I have a dog who really, really, really loves us. His name is Clay and he is a black lab. He loves to be at home. He loves to have his people by him. If he is out in our backyard and the backdoor, glass sliding door is closed – he won’t go play in the backyard. He will sit by that back door and whine like a Hyena until you let him in.
He always likes to be by his people.
He always likes to be home.
The other day we were coming home. I opened the front door and had my hands full. So, I went inside to put the bags on the front counter and left the front door open so that I could get out quick and get the rest of the bags from the back of the car. Clay, of course, stayed happily next to me, licking my knees, hopping up and down, slobbering everywhere.
That is until Clay saw something far more interesting than me.
Clay looked past me.
He looked to the front yard.
Clay saw…a SQUIRREL!
Clay ran out the door, he started down the block, he was running down the street away from me.
And I shouted after him:
“Clay! Come back!”
“Clay! Come Home!”
But it wasn’t working. Then, as Clay was running down the block out of sight - I had an idea:
I think he set the record for fastest 200-meter dash in history.
When dogs go away from home, they need to be reminded of a reason to return.
The same is true with people and God.
Whether you’ve been completely away from God or away from his Word or away from his people in a church, when people have been away for a while, we need to be reminded of a reason to return.
That’s theme for Back to Church Sunday.
That’s the theme for our RETURN sermon series.
God is calling you to return to Him.
But what kind of bone does God have?
What reasons does He give for us to return?
Our goal this morning is to look at a story that Jesus told about sheep to identify the first and most powerful reason to return to God. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Religious Climate
The text for today coming from Luke 15 beginning at verse 1. It says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (v.1-2)
A bit of background:
The Pharisees. The Pharisees were the religious elite of the day. They were the type that always looked like they had it all together. There were the Boy Scouts. Do-gooders. They were like Wally Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver. They were the model religious citizens. They wore fancy religious jewelry. They had fancy religious beards – cut at regulation length. If they would have Facebook, they were the type of people who would post every hour on the hour about all the awesome religious things that they have been doing. #WeArePerfectAndYou’reNot
To be fair Jesus was, too. He was kind. He was gentle. He didn’t do anything immoral. He knew his Scriptures well like a Pharisee. He knew the Old Testament well like a Pharisee. He knew the Jewish Ceremonial commands well like a Pharisee. In reality, Jesus was a dream candidate for being a Pharisee! He’s the kind of guy that the Pharisees would have loved to have in the group for no other reason than it would make them look good by association.
By all outward appearances, the Pharisees and Jesus should have gotten along.
But they didn’t.
To be fair – their teachings agreed to a certain point.
They both taught that God wants us to keep The Ten Commandments.
They both taught that God demands humans be perfect.
They both taught that humans are imperfect.
They both taught that this imperfection disqualified people from the perfect halls of heaven.
They both taught the same problem.
But they taught VERY different solutions:
The Pharisees taught: Try to be perfect “like us” and you might gain heaven.
Stop lusting so much.
Stop gossiping so much.
Wear religious jewelry like us.
Wear your regulation beard like us.
Always wash your hands before you eat, like us.
Try to be perfect “like us” and you might, maybe, possibly-ish, gain heaven…but probably not.
Jesus was one of the only common people in Israel who seemed to be able to do what the Pharisees did.
Jesus was one of the only common people who did what the Pharisees did BETTER than the Pharisees did.
But that’s not what he taught.
You can’t be perfect. Believe in me and you will gain heaven.
This is why Jesus had attracted a crowd very different from the Pharisees.
The Pharisees attracted those who liked to think that they had their life together.
Jesus attracted those who knew that they didn’t.
Like Tax Collectors. Tax Collectors were not very popular people in the first century because (1) they were collecting taxes (2) they worked for the Roman government that was enforcing their rule on the Jewish people (3) they cheated people. They told people who owed $10 that their tax was $20 and pocketed the extra $10. Tax collectors were shamed by Jewish society. Tax collectors were not welcomed with the religious leaders.
Jesus welcomed them.
Jesus promised them a friend.
Jesus promised them heaven.
“Sinners.” Which is such a strange phrase. Because the implication is not that the religious leaders were NOT sinners, they were; the implication was that some people were such sinners and doing such gross sins that the only word that could be used to describe them was: “Sinner.”
Like Prostitutes. They sold their bodies. They sinned against God’s plan for marriage. They hung out in the red-light district, not the temple. They were welcomed by clients, not the religious elite. They were shunned by society, and to be honest, might be shunned by us today.
But Jesus didn’t shun them.
Jesus didn’t think of them as too dirty or too gross.
Jesus welcomed them.
He promised them heaven.
II. The One Who Really, Really, Really Loved His Sheep
This whole situation rubbed the religious leaders of the day. How could God want anything to do with those scum of society people? How could Jesus claimed to be from God if He hung out with those scum of society people?
Hence – their interruption; “Look at THIS GUY, why does he hang out with tax collectors and sinners?” (v.2)
Jesus overhears them.
Jesus gets the crowd to quiet down.
Jesus walks over towards the religious leaders.
Jesus gives them the answer:
Suppose there’s a man that has a hundred sheep. Which is a decent amount of sheep. It meant that man could produce wool. It means that he could make money. It meant that he had money. It means the man was quite wealthy.
But on this particular evening, as the sheep are herded into the sheep pen for the night…the servants count:
“97, 98, 99…” Hmm. Let me do that again. “97, 98, 99…Oh.”
He heads up the dirt road to the owner’s house, knocks on the door and tells the owner the bad news. “Sir, we’ve lost one of the sheep. We counted a few times and number 57 isn’t there. I counted. Bob counted. 99 is all we have. I don’t know. He must have gotten lost or wandered or maybe a wolf got him.”
Regardless, it’s only one. There are 99 others? We’ll recover.
The man listens.
He wipes away a tear.
And shakes his head.
“No. I must go after him.”
He pushes off of the table, runs over to the door and grabs his outer cloak.
“Don’t wait up for me! I’m not coming back until I bring that sheep back with me.”
He goes out into the dark.
He goes out through the rain.
He searches for hoof prints.
He shouts his call at the top of the lungs: “Come sheep! Come Sheep! Come Sheep!”
Then, tired. Wearied. Ready to give up. His flashlight catches a glimpse of something.
A patch of wool – it’s caught on a bramble bush.
He approaches the bush:
“Sheep! Is that you sheep?”
A low, pained bleat replies.
The man wastes no time. He shoves his arms through the brambles. He’s scratched; he’s bleeding.
He cuts the sheep loose and frees him.
He gives him a hug.
Then, he puts the sheep on his shoulders and sprints to his house. All the while shouting:
“I found him! I found him.”
Waking the neighbors:
“I found him! I found my sheep!”
He’s going to get a misdemeanor for disorderly conduct:
“I found that sheep that was lost. My sheep! He was lost; he is found. He is…home.”
A touching story, right?
Thanks for telling it Jesus. It might make a really good children’s book.
But look carefully at the very last verse:
“I tell you the truth: There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who don’t need to repent.” (v.7)
Do you get it?
This story isn’t about a shepherd. It’s about God.
And it isn’t about sheep.
It’s about the tax collectors.
It’s about the prostitutes.
It’s about the sinners.
It’s about the porn actress, the drug dealer and the felon.
It’s about the divorcee, the alcoholic, and the failure.
It’s about the lost.
It’s about YOU.
This story is not about some shepherd’s love for his sheep…
But God’s incredible love for you.
III. The One who Really, Really, Really Loves You
That’s important to remember.
Because it’s easy to think that God doesn’t really love you.
It’s easy to think that you’ve been gone too long.
it’s easy to think that you’ve done too much wrong.
It’s easy to think that you aren’t the religious elite and God could NEVER love you.
But the truth is HE DOES.
The truth is HE REALLY, REALLY, REALLY DOES.
And you don’t even have to take my word for it!
Look at the Jesus’ words:
1) Though He has a Large Flock, God NOTICES if YOU are Missing
Because look at the parable. The man had 100 sheep! That’s plenty of sheep, wouldn’t you say?
He could’ve spent some of the money he made from their wool and gotten a new one.
He could’ve mated a few of the 99, waited a few months and gotten a new one.
He could’ve ignored his lack of sheep, allowed nature to run its course and gotten a new one.
But that’s not what the man does.
Instead, he immediately leaves his other sheep behind, heads out into the world and searches for his lost sheep.
The sheep was more than just number 57 to him; it was his sheep.
You are more than just a number to God; you are His child.
Maybe you are thinking – God doesn’t care about me.
He’s got plenty of people in his family.
He’s got plenty of people in his kingdom.
I imagine that all these other people here this morning are a part of his kingdom.
And there’s plenty of them.
And what would he care if he doesn’t have me.
Because “yep” there are a lot of Christians in this world.
And a church might even be big enough that they don’t notice if you are there or you aren’t.
But God notices.
God notices because he doesn’t just want a number in his kingdom.
He wants YOU in his kingdom.
2) God has Eternal Searching Stamina
It’s kinda like a missing kids’ toy. Has YOUR kid ever lost a toy? Maybe a Lego? Maybe a Shopkin? And when it’s missing, and you’ve searched under the cushion and behind the pillow, and you can’t find it – and your kid’s lips start quivering and eyes get teary and you say: “Don’t worry honey. I’m sure we’ll find that 1 inch high, grimy, piece of 1 cent plastic.”
Then you hope on Amazon, order the toy and voila! Three days later: “Oh Look! I found your Shopkin. It’s been right here in this envelope.”
It’s easy to think God acts like this.
He doesn’t need to find us, because he’s got other, newer, better people to be a part of his kingdom.
He doesn’t need me.
I’ve been gone for too long!
I went away from God way back in college.
I been lost in some very dark places.
Places that would make you blush.
Places that would you cringe.
Places that would make God say – “NOPE! You are too far gone. And I’m too tired.”
But that’s not how God works.
Notice in the parable – the man doesn’t plan on coming home until his sheep is found. The implication? God doesn’t quit searching for you – as long as you are alive – God will continue to come after you.
No matter how long you’ve been away.
No matter how long you’ve been gone.
God keeps coming!
3) God’s Greatest Joy is Having You Back Home
He lifts the sheep on his shoulders. He runs home. He tells all of his neighbors about the sheep he found. He has a celebration!
UNDERSTAND: That is God’s response to your return.
It isn’t “I told you so.”
It isn’t “Get out of here. I don’t have room for you.”
It isn’t “Here’s a list of things to do in order to get back in my good graces.”
God’s response to the one who returns to him is PURE JOY!
As verse 7 says: “There is more joy in heaven over the 1 who repents than the 99 who don’t need to repent!”
Think about that.
There’s a party in heaven when you return to him.
When you throw away your sin and return to Him, they’re throwing confetti!
When you get back into His Word, they’re serving ice cream with hot fudge– and the ice cream doesn’t even melt.
When you return to him after years of being away, they’re having a dance party – and look! In the corner, one of the angels is doing the Floss!
The point is that your returning to Him fills God with joy.
It filled Him with joy when you made your way into this church today.
And His heart will remain filled with joy as you continue to return to Him.
IV. What Now?
Return to the One Who Really, Really, Really Loves you!
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away; God has forever planned for you.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing that sin; God brings eternal blessings that sin cannot bring.
It doesn’t matter how deeply you’ve been engrossed in it; God’s love is deeper.
God’s love is strong enough to overcome whatever you have undergone.
That’s really the story of Jesus!
He came into this world to find those who were lost.
He found the tax collector.
He found the prostitute.
He found the sinners.
He found those lost in the dregs of society.
He found them even when the religious elite hated him for it…
And plotted against him for it…
They killed him for it.
Historically speaking, a few months after this parable, that’s what happened:
They arrested Jesus.
They falsely convicted him.
They bullied their way to the governor’s approval.
