There’s a lot of different kinds of soap.
Irish spring soap.
Soap in the shape of little flowers.
Soap in the shape of cartoon characters.
Soap that’s big and manly (and smells of rich mahogany).
Over our sermon series, we’ve discussed the spiritual mess of sin. We talked about what it is, where it comes from and how serious it is. Today we want to talk about how to clean it -- what kind of spiritual soap should we use. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Wrong Kind of Soap
The Scripture for today is from the book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet who lived 700 years before Jesus. He wrote this down at a time when the people of Israel had made a mess of their spiritual relationship with God. They had sinned by disobeying God. It had come from their hearts. They were in danger of spiritual death as a result of it.
But Israel wasn’t unaware of it. In fact, they had been taking actions to clean up their acts.
They had been attending worship.
They had been offering sacrifices.
They had been bringing offerings.
They did this in order to clean up their sinful mess.
But was it working?
Look at God’s response through the Prophet Isaiah:
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices--
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
Old Testament worship was very different from our worship of today.
Instead of bringing your offering in your wallet, purse, or iPhone, you’d bring it on a leash.
Instead of this pleasant altar with clean linens pressed upon it, there was a blood-stained altar with pieces of animal flesh hanging off the edges.
Instead of the beautiful music of organ or guitar, there was the loud, pained bleating of dying goats.
Instead of the nice smell of floral arrangements and morning coffee, there was the smell of burning and rotten corpses.
The reason the Israelites worshipped like this was that God had commanded it. In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, you can still read about how God commanded that his people worship by offering sacrifices. The reason he did this was to impress upon his people the harsh reality that the wages of sin was death. (Because blood equals death.)
So, the Israelites sacrificed.
They sacrificed and assumed that the animal sacrifice would clean up their sins.
They were wrong.
Sin cannot be cleaned by ANIMAL SACRIFICES
And maybe you’re thinking “duh”. But remember this was the Old Testament version of worship. This is what they were used to. It was the way that they worshipped. In fact, I wonder if the Israelites might have thought that Isaiah was just telling them they had bad form!
Should the altar be relocated to the front right?
Is that the wrong kind of knife for the job?
Maybe we should be using penguins instead of lambs?
But the problem wasn’t the type of worship. It was that they thought their worship could clean them from sin.
Look at what God says next:
When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? (v.12) Can you believe that? God’s calling all the people coming to worship tramplers. As if he’s shaking his fist and shouting: “Get off my lawn!”
Stop bringing meaningless offerings! (v.13a) Whether the offering was an animal or some money or their latest supply of corn. It was meaningless. Even if they brought the best crop of corn they have ever grown: NC State Fair, best in show, blue ribbon corn – that corn couldn’t remove sin.
Your incense is detestable to me. (v.13b) It doesn’t smell like the sweet aroma of calamus and lily of the valley, but it still smells like the greed in your heart from work yesterday.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations-- These were special ceremonies. Special gatherings. Extra ceremonies and extra gatherings. The Israelites would come to worship on more than just one day a week.
Yet, God says: I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. (v.13c-14)
Did you hear that?
God is calling all these extra religious festivals and extra religious activities, a burden.
As if God looks at his watch on a Sabbath and says “Aw man! There’s worship in 5 minutes? Ugh. Not again…”
Is this a strange section of Scripture?
Why is God upset with their worship?
Why was he upset with this religious activity?
Check out verse 15:
When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!
A helpful note:
The Old Testament stance for prayer was to spread your legs apart, to raise your hands above your head, and open your hands towards God. The message this stance conveyed was “Dear God, hear my prayer.”
God said he wasn’t looking.
God said he wasn’t listening.
God said he wasn’t looking or listening because when they reached their hands up towards his heavenly throne, their hands were a mess.
They were filled with blood.
And he’s not talking about animal blood.
He’s talking about sin.
Sin cannot be cleaned by RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY.
It didn’t work for Old Testament Israel.
It doesn’t work for us.
If you think that your attendance today will wash away your sin…
If you think that the angle at which you bow your head for prayer will clean your soul…
If you think that the decibel at which you sing the upcoming hymns will knock lose sin from your heart…
If you think that because you do a certain kind of worship that kind of worship is designated to clean sin unlike any other kind of worship…
If you think that the offering you put in the plate will pay for your guilt….
If you think that the talent you display in serving will distract God from your shame…
If you think that the time you put in at 1100 Newton Road will counterbalance the time you put it sinning…
God still sees the greed all over your hands.
God still hears the words that you let out against your spouse.
God still sees the fingers that typed away to the latest porn site.
God still sees the finger that shot up in rage at your coworker.
Religious activity cannot wash away sin.
What then do we need to do?
Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (v.16-17)
Instead of worrying about the cleanliness of your Sunday clothing; worry about the cleanliness of your heart.
Instead of taking a coin out of your pocket; take sin out of your life.
Instead of doing worship; just do good.
Figure out some way to remove all the guilt that you’ve amassed in your life up to this point.
Then, you’ll be clean.
Does this message from God leave anyone else in a panic?
This sounds impossible.
Because it is.
Here’s the truth:
Sin cannot be cleaned by YOU.
This is the truth God was impressing on the Israelites: They were worshiping with the idea that their worship would remove their sin.
This is the truth God is impressing on you. If you are worshiping God with the idea that YOU worshiping will remove your sins, you’re wrong.
In fact, if you are trusting that your worship is the key to your forgiveness.
It’s not only wrong.
II. The Right Kind of Soap
Then, what is the right kind of spiritual soap?
Check out what God says next: “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (v.18)
Did you see it? This is the part of the Scripture where God tells us how to clean our heart.
Don’t miss it.
It’s extremely important.
What does God tell us to do.
He doesn’t tell us to do anything to clean our sins, because there isn’t anything we can do to clean our sins.
But he still says our sins will be clean.
Because of him.
Sin is cleaned by OUR LORD.
It’s only fall, but briefly. Let’s talk about snow. The first snowfall is so very beautiful. The crisp, white flakes cover up everything in a nice, pristine blanket of white. In fact, if you look outside after a fresh snow fall you can’t see anything but snow.
Gone is the muddy area where grass wasn’t growing out back.
Gone is the pile of leaves that your kids forgot to clean up.
Gone are the piles of yuck that your dogs left behind.
Gone is the garbage.
Gone is the trash.
Gone is the oil spill from your nephew’s car.
All the gross is gone. Covered up by the clean snow.
That’s what God does to your sins.
They are covered.
White as snow.
Imagine you had a pair of wool socks. And as you wore those socks, tripped on a rock. In fact, you hit that rock so hard that you opened up the skin on your toe. It bled. Suddenly, your socks became crimson, the color of blood.
Blood is a tough stain to get out. It’s deep. It’s red. It’s obvious. You can’t hide it very well at all and you might not ever be able to get it out. Unless… you use the right kind of detergent. The right kind of bleach can do the miraculous. It can remove the blood red stain and leave behind nothing but wool.
As if the stain never existed.
That’s what God does to your sins.
They have been removed.
White as wool.
How does God cleanse us from the stain of sin?
Is it some divine form of bleach?
