it this bad before. What do you think? We could go to the top and see the marvelous views, but…
If we don’t turn around, we could get frostbite or die.
So we thought about it and said:
“I’m sure Google images probably has some might fine photos of the top. So...
Sometimes suffering isn’t worth it.
Today we are continuing our series called Dear Church. It’s a series based on letters from Jesus to seven different churches. The letter for today looks at a church that was dealing with suffering…even suffering because they were believers. Our goal today is to understand what kind of suffering believers have to deal with and whether it’s worth that suffering.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The One who Knows Suffering
This letter starts in Revelation 2:8: “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty —yet you are rich!”
A few notes:
The letter is again written to the angel. We said that’s most likely referencing their pastoral leadership which, in turn, means it’s a letter written to the church in Smyrna.
Smyrna was an ancient Greek city at a central point on the Aegean coast. Because its positioning allowed for advantageous port conditions and an easily defendable city, Smyrna was full of people. In other words, it was a great place to start a church.
And someone had. We don’t know the exact apostle or disciple that founded it, which shows that the Gospel was spreading beyond the work rate of the apostles alone. This church was probably not started by one of the 12 apostles, yet Jesus considers it a church. Similarly, our church wasn’t started by one of the Apostles, yet Jesus would call it a real church.
Because the Holy Spirit was at work in the word.
Here in Raleigh.
So, both are churches.
Finally, the speaker is Jesus. This is his letter. And since this is a letter to a church that is suffering, he offers his credentials on the subject:
(1) Jesus Existed before SUFFERING
These are the words of him who is the First (v.8) Jesus existed eternally long before suffering ever existed. He created a world that was perfect, apart from suffering. Then, he watched as humans foolishly were led by the devil into suffering.
Don’t think that Jesus’ main goal is to end suffering?
To bring life back to the way that it once was?
It’d be like cleaning your living room, putting all the toys in their place and removing all the crumbs from the floor – making the place a gorgeous Better Homes and Gardens style living area.
Then, your kids happen.
And you’d like to see it back to the way it was when you were finished cleaning.
The same is true for God. He has on his heart a desire to bring things back to the way they were long before suffering happened.
And here’s the good news about that:
(2) Jesus will OUTLAST Suffering
These are the words of him who is the Last. (v.8) As in, he will last beyond all suffering.
He will outlast cancer.
He will outlast financial difficulties.
He will outlast persecutions.
He will outlast terrorism.
He will outlast racism.
He will outlast the little angry emojis that people put upon Christian content on Social Media.
He will outlast every form of suffering.
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t suffered.
(3) Jesus is FAMILIAR with suffering
These are the words of him who died. (v.8)
Do you know how Jesus died?
He was arrested by a mob.
He was beaten by that mob.
He was smacked and slapped till the early hours of the morning.
He was whipped thirty times with a 7 stranded leather whip that had metal shards on the end. (Also known as flogged)
He had a crown of thorns smashed down onto his head.
He was hit with a staff.
He was laid down upon two giant pieces of wood.
He had one nail driven through his right hand.
He had another nail driven through his left hand.
He had one more nail driven through his feet.
He hung on that cross as his lungs slowly collapsed.
He was abandoned by his friends.
He was betrayed by his disciples.
He was crucified by his people.
He had our sin and guilt and shame plaguing his soul.
He was familiar with suffering.
Suffering even to death!
Now – he lives.
He lives and walks among his churches.
(4) Jesus Knows YOUR suffering
Pause and reflect on that truth.
Because it’s easy to think:
No one knows my suffering.
No one understands.
No one gets this sadness I feel.
No one grasps the loneliness that I go through.
No one truly gets the depths of my depression.
Jesus is speaking to you. He says:
I know it feels like no one knows, but I know.
I know what it’s like to suffer.
I know that you are suffering.
I know what it is you’re suffering:
I know that you feel so poor because you are suffering.
In the midst of suffering…
You are rich.
(5) Jesus Gives Eternal RICHES to the Suffering
You are rich.
Rich in my love.
Rich in forgiveness.
Rich in the promise of eternal life.
You have a place in my family that all of the money in the world would be unable to buy.
You may be suffering, but you are not suffering from a lack of my promises.
II. Truths about Our Suffering
After giving his credentials as to why he is an expert in suffering, Jesus has a few things to say about the suffering that the people of Smyrna were going through. He says:
I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan. (v.9)
Apparently there was a group that was slandering the church. It was a group that claimed to be Jewish but wasn’t. This isn’t genealogical. Jesus is referring to people who were did not have a faith that matched the Old Testament faith, but pretended they did.
Because the Old Testament Jewish faith was that God would send a Messiah to save us from our sins. Overtime some Jews abandoned that faith and replaced it as, “God doesn’t need to save us from our sins, because I am Jewish and do Jewish things.”
When Jesus showed up, a “phony” Jewish faith is exactly what the Pharisees had. Jesus was the Messiah. The real Jewish faith would have believed in him. Instead, the “phony” Jewish faith rejected Jesus as Messiah because “they were good enough Jewish people on their own.”
Now after Jesus, this group was persecuting the church in Smyrna and it was bad enough to be called “suffering”:
Maybe they were calling them names.
Maybe some of them worked on the local tax board and were taxing their church building heavily.
Maybe some of them paid of the Roman soldiers to throw church members in prison.
Regardless, the church was suffering. What did Jesus say about this suffering? A few things:
(1) Believers WILL Suffer for their Faith
Look at what Jesus says in Verse 10: Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. At first glance, this seems comforting. But if you are a Smyrnian, don’t you think they read this and responded by saying:
What? About to suffer? You mean this isn’t even done yet?
That’s the truth.
For the Smyrnian people.
And for us:
The truth is that believers in Jesus will suffer.
Some suffering will happen because we’re on a sinful world where sinful people hurt one another. (Gossip, racism, and unfaithfulness)
Some suffering will happen because we’re in an imperfect world. (Cancer, pollution, and natural disasters)
Some suffering will happen because we’re believers in Jesus. (Things like angry comments on your Christian blog, being excluded from parties because you’re “That lousy Christian,” being yelled at by your spouse because “I’m not into that Jesus junk.”)
Jesus said this:
Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me. (Luke 10:16)
Just like you might not like a football team and, as a result, you don’t like fans of a certain football team.
Or you don’t like a politician and, as a result, you don’t like followers of that politician.
It’s the same thing with Jesus:
If someone doesn’t like Jesus.
They don’t like his followers.
If sinners made Jesus suffer,
They will make his followers suffer too.
(2) The Real Villain is the DEVIL
Because if it was just a bunch of humans making us suffer, you might think:
I can take them, Jesus. I took a few defense classes once, so…I got this.
But these people aren’t the real ones behind it. Look at what Jesus says about who was really behind the Smyrnian suffering:
I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you. (v.10b)
Now it wasn’t as if the devil showed up with a red pitchfork in his hands and pointy ears like some kind of Halloween costume.
But he influenced.
He gave people ideas like:
You should tell that Jesus supporter that he’s an idiot.
You should tell that Roman guard that Christian is breaking law by praying in public.
You should break up with your wife because the amount of Bible talk she has is crazy.
The same is true today.
The real villain isn’t whoever is persecuting you.
It’s the devil himself.
(3) Suffering Lasts for AWHILE
Because look at what Jesus says next:
You will suffer persecution for ten days.” (v.10c)
That doesn’t sound awful.
It’s the reason I sign up for ten days at a fitness camp. I figure – that’s not too long. I can handle it.
Or maybe you sign up for a ten day visit to your in-laws. You figure – that’s just over a week. I got this.
10 days of persecution? That’s doable.
But here’s the thing about numbers in revelation. They are metaphoric:
The number 3 represents God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The number 4 represents humans. Humans were created in God’s image, but aren’t God.
The number 7 represents the church. It’s 3 plus 4, where God connects with humans.
The number 10? It represents completeness.
Meaning the church at Smyrna would suffer until the suffering was completed.
In other words, for a while.
And the reality is that Christians will suffer…until their suffering on earth is completed.
Suffering will be a part of your life when you’re 5.
When you’re a teenager.
When you’re middle aged.
When you’re a senior.
Even suffering for your faith…
…will be a part of your life for a while.
Only for a while.
(4) The faithful will receive the CROWN of LIFE
Look at what Jesus says at the end of verse 10:
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Back at this time, the victor’s crown was associated with the Olympics. It was made of olive branches and given to the winner.
To the winner of the 100-meter dash: Victor’s crown.
To the winner of the 1600-meter run: Victor’s crown.
To the winner of the pole vault: Victor’s crown
To the winner of the steeple chase (whatever a steeple chase is): Victor’s crown.
After all the training.
After all the sweating.
After all the suffering.
A victor’s crown.
Look at what Jesus promises to those who are victorious.
Who go through suffering in this life.
But hold on to Jesus:
A victor’s crown.
But not just any victor’s crown. This isn’t made from olive branches.
It’s made of life.
Do you get it?
If you hold to Jesus despite the suffering this life brings, you will have eternal life.
Death won’t win.
You will defeat it.
Just like Jesus defeated death, you will defeat death too.
You will live.
And about this life…
It won’t be one of suffering.
(5) The Faithful’s SUFFERING will END
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death. (v.11)
That’s sounds awful.
First death is bad enough.
It’s nothing but suffering.
Nothing but awful.
Nothing but hell…
…because it is hell.
But dear believers, that’s not anything you have to be worried about. The faithful will not be hurt even in the slightest by hell.
Because in heaven? There is no hell.
In heaven? There is no death.
In heaven? There is NO suffering.
No suffering for faith.
No arguments with spouses.
No rebellious kids.
No ostracization from friends.
No suffering of any amount, variety or kind.
In heaven, SUFFERING is done.
Because you’re with the one that defeated suffering.
You’re with Jesus.
III. WHAT NOW?
Jesus’ words are simple: Be Faithful.
Because when being a believer gets hard, it’s tempting to not be faithful.
“I became a believer and I still get sick.
I still have work problems.
I still have financial difficulties.
Only now people ridicule me for my faith.”
It might seem easier to stop being faithful so that you won’t have this momentary suffering.
If you stay faithful, in the midst of the momentary suffering, you will have eternal blessings.
Because God is faithful.
That won’t change.
He sent his Son Jesus for you.
And through faith in him you will be removed from suffering…forever.
There’s a lot of different kinds of soap.
Irish spring soap.
Soap in the shape of little flowers.
Soap in the shape of cartoon characters.
Soap that’s big and manly (and smells of rich mahogany).
Over our sermon series, we’ve discussed the spiritual mess of sin. We talked about what it is, where it comes from and how serious it is. Today we want to talk about how to clean it -- what kind of spiritual soap should we use. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Wrong Kind of Soap
The Scripture for today is from the book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet who lived 700 years before Jesus. He wrote this down at a time when the people of Israel had made a mess of their spiritual relationship with God. They had sinned by disobeying God. It had come from their hearts. They were in danger of spiritual death as a result of it.
But Israel wasn’t unaware of it. In fact, they had been taking actions to clean up their acts.
They had been attending worship.
They had been offering sacrifices.
They had been bringing offerings.
They did this in order to clean up their sinful mess.
But was it working?
Look at God’s response through the Prophet Isaiah:
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices--
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
Old Testament worship was very different from our worship of today.
Instead of bringing your offering in your wallet, purse, or iPhone, you’d bring it on a leash.
Instead of this pleasant altar with clean linens pressed upon it, there was a blood-stained altar with pieces of animal flesh hanging off the edges.
Instead of the beautiful music of organ or guitar, there was the loud, pained bleating of dying goats.
Instead of the nice smell of floral arrangements and morning coffee, there was the smell of burning and rotten corpses.
The reason the Israelites worshipped like this was that God had commanded it. In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, you can still read about how God commanded that his people worship by offering sacrifices. The reason he did this was to impress upon his people the harsh reality that the wages of sin was death. (Because blood equals death.)
So, the Israelites sacrificed.
They sacrificed and assumed that the animal sacrifice would clean up their sins.
They were wrong.
Sin cannot be cleaned by ANIMAL SACRIFICES
And maybe you’re thinking “duh”. But remember this was the Old Testament version of worship. This is what they were used to. It was the way that they worshipped. In fact, I wonder if the Israelites might have thought that Isaiah was just telling them they had bad form!
Should the altar be relocated to the front right?
Is that the wrong kind of knife for the job?
Maybe we should be using penguins instead of lambs?
But the problem wasn’t the type of worship. It was that they thought their worship could clean them from sin.