They nailed Jesus to two giant crisscrossing pieces of wood by his hands and feet.
And those “Sinners” …
Those who had found a friend.
Those who had turned their lives around.
Those who had seen a love from Jesus unlike anyone else in society.
Watched as his life slipped away.
As blood dropped from his forehead.
As his lungs took in one more breath…and stopped.
They had been lost.
He had found them.
Now…He was lost.
Three days later…
From the one place that no one in history has ever returned from.
Three days later…
From the one place that will keep you away from family and friends forever.
Three days later…
From death itself.
Return to him.
And even when you die, you’ll be home…
Today we are taking a look at a guy with some really, really bad sins who is confronted by the Risen Lord Jesus himself. Our goal is to apply what he learns about his really, really bad sins and apply it to our own really, really bad sins. But before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Background
The guy we want to talk about has already made a few cameo appearances in the book of Acts. Maybe you noticed? Maybe you didn’t.
First, flash back to the end of Acts 7. That’s the section about Stephen, the bread delivery guy who told widows about Jesus -- and got killed because he delivered bread to widows and told people about Jesus. At the end of his trial, as the religious leaders are angry and picking up stones to hurl them at Stephen, Acts 7:58 says this: “Members of the Sanhedrin laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul and he approved of their killing him.”
Have you ever tried throwing a baseball in a sports coat? Or toss the pigskin in a three-piece suit? It’s not very easy. Usually, you take off the coat, so your arms are a bit freer.
These guys? They took off their coats because they wanted as little friction as possible for throwing stones at the “Jesus lover’s” head.
And Saul – he’s not in the game – but on the sidelines – holding onto the non-violent-stone-hurling-clothing and nodding and approving.
Essentially, this Saul guy got his start as the equipment manager for Stephen’s murderers.
In fact, this spurs Saul on to action. He didn’t want to be a benchwarmer forever. Look at 8:3 “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” He’s motivated. He sees a bunch of religious leaders kill an Ordinary Christian church member and he says, “Anything you can do, I can do better.” He goes on an assault as the main guy in charge of destroying the church.
He doesn’t just throw Apostles in jail.
He pursues ordinary church members.
And not just the guys either….
Saul crosses over into the field of throwing Christian women – usually untouchable because we should treat women with respect and take good care of them – but Saul brings his special form of violence against Christian women.
In short, if you are a Christian, you would have been a target for Saul.
Flashforward. The persecution in Jerusalem caused the church to spread. Christians scattered to the north south and west. As they spread, God’s Word spread.
The Unstoppable Gospel remained unstoppable. It’s what we talked about the last two weeks.
About how Philip shared the amazing, Unstoppable Gospel with Simon the dark arts magician and a town under his dark magic.
About how Philip dirty, rugged and sweaty shared the amazing, Unstoppable Gospel with the Ethiopian royalty in the middle of nowhere and he believed.
Saul persecuted the church in Jerusalem.
The church spread out and started growing outside of Jerusalem.
And Saul couldn’t stand it.
Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belong to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. (9:1-2)
It’s kinda like crabgrass. Any of you have crab grass? I’ve been trying to get rid of it by pulling the stuff that pops up or spraying on some crab grass killer. But then what happens is, I kill it in one spot and then it pops up in another spot. I’m thinking about torching the whole lawn, but the crab grass would probably be all that survived.
Saul viewed Christianity like crab grass.
He viewed it as a weed that needed to be destroyed.
He was willing to travel hundreds of miles to put a stop to it.
So, he asked the priests for letters – official recommendation letters stamped with the Pharisaical seal of approval – that he could take to synagogues in other towns. Letters he could give to his fellows Jews in the synagogue that read, “This is Saul. He’s cool. Let him kill off all the Christians in the area. It’s for the best.”
Saul asked for letters like that.
Saul received letters like that.
And Saul was empowered to kill because of letters like that.
II. The Confrontation
One particular eradication journey was to a place called Damascus. It was about 150 miles to the North East of Jerusalem.
That’s not an easy trip. But Saul goes – cause his hatred for all-things-Jesus is that much.
It was hot.
It was sweaty.
It was long.
But Saul kept himself occupied. As he travelled, surrounded by a group of vicious henchmen, he practiced swinging his sword, picturing it plunging into the heart of “a mouthy Christian” and he whistled. He was so happy to be doing God’s work and totally eradicating the message of Jesus.
He was carefree.
He was happy.
He was right.
A bright flash. (v.3)
Not the sun.
A brilliant, otherworldly like flash that filled the entirety of Saul’s vision.
Saul fell down.
He heard a voice:
Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (v.4)
Who was it?
Was it Peter?
Was it John?
Was it one his friends playing a prank?
The voice spoke again:
I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. (v.5)
Jesus? As in the guy that I’m persecuting?
As in the guy that my associates killed?
As in the guy that was dead?
As in the guy that supposedly came back to life, but that’s impossible so I have been dedicating my life to completely and absolutely eradicating all of his followers?
Saul looked and believed the man.
And it wasn’t just the subtle glow of the light.
It wasn’t just the confidence in his voice.
It was the nail marks in his hands.
And a lump grew in Saul’s throat the size of a Passover matzo ball.
Jesus was real.
He had thought it was all a sham…
He had thought it was all phony…
He had thought it was all a demon inspired threat to the truth about God…
He was wrong.
Jesus wasn’t the demon inspired threat.
And Jesus? He must have come for revenge.
To zap him.
To destroy him.
To breathe murderous threats against him and take him as a prisoner to the tortures of hell.
Just not yet.
Get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do. (v.6)
Then, Jesus disappeared.
Thank God – he had a few more moments to live.
But…Saul blinked. He couldn’t see. The light was gone and there was only darkness. It was a chilling reminder of how he had been in darkness and completely wrong about Jesus.
He heard his companions voices:
Saul, are you alright?
Saul, we heard the voice?
Saul, what should we do next?
“Drop your swords.
Take my hand.
Get me to Damascus.”
III. The Change
Upon getting to Damascus, Saul changed his itinerary.
Instead of fighting Christians, he was fighting his own demons.
I was so wrong.
I am so guilty.
I persecuted God’s Son!
I killed his people.
I am a liar.
I am a murderer.
I am a sinner – guilty – and in danger of the fires of hell.
Saul didn’t eat.
Saul didn’t drink.
He allowed his physical body to go through the torture that his soul was going through. (v.9)
And then, on the third day…
A man named Ananias.
He was a disciple of Jesus.
He would have been one of the men that Saul came to kill.
Now he was blind.
He was weak.
Surely, Ananias had come to kill him.
“Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (v.17) You are his chosen instrument. He will work through you. He loves you. He died for you. He forgives you.
It was hard to believe!
He was such a sinner.
He was so guilty.
He had done so much wrong!
But …as soon as Ananias finished his message…God did something to emphatically prove Ananias’ point:
Immediately, something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see again. (v. 18a)
Visual proof of the invisible truth.
God had forgiven Saul.
But seeing spiritually that Jesus was his Savior.
Saul got up.
He got up and immediately was baptized. (v.18b)
He was loved.
He was accepted.
He was forgiven.
IV. The Truth
This true story is a true story about Saul.
It’s a true story about God’s grace to Saul.
But it’s also a true story with one very important truth for you.
Jesus died even for the really, really bad sins.
We shouldn’t rank sins. God doesn’t do that.
But humanly speaking, we rank sins all of the time.
There are certain sins that just stick with us. Certain sins we feel extra guilty for. Certain sins that we become convinced Jesus would never have died for.
Is that actually true?
Jesus died for all sins.
Jesus died for the small sins.
Jesus died for even the really, really bad sins.
For that arrest.
For cheating on your spouse.
For practicing homosexuality.
For those awful words you said.
For that violent thing you did.
For that racist blow-up at work.
Even the “worst” and most awful sins find their relief in Jesus.
Want proof? Saul later wrote this:
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Tim. 1:15)
Saul gets it.
He knows what it’s like to feel guilt.
Humanly speaking he did a great deal of sins.
Humanly speaking his sins rank up at the worst!
Yet he was forgiven.
If he was forgiven, you are forgiven too.
There is no sin too big.
No sin too bad.
No sin too “sin” for Jesus our Savior.
So…what now? Two things:
1) Lay Your Really, Really Big Sins at the Feet of Jesus
If Jesus removes even your really, really big sins, then stop carrying their guilt around.
You need to drop them.
You need to leave them at the foot of the cross.
At the gym, sometimes they make us carry Kettle Balls. Kettle Balls can be a lot of different weights. Sometimes, if you want to do the prescribed workout, the Kettle Ball can be up to about 70 lbs. You have to carry it in a lot of different ways. At your side. In a front rack. Even over your head. It can be tiring. Especially after walking a couple 100 meters.
Then, when you get to the end, you set them down at the rack and you stop carrying them. Like I never pick it up and go: “I wish we could carry these for another couple of hundred feet.” NEVER.
Why do the same thing with guilt?
Jesus died for your sin.
Jesus removed all your sin.
Jesus removed all your guilt.
There is no reason for you to pick it up and carry it with you.
God is strong enough.
God carried it to the cross.
Leave it at the cross.
2) Be Ananias for Others
Because Ananias had every reason to not share forgiveness with Saul! In fact, if we back up in the story – Ananias is a bit frightened to bring the message of Jesus to Saul, a known Christian persecutor, as he is a Christian.
I bet Ananias felt like saying: “Hi Saul! Ya big jerkface! I hope that God punishes you with hell.”
But he doesn’t.
Instead, he denies his own personal feelings and shares God’s forgiveness.
You do the same.
When someone has sinned greatly – against you – against someone else – share the Gospel.
Don’t do the thing where someone comes up to you and says, “I’m sorry,” and you’re like, “That was really, terrible and awful, what you did to me.”
And they say, “I know. I’m sorry.”
And you say, “Yes! It was awful! The worst!”
And they say, “I do regret it. I am terribly sorry.”
And you say, “You were so wrong. So very, very, very, very, very wrong.”
That’s not helpful.
That’s not God’s message to the repentant heart.
God’s message to the repentant heart is “Forgiven.”
That’s the message we share with the repentant heart. The message of “Forgiven in Jesus.”
This is not the end of Saul’s story. It’s only the page turn. Just wait – stick with it – you are going to watch Saul’s life totally transform in devotion to Jesus.
And that’s because Jesus was totally devoted to Saul.
That same Jesus was devoted to you.
That same Jesus devoted his life to you.
That same Jesus gave up his life for you.
In him, even the really, really bad sins are really, really forgiven. Amen.
Animals have amazing instincts. It’s true.
Geese know to migrate cross country during the weather change.
Baby kangaroos instinctively climb into their mother’s pouches to suckle.
Honeybees dance to communicate the whereabouts of pollen to each other.
Animals have amazing instincts, usually.
Sometimes they get confused. Sometimes they get confused enough that they forget exactly who they are.
Like the lion who is playing around with his food – I mean – his friend – the deer…
Or this dog trying to get his fellow pups (and by that, I mean baby chickens) to throw the ball…
Or this turtle that thinks that turtle shaped sandbox is long lost Uncle Earl…
In the animal kingdom, mistaken identity is cute.
But what about in the spiritual kingdom?
What happens when you have a spiritual identity crisis?
Today we are going to talk about the very real identity crisis that Christian can suffer from – you might even be going through it right now. Our goal? To reexamine what our NEW identity is in Jesus and be confident of that NEW identity. Before we do, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Corinthian Identity
The lesson for this morning comes from a letter written by a pastor named Paul to church in a city called Corinth. A bit about Corinth – It was a harbor town located on the coast of Greece. It was a popular trade center which saw all kinds of goods and ideas pass through its marketplace.