Does it involve a long soak in holy water?
Does he just use a bunch of holy elbow grease?
Take a look at Hebrews 11. It’s a New Testament book written after Jesus that makes a connection to Old Testament worship. It says:
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ…cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death. (v.13-14)
Do you get it?
In the Old Testament, animal sacrifices never cleansed anyone’s sin.
But these sacrifices foreshadowed a sacrifice that would.
TRUTH: Sin is cleansed by JESUS’ BLOOD.
Jesus lived perfectly.
Jesus died innocently.
Jesus rose triumphantly.
As a result, the blood of Christ cleanses you from all acts that lead to death. (aka: sin)
Because of Jesus’ divine blood, the blood of sin on your hands has been removed.
Your heart is clean.
Your heart is pure.
Your heart is spotless because of the blood of the eternal lamb, Jesus Christ.
Of course, God need to connect us to this washing. And we can’t have a sermon on washing our souls clean without commenting on one very powerful way he connects us to the cleaning power of Jesus’ blood:
TRUTH: Sin is cleansed THROUGH BAPTISM.
Titus 3:5, “We were saved not because of the righteous things that we have done, but because of the washing with water through the Word.”
Baptism doesn’t look as impressive as the slaughtering of many sacrificial animals.
It’s just a little bit of water.
It’s just poured upon a head.
It looks like a regular old bath.
But it’s so much more.
Titus 3:5, ”we were saved not because of the righteous things that we have done, but because of the washing with water through the Word.”
That is baptism.
Baptism that washes.
It washes away our sins as it connects us to the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood.
III. What Now?
(1) Worship because you’ve been cleaned
Notice how that is phrased. It doesn’t say, “Worship in order to be clean,” but, “worship because you are clean.”
And you have been cleaned by Jesus’ Christ.
It’d be like if you had a party and the party left a big mess. Streamers everywhere. Drink glasses throughout. Birthday cake sprinkles all over the kitchen floor. Wrapping paper in the living room. And a spot of spit up from your young niece on the couch cushion.
And you lay down for a quick nap in order to get some energy to clean.
But when you wake up, it’s all done. Mom did it while you were sleeping. Everything’s clean: dusted, vacuumed, and picked up.
How do you react to that? With thanks!
It’s the same with Jesus.
We worship out of thanks for his forgiveness.
We worship out of thanks for the clean he left in our heart.
We worship out of thanks for the purity that he brought into our souls.
(2) Cherish Baptism
Baptism is one of the incredible ways God connects us to the powerful washing of his blood. So, we cherish it!
If you haven’t been baptized, cherish it – and be baptized.
If you have been baptized, cherish it – and thank God for your baptism.
Rather than an Old Testament sacrifice.
Baptism connects us to Jesus’ sacrifice.
Rather than something we do daily.
Baptism connects us to something Jesus did once.
Rather than something we hope might work.
Baptism connects us to Jesus’ death that worked completely.
Rather than leave you with bloody hands and a sinful heart.
Baptism leaves you with a wet head and a heart cleaned by your Savior.
So…You are clean.
We’re finishing up the sermon series all about the messiness of sin.
And maybe by the end of it you thought:
“Man, my sin has really made a mess.”
“My life’s a mess.”
“I’m a mess.”
If so, hear the message of today one last time:
Jesus cleans messes.
Jesus cleans your mess.
He doesn’t call you “Mess,” but, “clean.”
Last week we talked about the riot in Ephesus where the crowd chanted against the Gospel for two straight hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!!” The crowd was rowdy. They were violent. They were angry. In fact, the situation was so dangerous that Paul’s friends wouldn’t even let him appear before the crowd in order to defend himself.
You might have expected that to end in tragedy.
The crowd quieted.
They went home.
Paul was safe.
But the Christians didn’t think it would be wise to keep Paul in Ephesus. So, after two years pastoring in Ephesus, Paul left. Acts 20:1 says, “He said goodbye and set out for Macedonia. He traveled throughout that area speaking many words of encouragement to the people.” It means Paul headed east. He crossed the sea and began revisiting the churches that he had started.
He went back to Philippi.
He went back to Thessalonica.
He went back to Berea.
He went back to Apollonia, Amphipolis, and Corinth.
Finally, he arrived in Greece where he stayed for three months. (v.3) While there he most likely revisited Corinth. Maybe even Athens. After those three months (most likely winter months where sailing is discouraged), Paul was about to sail for Syria, but because some Jews had plotted against him, he decided to go back through Macedonia. (v.3) Whether they were plotting to throw him overboard, sink the ship, or get him really drunk on rum in order to convince him to walk the plank, Paul found out and was kept safe.
Again, tragedy avoided.
In fact, Paul safely returns through all those cities to Philippi and from there he crosses the sea back to the Middle East and gets to Troas.
It’s not far now.
It’s should be a smooth journey, right?
Home is just around the corner.
And it’s there that tragedy strikes.
Today we’re going to learn about that tragedy that hit close to home. Then, we’ll learn how Jesus helps us through tragedy. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Tragedy
The lesson starts in verse 7. It says, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.”
Read that again.
The disciples came together on the first day of the week. That’s a Sunday. It’s neat to note that Christians are gathering together, not on a Saturday like they did in the Old Testament, but on a Sunday. The same day of the week that Jesus rose from the dead. It’s also shortly after Passover. Just it was shortly after Passover that Jesus rose from the dead.
As they gathered, they were planning to break bread. That’s a reference to a fellowship meal. A 1st century potluck. Complete with Mazza balls, lamb casserole and (if it’s anything like our potlucks) about 17 different kinds of dessert.
But before they could get to the meal, Paul began preaching. Since it was the dinner hour, that the gathering probably started happening somewhere around 6pm. During that first hour, people greeted each other, the fellowship team arranged the meal, and the musicians warmed up on their instruments.
That means Paul would have began his sermon about an hour later, around 7pm.
Five hours later?
He’s still talking.
Insert joke about sermon length here.
One person there that evening was a young man named Eutychus.
That’s impressive. Because most young people in Troas would be focused on other things in the evening:
Spending their money at local establishments.
Getting home to their families.
Going out to eat with a young woman so that he might one day have a family.
But Eutychus was at church.
In the evening.
Since it was their version of Monday, he was probably tired and ready for a nap at home. But he didn’t want to miss seeing the Apostle Paul one last time before he left so…
Eutychus attended the gathering.
He greeted other church members.
He let his elders have the seats in the front.
He let the women with children have seats in the back.
He stood near the back, excited to listen to what Paul had to say.
And that’s what he did.
For fifteen minutes.
An hour fifteen minutes, an hour thirty minutes, two hours.
Eutychus started fanning himself:
Why is it so hot in here?
Probably all those lamps.
I mean…it makes it easier to see at night, but they are torches. It’s like there’s fifteen mini bonfires in this room.
Eutychus made his way over to the breeze of the nearest open window.
Two hours and two and a half hours.
Three hours, forty-five minutes.
My legs are started to get tired.
I’ve been up on them all day at work.
It’ll be ok. I’ll just sit on this window ledge right here.
Four and a half hours.
Suddenly, Eutychus started to get rather sleepy.