Look at what God says next:
When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? (v.12) Can you believe that? God’s calling all the people coming to worship tramplers. As if he’s shaking his fist and shouting: “Get off my lawn!”
Stop bringing meaningless offerings! (v.13a) Whether the offering was an animal or some money or their latest supply of corn. It was meaningless. Even if they brought the best crop of corn they have ever grown: NC State Fair, best in show, blue ribbon corn – that corn couldn’t remove sin.
Your incense is detestable to me. (v.13b) It doesn’t smell like the sweet aroma of calamus and lily of the valley, but it still smells like the greed in your heart from work yesterday.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations-- These were special ceremonies. Special gatherings. Extra ceremonies and extra gatherings. The Israelites would come to worship on more than just one day a week.
Yet, God says: I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. (v.13c-14)
Did you hear that?
God is calling all these extra religious festivals and extra religious activities, a burden.
As if God looks at his watch on a Sabbath and says “Aw man! There’s worship in 5 minutes? Ugh. Not again…”
Is this a strange section of Scripture?
Why is God upset with their worship?
Why was he upset with this religious activity?
Check out verse 15:
When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!
A helpful note:
The Old Testament stance for prayer was to spread your legs apart, to raise your hands above your head, and open your hands towards God. The message this stance conveyed was “Dear God, hear my prayer.”
God said he wasn’t looking.
God said he wasn’t listening.
God said he wasn’t looking or listening because when they reached their hands up towards his heavenly throne, their hands were a mess.
They were filled with blood.
And he’s not talking about animal blood.
He’s talking about sin.
Sin cannot be cleaned by RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY.
It didn’t work for Old Testament Israel.
It doesn’t work for us.
If you think that your attendance today will wash away your sin…
If you think that the angle at which you bow your head for prayer will clean your soul…
If you think that the decibel at which you sing the upcoming hymns will knock lose sin from your heart…
If you think that because you do a certain kind of worship that kind of worship is designated to clean sin unlike any other kind of worship…
If you think that the offering you put in the plate will pay for your guilt….
If you think that the talent you display in serving will distract God from your shame…
If you think that the time you put in at 1100 Newton Road will counterbalance the time you put it sinning…
God still sees the greed all over your hands.
God still hears the words that you let out against your spouse.
God still sees the fingers that typed away to the latest porn site.
God still sees the finger that shot up in rage at your coworker.
Religious activity cannot wash away sin.
What then do we need to do?
Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (v.16-17)
Instead of worrying about the cleanliness of your Sunday clothing; worry about the cleanliness of your heart.
Instead of taking a coin out of your pocket; take sin out of your life.
Instead of doing worship; just do good.
Figure out some way to remove all the guilt that you’ve amassed in your life up to this point.
Then, you’ll be clean.
Does this message from God leave anyone else in a panic?
This sounds impossible.
Because it is.
Here’s the truth:
Sin cannot be cleaned by YOU.
This is the truth God was impressing on the Israelites: They were worshiping with the idea that their worship would remove their sin.
This is the truth God is impressing on you. If you are worshiping God with the idea that YOU worshiping will remove your sins, you’re wrong.
In fact, if you are trusting that your worship is the key to your forgiveness.
It’s not only wrong.
II. The Right Kind of Soap
Then, what is the right kind of spiritual soap?
Check out what God says next: “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (v.18)
Did you see it? This is the part of the Scripture where God tells us how to clean our heart.
Don’t miss it.
It’s extremely important.
What does God tell us to do.
He doesn’t tell us to do anything to clean our sins, because there isn’t anything we can do to clean our sins.
But he still says our sins will be clean.
Because of him.
Sin is cleaned by OUR LORD.
It’s only fall, but briefly. Let’s talk about snow. The first snowfall is so very beautiful. The crisp, white flakes cover up everything in a nice, pristine blanket of white. In fact, if you look outside after a fresh snow fall you can’t see anything but snow.
Gone is the muddy area where grass wasn’t growing out back.
Gone is the pile of leaves that your kids forgot to clean up.
Gone are the piles of yuck that your dogs left behind.
Gone is the garbage.
Gone is the trash.
Gone is the oil spill from your nephew’s car.
All the gross is gone. Covered up by the clean snow.
That’s what God does to your sins.
They are covered.
White as snow.
Imagine you had a pair of wool socks. And as you wore those socks, tripped on a rock. In fact, you hit that rock so hard that you opened up the skin on your toe. It bled. Suddenly, your socks became crimson, the color of blood.
Blood is a tough stain to get out. It’s deep. It’s red. It’s obvious. You can’t hide it very well at all and you might not ever be able to get it out. Unless… you use the right kind of detergent. The right kind of bleach can do the miraculous. It can remove the blood red stain and leave behind nothing but wool.
As if the stain never existed.
That’s what God does to your sins.
They have been removed.
White as wool.
How does God cleanse us from the stain of sin?
Is it some divine form of bleach?
Does it involve a long soak in holy water?
Does he just use a bunch of holy elbow grease?
Take a look at Hebrews 11. It’s a New Testament book written after Jesus that makes a connection to Old Testament worship. It says:
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ…cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death. (v.13-14)
Do you get it?
In the Old Testament, animal sacrifices never cleansed anyone’s sin.
But these sacrifices foreshadowed a sacrifice that would.
TRUTH: Sin is cleansed by JESUS’ BLOOD.
Jesus lived perfectly.
Jesus died innocently.
Jesus rose triumphantly.
As a result, the blood of Christ cleanses you from all acts that lead to death. (aka: sin)
Because of Jesus’ divine blood, the blood of sin on your hands has been removed.
Your heart is clean.
Your heart is pure.
Your heart is spotless because of the blood of the eternal lamb, Jesus Christ.
Of course, God need to connect us to this washing. And we can’t have a sermon on washing our souls clean without commenting on one very powerful way he connects us to the cleaning power of Jesus’ blood:
TRUTH: Sin is cleansed THROUGH BAPTISM.
Titus 3:5, “We were saved not because of the righteous things that we have done, but because of the washing with water through the Word.”
Baptism doesn’t look as impressive as the slaughtering of many sacrificial animals.
It’s just a little bit of water.
It’s just poured upon a head.
It looks like a regular old bath.
But it’s so much more.
Titus 3:5, ”we were saved not because of the righteous things that we have done, but because of the washing with water through the Word.”
That is baptism.
Baptism that washes.
It washes away our sins as it connects us to the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood.
III. What Now?
(1) Worship because you’ve been cleaned
Notice how that is phrased. It doesn’t say, “Worship in order to be clean,” but, “worship because you are clean.”
And you have been cleaned by Jesus’ Christ.
It’d be like if you had a party and the party left a big mess. Streamers everywhere. Drink glasses throughout. Birthday cake sprinkles all over the kitchen floor. Wrapping paper in the living room. And a spot of spit up from your young niece on the couch cushion.
And you lay down for a quick nap in order to get some energy to clean.
But when you wake up, it’s all done. Mom did it while you were sleeping. Everything’s clean: dusted, vacuumed, and picked up.
How do you react to that? With thanks!
It’s the same with Jesus.
We worship out of thanks for his forgiveness.
We worship out of thanks for the clean he left in our heart.
We worship out of thanks for the purity that he brought into our souls.
(2) Cherish Baptism
Baptism is one of the incredible ways God connects us to the powerful washing of his blood. So, we cherish it!
If you haven’t been baptized, cherish it – and be baptized.
If you have been baptized, cherish it – and thank God for your baptism.
Rather than an Old Testament sacrifice.
Baptism connects us to Jesus’ sacrifice.
Rather than something we do daily.
Baptism connects us to something Jesus did once.
Rather than something we hope might work.
Baptism connects us to Jesus’ death that worked completely.
Rather than leave you with bloody hands and a sinful heart.
Baptism leaves you with a wet head and a heart cleaned by your Savior.
So…You are clean.
We’re finishing up the sermon series all about the messiness of sin.
And maybe by the end of it you thought:
“Man, my sin has really made a mess.”
“My life’s a mess.”
“I’m a mess.”
If so, hear the message of today one last time:
Jesus cleans messes.
Jesus cleans your mess.
He doesn’t call you “Mess,” but, “clean.”
Last week we talked about the riot in Ephesus where the crowd chanted against the Gospel for two straight hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!!” The crowd was rowdy. They were violent. They were angry. In fact, the situation was so dangerous that Paul’s friends wouldn’t even let him appear before the crowd in order to defend himself.
You might have expected that to end in tragedy.
The crowd quieted.
They went home.
Paul was safe.
But the Christians didn’t think it would be wise to keep Paul in Ephesus. So, after two years pastoring in Ephesus, Paul left. Acts 20:1 says, “He said goodbye and set out for Macedonia. He traveled throughout that area speaking many words of encouragement to the people.” It means Paul headed east. He crossed the sea and began revisiting the churches that he had started.
He went back to Philippi.
He went back to Thessalonica.
He went back to Berea.
He went back to Apollonia, Amphipolis, and Corinth.
Finally, he arrived in Greece where he stayed for three months. (v.3) While there he most likely revisited Corinth. Maybe even Athens. After those three months (most likely winter months where sailing is discouraged), Paul was about to sail for Syria, but because some Jews had plotted against him, he decided to go back through Macedonia. (v.3) Whether they were plotting to throw him overboard, sink the ship, or get him really drunk on rum in order to convince him to walk the plank, Paul found out and was kept safe.
Again, tragedy avoided.
In fact, Paul safely returns through all those cities to Philippi and from there he crosses the sea back to the Middle East and gets to Troas.
It’s not far now.
It’s should be a smooth journey, right?
Home is just around the corner.
And it’s there that tragedy strikes.
Today we’re going to learn about that tragedy that hit close to home. Then, we’ll learn how Jesus helps us through tragedy. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Tragedy
The lesson starts in verse 7. It says, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.”
Read that again.
The disciples came together on the first day of the week. That’s a Sunday. It’s neat to note that Christians are gathering together, not on a Saturday like they did in the Old Testament, but on a Sunday. The same day of the week that Jesus rose from the dead. It’s also shortly after Passover. Just it was shortly after Passover that Jesus rose from the dead.
As they gathered, they were planning to break bread. That’s a reference to a fellowship meal. A 1st century potluck. Complete with Mazza balls, lamb casserole and (if it’s anything like our potlucks) about 17 different kinds of dessert.
But before they could get to the meal, Paul began preaching. Since it was the dinner hour, that the gathering probably started happening somewhere around 6pm. During that first hour, people greeted each other, the fellowship team arranged the meal, and the musicians warmed up on their instruments.
That means Paul would have began his sermon about an hour later, around 7pm.
Five hours later?
He’s still talking.
Insert joke about sermon length here.
One person there that evening was a young man named Eutychus.
That’s impressive. Because most young people in Troas would be focused on other things in the evening:
Spending their money at local establishments.
Getting home to their families.
Going out to eat with a young woman so that he might one day have a family.
But Eutychus was at church.
In the evening.
Since it was their version of Monday, he was probably tired and ready for a nap at home. But he didn’t want to miss seeing the Apostle Paul one last time before he left so…
Eutychus attended the gathering.
He greeted other church members.
He let his elders have the seats in the front.
He let the women with children have seats in the back.
He stood near the back, excited to listen to what Paul had to say.
And that’s what he did.
For fifteen minutes.
An hour fifteen minutes, an hour thirty minutes, two hours.
Eutychus started fanning himself:
Why is it so hot in here?
Probably all those lamps.
I mean…it makes it easier to see at night, but they are torches. It’s like there’s fifteen mini bonfires in this room.
Eutychus made his way over to the breeze of the nearest open window.
Two hours and two and a half hours.
Three hours, forty-five minutes.
My legs are started to get tired.
I’ve been up on them all day at work.
It’ll be ok. I’ll just sit on this window ledge right here.
Four and a half hours.
Suddenly, Eutychus started to get rather sleepy.
Paul’s words sounded so far away.
He was sure if he had just mentioned the Gospel or the Blospel…
Maybe, he’d close his eyes.
Just for a second.
He could still listen to his words.
He could still hear his sermon.
He could still…
When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story… (v.9)
And suddenly, there was a commotion.
What was that?
I think someone fell.
From on the ground.
Nope from the window.
Who was it?
I don’t know.
I didn’t see.
It’s Eutychus! That’s where he was sitting.
And they rushed down the stairs.
And they rushed out the building.
And they rushed to his body.
And they tried CPR.
And they felt for a pulse.
Meanwhile, Paul was up in the front of the room where he had been preaching.
His heart was racing.
And then he heard it:
He’s dead! Eutychus is dead!
Paul rushed to the door.
He ran to the steps.