Around 49 A.D. Pastor Paul went on a missionary journey. On this journey, he went from city to city in southern Europe sharing the message of Jesus with people who had never heard of Jesus. When he went, he had a method for how he brought the Gospel to a new city. (He would start by bringing the message to the Jewish synagogue located in town. He was Jewish. They were Jewish. He figured they had a connection). After that, Paul would go the non-Jewish part of town. He would enter the marketplace and the town square. He would encounter people who were completely unfamiliar with Jesus, completely unaware of God’s grace and completely unlearned in the Old Testament promises of the Savior.
That’s what Paul did in Corinth.
He spoke about Jesus to the Biblically learned Jews expecting the Messiah and the Biblically illiterate non-Jews not even knowing he exists…
Which group do you think would be Paul’s message?
The answer is surprising:
Many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:8)
That means the Corinthian church was filled with brand new believers in every sense of the world.
The believers were people who had previously NEVER heard the Good news of Jesus before and were in love with that good news of Jesus.
As a result, Paul stayed with this church for a while. He told them about Jesus. He told them about forgiveness. He told them about the peace they had with God.
But Paul was a missionary.
Eventually…he had to move on to the next city.
And after about a year, he did.
Fast forward a couple of years.
Things had changed in Corinth.
The church was not as joyful as it once was.
The church was filled with bitterness.
The church people were overwhelmed with guilt.
Without Paul around, their fellow Corinthians from the marketplace began to question their Christianity:
“You mean you don’t stay out late and get drunk on the weekends? What about the benders? The ragers? The good ol’ days? That’s not who I remember.”
“What do you mean marriage is important? You used to sleep with me and my sister on the same night? This Christian thing has changed who you are.”
“I thought you were a Corinthian. Corinthians worship Poseidon! Come on. Here’s some money. Let’s go have sex with the prostitutes in front of his temple to receive Poseidon’s blessing.”
And…it was working.
The Corinthians were listening to their friends, their coworkers, their neighbors.
They were falling into sin.
Worse yet – when they failed – on Sunday mornings as they made their way to church shaking off a hangover – the Jews -- the ones who hadn’t believed in Jesus – were waiting for them along the way:
“Oh look! If it isn’t Ned! He’s looking so religious this morning. He worshipped his god all last night by getting drunk.”
“Yep. He’s not a Christian. Unless there’s a denomination called “Christian drunkards.”
“And here’s the worst part. They’re going to get together and talk about forgiveness today. Ya’ll are fools!”
You aren’t loved; but hated.
You aren’t forgiven; but filled with sin.
You aren’t righteous; but absolute scum.
And the Corinthian congregation was in shambles.
And they argued with each other.
And they pointed out each other’s sins in order to make themselves feel better about their own.
And they fled back to their addictions.
And they were filled with shame.
And they were in the middle of a spiritual identity crisis.
Pastor Paul heard of this and he was compelled to respond. He wrote this to them: “Listen…we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” (2 Cor. 5:16) You aren’t just a bag of bones. You aren’t just stressed muscles that need to let off some steam. You aren’t just sex organs that need to be fulfilled. You aren’t just an object for someone else’s pleasure. No, we regard you as much more than that.
Why? Because we used to regard Christ in that way, though we do so no longer. (v. 16b)
We thought of Christ as a common Jewish man.
He wasn’t especially attractive.
He wasn’t especially powerful.
He was a former carpenter’s apprentice who had a few bruises on his knees from bending over to nail tables together.
And he sure didn’t look all that special on the cross.
He sweated like a common earthly man.
And bled like a common earthly man.
And died like a common earthly man.
But then…do you remember what I preached to you? Then…Jesus came back to life!
Unlike any man ever, Jesus came back to life.
Unlike any man ever, Jesus walked the earth again.
Unlike any man ever, Jesus rose from the grave.
Do you see Paul’s point?
Jesus proved there was more to him than the earthly man.
As believers in Jesus…
There’s more to you too!!!
II. a NEW identity
Has anyone here seen Remember the Titans? It’s a film that follows a high school football team in the segregated south. The coach works hard to integrate the team and help them work together at a time when people who looked different from one another – didn’t even attempt to.
At one point – things get heated. Players are being divisive. The team isn’t working out.
So…coach makes them look at their jerseys.
He tells them to look at their helmets.
He tells them to notice that they are the same.
Because under that helmet and jersey, the players aren’t black and white, rich and poor, educated and uneducated.
They are Titans.
Paul says the same thing to the Corinthians – and to you. If you are in Christ, the old has gone; the new has come…God has reconciled us to himself.
You are no longer “addict.”
You are no longer “slut.”
You are no longer “failure.”
You are no longer “convict.”
You are no longer “homo.”
You are no longer “bitter old man.”
You are no longer “gossip.”
You are no longer “sinner.”
You are forgiven.
You are loved.
You are righteous.
You are pure.
You are God’s child.
You are reconciled.
That’s your identity!
And that’s the identity that Paul was trying to get the Corinthians to remember.
It’s the identity that Paul had taught them about.
It’s an identity that you and I have learned about.
It’s an identity that is as true for you as it was for a Corinthian.
You are reconciled.
III. Identity Origins?
Granted. You might say, “That sounds nice, but how do I know it’s true? How do I know it’s not just a bunch of psycho babbles?” Look at what Paul says next and there you’ll find a few answers:
1. It’s from God
Verse 18 literally says, “All of this is from God who was reconciling himself to you in Christ!” God’s the ultimate source. He’s the ultimate reason behind the new identity of “reconciled.” And that’s good news – because it means that no other identity really counts.
It’s like the name that your parents give you. That’s the name that’s on your birth certificate. That’s the name that’s on your social security card. That’s the name that’s on your taxes. Your friends might give you a nickname. They might call you something for short, but that’s not your real name. Your parents had the authority to name you and they did.
And there is not greater authority than your spiritual Father – God himself.
And God himself has named you “Reconciled.”
And there is no other name the world can give you that has the authority to conquer this.
2. It’s through God’s people
Because it’s true! God did not speak in some loud booming voice to the Corinthians.
But he spoke through the Apostle Paul. Paul wrote, “We are Christ’s ambassadors, as if God were making his appeal through us!”
And it’s true! God might not have spoken to you in some loud, booming, obviously God voice.
But he has spoken to you.
Through the stern yet loving voice of your Sunday School teacher.
Through the tearful voice of a concerned friend.
Through the tremoring words of your great grandfather.
Through the gentle lullaby of your mother singing: “Jesus loves you.”
Through words that sound a lot like mine right now.
God may speak through his people. But they are still his words.
“We are Christ’s ambassadors, making his appeal to you: Be reconciled to God!”
3. It’s paid for by Jesus
Up to the east of church is Falls of Neuse Rd. We used to live right across the street by the apartments complex there. Behind the apartments are million dollars homes situated on a beautiful golf course called the North Ridge Country Club. There’s 36 beautiful holes, a private swimming area, tennis courts and a private club for dining events.
How do you get in? You pay your membership dues. Those dues would include up to $30,000/year.
I could not afford to be a member there. I don’t have enough money.
And the cost to be a member of God’s kingdom? It’s a life of perfection.
I can’t afford that.
You can’t either.
But we are members.
Because Jesus paid the price for us.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says just that, “God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.”
In other words, your identity is paid for.
It can’t be taken away.
You are NEW in Jesus.
III. What Now?
Two major things that I want you to take away and put into practice this coming week. They both come from verse 16. Look at it again, “From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.”
(1) Regard Yourself from God’s Point of View
Because it won’t be long after this service that you hear those worldly thoughts again:
You’re only humans – have some fun.
You’re one of us – enjoy this sin a little.
(And then) You are the worst of sinners that God could never ever, ever love.
Stop regarding yourself from the worldly point of view.
Start regarding yourself from God’s point of view.
Start regarding yourself as your NEW identity.
The NEW YOU doesn’t do the things of your old sinful way of life.
The NEW YOU doesn’t live selfishly.
The NEW YOU doesn’t live for your bodily desires.
The NEW YOU doesn’t live frightened of God’s eternal wrath.
The NEW YOU lives for Jesus.
The NEW YOU lives for others.
The NEW YOU lives for the Spirit.
The NEW YOU lives confidently in God’s forgiveness.
The more you understand God's forgiveness, the more confidence you'll have in God's love.
(2) Regard Others from God’s Point of View
This is doubly important. Because as easy as it is to view yourself from a worldly perspective, it is even easier to view others that way:
“Oh her? That’s the adulteress. God does not forgive her.”
“That guy has a bunch of tattoos! He’s not one of us.”
“That guy? Over there? I think he’s Islamic. We need him to leave immediately!”
Stop regarding people from a worldly point of view.
That’s what worldly people do.
Rather, from God’s point of view.
Because that’s what God’s people do.
Regard them as souls that Jesus died for.
Regard them as souls that need to hear that Jesus died for them.
Regard them as future – brothers and sisters.
That’s what Paul did! It’s why he wrote them this letter as brothers and sisters and not as “you no good, awful, dirty rotten sinners from Corinth!”
That’s because Paul understood one more thing about his identity. He wasn’t just a member of God’s kingdom, he was an ambassador.
And as believers in Jesus, you are ambassadors, too.
Think about what an ambassador does. He heads off to foreign countries. He represents his country. He speaks on behalf of his country.
You are God’s ambassadors. You are about of his country. You represent his country. You speak on behalf of your Lord.
That’s an important task. Who is up for such a task?
Can I tell you about Susie? Susie is 4 years old.
Susie attends Precious Lambs.
Susie loves Jesus.
She loves Bible Times.
She loves Jesus songs.
She loves going to chapel.
Susie’s mother told me the other day that Susie talks about Jesus even when she isn’t at school.
She talks about Jesus at home.
She talks about Jesus at her brother’s basketball practice.
She talks about Jesus at the grocery store.
She talks about Jesus before she goes to bed.
Susie has not forgotten her identity.
Susie knows she’s four years old (ask her; she’ll tell you).
But Susie also knows that she is an ambassador for Jesus.
Don’t you forget it either because you have a NEW identity in Jesus. Amen.
I was in Arizona this past week for a wedding and then we had a chance to do some sight-seeing in Sedona, AZ. Ever been there? There are these beautiful Red Rock mountains that overlook the city. It’s absolutely gorgeous. (I put a picture up on the PowerPoint, just to prove to you that I was actually there…not just playing hooky at home).
But we didn’t just hang out at the mountains. We also had a chance to shop the city. And while we were doing so, I noticed a sign on one of the restaurants: It said: Greatest view in Sedona!
And at first, I was pretty excited! But over time, I noticed the same sign on the next restaurant. And the next bar. And the next pub. In fact, all of the places on that strip had very similar signs. Such that, my reaction went from: “Look at that. It’s got a view. It’s the best place in town,” to “Look at that. It’s got a view. Like every place in town.”
Religious messages can be kind of like that.
They all seem to be about the same.
Do these things to be saved.
Do those things to be saved.
Today we want to look at the message of Jesus and we will see three ways in which it is entirely different than any other religious message that you’ll ever hear. Reasons that the message of Jesus is a new kind of message. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
Our lesson starts in a small room with the doors locked.
Bolted shut; bar latched; a chair in front of the door…locked.
The disciples are afraid.
They have just seen Jesus…murdered (crucified).
How much longer until the soldiers did the same thing to them?
How much longer until the leaders demanded their own executions?
How much longer until they too were killed?
Suddenly, a knock at the door.
Andrew put his finger to his lips – and motioned for Philip to look out the window.
Simon moved slowly. He lifted up the curtain. He peered out the window and smiled. “We know them.”
They unbolted the bolt.
Unlocked the lock.
Moved the chair out of the way and let in a few of their friends.
“We saw him. We saw him. Jesus is alive! We saw him. He not dead. He’s alive.”
“We went to the grave and we thought he’d be dead, but the stone was moved!”