Paul’s words sounded so far away.
He was sure if he had just mentioned the Gospel or the Blospel…
Maybe, he’d close his eyes.
Just for a second.
He could still listen to his words.
He could still hear his sermon.
He could still…
When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story… (v.9)
And suddenly, there was a commotion.
What was that?
I think someone fell.
From on the ground.
Nope from the window.
Who was it?
I don’t know.
I didn’t see.
It’s Eutychus! That’s where he was sitting.
And they rushed down the stairs.
And they rushed out the building.
And they rushed to his body.
And they tried CPR.
And they felt for a pulse.
Meanwhile, Paul was up in the front of the room where he had been preaching.
His heart was racing.
And then he heard it:
He’s dead! Eutychus is dead!
Paul rushed to the door.
He ran to the steps.
He looked at Eutychus’ now limp body.
Oh God! This is a tragedy.
Oh God this is…
Now I don’t know exactly what happened next.
Did Paul speak any words?
Did Paul say prayer?
I don’t know exactly what Paul did next.
We do know what Eutychus did next:
“Don’t be alarmed,” Paul said. “He’s alive! (v.10)
II. Dealing with Skeptics
This account is amazing! A young man falls to his death in the middle of worship. But when Paul gets down to the body without performing CPR, without a defibrillator, without hitting his chest repeatedly in desperation…Eutychus lives! It’s a miracle.
Granted. You might be skeptical about this.
If you tried this with a dead ant out on your driveway, it wouldn’t work.
In fact, a Google search for Eutychus, will lead to some scholarly articles that propose an alternative. They write that: (1) Eutychus never died. He just got knocked out. (2) Paul simply got him out of his stupor, because someone dying and coming back to life is IMOPSSIBLE.
But there are quite a few things in the text that defend against that interpretation:
(1) The Number of Witnesses
Back to the mapwork section. In verse 4, there’s an interesting list. It’s a list of all the different people who are now accompanying Paul on his missionary journey. This list is interesting because it’s a where’s where of places Paul has shared the Gospel:
Sopater…from Berea, the place where the people studiously God’s Word.
Secundus from Thessalonica, the place where persecution was quite intense.
Gaius from Derbe who along with Aristarchus had been dragged through the streets of Ephesus during the riot.
Timothy from Lystra who joined Paul all the way back at the beginning of the second missionary journey.
Tychichus and Trophimus from the province of Asia…representing the various churches of the Galatians.
That’s seven men in all who present in that upper room.
Add in Eutychus for eight.
Then, verse 7 says that Paul was speaking to “the people”. If it would have been just these seven guys, the writer would have said the disciples. By choosing the word “people”, the writer reflects the fact that there were more than these eight. In fact, there were so many that Eutychus had to sit on the ledge of the window.
Here’s the point:
Fooling the whole crowd into thinking that Eutychus had resurrected when he never really died in the first place would have been very challenging with so many present.
Especially since, the crowd got there first.
(2) Logistics of a Lecture
Notice how our church is setup. The pastor is in the front. You all are facing me. The doors to exit the place are closest to you, the audience. I am the farthest from the common exits. It’s the same in most churches and lecture halls.
So, it is easy for someone to slip out without causing much of a disturbance. If a mom is quieting a child or someone needs to use the restroom, leaving from the back is so much easier than having to leave through the front and walking right by the pastor in the middle of the sermon.
Can you imagine reversing it? (Leaving worship would soon be the “walk of shame.”)
It would have been the same way for Paul’s speech. Even though the room may not have been any kind of lecture hall, they still would have setup the room so that Paul was farthest from the door so that the people could easily come and go if needed.
Why is this important?
Because Paul was not the first to get to Eutychus.
The people were.
He couldn’t trick them into thinking Eutychus was dead, when he really wasn’t.
In fact, some get to Eutychus and pick him up “dead” in verse 9 and it isn’t until verse 10 that Paul “goes down” to see him.
Paul couldn’t have tricked them.
And that really solidifies when you consider one more thing
(3) The Presence of Dr. Luke
Back to the group of missionaries with Paul. I left one out. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Verse 6 says, “We sailed…to Troas.” The “we”? That’s a reference to the man who wrote down the book of Acts. It wasn’t Paul, but a man named Luke. Luke had joined Paul’s missionary crew in Mysia. He travelled with Paul throughout missionary journey two and three. Paul even references Luke in some of the letters that he writes to the various churches.
Look at what he reveals about Luke in Colossians:
Our dear friend Luke, the doctor…” (v.4:14)
Did you catch that?
Do you see the significance?
Luke knew how to look for a pulse.
Luke knew how to check for breathing.
Luke knew how to identify a dead person.
I guarantee that Luke was one of the first people down to check on Eutychus.
And he was one of the first people to say: “There’s nothing we can do. He’s dead.”
“Time of death: 12:16am”
In fact, when Paul had stones thrown at him Lystra on his first missionary journey, the crowd left when they saw him fall to the ground in a clump. Luke wrote that Paul was dragged out of the city and that the Jews were “supposing that he was dead” (Acts 14:19).
Here’s the point: if Luke wanted to present the idea that the believers in Troas merely “supposed” that Eutychus was dead, he could have written that.
But he didn’t.
Because he was dead.
Until he wasn’t.
Because of Jesus.
Stop being skeptical. The miracle was real.
III. Transforming Tragedy
Jesus really transformed the situation. He really transformed the tragedy.
(1) Jesus Transforms Tragedy into Celebration.
Look at what happens next:
Then Paul went upstairs again. He broke bread and ate. (v.11a) Which...praise the Lord, the potluck food is finally being eaten. At least by Paul, probably by anyone else who didn’t want to be rude and hadn’t eaten while Paul was speaking. After the tragedy of falling out a window, people aren’t sobbing and crying tears, but laughing and eating some potluck eclairs! Jesus transformed the situation so that now they’re having a dinner party.
Jesus still transforms tragedy into celebration even today.
Because Jesus said that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (Jn. 3:16)
Just to prove his power to make that promise, Jesus brought people like Eutychus back to life.
But better than that:
Jesus brought himself back to life.
He died on the cross.
Hundreds of people watching his bloody, lifeless body taken down from the cross.
No one! Not a single person stopping to say: “Wait, he’s just knocked out.”
Nope. He was dead, dead. Dead, dead, dead.
Dead enough to be wrapped up in clothes and placed in a grave.
Three days later,
Jesus came back to life.
Jesus has power over life and death.
He provides believers with eternal life even when they die.
It’s why at the last funeral that we had here at Gethsemane.
And people were feeling sad.
And people were thinking it was a tragedy.
But then, we read the Gospel.
Then, we heard about Jesus promises.
Then, we remembered that our dear brother was in heaven above residing in eternal life.
And suddenly, people are in the fellowship hall, talking, laughing, swapping stories and in general, celebrating!
Because Jesus transformed tragedy into celebration.
(2) Jesus Enables ministry to Keep Going…Even when Tragedy Strikes.
Because sometimes when tragedy happens, life comes to a stand-still.
Even during lesser tragedies! Like Spiderman. This past week Sony Pictures and Marvel/Disney ended their deal working together. As of right now, Spiderman cannot appear in the MCU anymore.