He looked at Eutychus’ now limp body.
Oh God! This is a tragedy.
Oh God this is…
Now I don’t know exactly what happened next.
Did Paul speak any words?
Did Paul say prayer?
I don’t know exactly what Paul did next.
We do know what Eutychus did next:
“Don’t be alarmed,” Paul said. “He’s alive! (v.10)
II. Dealing with Skeptics
This account is amazing! A young man falls to his death in the middle of worship. But when Paul gets down to the body without performing CPR, without a defibrillator, without hitting his chest repeatedly in desperation…Eutychus lives! It’s a miracle.
Granted. You might be skeptical about this.
If you tried this with a dead ant out on your driveway, it wouldn’t work.
In fact, a Google search for Eutychus, will lead to some scholarly articles that propose an alternative. They write that: (1) Eutychus never died. He just got knocked out. (2) Paul simply got him out of his stupor, because someone dying and coming back to life is IMOPSSIBLE.
But there are quite a few things in the text that defend against that interpretation:
(1) The Number of Witnesses
Back to the mapwork section. In verse 4, there’s an interesting list. It’s a list of all the different people who are now accompanying Paul on his missionary journey. This list is interesting because it’s a where’s where of places Paul has shared the Gospel:
Sopater…from Berea, the place where the people studiously God’s Word.
Secundus from Thessalonica, the place where persecution was quite intense.
Gaius from Derbe who along with Aristarchus had been dragged through the streets of Ephesus during the riot.
Timothy from Lystra who joined Paul all the way back at the beginning of the second missionary journey.
Tychichus and Trophimus from the province of Asia…representing the various churches of the Galatians.
That’s seven men in all who present in that upper room.
Add in Eutychus for eight.
Then, verse 7 says that Paul was speaking to “the people”. If it would have been just these seven guys, the writer would have said the disciples. By choosing the word “people”, the writer reflects the fact that there were more than these eight. In fact, there were so many that Eutychus had to sit on the ledge of the window.
Here’s the point:
Fooling the whole crowd into thinking that Eutychus had resurrected when he never really died in the first place would have been very challenging with so many present.
Especially since, the crowd got there first.
(2) Logistics of a Lecture
Notice how our church is setup. The pastor is in the front. You all are facing me. The doors to exit the place are closest to you, the audience. I am the farthest from the common exits. It’s the same in most churches and lecture halls.
So, it is easy for someone to slip out without causing much of a disturbance. If a mom is quieting a child or someone needs to use the restroom, leaving from the back is so much easier than having to leave through the front and walking right by the pastor in the middle of the sermon.
Can you imagine reversing it? (Leaving worship would soon be the “walk of shame.”)
It would have been the same way for Paul’s speech. Even though the room may not have been any kind of lecture hall, they still would have setup the room so that Paul was farthest from the door so that the people could easily come and go if needed.
Why is this important?
Because Paul was not the first to get to Eutychus.
The people were.
He couldn’t trick them into thinking Eutychus was dead, when he really wasn’t.
In fact, some get to Eutychus and pick him up “dead” in verse 9 and it isn’t until verse 10 that Paul “goes down” to see him.
Paul couldn’t have tricked them.
And that really solidifies when you consider one more thing
(3) The Presence of Dr. Luke
Back to the group of missionaries with Paul. I left one out. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Verse 6 says, “We sailed…to Troas.” The “we”? That’s a reference to the man who wrote down the book of Acts. It wasn’t Paul, but a man named Luke. Luke had joined Paul’s missionary crew in Mysia. He travelled with Paul throughout missionary journey two and three. Paul even references Luke in some of the letters that he writes to the various churches.
Look at what he reveals about Luke in Colossians:
Our dear friend Luke, the doctor…” (v.4:14)
Did you catch that?
Do you see the significance?
Luke knew how to look for a pulse.
Luke knew how to check for breathing.
Luke knew how to identify a dead person.
I guarantee that Luke was one of the first people down to check on Eutychus.
And he was one of the first people to say: “There’s nothing we can do. He’s dead.”
“Time of death: 12:16am”
In fact, when Paul had stones thrown at him Lystra on his first missionary journey, the crowd left when they saw him fall to the ground in a clump. Luke wrote that Paul was dragged out of the city and that the Jews were “supposing that he was dead” (Acts 14:19).
Here’s the point: if Luke wanted to present the idea that the believers in Troas merely “supposed” that Eutychus was dead, he could have written that.
But he didn’t.
Because he was dead.
Until he wasn’t.
Because of Jesus.
Stop being skeptical. The miracle was real.
III. Transforming Tragedy
Jesus really transformed the situation. He really transformed the tragedy.
(1) Jesus Transforms Tragedy into Celebration.
Look at what happens next:
Then Paul went upstairs again. He broke bread and ate. (v.11a) Which...praise the Lord, the potluck food is finally being eaten. At least by Paul, probably by anyone else who didn’t want to be rude and hadn’t eaten while Paul was speaking. After the tragedy of falling out a window, people aren’t sobbing and crying tears, but laughing and eating some potluck eclairs! Jesus transformed the situation so that now they’re having a dinner party.
Jesus still transforms tragedy into celebration even today.
Because Jesus said that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (Jn. 3:16)
Just to prove his power to make that promise, Jesus brought people like Eutychus back to life.
But better than that:
Jesus brought himself back to life.
He died on the cross.
Hundreds of people watching his bloody, lifeless body taken down from the cross.
No one! Not a single person stopping to say: “Wait, he’s just knocked out.”
Nope. He was dead, dead. Dead, dead, dead.
Dead enough to be wrapped up in clothes and placed in a grave.
Three days later,
Jesus came back to life.
Jesus has power over life and death.
He provides believers with eternal life even when they die.
It’s why at the last funeral that we had here at Gethsemane.
And people were feeling sad.
And people were thinking it was a tragedy.
But then, we read the Gospel.
Then, we heard about Jesus promises.
Then, we remembered that our dear brother was in heaven above residing in eternal life.
And suddenly, people are in the fellowship hall, talking, laughing, swapping stories and in general, celebrating!
Because Jesus transformed tragedy into celebration.
(2) Jesus Enables ministry to Keep Going…Even when Tragedy Strikes.
Because sometimes when tragedy happens, life comes to a stand-still.
Even during lesser tragedies! Like Spiderman. This past week Sony Pictures and Marvel/Disney ended their deal working together. As of right now, Spiderman cannot appear in the MCU anymore.
And…tragedy. People are on social media like HOW CAN I MOVE ON!?!
The same is true for bigger tragedies.
They need a moment to process.
And to be fair, for a moment that evening in Troas, Paul stopped his sermon. The people stopped listening. Everyone needed to process.
But once Jesus brought Eutychus back to life, Paul grabbed some food and continued doing ministry. He kept talking until morning. (v.10b) Then, he set off for the next stop on the missionary journey.
Jesus enables ministry to keep going even during tragedy.
He gives us comfort.
He gives us joy.
He keeps us uplifted and implores us to keep sharing the Gospel.
In fact, the fact that tragedy happens doesn’t decrease the need for ministry;
It increases the need for ministry.
Because awful things happen in this sin filled world.
Racial hate crimes.
Hurricanes, car accidents, and horrific illness.
Somewhere something horrible happens every day.
That doesn’t mean we should run and hide.
But we need run and tell.
About the God who saw the sadness of tragedy.
About the God who saw the tragedies of this world.
About the God who saw the tragedies in your life.
And didn’t run from it.
But to it.
He came into this tragic world and died on the cross.
To rescue us from the tragedy of death.
To transform tragedy into celebration.
Through your message of the Gospel, he transforms the tragedies of others into celebration.
That’s our job.
That’s your job.
Whether it’s your child, your spouse, your friend, your neighbor, your coworker, or your followers on social media.
Because tragedy exists, God calls you to increase your ministry and share the message of Jesus.
(3) Jesus brings GREAT Comfort
That’s the final verse of the account. It says that after Paul left, “The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.” (v.12) Because that evening, they heard about God’s grace for sinners and saw his power over death.
That message of Jesus still brings great comfort even today.
Even amid horrific tragedy.
This past week Monday I was on social media, because sometimes as a pastor of a small medium sized church you’re in charge of social media. So, I was sitting there trying to plan (what kind of posts should we have this week) when I came across a post from a friend’s account that shocked me.
It was from a former Precious Lambs’ parent. One that had been a part of our preschool family a while back. We had ministered to her. Talked with her. Shared the Gospel with her. The kid sang in worship. The parent attended, even got their phone out to record his dancing while he was singing.
I enjoyed them.
On Monday, I saw a Facebook post that said she had passed away.
Son of around 3rd grade.
She passed away.
When I looked closer at the post, I had seen that the one posting was her son.
He was writing from her account.
He had posted a picture of him and his mom and he had written this:
“I’m sorry to say that my mom is gone. But she is in heaven now. Thank you, Jesus.”
Are you kidding me?
I’m tearing up as I’m reading about the tragedy.
I’m tearing up as I’m thinking about the tragedy.
This young man? He’s found comfort.
Great comfort in his Savior.
May Jesus be the one who gives you great comfort, too. Amen.
We are continuing our summer sermon series on the Early Church. Last week we heard how God directed the missionaries to the west, across the sea, into a foreign colony, down by a river – all for the sake of one woman named Lydia.
Lydia heard the Gospel, believed, and was baptized. Then, she became a partner in kingdom work.
That’s where we pick up. Lydia’s home was now the base of operations for Paul, Silas, and their mission crew.
Today we’re going to see how God worked through their mission work in Philippi to proclaim FREEDOM. Before we begin, let’s pray: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Freedom from Evil
Acts 16:16 picks up the story some weeks later. The missionaries had gone back to the river where they met Lydia. It was a decent place for them to meet with people, preach sermons, and share the message of Jesus. They even started to get a bit of a following -- just not one they wanted: Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” (Acts 16:16-17)
A few notes:
This girl was a female slave. Unfortunately, you read that right. It was the 1st century and slavery was very common. Slaves were used to by their owners for housework, for fieldwork, for work down at the local harbor, and for any type of job that could earn the owner some money.
This slave worked for her owners by predicting the future. She read people’s palms. She gazed into crystal balls. She flipped over cards and told them about whether their dreamy new boyfriend was going to end up being Mr. Right.
She was able to do this because she had a spirit.
This was not a spirit of ambition.
It isn’t the type of “spirit” that gets people to work hard and end up on America’s Got Talent.
It wasn’t a good spirit.
It wasn’t the Holy Spirit.
It was an evil spirit.
This might be an undesirable truth, but it’s true nonetheless. Evil spirits are real. The Bible says that they are fallen angels. The devil was the first to fall by rebelling against God. But he wasn’t the only one. Others followed. They lost their godliness. They became evil. They became demons.
And it’s the truth.
Think about it:
If Jesus said he would rise from the dead…And he did.
Then, we need to believe what Jesus said.
And Jesus said that angels were real.
And so are demons.
One of those demons had possessed this slave girl. While this allowed her to do some amazing things like tell the future, it was a wretched life:
She was a prisoner in her own body.
She was influenced by demonic forces.
She was a slave in her own mind.
But not just to the demons! Her owners didn’t care one bit. She made them money! She was their ticket to the fancy new home theater with the 70” HD TV that they wanted. It didn’t matter if she suffered; she made them cash.
But now she found herself a second job. She followed the missionaries around shouting to the crowds: “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days…Paul became…annoyed. (Acts 16:17-18a)
That might seem strange. Because if you look at her words, they are filled with truth!
The missionaries were the servant of the God? Truth.
That God is the Most High God? Truth.
They were telling people the way to be saved? Yes, through Jesus.
Why is Paul annoyed at this addition to their missionary team?
Imagine for a minute that someone stumbled into church right now. They reeked of booze. They smelled of alcohol and cigarettes. In fact, they’d been on a booze bender ever since the 4th of July. They made their way to the front. And every time I made a point in the sermon, they lifted their bottle of Mad Dog 20/20, took a swig and shouted: “This guy’s speaking the truth about Jesus.”
Best case scenario? It’s annoying.
Worst case scenario? People leave before they hear the saving Gospel of Jesus.
It was the same thing for Paul. People were beginning to think: “If this Paul guy is associated with that demon-possessed slave girl, then they probably just want our money. It’s another hoax. Time to move on.”
But what could Paul do?
She was possessed by a demon.
She was held captive by the evil spirit.
She was a prisoner in her own body and mind – terrified and corned by a powerful devil.
Paul couldn’t do anything.
Paul said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. (v.18b)
“At that moment.”
Not: “After a long period of time.”