“An angel. A brilliantly bright angel. He saw us and spoke to us and said Jesus was alive.”
“We thought that was amazing enough, but then when we started come back…we saw Him. Jesus. He’s alive!”
As the women kept talking, the disciples’ expressions went from frightened to pitying.
These poor delusional women. They were wrong. They were hallucinating. They were thinking they saw something that could never be.
As James had them both sit down with some tea, another knock. It was Peter and John. They too had been to the tomb. And…they could confirm: the women were right. At least partly. The stone had been rolled away and Jesus’ body was not there.
That was strange. Something must have happened…but…
Another knock. This time it was Cleopas and his friend. He had said they were going on holiday, but. They had seen him. On their way, they had talked to him. He had comforted them. Then, he showed them! He was alive!
At this point, the quiet little room was a buzz with noise.
Excitement. Mystery. Questions.
What was going on?
What do you think happened?
Could it be true?
In fact, everyone was so distracted that they did not hear the next guest enter the room.
Granted --- he didn’t knock.
He just appeared.
While they were…talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (v.37)
And the disciples…Have anything but peace!?!
Is that a ghost?
Is he here to get us?
Is he going to begin haunting me for abandoning him? I knew this would happen.
But Jesus notices the tension, so he continues. “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (v.38)
One by one…the disciples look at each other. Touch him? Touch the ghost? But…that’s impossible. They’re spirits.
Finally, Peter volunteers his brother Andrew…and pushes him forward.
He lifts up his hand.
He places it on Jesus’ hand…and…
The other disciples quickly come over.
They feel the bumps on his skin.
They feel the hairs on his arms.
They touched the holes near his hands.
But just to confirm. “Do you have anything here to eat?” (v.42)
Nathanael ran over to the table. He grabbed the piece of bread that fish sandwich that he had been gnawing on nervously and took it to Jesus. He half expected it to fall to the floor.
Jesus ate it in their presence. (v.43)
It didn’t fall to the floor.
It went down his tongue.
Into his throat
Into his belly.
Like it does with any living human being.
Then, Jesus gave them something else.
Something beyond visual proof.
Something beyond physical proof.
Proof that had been around for centuries:
He said to them, “This is what I said would happen. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in Old Testament.” (v.44)
I had to die.
And I had to rise.
And I did.
And I am.
Just as it was written.
And now…the next part that is written. It involves you. It involves you and this new kind of message.
Preach the message of forgiveness of sins to all nations. (v.46)
II. A NEW Message
This is the message of Jesus. It comes not via the mailman, not via email, not via text message, but from the lips of a man who had died three days earlier.
But it’s not just the delivery that’s unique. The message itself is also very distinct. It is a message unlike any other religious message in history. Here are a few things about Jesus’ message than are unlike any other.
1. Real Life After Death
The first difference has to do with Jesus’ approach to death. To be fair, other religions had tackled the topic before, but they tended to talk in platitude. They tended to talk about spiritual afterlife or just general life in the sense that “your spirit lives on.”
Have you seen the movie Coco yet? It’s the newest Pixar film and like most Pixar films it’s fun for kids and adults. Although – the topic is a bit grimmer. It takes place on the Dia de Muerta or the Day of the Dead. In the movie, the young hero enters the city of the dead and visits all of his dead relatives (as seen by all the skeleton characters here.) The young man learns that it is important to remember those who die, to keep their memory alive or else, they literally fade away into oblivion. He goes back to the land of the living with renewed focus on remembering his ancestors.
Now the movie certainly underscores the importance of making relationships in this life and remembering the good things about people who have passed away. That’s great.
But the theology of life after death is incorrect.
If life after death simply means that people will remember you, in all honestly, that’s not that encouraging.
Because those are just memories.
The people are still dead.
But with Jesus? Alive means alive.
He stood before the disciples in real flesh.
Real blood cells.
Real hair follicles.
And his promise to all who believe in him in this: Whoever believes in me will live even though he dies; whoever lives and believes in me will never die. (Jn. 13)
Meaning there is life after death.
There is real, life after death.
It means we have to pay attention.
It means this stuff is important.
It means we really need to be concerned about where we will be when that happens.
2. The Messiah Has Come (and Won)
The second thing that makes this message different has to do with the Messiah. Messiah is a Hebrew word that means “Anointed One.” In the Old Testament, anointing was very common. The people would anoint the heads of their leaders with oil. They would anoint the heads of kings, priests, and prophet.
But throughout the Old Testament there are references to “THE Anointed One.” The Messiah. This One would be anointed to save us from sin, death and hell.
And for millennia, whenever things looked bleak…
Whenever things looked sad…
Whenever things looked abysmal…
The Old Testament Israelites would calm one another with this promise:
“The Messiah is coming.”
But when things looked bleak to the disciples…
When they looked sad…
When they looked abysmal.
Jesus said something a bit different: “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in Old Testament.” (v.44)
Do you see it?
Instead of “the Messiah will come,” Jesus said, “The Messiah already came (and Won).”
That’s an important message. Because too often in this life – as 21st centurion Raleighians – we keep thinking that the Messiah will come.
If only I get this job, I’ll be saved.
If only I get more money, I’ll be saved.
If only this health product works…
If only this person gets elected…
If only I keep the commandments better…
If only I find the right person…
If only I try a bit harder…I’ll be saved.
But those things aren’t your Messiah.
Your Messiah already came.
And he won.
3. Repentance for Forgiveness
This leads to the final difference in Jesus’ message: Forgiveness.
At the time of Jesus, that’s exactly what the Pharisees taught that forgiveness came from what you did --- aka what they did.
Wear religious jewelry for forgiveness.
Cut your beards at regulation length for forgiveness.
Give 1/10th of your flour to God.
Only take 1000 steps on any Saturday.
And never, ever, ever cook a vegetable meal in a pot that previously housed a meat meal for forgiveness.
But Jesus doesn’t preach that.
He preached: “Repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (v.45)
Repentance means to do a 180 degree turn.
It means to turn from sin; to turn to God.
To turn from unbelief; to turn to Jesus.
In short, it means believe.
Believe you are sinner.
Believe that you need a Savior.
Believe that you have a Savior in Jesus.
Believe in Jesus for forgiveness and you will have forgiveness.
This is drastically different from any other religious message back then.
And drastically different from any religious message now.
It’s no longer about what you NEED to do for God.
But what Jesus already has done for you.
III. What Now?
This. Is. Our. Message.
We are to share this message that there is life after death, that Jesus is the Messiah who came and brings forgiveness to all who believe in him.
This is our message.
So, what now? Two things:
1. Don’t Change the Teaching
Ever played Telephone? You come up with a phrase, you whisper it into a friend’s ear. Then, they whisper it to the next person. And so on and so forth. Eventually, the message gets to the end of the semi-circle. The last person reveals the message and almost always it is incorrect. Whether it’s accidently or purposefully, the message has been changed. It started out with “My house is the shape of a square” and changed to “My pastor doesn’t have a lot of hair.”
Sometimes that happens with God’s Message. Sometimes we feel like we need it to better.
Maybe we have a friend who hasn’t lived a very good life or a coworker who has been anti God for years. And finally, they reach out to us.
Their marriage blows up in their face.
They receive a dire diagnosis.
They are feeling guilty.
And they ask you for help.
And your response is: “Well…you’re going to have to do better. You’re going to have to try harder. I imagine if you turn your life around, then God might possibly forgive you.”
No. The message has been lost in translation.
Jesus’ message is about grace.
It’s about Him being the Messiah.
It’s about Him accomplishing our salvation.
It’s about forgiveness being totally based on Him.
Teach that message! Not your own.
2. Teach It to ALL Nations
Because that’s where Jesus wanted the message to go. “To all nations.”
Not to the people who look like you.
Not to the people who act like you.
Not to the people who have the same culture as you.
To all nations.
Jesus preached not just to the Pharisees.
He preached not just to the religious leaders.
He preached to the prostitutes.
He preached to the drunkards.
He preached to the homeless.
He preached to the terminally ill.
He preached to the people that no one else thought even deserved a religious message.
Jesus gave them the most incredible message of all time – one that changes life.
One that we are to use to change lives.
The other day I was talking with a friend who was doing Bible study with me. At once point of the Bible study, she revealed her background. She said that she grew up in a “Christian” church. One that taught about Jesus. One that taught about Christianity. One that taught the Bible. One that had crosses all over the church.
But…she didn’t know of forgiveness.
She didn’t know this NEW Message of complete forgiveness.
She knew of how she failed.
She knew of how she had to do better.
She knew of how God threatened wrath if she didn’t do better.
But then…then she heard something different.
She heard of God’s grace.
She heard of her Savior who already came.
She heard of the very real eternal life won by Jesus.
And it transformed her.
Now? No other message will do.
No other message but the incredible NEW message of Jesus. Amen.
People always talk about Easter being a magical time, a wonderful time, a special time, a time unlike any other.
Is it really?
You can color Easter eggs any day of the year. (They look the same in December as they do in mid-April)
You can buy chocolate bunnies any day of the year. (In fact, if you wait till the day after Easter, they cost a lot less.)
You can eat a big breakfast – any day that Waffle House is open.
You can dress up – any day of the year. (Trust me. Go to the mall. Somebody’s having a sale.)
You can even be reunited as a family – gasp - even on a non-holiday.
Here’s the truth:
A lot of the things that we think make Easter special – aren’t really that special.
They aren’t miracles so much as non-miracles.
Does that mean there’s nothing special about Easter?
Today we want to look at the one thing that makes Easter miraculous. A miracle unlike any miracle ever – a NEW kind of miracle. And we want to learn how that MIRACLE is still doing miraculous things in 2018. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. He’s Dead…Really Dead.
Our Easter lesson starts at the house of a woman called Mary.
Not Mary Magdalene.
Not Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
Mary. Mother of James and Joses.
Ever heard of her?
She hadn’t slept much that night. Not much the last couple of nights. The scenes that played out whenever she closed her eyes were too horrifying, too awful, too grotesque:
The repetitive fists connecting to the prisoner’s face.
The visceral shouts of “CRUCIFY HIM!”
The tearing of flesh with the 7 stranded, metal tipped, leather whip. (Being Flogged)
The blood drops popping out of the thorns smashed through his forehead.
And then…the hanging.
The hanging...and the dying.
The mother of James the Less stood up. She walked over to the window. The sun would be up soon. And…she needed to move on. She needed to move on because it wasn’t going to change: Jesus. Was. Dead.
She had seen him die.
She had seen his head drop and his body go limp.
She had seen the soldiers take the limp body off the cross.
She had seen the burial preparations that the make shift morticians had done to his body.
She had even seen the place where the put his body.
She had seen the door to the grave shut – sealing him in death.
Jesus was dead and there’s nothing she could do about it.
Suddenly, she heard a frantic knocking at the door. It was Mary Magdalene. Her hair was ragged. Her eyes were tear stained. Mascara running. She looked a bit…rough.
“Hurry. We’ve gotta get going. We’ve gotta be there for him. We’ve gotta.”
“I know. I know. Just a second. I’m almost ready.”
The mother of James the Less went behind the door and strapped on her sandals.
They were going to Jesus’ tomb.
They going to honor him.
They were going to begin healing from this tragedy.
She shut the door behind her and joined Mary in the streets. At the corner they met up with their friend Salome. She had her arms full – a few bottles of anointment in one arm – spices like balsam, saffron, frankincense and myrrh. “Don’t’ just stand there; help me with a few of these bottles.”
They nodded, grab some of the spices and continued their journey to the early morning graveyard.
The walk there was odd. There wasn’t much to say. There was the occasional sobbing…a few sniffles, and strange attempts at small talk.
“I think I saw a bird.”
“Do you guys thing saffron will taste good on a fish sandwich?”