And…tragedy. People are on social media like HOW CAN I MOVE ON!?!
The same is true for bigger tragedies.
They need a moment to process.
And to be fair, for a moment that evening in Troas, Paul stopped his sermon. The people stopped listening. Everyone needed to process.
But once Jesus brought Eutychus back to life, Paul grabbed some food and continued doing ministry. He kept talking until morning. (v.10b) Then, he set off for the next stop on the missionary journey.
Jesus enables ministry to keep going even during tragedy.
He gives us comfort.
He gives us joy.
He keeps us uplifted and implores us to keep sharing the Gospel.
In fact, the fact that tragedy happens doesn’t decrease the need for ministry;
It increases the need for ministry.
Because awful things happen in this sin filled world.
Racial hate crimes.
Hurricanes, car accidents, and horrific illness.
Somewhere something horrible happens every day.
That doesn’t mean we should run and hide.
But we need run and tell.
About the God who saw the sadness of tragedy.
About the God who saw the tragedies of this world.
About the God who saw the tragedies in your life.
And didn’t run from it.
But to it.
He came into this tragic world and died on the cross.
To rescue us from the tragedy of death.
To transform tragedy into celebration.
Through your message of the Gospel, he transforms the tragedies of others into celebration.
That’s our job.
That’s your job.
Whether it’s your child, your spouse, your friend, your neighbor, your coworker, or your followers on social media.
Because tragedy exists, God calls you to increase your ministry and share the message of Jesus.
(3) Jesus brings GREAT Comfort
That’s the final verse of the account. It says that after Paul left, “The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.” (v.12) Because that evening, they heard about God’s grace for sinners and saw his power over death.
That message of Jesus still brings great comfort even today.
Even amid horrific tragedy.
This past week Monday I was on social media, because sometimes as a pastor of a small medium sized church you’re in charge of social media. So, I was sitting there trying to plan (what kind of posts should we have this week) when I came across a post from a friend’s account that shocked me.
It was from a former Precious Lambs’ parent. One that had been a part of our preschool family a while back. We had ministered to her. Talked with her. Shared the Gospel with her. The kid sang in worship. The parent attended, even got their phone out to record his dancing while he was singing.
I enjoyed them.
On Monday, I saw a Facebook post that said she had passed away.
Son of around 3rd grade.
She passed away.
When I looked closer at the post, I had seen that the one posting was her son.
He was writing from her account.
He had posted a picture of him and his mom and he had written this:
“I’m sorry to say that my mom is gone. But she is in heaven now. Thank you, Jesus.”
Are you kidding me?
I’m tearing up as I’m reading about the tragedy.
I’m tearing up as I’m thinking about the tragedy.
This young man? He’s found comfort.
Great comfort in his Savior.
May Jesus be the one who gives you great comfort, too. Amen.
Looking for a job can be difficult.
Searching for jobs online.
Filing out applications.
Phoning, emailing, texting to check on those applications.
And the interview!
You rent a suit coat.
You part your hair ever so particularly.
You practice saying: “I’m not in it for the money, but because of the sheer joy I get from filling out spreadsheets and alphabetically filing documentation.”
As challenging as finding a job can be…
It gets exponentially more difficult if you have something on your record.
A terrible credit report.
A job history with a few firings.
Even an incriminating Facebook photo or post that you forgot to delete.
Past mistakes can make it difficult to find work in the now…
But what about God’s kingdom?
What if you have mistakes in your past?
Surely – if humans wouldn’t hire you – God, who is perfect, wouldn’t want you to work in his kingdom either…right?
Today’s EYEWITNESS account is about a guy named Peter, who had made some rather big blunders while working in God’s kingdom. We want to learn (1) what his failures were (2) how they affected his role in God’s kingdom and (3) what that means for our roles in kingdom work. 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. Peter’s Story
We are continuing where we left off last week. If you remember, Jesus had appeared to his disciples on the Sea of Galilee. When he appeared, he told them to toss their nets into the lake and – immediately – the net is full of fish. Amazing – because Jesus was 100 yards away on shore and the disciples had been out all night without catching anything.
But that wasn’t it – as the disciples row the boat to shore, Jesus already has fish sandwiches cooking over the fire for them to eat. It’d be similar to someone gifting you a $100 Starbucks gift card and then, when they invite you to Starbucks – they pay for the coffee for you.
Jesus did the same. He provided abundantly.
He provides abundantly.
And I’ll bet the disciples were loving this interaction.
Because Jesus was back!
He conquered death!
He was alive!
He was just as powerful as ever!
And he was with them.
This was great news --- for most of them.
While Peter was happy to see Jesus alive, it also reminded him of the last conversation that they shared.
It had been back before Jesus died.
Back before Jesus was arrested.
They had been sitting down for a meal and Jesus had said, “I tell you the truth. You will all fall away on account on me.” (Matthew 26:31)
And Peter heard it.
And believed most of it.
“Even if all fall away on account of you, Jesus, I never will.” (Matthew 26:33)
I mean…I’m Peter!
Jesus gave me that name.
It means “Rock.”
I am Peter and…I will not fall!
Turned to Peter.
Looked him straight in the eye.
And said this:
“Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me – three times.” (v.34)
Peter would never forget those exact words.
Before that night was over a group of soldiers had come to arrest Jesus.
Swords, clubs, and spears – Peter was frightened like the rest of the disciples and ran away.
Then, sure, he regained his senses and made it into the courtyard where they were holding the illegal late-night trial of Jesus.
Only to deny knowing him.
But three times.
And then? The rooster crowed.
The one Jesus had predicted would crow - it crowed!
Peter hated roosters now.
Because now they were a reminder of how he had sinned.
A reminder of how he had failed…
A reminder of how he had fallen…
A reminder of his guilt.
Guilt is always tricky. It can easily burden a soul.
But Peter’s guilt was especially difficult for a trifecta of reasons that are especially hard to get over. For a few reasons:
He didn’t deny Jesus one time. He didn’t deny Jesus two times. He denied him three times in one evening. (Although during that third time it says that he called down curses upon himself, so even thought it was one “time period” perhaps it was a bunch of times within that time period).
Repeated guilt is hard.
We were given a good deal on a Prius a while back. Great car. Great gas mileage. Fun to drive.
But it’s extremely low to the ground. The bumper is about 2 inches from the street. So, when you come down our driveway which is on a decent incline…if you don’t turn the wheels at a specific angle to the right and back out at that exact angle – the front bumper scrapes.
Do you know how many times I’ve gotten that wrong? (I’m especially guilty of it every morning when I haven’t had my coffee yet) I keep messing up and I keep feeling guilty about it. In fact, the front bumper is cracked in all kinds of places. And it now serves as a 21st century, sheen black version of a rooster. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of my failures!
Repeated guilt is hard.
Repeatedly drinking too much.
Repeatedly losing your temper.
Repeatedly looking at porn.
Repeatedly lying to your spouse.
Repeatedly being jerk at work.
Repeatedly being a bully to your family.
Repeated guilt is hard because there’s no excuse.
The devil comes along and says,
You know better!