Not: “After a struggle.”
Not even: “After a while.”
“At that moment.”
Because “at that moment” Jesus defied Satan.
“At that moment” the demon cowered at God’s power.
“At that moment” the evil spirit went running at the mention of Jesus’ name.
“At that moment” Jesus freed her.
Free from demonic influence.
Free from her owners’ heavy hand.
Free from her life as a sideshow.
She was free.
Here’s the first truth for this morning:
Jesus frees us from the power of evil.
We had an ant problem at our house. On top of the front banister there were hundreds of ants crawling around near our front door and making their home out of rotted a piece of wood. So, I went to the store and looked at pest control options.
There was a poisonous spray.
There was a baited trap.
There was a good old fly swatter, if I wanted to spend the next 48 hours waiting and swatting.
I came home with a little tube of gunk. (Call it “anti-ant gunk”) The directions state to take the gunk, spread it across the area that the ants will be crawling and wait. What happens is that it smells so sweet to the ants that they can’t help but make their way onto it. But then? It’s so sticky they can’t get away from it.
They become trapped.
Evil is just like that.
It seems nice.
Then, it traps you.
The fun of a mildly racist joke that leads to racism firmly entrenched in every conversation made throughout the workday.
The allure of pornography’s next exciting click leading to click number 178.
The pull of greed’s desire for more – even if that greed is standing over me, like a master – forcing me to work more and more and more…
The initial high of a drug. The chemical induced desire to give over all your money for just one more taste.
The feeling of release from letting your rage on your spouse – a moment you’ll need to defend – by releasing the rage all over again.
Evil takes over.
Evil takes control.
Evil leave us as prisoners.
Jesus lived perfectly against evil.
He died innocently for the evil you have committed.
He rose triumphantly after having conquered evil on the cross!
Jesus frees from the power of evil.
Jesus frees YOU from the power of evil.
In fact, Jesus said this:
If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (Jn. 8:36)
And Jesus did set you free.
And you are free.
You are free…
Whatever evil you’re fighting against.
Whatever evil feels like it’s controlling you.
He is your leader.
He is your Savior.
He is your Rescuer.
II. Freedom from Fear
Unfortunately, not everybody was thrilled with the freedom that this young woman was now experiencing. When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. (Acts 16:19)
Because they didn’t care that she was free from the demon that possessed her.
They were losing money!
It might be like a strip club owner that is losing a dancer.
Or a drug dealer that’s losing one of his customers.
Or even a boss that’s losing a worker’s availability to make him more money on a Sunday morning.
Sometimes when you try to abandon sin, people get upset that you’re doing so.
That’s what happened to this girl. Her former employers became angry and they had some weight with the city. They got leaders to listen to their side of the story…
That Paul and Silas had broken their merchandise.
That they had ruined their income.
That they had looted their business.
And the leadership listened.
Paul and Silas were stripped.
They were beaten with rods.
They were flogged.
They were thrown into prison.
And as they were thrown into prison, the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. (16:23) So, he put them into the inner cell. The maximum-security part of the prison with extra doors and extra locks. In addition, he fastened their feet in the stocks. (v.24) They couldn’t even stand up to begin investigating an escape route.
The jailer brushed his hands together:
“That should hold them. I’ve done my job. Nothing can break those bonds.”
About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. And the other prisoners were listening to them. (v.25)
“The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want.” (Psalm 23:1)
“Surely it is God who saves me, I will trust in him and not be afraid.” (Isaiah 12:2)
“This is the Day the Lord has made. Rejoice! And be so very glad.” (Psalm 118:24)
The jailer could hear them in the distance:
How could they sound so free when they were so…NOT!?!
I wouldn’t be like that. I’d be terrified.
I already am.
Because if I were to mess this job up, well…
I’d rather just go to sleep rather than consider the outcome of that.
Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. (v.26)
And the jailer woke up in a panic!
The doors are open!
If those prisoners are gone, then I’m as good as dead.
I won’t see my family again.
I won’t see my kids again.
If the Romans don’t kill me, then that angry mob will.
The jailer threw himself on the floor.
He drew his swords and was about to kill himself…
“Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (v.28)
The jailer stopped.
He sniffled back a few tears.
He recognized that voice. It was the one that had just been singing to God.
He set the sword down and made his way to the jail cells to find the prisoners still there.
His job wasn’t in jeopardy.
His life wasn’t in jeopardy.
A rush of emotion came over the jailer. His eyes were filled with tears of thankfulness as he looked at the men who had a chance to leave the jail cell but remained.
He spoke: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved.” (v.29)
Because I’ve lived my whole life in fear.
I’ve lived my life afraid of death.
Afraid of losing everything.
Afraid of punishment and eternal hellfire.
What must I do to be saved? (v.29)
Paul didn’t state it explicitly.
But it’s implied.
The jailer couldn’t do anything to save himself.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. (v.31-32)
Friends, the same is true for you.
Jesus provides freedom from evil’s power.
But he also provides freedom of another variety.
TRUTH: Jesus brings freedom from fear.
If you’re a dog, the 4th of July must be on the scariest holiday. There are strange people attending backyard BBQs, their owners’ hands turning into sparking things, and loud booms, signifying the end of the world…all night long.
But if you’re a human, there’s plenty to fear as well.
That some terrorist will be part of an Independence Celebration.
That war will break in America – ending many lives.
That the sickness will end in death.
And there’s nothing scarier in the world than our natural spiritual state before God.
We are sinners.
We are guilt.
We deserve death.
And it’s coming for each one of us.
Jesus removed our sins.
Jesus removed our guilt.
Jesus removed our eternal death sentence.
Jesus transformed death from a separation from God and our believing loved ones.
Into an eternal reunion together with our Father and them.
Praise the Lord! There is no reason to be afraid.
Look at the change in the jailer:
At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wound. No longer afraid.
He had himself and all his household baptized. No longer afraid.
The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them. No longer afraid.
He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. No longer afraid of death, because death would not stop him. (v.32-34)
You don’t have to be afraid any longer.
The worst thing that could happen to you in this life, it’s also the best:
Your death means your eternal life. All because of Jesus!
Friends, Jesus means freedom.
Freedom from sin.
Freedom from guilt.
Freedom from shame.
Be free from fear.
Be free from evil.
Because FREE is who you are in Jesus. Amen.
We recently got a cat.
I know. I know…this sounds like a confessional.
But, it’s true. After 33 years of claiming that I would never own a cat, I caved, and I did.
And it’s been fun.
She enjoys keeping us safe from any fuzz balls and dust balls that she sees.
She loves to go hunting for leaves.
She even enjoys a playful, piercing bite to my front toe.
But the other day, my wife told me that she had done something crazy. Julianna texted me that we needed to close the windows so that the cat couldn’t climb the screen.
I said, “Yeah. How could she do that?”
Julianna said, “I see holes in the screen right now.”
I said, “Those are probably from bugs or some severe storm.”
She said, “I’m pretty positive it’s from the cat.”
I said, “Oh yeah. Prove it. How do you know?”
My wife texted me a photo of the cat climbing the screen.
Eyewitnesses are important. They are verbal proclaims of the visual truth. They are the difference between…
Fiction and non-fiction.
A fairy tale and history.
A lie and truth.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will be starting our sermon series called EYEWITNESS. It’s all about the eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. I think we need to do this because the resurrection of Jesus is too big a deal to rely on hearsay, to trust maybes and to listen to theories.
Our goal today is to look at a real eyewitness accounts…
Of real people…
Who had real interactions…
With the really risen Jesus…
As real proof of your real salvation.
Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Mary’s Background
The first eyewitness account that we are going to look at comes from a woman named Mary Magdalene. What interesting about Mary is that she doesn’t play a big part in Jesus’ three years of ministry on earth. In fact, there’s very little that is written about her except for this:
Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had driven out seven demons. (Mark 16:9)
It’s not even a full sentence. Just a passing adjective comment.
But…one that’s pretty heavy.
She had been possessed by 7 demons. Evil spirits. Fallen angels. Powerful. They had taken hold of her mind. Something that Bible theorists will suggest happens from dabbling in the demonic activity (the occult, psychics, blood sacrifices) and excessive drug use.
Regardless how it happened to Mary, we know it was terrible.
She had no control of her personality.
She was a prisoner in her own mind.
In a state of deep depression.
With a helplessness that doesn’t go away.
Except, it did.
Mary was possessed.
Jesus healed her.
I don’t know exactly how, but if it is anything like Jesus’ other miracles, then it was probably as simple as Jesus lifting his hand and saying:
Which…Can you imagine?
If you’ve ever had a counselor help you with a breakthrough.
Or a pastor help you grasp God’s forgiveness.
Or a fatal diagnosis that a doctor diagnosed, prescribed medicine and helped you defeat.
You know the kind of deep connection that Mary had with Jesus.
That’s why she had become a follower of his:
She had been trapped, Jesus freed her.
She had been guilty, Jesus brought her forgiveness.
She had been depressed, Jesus brought her joy.
She had been lonely, Jesus brought her family.
She had been hopeless, Jesus made her hopeful.
He was violently, publicly, cruelly crucified on a cross.
And all of her hope?
All of her joy?
All of her sanity…
Started to slip away….
She could feel the devil’s grip tightening on her again.
II. The Eyewitness Account
That’s why she got up so early Sunday morning.
You see -- Jesus had been killed Friday evening. They buried him. She would have gone to his grave to mourn, but they have this Sabbath rule where you can’t go to visit the dead on a Saturday.
But Saturday was over.
It was still dark.
It’s not like she was sleeping anyways.
She threw on her sandals.
Fastened on her cloak.
And walked off to her friend’s house.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
“What do you want?”
“It’s Sunday. We were going to go to his grave. We were going to go to Jesus’ grave so that we can honor him.”
“But Mary. It’s not even light out yet. It’s still night time. It’s…just gonna take me a second while I get ready.”
As they walked through the slowly evaporating darkness, it was mostly quiet.
Whenever her friends tried to make small talk, Mary quieted them. “We’ve just gotta get to Jesus’ grave.”
As they approached the garden, Mary worked into a sprint walk.
She began opening up the bottle of perfume she had brought to pour on his grave and anoint his body.
“Mary, did you think about how we were going to get into the grave? There is that giant stone that the soldiers put there to make sure that no one could get in. I saw some of those guys. They’re built like models. It took about 5 of them to move it, I don’t see how we…”
She stopped talking.
Off in the distance was Jesus’ grave.
The giant stone?
It was moved.
Immediately, Mary burst into tears:
“What did they do? What have they done? They couldn’t just leave him alone. Those jerks! Those losers! How could they do this? How could they leave us like this? Without even a chance…to heal.”
She broke down.
Her friends tried to console her.
But Mary shrugged them off.
She turned around and sprinted back towards town.
She could barely see where she was going with tears clouding her vision.
She made her way to where some of the twelve disciples were staying.
She pounded at the door.
She screamed at the door.
She made a commotion till their let her in:
“They took his body. They took his body. They book his body…the tomb is empty!”
Two of the disciples rushed out.
They sprinted to see what she was saying.
And Mary tried to follow, but she grew too tired.
Her legs got wobbly.
She slammed her back against tree trunk.
And fell to the floor.
After sobbing for a good 15 minutes, She stood up.
She didn’t have any tears left.
She had to get to the bottom of this.
She had to get back to the tomb and find some kind of a clue…a witness…a footprint that would lead her to Jesus’ body.
She went back to the tomb.
Her friends were gone.
The disciples were gone.
The stone…was still gone.
This time…she took a deep breath…and approached the tomb.
Inside the tomb, she found some men.
Dressed in white.
A gleaming, blinding white light.
Radiating from their clothes.
Radiating from their faces.
Both sitting on the bier where Jesus’ body had been.
Between them? Grave clothes. Folded ever so nicely, ever so gently, as if they were no longer necessary.
“Woman, why are you crying?” they asked.
“They have taken my Lord away! And I don’t know where they have put them!”
Mary turned around. The men were nice. And it was strange that they were glowing, but…she didn’t have time. She needed to find his body.
Outside the tomb, someone else.
Hard to tell who – with the tears blurring her vision.
It was probably the gardener.
“Woman, why are you crying?”
This is the one. He must have taken the body. He must have moved it at the requests of the Pharisees!
“Tell me sir. Tell me…Please…Where did you take his body? Why did you leave the grave….empty?”
The air was still.
Mary’s breath paused for a moment.
She had heard that voice before.
She had heard that voice teach her about God.
She had heard that voice proclaim forgiveness.
She had heard that voice drive away her own demons!
It was Jesus!
“Teacher!” She cried as she grabbed a hold of him with a hug.