“My neck is still sore from staring up at that cross.”
But eventually, a good question:
“When we get there, who’s going to move the giant stone for us?”
They hadn’t considered it yet. That stone was a good 500 some pounds. It was large enough to cover the entrance to the tomb. And it had been sealed – with the seal of Pontius Pilate – an extra precaution to ensure that grave robbers didn’t do anything to his body. They could ask the Roman soldiers on guard – another part of that security – but they were rather lazy oafs who didn’t care much about Jewish culture – let alone Jewish burial practices. Unless they had money, they might have to move that stone on their own.
But as they tried to figure out whether or not a bottle of myrrh was a good bargaining chip, they entered the grave yard. Th early morning light shone on something they weren’t expecting:
The stone was gone.
It was no longer at the front of the entrance at least.
It had been rolled away.
Set to the side.
Mary Magdalene panicked.
“What in the world? That’s too much. They torture him. They kill him and now this? Did they take his body and hang it on a pole. I can’t. I can’t…handle.”
Mary Magdalene dropped her bottles to the ground, turned around and ran out of there.
After a moment, Salome looked at the mother of James the Less, “Let’s go,” she said solemnly.
They both walked forward toward the tomb. As they got closer, they noticed a subtle glow coming from inside the tomb – as if the morning light was trapped inside.
They peeked in.
There was no body.
He didn’t look like a criminal.
He wasn’t wearing Roman soldier gear.
He was dressed in white – glowing white.
And he was smiling.
“Do not be afraid. You are looking for Jesus who was dead. He is not here. He has risen—just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
The women stood still for a moment.
Was this an angel? Did they dare go in?
Their curiosity was too much. They entered the tomb and began a frantic search of the area.
The body wasn’t in the grave clothes – they were folded nicely at the top of the stone bed.
And it wasn’t behind the stone.
And it wasn’t under that leaf in the corner.
And there wasn’t any sign of digging anywhere.
In fact, there wasn’t any sign of a struggle.
There wasn’t any blood.
There weren’t any footprints.
The body was gone.
Utterly amazed and slightly stupefied, the women turned to the angel. “Go and tell his disciples. They will see him again.” The angel said.
The mother of James the Less nodded.
Salome did too.
They were trembling.
They began to walk away from the tomb.
The walk turned into a trot.
The trot into a jog.
The jog into a run.
They didn’t stop and tell anyone on the way. No one would believe them anyway. They’d just call them a bunch of crazy women – off their rockers – insane.
They were almost in the clear.
Almost back without talking to anyone until…
A man…from behind a nearby bush.
The women stumbled.
And said, “Greetings.”
It was a voice they heard before.
They looked up to see who it was.
It was Jesus.
II. A Miracle Unlike Any Other.
That my friend is the true story of the resurrection.
That my friends is what makes Easter unlike any other holiday in history.
That is what makes today’s celebration miraculous.
Because – the miracle that occurred on that Sunday morning was unlike any miracle ever…
1. Jesus Did the Impossible…
To be fair – Jesus had done the impossible before. He had made blind people see. He had caused the deaf to hear and the lame to walk.
But death is much more than that.
Your eyes don’t work.
Your ears don’t work.
Your legs don’t work.
Your heart doesn’t work.
Your lungs don’t work.
Your body doesn’t work.
And…nowadays…we have some incredible advances in science.
We can use defibrillators to shock a heartbeat that has stopped back to beating again – as long as it’s only a been 2 minutes or less.
We can hook people up to breathing machines that pump air in the lungs electronically.
We can have people’s blood come out of the body and back into the body through a machine that is doing the job of a nonfunctioning liver.
We can keep organs moving and working – when there isn’t any brain activity – and we aren’t exactly sure if someone is dead or not.
He had been dead for over 36 hours.
His body would already have been decaying.
No amount of chest compressions.
No amount of defibrillator shocks.
No amount of forced air from an iron lung could do anything to help him.
He came back to life.
He did the impossible.
2. …In a State in which It is Impossible to do Anything…
A few weeks ago, someone hit a racoon near my house. It was out on the street squished to the ground. Kinda gross. And over the next couples of days I saw it on the road as I drive to and from work.
Do you know what I saw happen?
The racoon did absolutely nothing. Because it was dead.
And dead things do nothing.
He was dead.
And he did the one thing impossible for any human to do while they were living.
Combine those two facts.
It isn’t like he lifted his finger.
He didn’t wiggle a toe.
He didn’t start whistling.
While he was a in a state in which it was impossible to do anything, he did the impossible!
The dead guy brought himself back to life!
But that’s just the beginning…
3. …As a Visual Proof of the Impossible Invisible Truth
1 Corinthians 15:22 says this, “As in Adam all die.” That’s a refence to the very first human being. A guy named “Adam” which literally means, “Man.” Adam was made perfect. Adam was made without sin. Adam was made not to die.
But then…he chose to sin.
He was no longer holy.
He was the opposite of good --
He was evil.
And as a result – people were going to die.
If you think it’s harsh that God would punish them with death, then you don’t understand holiness.
Imagine if a judge fined you for going 10 mph over the speed limit, but then didn’t fine the guy after you for going 15mph over. That’d be unjust. That’d be unfair. That’d be an unjust in support of wrong.
If a good God is like, “That bad isn’t so bad. I’ll let it be.”
Suddenly, he’s not a good God.
He’s tolerating evil.
He’s an evil God.
God can’t be in support of wrong.
He can only be against it.
That’s why Adam had to be doomed to death.
But here’s where it gets really sad. Because Adam and his wife passed the bad down to their children. It’s kind of like genetics. In genetics, you pass on your hair color to your children. You pass on freckles. My dad passed on my receding hairline and I look forward to one day passing it on to my son.
Adam? He passed on his sinfulness.
He and his wife were sinful humans who gave birth to sinful humans.
Those sinful humans grew up and gave birth to more sinful humans.
Until…eventually…you and me.
Sinful humans doomed to death.
Maybe you know that.
Whether it’s cancer.
Whether it’s old age.
Whether it’s losing a child.
Whether it’s a freak car accident.
Whether it’s terrorism or mass shootings.
You know our world is filled with death.
And eventually…it will come to you and me.
It’s impossible to get away from!
But “As in Adam all die, in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22b)
Jesus is different than Adam.
He was born of God who is holy, not Adam who is unholy.
He lived perfectly.
He was good.
He did not deserve death.
Allow me to explain with a simple kitchen sponge. Do you all own one of these? (Most are nodding heads – a few single guys are like – What’s a sponge and what is it for?) A sponge soaks up dirt. It soaks up grime. If you spill orange juice, a sponge soaks up the orange juice off of the counter and removes it from the counter. It soaks up the coffee from the coffee table and removes it from the coffee table. It soaks up the failed science experiment of red food dye, baking soda and lemon juice and removes from the science table.
Before use – the table is dirty; the sponge is clean.
After us – the sponge is dirty; the table is clean.
And that’s what Jesus did for us.
He soaked up our sins on his body.
He took them on himself.
He soaked up our greed, our lusts, our selfishness, our gossip, our gross sinful failures – even the ones that stain our hearts deeply.
He became dirty and left us clean.
And since he was dirty – that’s why he died.
It’s what happens to any dirty, disgusting sponge, it gets thrown away.
God the Father threw Jesus onto across and into a tomb.
You are now without a stain.
You are clean because of Him.
In other words – God forgave you.
Which sounds awesome. But hard to believe.
Because you can’t see sins evaporating into thin air.
Nobody has a halo around their head this morning.
The fact is we still sin.
How do we know Jesus cleaned us?
Because the very thing that caused Jesus to die – our sins – no longer kept him dead.
Jesus rose; he left your sins in the tomb.
Jesus annihilated your sins.
Jesus destroyed your guilt.
Jesus killed death.
And that’s what this passage is saying, “In Christ all are made alive.”
Now we are no longer born of sinful Adam, but of sinless Christ.
We are no longer born of unholy Adam, but of holy God.
We are no longer born of destined to die, but destined to live Jesus Christ.
THIS IS WHAT MAKES EASTER SPECIAL:
Jesus did the impossible while in a state by which it is impossible to do anything as proof that the invisibly impossible had been done.
This is a message for you. Believe.
Believe that Jesus died.
Believe that Jesus rose.
Believe that Jesus has done the invisibly impossible and cleaned you from all of your sins.
That’s what In Christ means. It means believers in Christ. Unbelief means rejecting his work, running into the empty tomb, grabbing those dirty sponges of yucky sins and saying, “I prefer to live in filth.”
Yuck. Condemnation is deserved.
But belief in Jesus means trusting that he has cleansed us from our sins.
It means trusting in his forgiveness.
It means trusting that because of Him, you will live.
No matter who you are.
Because the women in the story today are the first two to see Jesus’ empty tomb. Did you remember their names? It’s Salome – a woman that’s only mentioned during this resurrection time period and Mary the mother of James the Less. A woman known simply for being a mother.
It’s not Peter.
It’s not John.
It’s not Pontius Pilate or one of the Pharisees.
It’s not even Mary Magdalene.
It’s two seemingly insignificant players in the story of Jesus’ life whose only appearance is on that weekend.
You might feel like a Mary, the mother of James the Less.
You might feel like a Salome.
You might feel not all that important, not all that godly, and not all that much like God could care about you.
But he does.
He lived for you.
He died for you.
He cleaned you.
He rose for you to prove it.
That’s the miracle of Easter.
A miracle unlike any other.
A miracle that still works the miracle of faith today. Amen.
MERCY. We want to learn (1) just how deep Jesus’ mercy is (2) how deep God wants our mercy to be. 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. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
It was all he had ever known. Darkness.
He was blind. His eyes opened. Light touched his pupils, but…no reception.
The beautiful reds of the rose bush? Darkness.
The incredible blues of the sky? Also, darkness
The warm smile of his mother? Darkness yet again.
It was lonely.
And he spent a lot of time to himself because he had never been able to get a job. He had tried his best, but…the problem was always the same.
Where to plant the seeds? Darkness.
Where to hammer the nails? Darkness.
Where the sugar was that he needed for the sweet bread? Darkness.
He couldn’t get a job.
He sat on the side of the road.
In the dirt.
In the mud.
And people treated him like they treat beggars:
“What a good for nothing.”
“Why doesn’t he get a job?”
“Oh, honey, get over here. Don’t go near that man, who knows when he last had a bath.”
He heard, and he ignored. Not because it didn’t hurt (it did), but because he needed to! If he wasn’t begging as people passed by, he might miss the handout from the 1 out of every 500 people that was willing to help.
It’s who he was.
A blind beggar.
A non-descript blind beggar that everyone knew as a non-description blind beggar.
It was a rotten life.
But on this day, he forgot all that. The conversation that he listened to in order to entertain himself on the side of the road was interesting:
“I heard that he’s on his way here.”
“Jesus? Really? Here? I wonder if he’ll do any miracles.”
“Yeah. I hope so. I heard he made a lame guy walk and a sick woman well…and a blind man…to be able to see.”
A bit later the noise became a bit louder…A murmur, the kind of commotion that sounds like a crowd, but most wouldn’t be able to distinguish voices from each other.
Not the blind man.
He heard a young lad shout: “Jesus is this way!”
He heard his mom reply, “Wait up and stay out of his way.”
He heard another gentleman shout, “Hail Jesus! Hail to the Savior.”
He heard a low grumble from off to the left, “I hope this good for nothing keeps his mouth shut. He’s no Pharisee and we’re sick of having him alive.”
And then…off in the distance…
Up on the road…
He heard HIS voice.
It was authoritative.
It was clear.
It was filled with loved.
And it seemed to be speaking directly to him.
“Repent and seek God’s mercy!”
Suddenly, without warning, the blind beggar found his voice uttering something that he had not uttered ever before: HOPE.