But you did it anyway.
This is unforgivable.
Because Peter was a leader. He was a disciple; more than that – an apostle. There were only twelve of those hand selected and chosen by Jesus. And of those twelve disciples – Peter was definitely a leader among them: He had the privilege of walking on water. He saw Jesus heal a dead girl when many of them didn’t. He was chosen along with only two others to see Jesus go up on a mountain and reveal his heavenly brilliance. Peter was a leader.
And then he fell.
And when leaders fall…
They quickly become leaders in holding onto guilt.
Maybe you know.
Whether you’re a leader in your family.
Or a leader here at church.
Or a leader among your friends.
Or a teacher of kids.
Or even…you’re the only one at work who is Christian – making you a spiritual leader by default – and then you sin…?
How’s that feel?
The devil comes along and whispers:
“You’re a leader…and you did that?”
“I’m not sure you’re a leader anymore…”
“…I’m not even sure you’re a part of his kingdom.”
Because by the time Peter gets to the third denial, there’s a crowd of people gathered around him:
A crowd of people watch him as he shakes his head vigorously.
A crowd of people listening as cusses out Jesus.
A crowd of people taking mental note of his sin.
I wonder how many of those people Peter saw again.
I wonder how that went?
Public guilt is hard.
There’s this thing I receive every Monday called a Call Report. “Call” is a reference to the special “calling” that a ministry worker has to their particularly congregation. The “call report” details any changes in those ministry positions. It’ll say: “Pastor So-and-So retired.” “Pastor what’s-his-face is switching congregations.” And even “Pastor who’s-his-name has decided to remain at his current congregation.”
But every once in a while, it says this:
“Pastor removed for cause.”
To me, it’s a terrifying expression. It means “removed for doing some gross outward sin.” It’s a phrase that no pastor ever wants said about them. It’s terrifying among our pastor circles, because it is a phrase that screams: “Failure.”
And everyone now knows you as…
Not as a brother.
Not as a pastor.
Not even as your first name…
But as “Pastor, Removed for Cause.”
But as a non-pastor you can feel the same thing.
You might have a sin that your family knows about.
That your coworkers know about.
That your friends saw you do.
And now every moment you spend around them is spent like Peter:
Did they see me sin?
Do they know about my guilt?
Do they think of me as SINNER?
Like you’ve got a big old black marker on your forehead everywhere you go that says: “INSERT SIN HERE.”
Public sin is hard.
Any one of these three types of guilt are challenging on their own! If you’re dealing with any of these, they can overload you. Burden you. Suffocate you.
Peter had to deal with all three all at once. That’s an extreme amount of guilt.
And it needs an extreme amount of restoration.
II. Peter’s Restoration
Peter finished up his breakfast.
Another meal done.
Another visitation from Jesus without having to talk about the sinful things that I did.
If I just keep a low profile, stay quiet, and avoid eye contact, I should be able to avoid him altogether.
Peter turned around to find Jesus standing right in front of him.
Face to face.
Eye to eye.
Heart to heart.
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
At this point, the conversation seemed a bit too familiar.
Three times? Really?
It reminded him of those three times that he denied Jesus.
Peter said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. (Jn. 21:15-17)
He doesn’t ream Peter out.
He doesn’t kick Peter out.
He doesn’t even respond to Peter’s claims of loving him with: “Umm…No, you didn’t. Remember?”
Jesus doesn’t bring guilt.
He brings restoration.
Restoration to God’s kingdom comes out of Jesus' work.
It didn’t come out of Peter earning it. Peter hadn’t done anything to make up for what he did.
But Jesus did do something.
Jesus did everything.
He lived perfectly when Peter could not.
He died innocently in his place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of Peter’s sin.
The same is true with you.
If you’ve sinned against God.
If you have repeated guilt.
If you have public guilt.
If you have leader guilt.
Jesus doesn’t make you do something to make up for it.
Jesus did everything for you.
He lived perfectly when you could not.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sin.
Remember earlier – when we talked about having a criminal record and how hard it is to find work with that record. One thing that you can do is you can get your record exponged.
It takes a lot of money.
A lot of time with lawyers. '
A lot of paperwork and a lot of pleading with a judge...
But it is sometimes possible to get it expunged, erased and cleared.
Understand this – Jesus has expunged your record.
He did all the work.
He paid for it completely.
Your guilt is expunged, erased, cleared.
In short – listen to Jesus’ message to you right now:
You are restored to my kingdom.
You are guilt free.
You are forgiven…and…You have work to do.
Restoration to God’s kingdom means Restoration to Kingdom Work.
That’s a bit unexpected. Because the devil would love to have you think:
“OK, fine. You are a part of his kingdom, but…Stay in the back. Go into the corner. Hide. Because you are not worthy of being on the front lines.”
But that’s not what Jesus says.
In Peter’s restoration, He goes straight to telling him to work for his kingdom.
He gives him a job.
He restores him not only to his kingdom, but to work in his kingdom.
And God has done the same for you.
He restored you to his kingdom.
He has restored you to kingdom work.
III. Kingdom Work
And what does that kingdom work look like? You get an idea in Jesus’ instruction to Peter.
Feed His Sheep.
Jesus says that is what true love for him is:
Feed my lambs. (v.15)
Take care of my sheep. (v.16)
Feed my Sheep. (v.17)
Does he own a farm I’ve never heard of?
Did he develop some petting zoo?
Does Jesus have a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow?
When Jesus talks about his lambs and his sheep, he’s talking about his people.
When Jesus talks about feeding those lambs and sheep, he’s talking about sharing the message of reconciliation with others.
You know the same message that gives you hope and comfort…
Give it to others!
Love for Jesus means sharing his message.
Telling your neighbor about Jesus.
Spreading the Gospel to your coworkers.
Sharing forgiveness with a church friend.
Teaching the little children about their Savior.
Inviting the community of North Raleigh to hear of God’s love.
He’s talking about our very mission:
To plant the Message of Jesus in the heart of north Raleigh.
When you are sharing the message of forgiveness, you are caring for sheep.
You’re leading someone to streams of living water.
You’re giving them some of God’s forgiveness.
You’re feeding them a steady diet of “Jesus died for you. Believe in him. You are forgiven.”
Here’s the challenge. The devil will love to convince that we aren’t worthy of sharing the message.
He’ll say that you aren’t qualified for that kind of work.
He’ll say that you are a failure.
He’ll say that you should leave that to others who aren’t as much of a failure.
But here’s the thing about feeding sheep.
It doesn’t matter if the farmer puts the food in the bucket.
It doesn’t matter if the farm hand puts the food into the bucket.
It doesn’t matter some disenfranchised, former farm hand puts the food into the bucket.
The sheep eat the food.
The food nourishes the sheep.
The sheep get the health benefits of the food -- no matter the moral background of the one who put the food into the buckets.
It’s the same with kingdom work.
The power is in the Word.
And those who are a part of kingdom are qualified to work with it.
And you…are an important part of his kingdom work.
Feed his lambs.
Take care of his sheep.
Feed them with the Gospel of Jesus.
We recently got a cat.
I know. I know…this sounds like a confessional.