As she hugged, she knew it was real! She felt his shoulders.
She held him by the back.
She felt the warmth of his breath.
Jesus was alive.
III. Resurrection Truth
This is the eyewitness account of Mary.
It is an eyewitness account that is recorded for us in Scripture.
The guy who wrote it? John – he was one of the disciples that went running to the tomb after Mary told him it was open!
And the book of John? It was written down and passed around at a time when Mary Magdalene would have still been alive.
And she didn’t say “Nah, man. That’s wrong. It didn’t happen this way.”
She said, “That’s the truth.”
There are three really important divine truths that we need to take home with us today.
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Granted. You might be skeptical of that truth.
Because most people when they are dead? They can’t do much. Their bodies just lie there and slowly decompose.
And even people who are living – they haven’t figured out a way to bring people that are dead back to life either.
But if this is true…
When Jesus was dead, he figured out one thing that no one else could ever figure out while they were alive – conquering death itself!
If you’re skeptical, Mary’s account is for you. Because think about how long it took her recognize that Jesus was alive.
She saw the immovable stoned – moved and her first reaction?
“They took his body.”
She went into the tomb and saw two angels –glowing with divine splendor. Her reaction?
“They took his body!”
She went outside the tomb and saw Jesus – but was so overcome with emotion that she says to Jesus,
“You must have taken his body!”
She wasn’t wrong.
It isn’t until Jesus…
Calls her name…
That she realizes the incredible truth right in front of her!
Friends, you might be dealing with sadness.
You might be dealing with difficulties in your marriage.
With challenges at work.
With a financial crisis.
With a terrifying diagnosis.
With guilt, shame, and sin.
And sometimes that can all cover our hearts and close our eyes and make us say, “There is no HOPE in this world! This Jesus’ thing can’t be true.”
When that happens…
Hear Jesus’ voice…
He’s calling to you.
“I am alive.”
(2) The Work of Salvation is Finished
Check out verse 17:
“Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
The reason Jesus came to earth was to win your salvation.
He came to suffer death for your sins.
He came to earn your way to heaven.
He came to pay for eternal life.
If he’s heading up to heaven, guess what?
That work is done.
Granted – that can be hard to believe.
It’s like Easter weekend. Maybe you are planning on having relatives to your house. Maybe you wanted to clean for your relatives -- so you make a check list: Sweep the floor, dust the counters, disinfect the countertops, clean the bathrooms, do the laundry, make the beds, clean up the toys, etc.
And you go to work.
And you come home and….
Your husband says, “Surprise! I did it already. It’s finished. You don’t have to clean anymore!”
How do you respond?
Probably…by sweeping the floor, dusting the counters, disinfecting the countertops, etc.
When Jesus tells you that it is finished.
It is finished.
Your salvation is won.
Your sins are forgiven.
Eternal life is yours.
Heaven is your home!
“It is finished.”
You don’t need to try and earn his love.
You don’t need to complete your salvation.
You don’t need to pay your way into heaven by working hard and becoming perfect.
Jesus did it for you.
(3) Go and Tell
Because right after Mary realizes that Jesus is standing right in front of her…
Having conquered sin and death…
Renewing her hope again…
She’s overcome with emotion.
She holds onto him.
She doesn’t want to ever go back to guilt and loneliness and despair. Never again!
But Jesus says something interesting:
“Do not hold onto me. Instead, go and tell.” (v.17)
Because there were others who had lost their hope.
There were others who were in despair.
There were others who were shacked to guilt.
Mary’s eyewitness message – would change that.
She would give them hope.
She would give them joy.
She would give them freedom.
Friends, there are still people like that today.
There are people who don’t know their Savior.
People who don’t know the resurrection story.
People who think Easter is all about sugary yellow marshmallow chicks
They are overcome with guilt.
They are dealing with a lack of joy.
They are struggling with despair.
Can you do me a favor?
Listen to your Savior.
Go and tell.
Later today at your Easter party, turn to the people who didn’t come to worship to celebrate this message and share the story of Easter. Go and Tell.
Later this evening when you are on your phones, take a note or two from this sermon and share on social media. Go and tell.
Tomorrow morning as you head to work – gather around the coffee pot, talk with your coworkers about why you liked Easter and how amazing this message of the risen Savior is. Go and tell.
And understand this.
You won’t be just giving them a story.
You won’t be just telling them a fairy tale.
You’ll be giving them true hope.
We’re picking up right where we left off last week in the book of ACTS. If you remember, last week we heard about a guy named Saul. Saul was the Commander-in-Chief of Destroying the Gospel and murdering any Christian he came across. He hated Jesus. He hated Christians. He persecuted Christians to death.
Then, something happened.
Jesus appeared to him.
Jesus spoke to him.
Jesus brought him to repentance.
Jesus forgave him.
And Saul came to faith. He was baptized. He learned from other Christians and soon began preaching the very message he had been persecuting.
Jesus visibly appeared to Saul.
And empowered Saul to turn his life around.
Do you ever wish Jesus would do that to you?
Do you ever wish he would appear to you in the flesh, holes in hands, a reassuring pat on the back and a few magic tricks to prove that your faith is the truth?
Today we’re going to follow the Gospel as it makes its way to a few different cities filled with people who didn’t get to personally see Jesus and who hadn’t gotten to witness His miracles. Our goal is to discover, along with those people, that the Gospel is ABSOLUTELY TRUE. It’s powerful. It’s public. It’s proven.
But before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Two Stories of the Gospel’s Power
The true stories we want to look at start in Acts 9:32. Both these stories center around the Apostle Peter. He is one of the original 12 disciples. He lived with Jesus, worked with Jesus, and learned from Jesus. He saw Jesus die. He saw Jesus rise from the dead. He was personally commissioned by Jesus to “go and preach the good news of forgiveness in Jesus.”
At this point – Peter had done that. He had preached a sermon to over 3000 people at Pentecost. He had stood up for the Gospel in front of the enemies of Jesus. He had taught, commissioned and sent out newer disciples to share the Gospel.
Peter is kinda like District President (DP) Don Tollefson.
Who’s Don Tollefson? He’s a pastor. But a Pastor of a lot of people. Pastor Tollefson is the President of the North Atlantic District of our group of Lutheran churches. He encourages all the churches in the district. He helps facilitate ministry ideas. He shares resources. He travels from city to city to city, up and down the North Atlantic Coast uplifting congregations with the Gospel. Over the past couple of weeks, I know he’s been to Harrisburg, PA to help a mission congregation ready to get a pastor; he went up to Orleans, Ontario, Canada to commission a new pastor for our congregation up there; he made his way to Milwaukee, WI to meet with other District Presidents and develop plans for continuing to share the Gospel throughout the U.S In short, district presidents rack up quite the good number of frequent flier miles.
Peter was doing something very similar – without the frequent flier miles. He was travelling about the country. And he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. (v.32) Lydda was 27 miles to the Northwest of Jerusalem. Christians from Jerusalem had fled there during Saul’s persecution in Jerusalem and a tiny congregation had formed. Peter went to that small congregation at Lydda to encourage them.
While he was there, Peter did what pastors sometimes do when they visit other pastors. He went with local leadership into the community. Maybe grabbed some local fare, stopped by the local coffee shop and went by the park. It’s good to get to know the leaders of the local church and their community so that you can offer the proper advice and encouragement.
While Peter was doing this, he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for 8 years. (v.33)
He hasn’t been able to walk.
He lays on the side of the street.
He never leaves the bed-like mat that his friends set up.
And the local congregation leaders must have been like: “Oh him!?! He’s there all the time. It’s a sad story really. He can’t get a job. He doesn’t have a lot of money. Sometimes we stop and give him bits of leftover sandwich from our last potluck, but…he’s kind of a lost cause. Anyways Peter, have you ever tried Potato Rounds before…eh…What are you doing?”
Peter moved away from the other leaders.
Peter moved towards the bedridden man.
Peter said to him:
“Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.”
And immediately Aeneas got up. (v.34)
Let that sink in.
No physical therapy.
No knee braces.
Not even an Essential Oil treatment.
Just words spoken in the name of Jesus.
And immediate, incredible, complete healing.
Meanwhile – 11 miles Northwest of this miracle – another congregation is having a tough time. In the town of Joppa, a very important member of the congregation had just passed away. Her name is Tabitha. According to Scripture, Tabitha was always doing good and helping the poor. (v.36)
It appears she made clothes for them.
She made food for them.
She delivered food to them.
She helped a lot of people.
But she had gotten sick and died.
When the disciples in Joppa heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” (v.37)
Because this was a hard one.
Tabitha was such a blessing to the church and the community. Why would God take her? Why would she die?
Her death was confusing, maddening and saddening!
They needed answers. They needed comfort. They needed someone with a connection to Jesus like Peter had to uplift them with Godly words.
And Peter quickly realized this. He hurried up to Lydda. He went to Tabitha’s home.
When he arrived, it was filled with people.
Holding up shawls and dresses that Tabitha had made for them.
Handing him a piece of cake – in the style of which Tabitha used to make.
Falling to their knees and asking Peter, “Why?”
Eventually, they led him upstairs.
They showed him to the room where there lay Tabitha’s body.
Her cold, dead body.
Peter fought back tears.
If only he had gotten here earlier. He could have asked Jesus to do what he did for Aeneas.
He could have helped her.
He could have healed her just like Jesus had done.
There was something else Jesus had done, too…
Peter asked everyone to leave the room.
They obliged because – “Peter probably needs a moment or two to process…”
When he was alone, he fell to his knees.
Then, he looked up.
He turned to Tabitha’s cold, lifeless body and said:
“Tabitha, get up!”
She opened her eyes and seeing Peter she sat up. (v.40)
II. Three Truths about the Gospel
There are a lot of interesting themes to explore in these two stories. We could talk about the importance of working for the Lord like Tabitha. We could talk about the value of getting into the community how Peter found Aeneas. We could discuss the value in sending Synod Leadership to encourage congregations in faith.
But the heart of these stories – is the heart of the entire Bible – Jesus.
And Jesus is directly tied to the Gospel.
Here are three truths about the Gospel from these lessons:
(1) Jesus is Powerful
Look closely. Peter didn’t do the healing by himself.
Peter said to Aeneas, “Jesus Christ heals you.” (v.34)
Peter got down on his knees and prayed. Then Tabitha was healed. (v.40)
Notice Peter didn’t say: “I heal you,” nor did he get down on his knees and pray: “Dear Me, Please help Me and Heal this lady for me.”
Peter turns to God.
Peter turns to his Savior.
Peter turns to Jesus.
Jesus heals Aeneas and Tabitha!
To be fair – we shouldn’t be surprised! Jesus did the same thing while he physically walked the earth. He made the blind to see; the deaf to hear; the lame to walk; the sick to be well; the water to become a walking surface; the storms to become quiet; the bread to multiply; the water to become wine; the dead to come back to life.
But – I guess the only incredible caveat with these miracles, is that Jesus does them while he’s not even physically, visibly, tangibly there!
I’ve got some power. Sometimes the Office Supply company we work with delivers boxes of paper. Each box holds about 10 packages of 500 sheets of paper. They’re pretty heavy. About 50 pounds.
If I am around, I can lift it and put it away.
If I’m not around, I can’t do squat.
Jesus wasn’t even physically around, yet his power was able to:
(1) Instantly heal a man who had not been able to walk for the last 8 years.
(2) Bring to life a woman who had died!
Jesus is still Powerful.
He removes all your sins.
He destroys all your guilt.
He busts through the gates of hell itself.
He powerfully penetrates the preventive walls of unbelief and brings believers into his family.
(2) Jesus is Public
But you might say:
Yeah, right! Peter is in on it! It’s all a big scam. Aeneas pretended to be unable to walk for 8 years just so that Peter could appear to be the hero with the message of Jesus – even though Peter probably wasn’t even a follower of Jesus when Aeneas began his ruse?
And Tabitha pretended to be dead – she held her breath (for days?) and got the hundreds of people mourning at the house to believe that she was dead just so that Jesus would “appear” powerful.
Here’s the deal. Both of these miracles are extremely public.
They aren’t done in private.
In regard to Aeneas it says: All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw Aeneas and turned to the Lord. (v.35)
Notice it doesn’t say “All of Aeneas’ friends who were in on the 8-year ruse.” Nope. All the city. Everyone. Even the people who were kind of annoyed with Aeneas being bedridden, asking for money, day after day after day. Peter meets Aeneas. Many are watching. Aeneas stands up. They don’t think: “Faker.” They think: “Savior.”