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (v.38)
He repeated it:
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
He shouted even louder:
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
And soon, he got a reaction. Just not from Jesus.
“Shut up! You. Beggar. Be quiet. Jesus is way too busy. He’s way too important. He doesn’t have time for you. You don’t deserve his attention.”
The beggar listened to them. He nodded. He agreed. He didn’t deserve it, but…that’s why he was shouting: “JESUS! SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME!!!”
It continued: “Have mercy!” “Be Quiet.” “Have mercy!” “Be quiet.” “Have Mercy!” “Be Quiet.”
Until… a hush came over the crowd, as if someone had motioned for silence. Then, that voice—the authoritative, merciful one “Bring him over to me.” (v.40)
He heard a group of men running toward them. Feet hitting the dirt. Lungs panting. Voices uttering, “Quiet you! Look what you’ve done. You’re gonna get it.” As they grabbed him under the shoulders and dragged him aside.
They threw him on the ground.
He looked up – nothing but black.
“What do you want me to do for you” the voice asked. (v.41)
The blind man took a deep breath. As he did, he heard the voices chuckling in the background.
“How about a bath?”
But he ignored them.
He had hope.
He had hope in Jesus’ mercy.
“Lord, I want my sight.”
The man listened.
He heard the wind rustling the leaves.
He heard the tweet of a bird.
He heard his own heart beating abnormally fast.
Then he heard the voice:
“Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” (v.42)
And…before the man could hear the “u” in “you.” A flash of color– greens of trees, blues of sky and the white of his Savior’s merciful eyes.
He could see.
Jesus had mercy.
II. The Deep Need for Mercy
Have you ever cried out to God like this man? Have you ever cried out loud and with such reckless abandon that you don’t care who hears you?
Think about it – This man was willing to make a fool of himself!
Why? I’ll submit that he didn’t have anything to lose. He knew his situation was dire. He knew that he could never heal himself from blindness. He knew that he had nothing to offer Jesus in exchange for this miracle.
The only thing he had was a deep understanding of his own need for mercy.
QUESTION: How well do you understand your need for mercy?
The apostle Paul recorded this truth about the human heart in Romans 3. “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
The thing is we tend to see this passage and say: “That’s right! The world is a disaster. The politicians are a disaster. The people who do thing are a disaster. Our world is a slimy pit filled with scumbags. Yes, Bible. You’re right. There is no one good, not even one.”
But…did I miss something?
Are you a robot?
Some kind of alien?
Are you human?
Then this passage is talking about you.
To say otherwise is like the little boy whose mom comes in and sees that her chocolate cookie is missing. She looks at him and he smiles with big chocolatey teeth, chocolate stained hands and a breath that smells like the Hershey’s factory. Yet when she asks, did you eat the cookie – he says, “NO!”
To say you are not a sinner is foolish.
Which means – we fit into this passage and we are in deep need of mercy. Let me read it again. I’ll change a word. “You are not righteous, not even a bit. You don’t understand. You don’t seek God. You have turned away, you have become worthless, you have not done good, not even a bit!” (Romans 3)
But pastor. That’s not me.
I’m not a drug dealer.
I’m not a lying, good for nothing politician.
I’ve not been convicted of rape and I don’t have a terrorist bone in my body!
But…you are a sinner, right?
And God is holy, right?
And holiness can have nothing to do with sin, right?
Then, how will a holy, sin hating, sin despising God let you into his kingdom?
Your sin not that bad?
Be less sinful than the other sinners?
Give him some money?
The only way you enter God’s kingdom,
The only way you have forgiveness,
The only way you get to heaven, have eternal life and can have peace with God…
…is if Jesus has mercy.
Son of David, have mercy on us!
The only thing more impressive than the blind beggar’s confidence, is his confidence that Jesus will provide mercy.
And you can be just as confident.
Because Jesus does provide mercy.
In fact, he already did.
Because, right before the events of the blind beggar, do you know what Jesus tells his disciples? He tells them this:
We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. (v.31-33)
That sounds terrible.
That sounds awful.
That sounds like it should be avoided.
You want to know what Jesus did? He went to Jerusalem!
He was delivered to the hands of Gentiles, mocked, insulated, spat upon, flogged and killed.
Why? “He saved us…because of his mercy.” (Titus 3:5)
Because he heard your cry. In the sea of the millions of billions of people throughout time and on this planet – He heard your voice and acted.
He had mercy.
He lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
Fellow believers, you needed mercy and he gave it to you. It’s yours.
And unbelievers – don’t think that – because I didn’t realize my need for mercy until now – I can’t have it. Wrong. Jesus already had mercy and died for you. Trust in him and his mercy is yours.
And then – you will see.
You will see your Savior.
Your will see forgiveness.
Your will see your place God’s kingdom.
III. What Now
(1) Never Forget your Need for Mercy
I can’t imagine that the blind beggar did. Each day he could wake up, open his eyes, and smile. He could see! I’m sure it made him very thankful and very humble.
We can’t forget our need either. Because it’s easy, after you’ve been a believer for a long time…even a couple of weeks. The devil does this thing where he makes you think you don’t need mercy as much as you used to…
Now, you’ve been to church for a couple of months.
Now you’ve been serving in church.
Now there have been like 50 people who have joined church since you did so…you don’t need mercy as much as they do.
We are still sinners.
We still have a deep need for God’s mercy.
We will always have a deep need for God’s mercy.
Take a moment each day. Start with a prayer. Look humbly at your life. Confess your sins. Consider your need for mercy. Ask God for mercy and praise him that you have received it in Jesus Christ your Savior.
This keeps you from thinking you don’t need mercy.
This keeps you from running away from the very mercy that you so desperately need.
(2) Be Merciful
Briefly think about the disciples in this section – They tried to stop the blind beggar from meeting with Jesus. They figured that the man didn’t deserve time with Jesus.
But what they had forgotten is that they didn’t deserve it either.
And that’s the point.
Jesus’ mercy is always undeserved.
If you have it, it’s underserved.
If you are considering sharing it, don’t look for deserving individuals – the only one you’ll find is Jesus – and he doesn’t need it!
Share his mercy with the undeserved.
In other words – share it with people.
Do this right now:
Think about people that you know.
Think about the biggest sinners.
The ones that upset you most.
The ones that have repeatedly ignored your requests to come to God.
The ones that you think don’t deserve God’s mercy.
Got them in your minds?
Here’s what God wants you to do – God wants you to have mercy.
Here’s one way to have mercy:
Take an invite card.
Share the message of Jesus with them.
Invite them to Easter.
Have mercy by inviting them to hear the message of mercy – this Easter.
Because that’s what disciples do.
We share God’s undeserved mercy with the undeserving of mercy because we have received his undeserved mercy. PRAISE GOD!
May God have mercy and bless our outreach of mercy. Amen.
Guest preacher, Pastor Doug Lange shares with us a message about Judas - that we're more like him than we want to admit to. We may not formally betray someone, but every time we sin, we betray Jesus. Thankfully, Jesus never betrays us and in Him (only Him) is there forgiveness and peace from our sins.
Tonight, we take a closer look at Judas. What comes to mind when you hear the name Judas? Betrayer? Thief? Good for nothing backstabber? Knowing what we know about Judas and what he did, these names seem to fit well. But was this always the case? Remember, Judas was chosen by Jesus to be one of those twelve disciples. These were guys who had the privilege of being in Jesus’ inner circle. They talked with him and witnessed all of the miracles he performed. Jesus led them, guided them and trained them.
Outwardly, Judas seemed to be just one of the twelve, but inwardly there was a problem. His greedy heart had turned cold to Jesus’ true mission. As it became more and more apparent that Jesus never intended to establish a kingdom on earth that Judas would benefit from, he turned away from Jesus. As Jesus talked about suffering and death, Judas saw the writing on the wall. He began to plan how he could salvage something from what he thought was a dead-end street.
From that point on, Judas’ spiritual life went downhill. He stole from the small treasury the disciples had. He got angry when a woman showed her love for Jesus by pouring expensive perfume on his feet. Finally, he willingly assisted in the murderous plot of Jesus’ enemies and betrayed Jesus for the going rate one would pay for a slave, a messily 30 coins. Judas had plunged head first into the depths of hell itself. Luke tells us, “Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. 4 And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5 They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 6 He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.”
As you know, Judas never got to enjoy that money. Tormented by what he had done, he tried to return it. However, he refused to look to Jesus for help and forgiveness. Sadly, hell had claimed Judas and even before Jesus was crucified for his sins, he plunged into eternity at the end of a rope.
What a tragic end to this one-time disciple of Jesus! Jesus offered Judas everything: friendship, a place among the twelve, forgiveness of sins and a place in God’s family forever. Even when he came to betray Jesus in the Garden, Jesus reached out to him one more time to reclaim him as his child. Sadly, Judas plugged his ears and closed his heart to Jesus’ offer of forgiveness and life.
As we consider the story of Judas, maybe we wonder, why? Didn’t Jesus know what Judas would become? Why would Jesus have chosen Judas, the greedy thief and potential traitor and welcome him into his midst? Our answer is Jesus’ love. Jesus came to save sinners. That included Judas, you and me.
You see, we have more in common with Judas than we want to admit. When we listen to these Bible stories about Jesus’ followers, we don’t mind being compared to Peter, the bold one, or Matthew, the grateful to be forgiven tax collector. But Judas? No way, we are not like him!
Yet, haven’t we, too, acted just like him? How often don’t we let our selfish ambitions get the better of us? How often don’t we seek the things of the world as he did? Like Judas, we are by nature sinful, and, as sinners, we all too often fix our eyes on our own earthly welfare. Truth be told, every time we sin we are really no different than Judas. Every selfish action we take, every dirty thought we have, every cutting word spoken to another, every time we neglect his words and do our own thing, we betray our Savior and deserve only his punishment now and forever. Because of our sins, Jesus should damn us right here and now!
Yet, by God’s grace this is where you and I differ from Judas. Jesus searched out Judas to the very end. He offered him forgiveness. Judas didn’t have to kill himself in despair and unbelief. But he did because he refused what Jesus came to do for him.
If you have made a mess of your life and want to know if Jesus still loves you, look to his cross and know he does. When you are confronted with your own sins and see how they have betrayed, Jesus don’t run away from him in despair as Judas. Instead, look at your Savior. See him suffering for you. Look at the cross and see how far he was willing to go to forgive you all your sins. Then listen to your Savior who has searched you out and found you say, “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine!” Amen.
1. The Story
Even if all fall away – I will not! (Mk. 14:29)
Peter’s own words echoed in his thoughts – a type of orchestral accompaniment to the crackling of the courtyard fire. He rubs his hands together. It was cold, and it was late. But he had to be here. He said that he would.
Yes – hours ago he had fled.
Yes – hours ago he had run away.
But there were swords.
There were clubs.
There were torches.
Those men were ready to kill them all!
That’s why he ran.
But…it was just a momentary thing. He was surprised that’s all. Now he was in it for the long haul. Now he would stay put. Now he would be at Jesus’ side – no matter what happens.
TAP, TAP, TAP
Peter turned in a fright – fists up, ready to fight. “Who are you?” His eyes were at 6-foot level – expecting a big, muscular, tattooed Roman killing machine.
Instead, he had to look down.
It was a teenage girl. 13? 14? She was a servant in this courtyard. Carrying nothing more than a few towels that were folded nicely and needed in the priests’ courtroom for tomorrow morning.
“Excuse me sir…You…you also were with that Nazarene, Jesus.” (v.67)
Peter’s mind started racing. “Tell her that yes you are. Tell her that you are his disciple. Tell her what you told Jesus that you’ll stand with him until the end. Tell her that…”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” (v.68)
The girl looked him up and down one more time. Furled her brow and shrugged before she walked away.