But, it’s true. After 33 years of claiming that I would never own a cat, I caved, and I did.
And it’s been fun.
She enjoys keeping us safe from any fuzz balls and dust balls that she sees.
She loves to go hunting for leaves.
She even enjoys a playful, piercing bite to my front toe.
But the other day, my wife told me that she had done something crazy. Julianna texted me that we needed to close the windows so that the cat couldn’t climb the screen.
I said, “Yeah. How could she do that?”
Julianna said, “I see holes in the screen right now.”
I said, “Those are probably from bugs or some severe storm.”
She said, “I’m pretty positive it’s from the cat.”
I said, “Oh yeah. Prove it. How do you know?”
My wife texted me a photo of the cat climbing the screen.
Eyewitnesses are important. They are verbal proclaims of the visual truth. They are the difference between…
Fiction and non-fiction.
A fairy tale and history.
A lie and truth.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will be starting our sermon series called EYEWITNESS. It’s all about the eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. I think we need to do this because the resurrection of Jesus is too big a deal to rely on hearsay, to trust maybes and to listen to theories.
Our goal today is to look at a real eyewitness accounts…
Of real people…
Who had real interactions…
With the really risen Jesus…
As real proof of your real salvation.
Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Mary’s Background
The first eyewitness account that we are going to look at comes from a woman named Mary Magdalene. What interesting about Mary is that she doesn’t play a big part in Jesus’ three years of ministry on earth. In fact, there’s very little that is written about her except for this:
Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had driven out seven demons. (Mark 16:9)
It’s not even a full sentence. Just a passing adjective comment.
But…one that’s pretty heavy.
She had been possessed by 7 demons. Evil spirits. Fallen angels. Powerful. They had taken hold of her mind. Something that Bible theorists will suggest happens from dabbling in the demonic activity (the occult, psychics, blood sacrifices) and excessive drug use.
Regardless how it happened to Mary, we know it was terrible.
She had no control of her personality.
She was a prisoner in her own mind.
In a state of deep depression.
With a helplessness that doesn’t go away.
Except, it did.
Mary was possessed.
Jesus healed her.
I don’t know exactly how, but if it is anything like Jesus’ other miracles, then it was probably as simple as Jesus lifting his hand and saying:
Which…Can you imagine?
If you’ve ever had a counselor help you with a breakthrough.
Or a pastor help you grasp God’s forgiveness.
Or a fatal diagnosis that a doctor diagnosed, prescribed medicine and helped you defeat.
You know the kind of deep connection that Mary had with Jesus.
That’s why she had become a follower of his:
She had been trapped, Jesus freed her.
She had been guilty, Jesus brought her forgiveness.
She had been depressed, Jesus brought her joy.
She had been lonely, Jesus brought her family.
She had been hopeless, Jesus made her hopeful.
He was violently, publicly, cruelly crucified on a cross.
And all of her hope?
All of her joy?
All of her sanity…
Started to slip away….
She could feel the devil’s grip tightening on her again.
II. The Eyewitness Account
That’s why she got up so early Sunday morning.
You see -- Jesus had been killed Friday evening. They buried him. She would have gone to his grave to mourn, but they have this Sabbath rule where you can’t go to visit the dead on a Saturday.
But Saturday was over.
It was still dark.
It’s not like she was sleeping anyways.
She threw on her sandals.
Fastened on her cloak.
And walked off to her friend’s house.
KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!
“What do you want?”
“It’s Sunday. We were going to go to his grave. We were going to go to Jesus’ grave so that we can honor him.”
“But Mary. It’s not even light out yet. It’s still night time. It’s…just gonna take me a second while I get ready.”
As they walked through the slowly evaporating darkness, it was mostly quiet.
Whenever her friends tried to make small talk, Mary quieted them. “We’ve just gotta get to Jesus’ grave.”
As they approached the garden, Mary worked into a sprint walk.
She began opening up the bottle of perfume she had brought to pour on his grave and anoint his body.
“Mary, did you think about how we were going to get into the grave? There is that giant stone that the soldiers put there to make sure that no one could get in. I saw some of those guys. They’re built like models. It took about 5 of them to move it, I don’t see how we…”
She stopped talking.
Off in the distance was Jesus’ grave.
The giant stone?
It was moved.
Immediately, Mary burst into tears:
“What did they do? What have they done? They couldn’t just leave him alone. Those jerks! Those losers! How could they do this? How could they leave us like this? Without even a chance…to heal.”
She broke down.
Her friends tried to console her.
But Mary shrugged them off.
She turned around and sprinted back towards town.
She could barely see where she was going with tears clouding her vision.
She made her way to where some of the twelve disciples were staying.
She pounded at the door.
She screamed at the door.
She made a commotion till their let her in:
“They took his body. They took his body. They book his body…the tomb is empty!”
Two of the disciples rushed out.
They sprinted to see what she was saying.
And Mary tried to follow, but she grew too tired.
Her legs got wobbly.
She slammed her back against tree trunk.
And fell to the floor.
After sobbing for a good 15 minutes, She stood up.
She didn’t have any tears left.
She had to get to the bottom of this.
She had to get back to the tomb and find some kind of a clue…a witness…a footprint that would lead her to Jesus’ body.
She went back to the tomb.
Her friends were gone.
The disciples were gone.
The stone…was still gone.
This time…she took a deep breath…and approached the tomb.
Inside the tomb, she found some men.
Dressed in white.
A gleaming, blinding white light.
Radiating from their clothes.
Radiating from their faces.
Both sitting on the bier where Jesus’ body had been.
Between them? Grave clothes. Folded ever so nicely, ever so gently, as if they were no longer necessary.
“Woman, why are you crying?” they asked.
“They have taken my Lord away! And I don’t know where they have put them!”
Mary turned around. The men were nice. And it was strange that they were glowing, but…she didn’t have time. She needed to find his body.
Outside the tomb, someone else.
Hard to tell who – with the tears blurring her vision.
It was probably the gardener.
“Woman, why are you crying?”
This is the one. He must have taken the body. He must have moved it at the requests of the Pharisees!
“Tell me sir. Tell me…Please…Where did you take his body? Why did you leave the grave….empty?”
The air was still.
Mary’s breath paused for a moment.
She had heard that voice before.
She had heard that voice teach her about God.
She had heard that voice proclaim forgiveness.
She had heard that voice drive away her own demons!
It was Jesus!
“Teacher!” She cried as she grabbed a hold of him with a hug.
As she hugged, she knew it was real! She felt his shoulders.
She held him by the back.
She felt the warmth of his breath.
Jesus was alive.
III. Resurrection Truth
This is the eyewitness account of Mary.
It is an eyewitness account that is recorded for us in Scripture.
The guy who wrote it? John – he was one of the disciples that went running to the tomb after Mary told him it was open!
And the book of John? It was written down and passed around at a time when Mary Magdalene would have still been alive.
And she didn’t say “Nah, man. That’s wrong. It didn’t happen this way.”
She said, “That’s the truth.”
There are three really important divine truths that we need to take home with us today.
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Granted. You might be skeptical of that truth.
Because most people when they are dead? They can’t do much. Their bodies just lie there and slowly decompose.