And with Tabitha it’s just as public. Remember – She died. The people washed her body and cleaned it. They sent for Peter. Peter arrived when they were in the middle of the Ancient version of the “wake.” They are throwing Tabitha’s blankets in Peter’s face and everyone is talking about how she is dead and how sad it is.
No one is saying; “I think she’s faking it, Peter.”
After Jesus raises her through Peter: Peter called for the believers, especially the widows and presented Tabitha to them alive. This became known all over Joppa and many people believed in the Lord. (v.41-42)
Because…She was dead and now. She was alive.
This is key for you and me. Because what Luke wrote down for us in Acts; he wrote down only a maximum of 10 years later. And this book of Acts was circulated throughout the churches. The people in Lydda read it and said, “Yep. That’s right. I remember when he healed Aeneas.” And the people in Joppa read it and said, “Yes. They got it right. I remember when Tabitha came back to life.”
The point? This stuff is public. It’s real.
It’s not that way in other religion.
It’s not like…
The Prophet Mohammed who went up on a mountain by himself.
Or Joseph Smith, found of Mormonism, who went into the forest by himself.
Or some scientist who hypothesizes this world must have started this way – even though I wasn’t even there.
Jesus’ power is public. Real, visible, viewed by many.
Even at the highlight of his story…
Jesus died before hundreds.
He hung on a cross before hundreds.
He was confirmed dead by hundreds.
Then, he rose.
He appeared before hundreds.
He showed himself before hundreds.
He spoke again with hundreds.
Jesus is public!
(3) Jesus is Proven
This leads to our third “P” word.
If Jesus is powerful and public. Then, Jesus, is also proven.
Throughout the Gospel, Jesus offers visual proof of invisible truth.
Public visual proof of private invisible truth.
Aeneas visibly gets to his feet before hundreds.
Tabitha comes back to life before hundreds.
Jesus visibly dies and visibly is buried and visibly comes back to life.
Proof that the Jesus is truth.
Proof of the invisible miracles that Jesus claims for us:
Proof that your sins are forgiven.
Proof that you have peace with God.
Proof that Jesus is the Savior.
Proof that by believing in him you will enter eternal life.
If you doubt!?! You’re doubting the power of a Savior that has done countless visible miracles in the face of tens of thousands of witnesses.
If you doubt!?! You’re doubting God. You’re doubting the Holy Spirit. You’re doubting Jesus.
Don’t doubt. Believe.
III. What Now?
I don’t mean do a physical turn right here, right now. This isn’t P90x.
The Bible tells us to “turn” spiritually.
That’s what the people in Lydda did. They saw the power of Jesus in healing Aeneas. They turned to the Lord. (v.35)
They stopped trusting themselves.
They stopped trusting their own abilities.
They stopped trusting some statue god.
They trusted their Savior.
Do the same. Even if you are a longtime Christian! Turn. Because the devil has a way of getting us to turn to ourselves, to money, to things and stuff and to trust them rather than Jesus.
Examine your heart.
See where you’re wrong.
Turn back to Jesus.
And if you’ve never trusted in Jesus, hear God’s plea:
Stop trusting yourself.
Stop trusting your money.
Stop trusting your abilities.
Stop trusting your own modern fake gods and start trusting the real, only true God, Jesus Christ, who died to save you.
And he did so.
Because when Peter was faced with a dire situation. When he came face to face with death in the face of Tabitha. When he said to himself, there is literally nothing I can do to help – he got on his knees and prayed.
Do the same thing.
Too often when things get out of hand; when things are out of our control; when things are beyond our control we keep thinking:
I can do this. I can figure this out. I can stand.
Jesus doesn’t want us standing.
He wants us kneeling.
Humbly in prayer before our God.
This isn’t necessarily physically; but a ‘kneeling’ in your heart. Humbly agreeing that you are a sinner and the situation is beyond your control and you need your almighty, all powerful, paralyzed man healing, dead widow raising, out of the grave conquering God.
Turn to your God.
Fall on your knees.
Trust in your powerful, public, and proven Savior.
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
Have you ever had one of those moments of sheer terror at being caught? I mean the total anxiety panic of knowing… there is no way out of this. If you know what I mean, it was probably when you were younger? Though maybe not, contrary to what we like to think of ourselves, the youth do not corner the market on stupid decisions.
Whatever it was you were doing or did, I’m sure it was very attractive. The thought of all you could gain from going down that path was irresistible. It was so simple, required so little effort, and the benefits, well, they were pretty amazing. I’m guessing that the thought of being caught or the consequences never actually entered your mind. Maybe you had to think about one or two ways to smartly keep it hidden, but the fact that it was just wrong never really was part of the decision-making process.
At least, until you were caught.
You were… not so clever as you thought. Or you over-reached out of greed and arrogance. And if you’re remembering that moment from your life right now just like I am, you can feel the panic. Feel the fear grip your heart as you face whatever might be coming.
And that might be the worst of it. You don’t know what might be coming. I suppose it depended on what it was, how old you were and the like? Maybe privileges would be taken away. Maybe it would just be the shame of letting someone else down. Maybe it would break a relationship. Maybe it would be legal action. But the fear of knowing you’d been caught and there was no getting out of it, that tightening of your heart… that’s what I’m talking about.
Now why… why would I make you relive something like that this evening? It’s bad enough when those memories haunt us at quiet moments during the day or night. Why drag them up on purpose?
Well because that is exactly the feeling I want you to think of when you picture what it’s like to stand before God almighty and try to justify yourself to him.
To better appreciate this evening, I’d like to walk you through… well it’s a metaphor. This isn’t really how things will happen at the end, not literally. But the truth of it holds. So, imagine with me. Imagine the moment comes. Your earthly life has ended, and you are waiting to see what happens next. You’ve heard that Heaven is the place to be and Hell, well not so much.
Though there is some nervous anticipation, you’re feeling – pretty good about what’s to come. You’re a good person. You were a good son or daughter, a good spouse or a good parent. You did right by the people around you. You worked your job, you went to church, you helped those in need. This should go well.
And the time comes that your name is called. You are escorted from a waiting area into a courtroom. There is no jury, only the judge. And there are no witnesses, only the judge. God. One look from his piercing stare and it all comes crashing down. The intensity of that gaze opens your own eyes and you know. You know, and you remember everything he knows about you.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;
The façade of goodness that you wear becomes as flimsy and fragile as tissue paper. All the selfishness that backed all those “good” deeds. All the times that the cost of doing the right thing was a little too high for you so you just walked by on the other side of the street. The secret thoughts, the greed, the lust, the selfishness, the anger, and more than any of that all the times you just thought you knew better than God.
That’s the panic moment. You’re caught, there’s nowhere to go, and you are utterly guilty. You did all of it, thinking no one was looking, no one would notice, but he saw it. There’s nothing to say in your defense. Anything you could think of in your own mind falls so flat that you can’t even utter the words.
Is there nothing to be done? You survey the crowd. Surely someone could speak up on your behalf and ask for leniency, mercy, or just to ask the judge to let this one go? Someone some authority or power or charisma or money could maybe do something for you…
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
A man does step forward. Not the one you were looking for. He is not wearing anything fancy. He has no regal bearing about him. You do not recognize him as anyone rich or influential. He instead looks like someone in as much need of help as you are. If you were not simply frozen by the terror of the moment you might motion for him to blend back into the crowd.
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
He draws the judge’s attention. The man speaks.
“I did it.”
“Every charge you are about to read. That was me. I openly confess to every one of those crimes. I did it.”
“You are aware of the punishment?” the judge asks.
“I am. It was me.”
The confession is accepted. The man is bound and led away. What could you do? It might seem dishonorable to let him go in your place, but the terror of what waits at that end is too much to face. You let him go.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
You know what it means for that man. You know what you were expecting. The terror of hell itself. That the mercy and grace of God would be completely cut off from you. Absolutely lost in the outer darkness where there is no light and no hope and nothing but terror and pain forever. Maybe you didn’t grasp it before but you do now. That’s death. To be cut off from the source of life and creation is death.
It should’ve been you, but it wasn’t. What he suffers is of your making, no mistake. You earned and created the hell he is suffering now. You can’t help but stare at the door they led him through. It’s conflicting. You’re haunted by what he suffers in your place but there is still relief that it won’t be you.
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
As you muse, the judge speaks again.
“The guilty party having confessed and punishment rendered, the accused is declared not guilty. With no outstanding accusations, you are free to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Dumbfounded, you step forward. Heaven? You started with confidence you had no right to. It was quickly crushed and for what seems like an eternity you stood there with no hope, trying to accept the fact that you were going to die. And now so quickly that has changed to heaven? It seems so impossibly unlikely, but it’s happened.
You walk to the exit of the courtroom and the entrance of the kingdom. The reward is not just a perfect kingdom, it’s a perfect you. The last remnants of evil within yourself are stripped away and now you not only live in a place that will never cause you pain – you yourself will not be the cause of your own pain anymore.
This is your end. The eternal, loving, unchangeable God as your perfect king. The one who cares for you perfectly. You, made perfect, and living the life you were meant to live from the beginning. All the things from before that gripped your heart with fear are just… gone. There absolutely cannot be a better end. And this is your end.
And what of that man that so boldly confessed to your crimes? The one that was led away to die in your place?
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
He lives. He is your king. He is the judge. He is your God. He died. He lives. You live.
There was something wrong with the night.
I mean, they knew that, they had been told that, but even so, even if you didn’t know – it just felt… off.
Maybe it was a chill beyond the usual that settled on the desert when the sun dropped beyond the horizon. Maybe it was the way all the people in the homes around them were also rushing about to make their final preparations, to make sure nothing had been overlooked. People were just a little more frenzied than usual for the end of the day. Even if you hadn’t been paying attention, you’d notice – something was wrong.
And something was wrong, after all. Death was coming that night. Not that their lives were any picnic either. Slavery in the desert was all they knew. Many of them each day were worked to death before night ever fell. But this was different. This time, there was a statement from God. This night, the oldest male of each generation, the firstborn son would be struck dead before dawn. The threat, the warning of God hung in the air like a fog that refused to move. And so the Israelites faced down this evening of death on their last night in Egypt.
There is something wrong with your life.
Maybe you know that already, maybe you don’t. But if you don’t, I doubt hearing that really shocks you.
Even if you don’t know it as head-knowledge, you can probably feel it already, can’t you? Something about your life just feels… off.
Maybe it’s just a feeling, like something just out of the corner of your eye that you just can’t see.
Something ominous and looming out there in the shadows – dangerous, but it’s never there when you turn around. I don’t mean there’s something literally stalking you though, I just mean this sense that there’s something wrong, there’s some danger there just out of perception but you can never quite look at it.
In fact, maybe you could see it if you tried, if you turned and looked. But the truth is you’re terrified to. After all, who knows what it might really be. No, no better to ignore it, better to stay distracted by what you’re doing than try to figure that out. Focus on what you’re doing right now, on the job, the wife, the kids, the checkbook. It’s probably just a trick of your imagination anyway, stop thinking about it and it will go away. Or at least, if you concentrate hard enough on what you’re doing, you won’t notice it anymore.
But even that doesn’t quite work. Rolling up your sleeves and plunging in elbow-deep to the work in front of you, it works sometimes, but it really doesn’t. It’s still wrong. Something is still wrong! Why? All the promises made to you when you were a child never seem to come true. You work hard, you try your best, you have at least some of the things you were promised would make you complete, right? A family, a home or a few nice things… where’s the peace? Where’s the contentment? Why does it still feel wrong? Maybe you’re still missing part of the puzzle. You search for the one missing thing – each one you think, “this is it, now that I have this, I’ll be good and that feeling will go away.” A vacation, a nicer house, a new home theater, a stronger relationship, a better paying job with less stress, each time something else and this time it will work.
But it never works. I told you, there is something wrong with your life. A statement from God himself hangs over your life like a fog that refuses to move. Death is coming. And not just any death. Not just the end of this life, the end of your life forever. God has programmed into you this truth; those who do evil will be punished. Evil, huh? Well then why am I nervous? I’m not evil. Aren’t you? The world around may lie to you, tell you that’s not you, but the disquiet within you says otherwise. You would never really ask those closest to you “do you think I’m evil?”, but even if you did they would say “of course not.” That doesn’t mean they’re right.
But you know things they don’t know. You know there’s not a perfect record stretching back across your life. You’ve worked hard, done your best, but it’s not been perfect. There were moments when you gave in and did what you wanted and maybe the cost for you or someone you cared about was high. Maybe there didn’t seem to be any cost at all, but you could tell it wasn’t right. And now you drag the guilt of that behind you.