Phew! That was close. She could have told soldiers and I could be on death trial too…but no, no, no! That was wrong. That’s not what I wanted to do. That’s not what I wanted to say. That’s not what I told Jesus I would do.
Peter shook his head as he backed away from the fire. He moved to an archway where it was darker. He could regroup. He could relax. He could – hide his face from being recognized again.
A few minutes later the same servant girl walked by again. She walked past…and then backtracked to tell a few other servants. “This fellow is one of them...I’m sure of it.” (v. 69)
Yep! She’s right. I just have to tell the truth. I just have to stand up for my Savior. I just have to do what I’d said – it’s my chance to make things right. It’s my chance to say “YES!” To say “Yes, I know him! Yes, I follow him! Yes, I am with him!”
After a moment of pumping himself up, Peter interrupted their conversation:
“No, I don’t know him. No, I don’t follow him. No, I am not with this Jesus guy.”
O-kay…the girl replied and moved along with her friends. Peter retreated to the corner. She could have ruined everything. She could have gotten me killed. Why does she care whom I am with anyways?
Because you’re with someone incredible!
You’re with a man who makes the blind see.
You’re with a man who makes the deaf hear.
You’re with a man who healed your own mother-in-law!
You’re with a man who helped you walk on water.
You’re with the man you identified as the Messiah.
Stop disowning him. Start owning him!
Meanwhile, Peter’s inner dialogue was interrupted. The people who had overheard the servant girl’s accusations were whispering amongst themselves:
I think he is.
I think I saw him at the palm celebration earlier this week.
Yeah – and he’s got an accent.
A Galilean one.
Like – one who would follow Jesus of Galilee.
Peter turned his face around and pretended to be fiddling with a mark on the stone wall.
“Excuse me, sir. But we think the girl was right. Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” (v.70b)
Peter took a deep breath.
This was it. This was his chance. This was his chance for redemption. A chance to stand by the man who stood by him.
Because Jesus never denied him. Not before he knew him – when he was a cold-hearted sinner – a foul mouthed, lust filled, apathetic about religion fishermen – Jesus didn’t disown him, but owned him.
And when he messed up, when he said stupid things, when he spoke out of turn and…sinned.
Jesus didn’t leave him.
He called him his own.
He called him his disciple.
He called him – his brother.
Now it was time to call Jesus – “his”.
Peter took a deep breath and spoke…
“In the name of heaven above, I swear to you as God is my witness that I don’t know this man you’re talking about! Leave me alone. I don’t know him. I’m not his disciple. I’m not his brother. I’m not a part of his followers. I know nothing about him! For all I know and care – he’s a criminal and he deserves the death sentence that he’s gonna get. Just leave me alone.” (v.71)
Cock-a-doodle-doo! --- Peter’s soliloquy was interrupted by a barnyard alarm clock.
And instantly, he remembered Jesus’ prediction: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” (v.72)
And the crowd – backed up. “Okay. Okay dude. Whatever you say.”
Then, they left him.
And Peter was alone.
Alone…with his thoughts.
Alone…with his guilt.
Alone…just like he said.
And he broke down and wept. (v.72)
2. The Lesson
There may not be in a story in the Bible that is more human.
That is more unimpressive.
That is more…
Because I love Jesus!
I love that he’s my Savior.
I love that he’s my God.
I love that he died on the cross for me…
And I here in worship and in front of all of you, I promise I will love him, always stand for him and never deny him.
Away from worship.
Away from a crowd of Christians.
In the real world.
I see them coming.
Not torches and swords.
Angry commenters on blogs.
Disapproving looks at Starbucks.
“You’ve been blocked,” messages from former Facebook friends.
And out come the denials:
“Me? For work? I’m just a teacher – about stuff.”
“And yes…I’m’ a Christian, but not one of those. I don’t believe all those things that crazy Christians do.”
“Yes, I know Jesus said that was a sin, but he didn’t mean it. And I don’t believe it.”
And then, the guilt.
I just denied my Savior.
I just denied my ticket to eternity.
I just denied my best friend.
But that’s not the end of the story.
Because the story doesn’t end with Peter’s denial of Jesus.
The story ends with Jesus’ non-denial of Peter, the denier.
The story ends with Jesus’ non-denial of Phil, the denier.
The story ends with Jesus’ non-denial of (insert your name here), the denier.
Because Jesus could have said “I’m not dying for that dude.”
He could have said, “You aren’t my follower? Good then I’ll just go back to heaven.”
He could have said, “My words aren’t important – then I won’t pronounce you forgiven.”
But he didn’t.
He went to the cross.
He suffered for your sake.
He died in order to save you.
And now – in spite of our past denials – in spite of our past sins – Jesus does not deny you.
“This…this is my brother.”
“She? She is my sister.”
“He is my dear friend.”
“She is family.”
Jesus doesn’t deny deniers of days past; he declares disassociation of God’s denial with his drastic death.
In other words:
He forgives you.
3. What Now?
Claim him as your Savior.
Claim him as your leader.
Claim him as your brother, your Messiah, your friend.
Claim him to your family.
Claim him to your friends.
Claim him to that guy on Facebook whom you will never see again.
Claim the one who did not deny you.
Claim the one who will never deny you.
Claim the one who cannot deny you – because he’s written your name into the book of life itself.
To God be the glory! Amen.
I like campfires. They are mesmerizing. It’s fun to sit around and chat. Who doesn’t love a good smore? But one thing I don’t love is getting smoke in my eyes. (You?) And…well…I’m kind of a wimp so I will get to complaining to Julianna: “There’s smoke in my eyes. I don’t like it.” And she’ll say: “Back up a bit.” Because they reality is that the closer you are to the campfire, the more smoke you’ll get in your eyes for no other reason than proximity.
The same is true with people. The closer you are to them the more of their sin you get on you. It’s why I tell couples when they are about to get married that the reality is their spouse is going to be one of the people that they sin against most in their lifetime. Not because they like them least, but because of sheer proximity.
That’s a fairly negative perspective on family.
But with God’s help we can turn it into a positive.
Today we will apply a Biblical teaching to teach us the importance of forgiveness in a household. Before we do, join me in prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the 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 Story of Joseph
Our lesson starts with a very large family in the book of Genesis. There’s a dad named Jacob and he has (count them) 12 sons. Joseph is the youngest. Joseph has dreams of one day being very important. Joseph regularly tells his brothers about these dreams and Joseph gets away with it; because Joseph is also his dad’s favorite.
In fact, Jacob had a tendency to make his favoritism a bit obvious. For instance, he once bought Joseph a very special multicolored coat. That’s different than the normal clothing of the day. Usually people wore browns and greys—and that’s what the other sons wore. But Jacob loved Joseph that much. He got him the fancy colored coat – Problem? He didn’t do that for any of his other sons. (That’d be like going to Giorgio Armani suit for one child and gifting all the other kids a few things from the clearance rack at Goodwill.)
Guess what? The other brothers were jealous. So jealous that one day as they were tending the flocks in the field – they see Joseph approaching and made a plan:
Here comes that dreamer! Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him! (Genesis 3:19)
But cooler heads prevail.
They decide not to kill him.
That wouldn’t be very brotherly.
Instead, they jump him, throw him in the pit, sell him as a slave, and tell dad some animal killed him.
Fast forward twenty something years. There is a severe famine in the land. It’s been going on for years. The ten brothers are sent from their homeland to Egypt. Because in Egypt, there’s a young ruler who anticipated the food shortage and has been collecting food in storage bins for 7 years. As a result, he has been able to carefully and appropriately ration out the food to all of Egypt.
The brothers get there.
They bring plenty of silver along with them.
And they bow before the sight of this ruler.
And the ruler seems – oddly familiar. They can’t quite place their finger on it. But it’s like they’ve seen him from somewhere.
A former neighbor? A former classmate?
Did he used to play on the rec league softball team? No.
It’s only after he provides all the food necessary for them, gives them their money back, makes the odd command that they bring their youngest brother back here next time they need food – that the ruler reveals who he is.
The brother that they left for dead.
And he hugs them and is excited to speak with them and cries over them and asks them to bring their father to Egypt so that he can see him and promises to provide them a place to live and gives plenty of food to be taken care of.
And the brothers are in shock…but they oblige.
And things go well.
And Joseph seems happy.
And everything seems cool.
But then, their dad dies.
And the brothers get extremely nervous.
Because they figure, the only reason that Joseph hasn’t gotten revenge on them yet is because of their father. With him out of the way, Joseph can have them ambushed, thrown into a pit and sold as slaves.
Revenge is coming.
So, they get together and concoct a letter. (It’ s the Old Testament version of an apology text.) “Joseph, your father left these instructions before he died; ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph. I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgives the sins of the servants of the God of your Father.” (50:17)
And for good measure they follow up the letter by coming to Joseph’s throne room and throwing themselves at his feet.
He doesn’t whip them.
He doesn’t have them thrown into prison.
He doesn’t start laughing an evil villain laugh.
“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Don’t be afraid; I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (50:19-21)
In other words -- he forgave them.
They mobbed him, beat him, threw him in a pit, sold him into slavery and banished him from his father for over 20 years!
And he forgave them.
Simple as that.
II. Why Forgive?
You might not have been mobbed by your 10 brothers and sold into slavery but…perhaps you can relate to Joseph. Maybe your family has hurt you…badly.
You screen their phone calls.
You give your spouse the cold shoulder.
You don’t want to be at the family reunion that they are at.
To be fair, the hurt can be real. Whether it’s awful words, sexual infidelity, repeated lies, stealing money or verbal abuse…
It hurts deep.
Yet the story of Joseph teaches us to forgive. Here are three reasons:
1. You aren’t God
This was Joseph’s first reason for not getting revenge on his brothers. Even though he was second in command of all of Egypt – and anything he told those Egyptian soldiers to do, they would do – without any questions asked or moral judgment given.
Yet Joseph says this, “Am I God?” I may be second in command of Egypt, but God is first in command of everything. I’m in charge of handing out food to all the surrounding regions, but I’m not in charge of handing out divine judgment. My realm is food; God’s realm is judgment.
Joseph didn’t seek revenge because Joseph wasn’t God.
What about you?
Are you God?
I didn’t want to be assumptive and assume that any of you weren’t God so I’ve developed a bit of a quiz that will help you determine if you are in fact God. Pay attention and I want you to mark a brief tally mark any time the answer to the question is yes.
Do you know where the lightning bolts are stored and can you hurl one without getting electrocuted?
Can you control the paths of hurricanes as they head towards the U.S.?
Can you turn all of the rain drops into Snickers bars by snapping your fingers?
Do your list of accomplishments include creating the universes, saving humanity, and holding the planets in orbit?
Can you blow me over simply by waving your hands like this at me right now…Go ahead. Try it. I’ll wait.
If you didn’t answer “yes” to all of those questions, guess what? You aren’t God.
That means you aren’t in charge of divine retribution for sin.
2. God Commanded You to Forgive
The brothers had a point when they approached Joseph with their mercy plea. They said, “Your father left these instructions…forgive your brothers.” (v.16) Now whether their biological dad Jacob did or not…I don’t know. But the reality is that Joseph’s father did demand forgiveness.
In fact, Matthew 18:35 says this, “Forgive from the heart.” That’s Jesus talking. Jesus, who made the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame walk. Jesus who stopped storms, walked on water and raised the dead. Jesus who was and is God.
God commanded you to forgive from the heart.
Which means – if you don’t forgive, it’s not just their sin that we’re talking about anymore.
Suddenly, it’s yours.
Yes, the sins that they did to you might be big, might hurt a lot, might hurt a lot, a lot, a lot.
But there’s no caveat here. God requires his people to forgive.
Which is hard.
It’s hard to forgive someone from the heart when your heart is filled with so much hurt.