And even people who are living – they haven’t figured out a way to bring people that are dead back to life either.
But if this is true…
When Jesus was dead, he figured out one thing that no one else could ever figure out while they were alive – conquering death itself!
If you’re skeptical, Mary’s account is for you. Because think about how long it took her recognize that Jesus was alive.
She saw the immovable stoned – moved and her first reaction?
“They took his body.”
She went into the tomb and saw two angels –glowing with divine splendor. Her reaction?
“They took his body!”
She went outside the tomb and saw Jesus – but was so overcome with emotion that she says to Jesus,
“You must have taken his body!”
She wasn’t wrong.
It isn’t until Jesus…
Calls her name…
That she realizes the incredible truth right in front of her!
Friends, you might be dealing with sadness.
You might be dealing with difficulties in your marriage.
With challenges at work.
With a financial crisis.
With a terrifying diagnosis.
With guilt, shame, and sin.
And sometimes that can all cover our hearts and close our eyes and make us say, “There is no HOPE in this world! This Jesus’ thing can’t be true.”
When that happens…
Hear Jesus’ voice…
He’s calling to you.
“I am alive.”
(2) The Work of Salvation is Finished
Check out verse 17:
“Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
The reason Jesus came to earth was to win your salvation.
He came to suffer death for your sins.
He came to earn your way to heaven.
He came to pay for eternal life.
If he’s heading up to heaven, guess what?
That work is done.
Granted – that can be hard to believe.
It’s like Easter weekend. Maybe you are planning on having relatives to your house. Maybe you wanted to clean for your relatives -- so you make a check list: Sweep the floor, dust the counters, disinfect the countertops, clean the bathrooms, do the laundry, make the beds, clean up the toys, etc.
And you go to work.
And you come home and….
Your husband says, “Surprise! I did it already. It’s finished. You don’t have to clean anymore!”
How do you respond?
Probably…by sweeping the floor, dusting the counters, disinfecting the countertops, etc.
When Jesus tells you that it is finished.
It is finished.
Your salvation is won.
Your sins are forgiven.
Eternal life is yours.
Heaven is your home!
“It is finished.”
You don’t need to try and earn his love.
You don’t need to complete your salvation.
You don’t need to pay your way into heaven by working hard and becoming perfect.
Jesus did it for you.
(3) Go and Tell
Because right after Mary realizes that Jesus is standing right in front of her…
Having conquered sin and death…
Renewing her hope again…
She’s overcome with emotion.
She holds onto him.
She doesn’t want to ever go back to guilt and loneliness and despair. Never again!
But Jesus says something interesting:
“Do not hold onto me. Instead, go and tell.” (v.17)
Because there were others who had lost their hope.
There were others who were in despair.
There were others who were shacked to guilt.
Mary’s eyewitness message – would change that.
She would give them hope.
She would give them joy.
She would give them freedom.
Friends, there are still people like that today.
There are people who don’t know their Savior.
People who don’t know the resurrection story.
People who think Easter is all about sugary yellow marshmallow chicks
They are overcome with guilt.
They are dealing with a lack of joy.
They are struggling with despair.
Can you do me a favor?
Listen to your Savior.
Go and tell.
Later today at your Easter party, turn to the people who didn’t come to worship to celebrate this message and share the story of Easter. Go and Tell.
Later this evening when you are on your phones, take a note or two from this sermon and share on social media. Go and tell.
Tomorrow morning as you head to work – gather around the coffee pot, talk with your coworkers about why you liked Easter and how amazing this message of the risen Savior is. Go and tell.
And understand this.
You won’t be just giving them a story.
You won’t be just telling them a fairy tale.
You’ll be giving them true hope.
Do you know anyone with a really strong faith?
The kind of person who always has a Scripture.
The kind of person who’s always praising God.
The kind of person who always trusts that God is in control…even when it looks like He isn’t.
I do. Her name is Aunt Marce. She’s has been an influential faith figure throughout my life. She’s given me cards to encourage my faith, Christmas ornaments and Easter decorations that do the same. When I got older she sent letters encouraging me and encouraging me to be a pastor. She always talked about Jesus with me – and her house had many reminders of her Savior.
But now that I’m older – I’m beginning to realize that she had this faith through some difficult circumstances.
One of her sons grew up and moved far away from her.
Another son committed suicide.
Now she’s older and she’s developed Alzheimer’s.
That’s hard stuff.
That’s faith questioning stuff.
Yet when I saw her at my Grandma’s funerals recently – she was still in love with God. She told me that it was nice to have everyone together. I mentioned that Grandma was in heaven. She didn’t miss a beat and responded, “Yes. Of course, she is. Jesus loved her!”
In amazing circumstances.
How do you get a faith like that?
How do you grow a strong faith?
Try as you might – running to the corner, clenching your fists together and muttering, “Believe,” over and over until you are blue in the face won’t work.
I. The Case of the Emmaus Disciples
Check out Luke 24. It’s the afternoon of the very first Easter. Two men are travelling on the road from Jerusalem to a surrounding village about 7 miles out called Emmaus. Granted – 7 miles doesn’t seem like a very long journey, but this is long before cars and these men don’t own a horse. They are walking. So, they’ve got about 4 hours’ worth of walking to do.
And as they walked, they talked. But their discussion wasn’t very uplifting. They talked about Jesus’ arrest. They talked about Jesus’ false trial. They talked about his conviction and his crucifixion. They talked about how they thought he had been the Messiah, but now…they were certain he wasn’t. And they also talked about what they had heard that morning – that some women went to the tomb and supposedly saw him.
But they weren’t uplifted by this.
They were discouraged.
They were confused.
They were losing faith.
Until a stranger interrupted them. He happened to be going the same way and he wanted some company, too. He asked them what the news was around Jerusalem.
Have you been living under a rock? Don’t you know what’s been going on? Don’t you know what happened? With Jesus? With the crucifixion?
So, they told him:
“Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
That, good sir, is what’s been going on.
That, good sir, is what’s got us bummed.
The man looked at them. He shook his head. And called them FOOLS.
And for a moment, the disciples stopped looking sad. Now they looked a bit angry.
The man continued, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? Didn’t he?” (v.25-26)
The disciples looked at each other. They shrugged their shoulders. It didn’t look like they got it.
So, he explained.
Didn’t Adam and Eve sin? Didn’t their sin plunge our world into darkness? Weren’t things hopeless? Wasn’t the devil laughing at his victory? And didn’t God step in and make a promise? Genesis 3:15 “I will put enmity between you and he woman – her offspring will crush your head, though you will strike his heel.”
Wasn’t this offspring the promise of the Messiah?
Didn’t it promise that the Messiah would be suffer pain – a venomous bite to the heel?
Doesn’t it also promise that this bite to the heel would be nothing compared to the crushing of Satan’s head?
Doesn’t a death on the cross that ends in a resurrection 3 days later fit nicely?
Didn’t this promise continue through the centuries?
Didn’t this promise make its way to the Psalms?
Don’t the Psalms say that the Messiah would be mocked? That men would cast dice for his clothing? That he would be pierced? Even that his tongue would be dry and they would give him gall to drink?