I invite you to stop shifting your eyes away from it, to stop seeing this just out of the corner of your eye and look square at this; our God describes for us exactly what it is. It is ugly and it is scary, but we cannot deal with it if we do not know what it is. There is something wrong with your life; there is a hole running through you, a tear in your very self that we call “sin”. That doesn’t really tell us enough though.
What is “sin”?
Sin is what God is not. Sin is shadow and darkness when God is light. God is good, God is perfect. Sin is not. God operates on one driving principle; selfless love. God seeks the good of everyone else above his own at all times, regardless of what it costs him. Sin is the opposite; sin is to grab for yourself regardless of what it costs others. I hope you see that you do not qualify on your own for holiness.
Maybe you like to think of yourself as a pretty selfless person; but have you been at all times to everyone? Don’t lie to yourself, it does no good. We are all of us, unholy. Sinful.
Now understand this. Holiness and sinfulness are not just choices or lifestyles. In a sense, they are like forces of nature, light and dark, magnetic poles and gravity. Sin cannot exist in the presence of the Holy. And that is where the fear comes from. God is Holy. You are not. This life will end, and God tells us that you will either be brought in to be with him or you will be thrown out to spend eternity without him.
If you are sinful, and if sin cannot exist in the presence of the holy, then which will it be for you? This is what is wrong with your life. A sentence of eternal death hangs in the air….and there is nothing you can do about it.
But the Israelites in Egypt were not panicked. Frenzied, hurried, maybe even a little fearful, sure. But not panicked. God told them, warned them what was coming. But he also told them exactly what was needed to escape the death that came that night. It would take the blood of a lamb. A single ewe lamb, one year old, spotless and without defect. The lamb would die instead, the blood was to be painted on the door frames of their houses. God would see the blood shed, and spare those inside.
So they did this. That night, as God promised, an angel of death passed over Egypt as by God’s decree, the firstborn son of each household was struck down in his sleep. But wherever there was the blood of the lamb, the angel stayed his hand. The angel saw the household through the blood, and they were spared. God had given the warning to all of Egypt, and he had given his directions just the same. Those who ignored the feeling that something was wrong; those who did not listen and did nothing about it – there was death in that house that night. Those who listened to God, who trusted his words of warning and deliverance were safe.
And so, I am not panicked either, and neither should you. Yes, there is something wrong with our lives.
We should feel the weight of how important this is. Yes, we should maybe even be a little fearful just because of the stakes involved. But truly afraid? No. God has warned us about this hole in our lives, about the holiness we are missing not to terrify us, but so that we pay attention, because of just how important this is. He shouts that this is life and death to get eyes on him. Because God tells us exactly what we need to escape the death that’s coming for us. It will take the blood of a lamb. A single ewe lamb, spotless and without defect. The lamb will die instead and his blood will cover you; and death will pass over you.
As a remembrance of what he had done for them, God commanded the Israelites to observe the Passover every year. At the same time of year, at the same day, at the same hour, each household would again sacrifice a single ewe lamb, one year old, without defect or blemish, to remember how God spared them from death. Then, over a thousand years after the first Passover, on Friday of that week, the day that the lamb was killed, just before the moment when the sound would resonate from the Temple informing everyone that now was the time to sacrifice the lamb; the following happened:
After this, knowing that everything had now been finished, and to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus said, “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine was sitting there. So they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished!” Then, bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.
The time had come, the lamb was to be sacrificed. But not just any lamb. The real Lamb. The one who was intended all along. Everything that went before it was a show, foreshadowing. It had no real effect.
Only an equal sacrifice could count for you. It had to be another person. Yet if it was just another person, what good would that do? Even if that person didn’t need saving themselves, their sacrifice would only save you. But what if God himself were both a person and God? How could you ever tip the scale of human life to outweigh that? You can’t. The one sacrifice would pay for everyone. And the Lamb did just that.
You are not holy? Jesus is. You committed crimes against God? Jesus didn’t. The Lamb had no defect and no blemish. He is what you are not. He has what you lack. God was ready to pour out his justice against all the evil ever committed, all in one fell swoop. Jesus, his Son, the Lamb, stood up and took your place. He climbed on the cross and there he took everything that your sin earned. He became your sin, he became your curse. And when it was done, he uttered those words. “It is finished.”
One word really, and I’d like to render it a little differently tonight if you’ll permit me. “Complete.” That is what happened on the cross right then. God’s plan to stand in your place so you would not suffer was completed – he died in your place. The foreshadowing he’d been showing the world since the first Passover meal was completed – the Lamb was sacrificed so that death would pass over you. You, missing the holiness God requires to be in his presence forever, you are completed. At that one moment, everything was made complete, everything was made the way God intended from the beginning.
Look at the cross. Realize what the sacrifice there has done for you. There may have been something wrong with your life once, there may have been a hole, something missing, something terrifyingly wrong, but Jesus has filled that with his death. The blood of the lamb was shed for you and so death holds no power over you. You are complete with Jesus’ gift of himself. You are given what you once lacked. God the Father will gladly welcome you into his kingdom when this is all over. You are complete in him.
Tonight, we gather in reverent awe to pay our respects for the tremendous sacrifice our Lord went through on our behalf. There is sadness, yes, because when I look at him hanging to die I know it is my fault he is there. When his lifeless body is removed and placed in the grave, it is because of me that this happened. But we are not here to leave this evening morose and depressed. We know that God did this willingly, out of love for you, individually. He knew you. He knows who you are. He could’ve spared himself that much more suffering by not including you in his sacrifice, but he didn’t. He wanted to do it. And as we close the tomb and walk away tonight we needn’t pretend we don’t know what Sunday will bring. If Sunday did not bring what it does, then tonight would be meaningless. We may leave tonight somber and reverent, but we still leave with hope and joy in our hearts. We know what this night means for us. Jesus made us complete. In him, we are what we are meant to be forever.
I cannot tell you what will happen in your life in the days between now and the time you are called eternal rest in him. I can tell you that in Jesus and his sacrifice, it doesn’t matter. In him, your end is set and will not be changed. Your life is complete. In Jesus, your sins are paid for, the gift of holiness is given to you, heaven is yours. There is nothing else to chase after. There is nothing else to fear. There is nothing else wrong with your life. The Lamb has made you complete. Amen.
There probably aren’t many scarier sentences in the English language. Although: It’s fatal. You’re dying. Or you only have a few months left, may come in as close runner ups.
Maybe you’ve heard words like that.
Maybe you’ve haven’t.
But you’ve probably thought of death.
Today we’re taking a look at Psalm 16. It’s a Psalm for the Dying. It is a Psalm for those with terminal diagnoses and it is a Psalm for those of us in the latter years of our lives, but it is also a Psalm for all of us – because all of us are humans – and all of us are dying. That’s why we need to hear a psalm like this. A Psalm filled with hope. Before we begin, let’s say a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Comfortlessness of “not gods”
Psalm 16 is written by King David. King David was someone that was constantly confronted with death. Whether at the hands of a lion, a bear, a 7 ½ foot warrior, the King of Israel and all of his angry men, or the Philistines, a neighboring country who place King David on their Most Wanted list – David knew what it was like to face death.
He knew where to put his hope and he knew where not to put his hope. Look at what he wrote:
1 Keep me safe, my God,
For in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
Apart from you I have no good thing.”
4 Those who run after other gods
Will suffer more and more.
Pay close attention to verse 2. Notice it sounds very similar, I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord.” But that’s where the English translation is missing something very important. The first LORD there (it should be in all capital letters in whatever Bible you are using) is the Hebrew word YAHWEH. It means simply, “I am.” It’s the name that God identifies himself as. “I am.”
The second “Lord,” is not in all capital letters. That’s because this Lord simply means “master.” A hint of C.E.O. with a large portion of leader. It’s a name synonymous with God.
Listen to verse 2 again then, “I said to I AM,” specifically, “the God revealed to Old Testament Jews, worshipped by the Old Testament Jews and written about in the Old Testament,” I said to that LORD, “you are my Lord… my God. My Master. My Leader. And apart from you, I have no good thing.”
Because what happens if your comfort is not in the Great I Am?
The Great I AM is not the only “god” mentioned in the Old Testament. Other nations worshipped other gods. There was a god named Baal. He was a statue made of bronze that looked like a half man/half cow. There was a god named Dagon. He was a statue that looked like a fish man that the Philistines worshipped. There was a god named Ashtoreth. People made poles and had sex in front of them in order to worship them.
How do these gods hold up in the comfort department?
“I just got diagnosed with cancer. But…I baked some bread and placed it in front of my Baal statue so…it’s still there, but. I’m sure Ball will help.”
“My wife found out that she has six weeks to live. It’s ok though. I was praying in the Dagon sanctuary all night long. I think it worked too. I think I saw him wink at me!" (That or I’m really, really tired)
“Hey buddy…I heard you’re nervous about what might happen to you when you die. Put your faith in my Asherah pole. It cut it to regulation length and sanded it so that it’s smooth to the touch. If anything can grant you eternal life, it’s this 8-foot piece of dead tree.”
How do these gods hold up in the comfort department? They don’t. And neither do the ‘not-gods’ of today.
There is no comfort in Buddha, that, “you may be going through excruciating pain, but it will be worth it when you come back as a butterfly! Or…maybe a slug.”
There is no comfort in Allah, that, “you go ahead and explode in a fiery way and if Allah is pleased with the fireworks show then, you’ll be eating grapes forever.”
There is no comfort in the Jewish religion version of the Old Testament God that “if you do Jewish things, you’ll get to heaven. But if you accidentally mixed up your milk cooking pot with your meat cooking pot that one time --- you’re eternally cooked.”
There is no comfort in science that “I’ll go into the ground and bugs will eat my body, but hey…at least I did some good…sometimes…when I remember.”
There is no comfort in the most popular “not God” of modern America.
There is no comfort in you.
Have you ever noticed that most funerals people like to mention all the good things that people did, but never mentioned the bad things? They mention the charities, the kindnesses, and the goodness. But have you ever noticed that no one ever mentions the bad things?
The real things?
· “He was a good husband…except for the times when he yelled at me and I feared for my bodily welfare.”
· “She was a great wife. Except for the times when she called me every swear word that she could think of.”
· “He was a great coworker – when he wasn’t drunk.”
· “She was a great neighbor -- too much so. She did sleep with about every guy on the block.”
You know why we don’t mention those things? Because they aren’t comforting. Because those are bad things. Because those bad things deserve death.
Romans 1:32 says, “People know God’s righteous decree that those who do wrong things deserve death.” That’s justice. True Justice. If we are turning to ourselves and our own deeds and our own accomplishments to comfort us in death -- you won’t find comfort. It’s like trying to take a nap on a bed of nails! It’s not comforting at all!
Because when you look at your own accomplishments and your own life for comfort in death, you’re actually looking at the very thing that causes your death in the first place.
II. The Comfort of the One God
There is no comfort apart from the true God.
That’s what the town of Nain was discovering. A beloved widow – the kind who knew everyone’s name – the kind who baked muffins for your birthday – the kind who always gave you a hug – had just lost her son.
Her only son.
The entire town was out for the funeral procession. There weren’t any rousing speeches. There weren’t any words of comfort. There weren’t any songs of joy.
It was a sad affair. Cries mixed with wailing mixed with murmurs of curses at God.
He was the affair from afar.
He told his disciples to wait.
He walked through the crowd;
He passed right by the widow.
He smiled, reached up and touched the young man’s hand.
“Young man – live.”
Suddenly, Jesus brought a comfort that no one could bring that widow.
Jesus literally brought her son back to life.
This is why David tells us to find comfort in the One True God:
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
My body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me o the realm of the dead,
Nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
Pay very close attention to the phrase in verse 10. You will not let your Holy One see decay. In a certain sense, David was talking about himself. He knew that he would not die. He knew that he would have eternal life because God had made him righteous by faith. For years, I’m sure that was the understanding of that passage.
But…fast forward a couple 800 some years.
Paul, a Christian teacher, is teaching about Jesus. He says, “Do ya’ll remember that passage from Psalm 16:10? Remember how confident David was that his body would not decay? Do you also remember that David’s body decayed? Literally – let’s go find his grave. Let’s dig it up. We won’t find anything but soil and worms.”
Because David wasn’t talking about himself. David was talking about Jesus.
Jesus who died on a cross.
Jesus who was buried.
Jesus who came back to life.
His body didn’t even decay! Two of his disciples prepared him for burial, wrapped him up and placed him in a tomb and before his body did not begin to rot before the white blood cells were detoxing his body yet again. His lungs didn’t begin to lose their shape, before they filled with air once more. His flesh did not begin to smell, before he was outdoors smelling the rose yet again!