That’s why it’s so important to remember the third reason to forgive:
3. Forgive because God Forgave You
Jesus tells the following story:
There was a man who borrowed money from his C.E.O. He owed him over one million dollars. When the time came from him to pay off his debt, the C.E.O. called him into the office and asked for the money. He didn’t have it. So, the C.E.O. threatened to charge him with fraud which would land him in jail. The man threw himself on the floor in a pitiful display of begging: “I don’t have the money. Not now. But I can work it off. I promise. I’ll do anything. Just don’t put me in prison. Have mercy.”
And the C.E.O. did.
Not by extending the due date.
Not by setting up a payment plan.
But by erasing the debt – all 1 million dollars of it.
Later that day he went down to the pub to celebrate. While he was there he found a fellow employee who stilled owed him a couple hundred of dollars from a loan he gave him to pay his rent a few months back.
The guy walks over. He pins him to the wall. He holds him by the throat and demands his money back.
His friend says he doesn’t have it. He begs for mercy. He begs for forgiveness.
But the man doesn’t relent. Not having that couple hundred dollars hurts. And he must have it back!
A couple of his coworkers watch this take place. A few of them record it on their smart phones. They message it to their boss.
The next day – the C.E.O. calls him in. “How dare you! Didn’t I forgive you a million bucks? Yet you won’t forgive this guy for much less? Guess what. The paperwork isn’t finalized. You still owe me my money. I’ll see you in court.”
In other words.
God forgave you.
Won’t you forgive others?
Because the reality is no matter how much someone has sinned against you, it fails miserably in comparison to how much you have sinned against God.
Because a small percentage (5%) of sins that your family has done has been against you.
But every sin that you have done has been against God.
Jesus Christ lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
Jesus Christ died innocently in your place.
Jesus Christ rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins.
God promises –through faith in Jesus, you are forgiven.
Nothing left to pay.
No revenge left to be had.
No grudges by God being held.
If God doesn’t hold a grudge against you for any of your millions of sins against him, why hold a grudge against…anyone?
Forgive as in Christ God has forgiven you.
III. What Now?
When it comes to forgiveness and applying it, the Bible has some wisdom.
1. Look at God (not at the sin)
I remember a while back there was a Facebook post that someone wrote in response to a devotional thought I had which essentially called me a big MORON for believing in Jesus. It bugged me. I kept looking it up to see if they changed their mind or decided to write something nice. Nope. They just continued to be mean. And guess what! Every time I looked at it…I only got madder!
Sometimes that’s how we approach this forgiveness thing. We spend minutes, hours, weeks, years…thinking about what that person did wrong to us and guess what – we only get madder!
Stop looking at the sin.
Start looking at your God.
That’s what Joseph did! He saw God’s hand in what happened. He saw God’s love. He saw God’s forgiveness. So, he forgave his brothers.
If you need help with forgiveness, focus on the cross.
You’ll stop seeing the sin;
And start seeing your Savior.
And once you see your Savior, then you’ll see the good.
2. See the Good in the Situation
Joseph did just that. He saw the sin – but he also saw God’s hand in using that sinful situation for good. If he hadn’t been thrown into slavery, the chain of events never would have been started that eventually led to his position as second in command which allowed him to save up food for thousands and save thousands of lives!
With God in your line of sight, rather than sin – suddenly you will see the good. Granted that good might not be a position second in command to the President of the United States. But there will still be good.
“They sinned against me and I had to turn to the Bible and lean on God’s forgiveness and God grew my faith. Thanks God.”
Or “He sinned against me and I have the awesome opportunity to show my spouse the kind of love Jesus has for me.”
See the good.
See the opportunity.
See the opportunity to show God which is good.
And as a result? Joseph and his brothers live in peace. A God empowered peace – but an awesome peace of forgiveness.
May God work the same forgiveness in your hearts and in your families – may you live in peace. Amen.
Sometimes humans don’t know when to quit.
You ever played UNCLE? If you’re a guy, chances are good. To play uncle – you put your friend in some kind of submission lock in order to get them to say “UNCLE.” Could be a noogie, a headlock or maybe a pinkie lock – something that eventually will cause your friend to give up.
I remember one time in high school – a friend put me in a head lock -- with his legs. And it hurt. He kept saying, “Say uncle. Say uncle.”
For a minute.
For ten minutes.
For like half an hour. (Which is a real long time to have your skull pressed between two thighs.)
And it hurt. And I was a sweaty mess. And I was tired.
But I didn’t say UNCLE!
Sometimes humans don’t know when to quit. But when it comes to God, we better know.
Today we are continuing our series on the book of Joshua. This will be interesting because we will be looking at the conquest of the Promised Land from the perspective of the Canaanites. As the Israelites get ready to attack, we will get a glimpse about how the people in Canaan were reacting to the impending invasion – particularly in 2 ways – fight or forfeit. Our goal is to examine both of those reactions and see which one is the reaction God wants. (It might not be the reaction you expect.)
Before we do, let’s say a prayer – O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is the 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 Story
Our lesson this morning comes from Joshua 2. It takes place right after Joshua and those leaders start gathering forces together for the invasion. Subsequently, a few members go to do some special ops for Joshua. It says, Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.
A couple things to note:
Shittim (Shi-team) is an area just to the east of the Jordan river. It was not in the Promised Land. That was where the Israelites were camping out.
Jericho was in the promised land. In fact, it was the closest metropolis – near to where he Israelites were located. It was a place that had a booming population. It was also well known for its giant stone wall.
And finally, when the spies get there – they stay at the house of a prostitute named Rahab. I really wish that we knew how exactly this happened. Since it’s not written, there could be a lot of ways. Here’s a possible scenario:
The spies enter the city – wearing head coverings and keeping their heads low. (They even have fake moustaches.) They walk through the streets making note of the wall’s height, looking for weaknesses and counting the guards. As evening arrives, they make their way to the local pub, order a couple of pints and sit down in the corner to discuss strategy.
But they don’t go unnoticed. At a table close by, is a group of soldiers. One of them with a blue sash indicating his status as a captain. They keep looking over at them. Did they know? In fact, I think I saw one of them point? Should we get out of here/ --- Nah, play it cool. Play it cool.
And then as they shakily bring up a lager to their lips – the group of men get up. They begin walking in their direction. Slowly, methodically, from across the bar. One of the spies reaches down and puts his hand on the dagger attached to his thigh.
Then, a voice: Hey, do you need a place to stay?
They jump. But turn around to find a beautiful woman. Big hooped earrings, long flowing hair, paintings and tattoos adorning her body – piercing blue eyes and a gentle smile.
I said – Do you need a place to stay tonight?
The spies look at her. They look at the soldiers and decide quickly.
They grab her arm and head out of the bar – quickly getting lost in the downtown shuffle of people. They walk quickly – not too fast to arouse suspicion – but not so slow that the soldiers might catch them. Until they make their way to a tiny apartment. Through here! She says. As the men walk in and the woman begins to lock the door, they look around her one roomed habitat. There’s a tattered run on the floor, a few dead bugs on the window sill and dirty pots near the corner of a big barrel which was supposed to be the kitchen.
“I’m Rahab,” the woman said as she fetched a glass of water. “Welcome to my home. What’s your name?”
Before the men could answer, there’s a loud knock at the door. Everyone stopped. Rahab held a finger to her lips. The knock happened again. Who is it?
The Jericho Police. Open up!
Just a minute – I’m powdering my nose. She motioned for the men to head out back where they found a rickety wooden ladder. She pointed up. Coming! She repeated, as mouthed the words, “up there.”
The men wandered to the top of the ladder and found themselves on the roof. Quickly, they rearranged the flax stalks – ancient shingles – and hide beneath them.
Meanwhile, Rahab unbarred the door. How can I help you gentlemen?
We’ve been sent by order of the king. Now…Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land. (v.3)
From their flax hiding space, the spies’ hearts began to race.
Now – she knew what they were.
Now – she knew their intentions.
Surely, she was about to give them up.
“Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” (v.4-5)
The captain looked at her. He looked around the house. He looked at her beautiful eyes one more time and said, “OK. Well…It’s not your fault. We’ll go get them. Don’t you worry about it. I’ll make sure you’re protected.’ And with that, they turned and left.
After the captain and his men were a good distance away, Rahab opened the back door and went up to the men on the roof. Thank you, ma’am. You didn’t have to do that.
Yes, I did. She said, “I know who you are. I know what you’ve done. I know who you serve. I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt...When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my family—and that you will save us from death.” (v.9-13)
The men looked at one another.
Was she serious?
She was a foreigner.
She wasn’t an Israelite.
And…I mean, she was a prostitute – that was against all kind of God’s commandments.
Should they really spare her?
Would God really spare her?
Would God really show her mercy?
The answer was obvious:
“Our lives for your lives! If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.”
In other words:
Yes. You will be spared.
Yes. God will have mercy.
This story is very interesting. Rahab’s fear of God’s power and appeal to his mercy is very compelling. But – do note – that was NOT the most common response to the reality of the impending invasion. All the people were afraid, but the majority of them did what the King wanted to do – FIGHT.
I’ll tell you the truth -- it’s the same thing today.
This past week the MN youth group was going door-to-door with fliers that talk about our church. While they weren’t doing any kind of Jehovah’s Witness type stuff, they were knocking on doors and inviting people to church – inviting people to hear about Jesus.
One guy – when they introduced themselves and handed him a flier – were interrupted – as he reached behind his door and pulled out a flier of his own. The flier? A brief print out of trespassing laws here in Raleigh. “I’ll give you five minutes to leave or I’m calling the police.”
Now you might argue that it’s not very much fun to have strangers knock at your door – but the fact remains that he threatened police involvement with a pair of teens that were simply inviting them to come hear about Jesus’ love and forgiveness.
The reality is deeper, because God was working through those kids.
God approached that man.
He saw God coming.
And he decided to fight.
This is not uncommon. Romans 8:7 says this, “The sinful mind is hostile to God.” Hostile means unfriendly – a foe. It means that the sinful mind of humans is naturally an enemy of God. That’s why when God approaches – when God comes with his law and his word – our natural response is to fight!
Sometimes it sounds like, “Get off my porch.”
Sometimes it sounds like:
That’s an antiquated Law.
I don’t like that command from God.
God’s the one who’s the bully – why doesn’t he let me live my life?
And suddenly, we’re just like the king of Jericho.
We’re fighting God.
The problem? Notice the promise of the spies – they were going to keep Rahab safe – but all the other people? The king? The soldiers? Those who knew what God was capable of and still decided to fight him?
God would battle them.
And God would win.
Because you can’t fight God and win.
TRUTH #1: Fighting God Fails For Sure in other words – It never works!
It’s even more true with God. Don’t fight Him.
You can’t win.
He never loses.
Instead, do as Rahab did. Rahab’s response – is so different. She forfeits.
And look at her reason: I know that the Lord has given you this land…I know how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt. And I know that God helped you win battles.
In other words – Rahab knew the LORD.
And that’s the difference. While all of her fellow countrymen were ready to fight, Rahab was ready to forfeit.
I give up. Lord, please spare me.
God, have mercy.
And HE does.
TRUTH #2: A faith-filled forfeit is exactly what it takes to achieve victory!
In fact, that’s exactly what Scripture says about Rahab’s victory. Take a look at Hebrews 11:31 “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” Notice the reason she wasn’t killed. It was faith. Faith in God’s mercy.
What’s incredible here is the sheer number of factors that were running against her faith.
And she was right.
What that means is that it does not matter if you’ve been a prostitute.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a drugs dealer.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a pornography producer, an abortionist or even a terrorist supporter.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been anything that’s led to any kind of sin, when you appeal to God’s grace, you will be forgiven!
Because God’s mercy is greater than your sins.
So – don’t fight him. Forfeit. Know when to give up and submit to your Lord.
A faith-filled forfeit is the key to victory. Amen.