Look at David’s confidence in this same Jesus: 11 You make known to me the path of life! You went through death. You came out alive. And you’ll lead me to do the same.
I remember once time in college I was short on cash and found an ad on the campus bulletin board for help needed raking leaves. $15 per bag! I was excited. So, my friend and I typed the address into MapQuest (this was before Smartphones – am I dating myself?) and started driving. We got into the countryside and farmland of small town MN, when the directions got very interesting.
Take HWY 17. Ok. Done.
Turn right onto County Road 18. Got it.
Turn left onto Unnamed Road.
God’s not like that. He doesn’t have some really difficult to follow directions. He won life for us and he made it so easy to attain. John 3:16 says simply this, “God so loved the world that he gave his One and Only Son, that’s Jesus, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.”
You know this is true because Jesus is the Great I AM.
Jesus is the God that David was talking about in Psalm 16.
Jesus is the author of Life.
Jesus is your life.
Jesus will not abandon you to the grave.
He won’t let you die in some hospital all alone.
He won’t shut you up in some Assisted Living Home and forget all about you.
He won’t put you on Hospice care and let others deal with you.
He will not abandon you on this side of the grave
Nor the other side.
III. What Now?
David said that’s what he was not going to do anymore: “I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods.”
Because back then one way you’d worship those “not gods” is by making a sacrifice, collecting the blood and pouring it out on the altar of a false god. That showed your allegiance to the false god. That showed trust in that false god. That showed you were a follower of that false god.
But if you trust in the true God, why do you need the false gods?
Now there aren’t any false gods that require blood sacrifices in 21st century America. But think about your actions – stop pouring out libations to them.
Do you give financial gifts to an organization that’s helps share the teaching of a false god? Stop it.
Do the Facebook posts you share support false teachings – which is a false view of God? Delete them.
Does your politically correct office talk give the impression that “It’s no big deal. God can be whoever you want him to be. If you want that coffee pot to be your god man, he’ll be your god. Cool. I’m sure you’re saved.” Stop talking in such a way.
Stop pouring out libations to “not gods.”
(2) Take Refuge in God
That’s what David started out with. In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge.
It’s like when a hurricane is coming. You want to find refuge in a good shelter. It’s not a great idea to go set up a tent and go camping. For a powerful hurricane, the more fortified the building the better. You want to be safe from rain, from wind and flying debris.
Finding refuge in ‘not gods’ is like preparing for a hurricane by covering up with a few newspapers.
Finding refuge in the God, Jesus Christ means that you will not die, but live.
And you’ll find hope as you face death. Hopes that lasts forever.
(3) Measure out Your Boundary Line
Of course, death can still be intimidating. Death can still be scary. If the doctor has had bad reports for you, then it can certainly leave you scared.
That’s when you need to measure out your boundary line.
I think that’s an interesting phrase in verse 6. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. You might think – that’s easy for David to say. He was King of Israel. He had a gorgeous palace. God expanded his empire while he was king.
Me? I’ve got a 1100 square foot ranch house. Plus, my neighbor and I have been arguing about whether or not that dogwood tree is mine or his for the past 3 years!
But this Psalm isn’t about David’s earthly inheritance.
This Psalm is about David’s eternal inheritance.
His eternal inheritance is the same is yours.
Do what David suggest. Take a moment – today, tomorrow – anytime you’re feeling intimidated by death – and gaze at your inheritance.
It’s a nice little bungalow.
There’s no sin there.
The flowers bloom eternally – they never die.
No need for an AC or a furnace because the weather is always perfect.
The area is pretty neat – there are eternal pleasures on every street corner.
Your next-door neighbor? He’s pretty cool.
It’s God himself.
One day – you will live by him. Amen.
I was a Senior Vicar – 24 years old and I had been called to the hospital. I was there to visit a woman named Matilda – someone whom I had enjoyed lightly toasted bread and tea with on numerous occasions. We had gotten together to talk about her family, hummel figurines, and the best episodes of the Lucy show.
But now…now there was no Lucy show. No figurines. No lightly toasted bread.
Matilda had just died. Her breathing had stopped.
And my stomach just felt strange. I had just seen someone die. Now…now how could I help?
As I looked at the tear stained eyes of the family members in the room -- I racked my brain. Should I do CPR? Should I run to get a nurse? Should there be some kind of special Pastor trick that I hadn’t learned yet in Pastoral theology that I should be used to return her breath to her...?
I felt helpless. Helpless because…What’s there to do when the breathing stops?
Today we’re finishing up our sermon series called BREATHE and we what Jesus did to prep you for eternal breathing, what he’s currently doing, and what you can do to prep yourself.
I. He’s Preparing Things for You
Take a look at John 14. This happens 43 days before Jesus’ ascension – 40 days before Ascension is Easter. 3 days before Easter is Maundy Thursday. It’s the night Jesus that Jesus is betrayed; the night he’s arrested; the night before he’s beaten, flogged, convicted, crucified, and killed.
And as Jesus was speaking about it, he’s disciples were getting spooked.
If the Pharisees did that to their leader, what would he do to them?
And If Jesus was dead, how could he protect them?
And if he couldn’t protect them, wouldn’t they just run out of breath?
Listen to Jesus’ words of to them:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, I would have told you so. I am going there to prepare a place for you.
Now note that when Jesus says, “His Father’s house,” he’s not talking about Joseph. That would have been his step-dad’s house in Nazareth. While a carpenter makes a living, I doubt that the house had enough room for 11 disciples to spread out on the living room floor for a nap. Can you imagine what that would have been like? “Peter & Andrew – you’re brothers so you can sleep in this room together. John, you take the floor. And Philip? There’s an old futon out back that you can curl up on.”
Nope. The Father he was talking about was bigger.
And the house He was talking about was bigger too.
In my Father’s house are many rooms.
Ever been to the Biltmore Estate? It has over 250 rooms. 33 bedrooms. 43 bathrooms. 3 kitchens and 65 fireplaces. It’s able to house hundreds of people at the same time. That’s a lot.
Heaven houses a lot more. It has many rooms. Enough rooms for God to fill it with people from every age, every era, every culture, and every race. Scripture talks about thousands upon thousands and ten thousand upon ten thousand. Myriads of people crowding the halls of this divine house, taking up residents in one of its many rooms.
And one of those rooms? It’s for you.
Look at what Jesus says next, I am going there to prepare a place for you. That’s a promise he makes to his disciples. A disciple is a follower of Jesus. Do you follow Jesus? Do you believe in him? Jesus is talking about you.
Jesus isn’t up in heaven laying on a couch flipping through episodes of Fuller House on Netflix. He’s not in heaven sipping martinis by a heavenly poolside and leaving you down here with all your problems, with all your relationship problems, with all your financial struggles, to slowly go through life working your dead-end job, barely making it until you die.
He’s busy. He’s preparing a place for you.
Suddenly you get this picture of Jesus sweeping up the floor, turning the Roomba loose on the carpet, putting flowers in a vase by the bedside table, fluffing pillows, lighting some candles, spraying some Febreeze and folding a towel into one of the little duck like creatures that they make at the Holiday Inn.
Is Jesus actually doing such mundane earthly tasks? Probably not. It’s heaven. It’s not earth. But the point is this: Jesus is that excited to have you in heaven. He’s getting a special spot, preserved and prepared just for you.
If one of the angels comes along and says, “Hey Jesus, is anyone using this room? I want to use it for some divine yoga!”
Jesus will respond, “No! That room is for my beloved. It’s for this 21st century Christian, sitting in row 7, seat 2 at Gethsemane church in Raleigh, NC. I’ve been preparing that spot for them for years. I lived perfectly for them. I died for them. I rose triumphantly for them. All so that they might live in that room – down the hall from me – eternally.”
II. He’s Coming Back to Get you
When your spot is ready – when the time is just right – Jesus is coming back. If I go there and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me.
Did you know that infants are terrible at peekaboo? Infants lack something called “object permanence.” That means they don’t understand that objects generally don’t disappear out of thin air. So, if you are making an infant smile and then throw a blanket over your face, the infant thinks “Help. He’s gone. Don’t know where to either.” The infant is extra surprised to see you again – because he was expecting that you were gone.
Don’t we do the same thing with Jesus?
The way this world is going – things are so awful. Jesus isn’t ever coming back!
Finances are so hard – I imagine God doesn’t care a bit about me.
I’m so lonely – Jesus must have forgotten all about me.
My health is deteriorating fast. Jesus must have checked out!
Nope. He remembers.
When he’s done preparing a place for you, he will come back and take you to be with him.
To a place without the sin and immorality of this world.
To a place without financial burdens.
To a place surrounded by God’s love.
To a place where there is no sickness; no sadness and no pain!
That’s sounds pretty awesome. It would be sad to miss it.
Like Google Calendar. Do you ever use its features? If you ever have a really important event you can set it up shoot off an alarm that way you don’t miss the meeting. Sometimes I have to put a couple of reminders for a really big day – like the Doritos convention – I have reminders 1 week, 3 days, 24 hours, 12 hours, 5 hours, 2 hours, 1 hour & ½ an hour before hand. I don’t want to forget!
Don’t you worry about Jesus. He won’t forget. Don’t think you’ve done too much sin or been too far away for too long that he will forget all about coming to get you.
He will remember you. He will come back for you.
It doesn’t matter where you are:
On the sixth floor of your office surrounded by stacks of paper at work? He will remember you. He will come back for you.
In line to make a rent payment at the fourth apartment you’ve tried out this year? He will remember you. He will come back for you.
On the fourth floor of the sixth building on the gigantic campus of UNC Health Center? He will remember you. He will come back for you.
In the ground, row 18 in the cemetery, plot 37 – He will come back for you.
Lazarus had been buried in a tomb for four days. He had been dead for longer – probably a whole week. His body had begun to deteriorate. The grave had begun to smell like rot. He was dead.
When Jesus got there to see him, his sisters lost it: “You’re too late! You should have been here earlier. You missed him. You could have helped him; you could have saved him; but now he’s dead.”
Jesus? He had them roll the stone away. He peered inside. He called out: “Lazarus!”
Lazarus walked out – alive.
There’s a promise that Jesus made right before doing that to Lazarus. He said, “Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me; will never die!” (Jn. 11:27)
Do you believe in Jesus? That means you will live.
Have cancer? You will live.
Getting older? You will live.
Nervous about terrorist? You will live.
You will be in heaven. You will breathe. Even when you’re breathing stops.
III. What Now?
1. Give the Best Gift a Mom Can Give
Here’s the Mother’s Day connection. We are gonna get it in there somehow. If you are a modern mom, there’s a lot of pressure to be a good mom. Our world is of the opinion that if you want to be a good mom you need to enroll your kid in ballet, take him to swimming, karate, clarinet, science club, make sure he has good grades but get him an iPhone, feed him the most expensive organic food available, but save up enough money for college, make sure he’s disciplined, but not be one of those hard-nosed moms either.
It’s hard. It’s also wrong.
Because if you want to be a good mom, there is one thing needful: Teach your kids about Jesus.
Nothing else is that important. Tell them Bible stories. Read them the Bible. Do family devotions. Bring them to church. Bring them to Sunday School. Have them baptized.
If you want to them in heaven with you, do all you can to teach them about the one, the ONLY ONE, who offers heaven. Jesus!
2. Give the Best Gift a Mom Can Get
Moms – you might be getting a lot of gifts today. A pair of earrings. A flower. A card with “I think it’s a spotted cow” on it. Happy “Mooo—ther’s Day!” Careful how you react! Because if you want to show appreciation for a gift, you take good care of it. You put it in a special spot. You make sure not to throw it away. You keep it for years to come.
It’s the same way with spiritual gifts.
Maybe you have a Christian mom.
Maybe you had a Christian mom.
Maybe you had a grand mom, an aunt, an uncle, a dad, a somebody who loved Jesus and cared give you the gift of your Savior.
Use that gift. Take care of that gift. Keep your faith in Jesus strong. Exercise your spirit in God’s Word – at church, at home, listening to your iPhone as you drive. Whatever it takes to make sure you’re breathing when your breathing ends.
That’s what Matilda had done. She had read her Bible. She sang her hymns. She had listened to the cassette tapes of sermons that past pastors had brought her. She even listened to the CDs of Sundays service that I brought her (after I explained to her how it all worked).
She listened. She heard about her Savior’s last breath on the cross. She heard about her Savior’s first breath in the tomb.
When she took her last breath in that hospital room, immediately, instantly, she segued to her first divine breath.
In her Father’s house.