Didn’t those exact things happen to Jesus?
Didn’t Isaiah prophecy about this too?
Didn’t it say he would be pierced?
Didn’t it say he would be crushed?
Didn’t it say he would suffer punishment?
Didn’t it say the Messiah would see the light of life?
Didn’t that happen to Jesus?
As the man talked, the disciples hung on his every word. They were so intrigued that they barely noticed they were passing the boulevard to their home.
Stay with us sir; for it is nearly evening. The day is almost over.
And we want to hear more.
I’m not even sad anymore.
I actually…feel pretty good.
So the fellow obliged.
He went in.
He washed up.
He sat down.
He gave thanks.
He broke bread.
He began to pass it out.
And then…something happened. Maybe it was the way that he broke the bread. Maybe it was this that seemed familiar. Maybe it was the certainty with which he spoke to God.
“Their eyes were opened and they recognized him as Jesus.”
And then he was gone.
He vanished from their home.
But in his place…?
In his place he left something behind.
II. How to Ignite Your Faith
This is pretty amazing. Because in the span of a few hours, the disciples go from sad and confused, to joyous and confident! Their faith goes from smoldering to a full-on bonfire. How do we know? Look at what they do next! They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. (v.33) They did the 7-mile journey all over again! Who cares if their feet were tired? Who cares if they had to work tomorrow? Who cares if it was getting dark? They grab some bread for the road, slap on some peanut butter and go right back to Jerusalem – They can’t wait to share their story.
How did that happen?
How do you duplicate it?
Take a few notes from the story?
Because you might say – The answer is obvious pastor. Their faith was burning because they saw Jesus – risen from the dead -- with their own two eyes. If I got to see Jesus, my faith would move mountains. If I could see one of those miracles, I’d be one of those Bible Bangers on late night TV.
But look closely at verse 32. It’s right after Jesus leaves them. They say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They don’t say, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us after we saw him alive again!” Cause that’s pretty awesome! That’s what we’d expect to be the catalyst for their burning faith.
But it’s not. In fact, their hearts were burning before they realized they were in the presence of the risen Jesus. Their hearts were burning – on the road. On the road as they talked about: The Scriptures.
You know: This thing. The Bible.
It’s not like it’s any different. We have the same Old Testament that they have. In fact, dare I saw – we have it better. We’ve got the New Testament—a wonderful explanation of all Jesus did and how he fulfills all the Old Testament prophecy.
We have the exact tool necessary to ignite our faith.
2. Ignite Your Faith with God’s Word
You could picture God’s Word a lot like a lighter then. When our faith is smoldering, when it looks like it’s about to go out – even when it does, it is God’s Word that lights it back on fire again.
Actually, scratch that. God’s Word is more than a lighter. It’s like a blow torch or a big old Homecoming bonfire. (You know the type. The school letter burning out on the field as some really bad sketch comedy happens in the foreground presented by the Freshman class.) God’s Word is a bonfire because it’s powerful. It’s has incredible, glorious, faith relighting and igniting truths all throughout.
Truth like Jesus saves.
Truth like Jesus brings us peace with God.
Truth like Jesus removed all of your sins.
Truth like Jesus removed all of your guilt.
Truth like Jesus removed the sting of death.
Truth like Jesus brings forgiveness.
Truth like Jesus rose from the dead.
Truth like you too will rise from the dead.
Truth like you will live in heaven eternally.
Truth like it has been God’s plan to have you in heaven to eternity—from eternity!
Truth like “yes” God does love you.
A taking his last breath on the cross bunch.
If you want to have a burning faith, head to the bonfire of God’s Word. Reignite it on his awesome truth.
Don’t do that thing where you pray: “Dear Lord, please light my faith on fire for you. Amen.” Then, your phone buzzes. You open up your text messages and it’s a reminder of Bible study going on at church tomorrow night – so you swipe left. I don’t have time for Bible study. I’m waiting for God to answer my prayer and give me faith.
That’s not how God works.
That’s not how he worked with the Emmaus disciples.
It’s not how he will work with you.
He will work the same way he worked in the story – through God’s Word.
So…Study God’s Word. Simple as that.
3. Fan the Flame
That’s one of the first things your dad teaches you when you go camping. The campfire needs air. So, once you’ve constructed the perfect fire – scrapes of newspaper (aka kindling) on the bottom, teepee of sticks over the top, and bigger logs ready to catch fire once it’s going. Dad takes two sticks. He rubs them together. Until there’s a spark. And then? He blows on it. Singes a few whiskers, but he blows on it. That acts like fuel and causes the fire to grow into a blaze.
Do the same with your faith. 2 Timothy is a letter where Paul, the older pastor, writes to a young pastor. He says, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God!”
And faith is one of those gifts from God. Don’t let it go out. Don’t forget to feed that faith with God’s Word. Don’t think, “I have faith now. I’m sure that I’ll be able to go through all of the awful hardships, challenges, and adversities of this sinful, no good, everyone’s out to get you world without ever touching a Bible again.”
You need God.
You need God’s Word.
You need the fuel of God’s Word to fuel that flame in your heart.
If you want a strong faith, make this a priority.
If you want to keep faith, make this a priority.
In fact, make it THE priority.
God will do the rest.
God will set your hearts on fire.
That’s what my aunt did. In fact, that was her secret. It wasn’t some miracle she witnessed. It wasn’t a direct communication with God’s voice. It wasn’t a secret green elixir that she drank each morning.
It was a Bible study.
It was reading a chapter a day.
It was going to church.
Now that may sound simple. Maybe even unimpressive.
But it works. It ignites your heart again and again.
There it was.
Mary had refused to face it earlier that day – but after complaining to the disciples and an hour or so of shedding tears, Mary stiffened up. She calmed her voice. She fought back tears; and she made her way back to the entrance of Jesus’ tomb. But as soon as she saw the stone rolled to the side of it – she broke into tears all over again.
How could they? How could they do this? They killed him! Wasn’t that enough? They killed him and now they were off doing who knows what to his body! How could you do that to such a man?
He was my friend. He was my friend when no one else was. I had demons inside of me. Seven of them, to be exact. Demons that I struggled with. Demons that controlled my life. Demons that caused me to do awful things. Demons that made people avoid. Demons that made people look the other way and mouth, “Who wants to talk to that crazy person?”
But Jesus didn’t avoid me.
Jesus came up to me.
Jesus was a friend.
Jesus healed me.
More than my friend, he was also my Savior. He brought me peace with God. He offered forgiveness. He promised to take away my sins!
But…now he’s dead. He hasn’t done any of that. I feel as guilty now as I did before. I’m a lost cause. I’m a dirty, rotten, no good, very bad, shameful sinner, far apart from God– and there’s nothing that dead Jesus can do about it.
Mary stumbled, loudly fighting back tears, to the entrance. This time she looked inside, hopelessly.
What she saw – what she saw was something that should have given her hope. Two angels. Dressed in white. Glowing with God’s glory. Divine. One on each end of the rock bed where Jesus’ body had been laid – like some kind of blinking, neon sign to say – “Hey look Mary! He is risen!” (v.12)
But Mary kept sobbing.
The angels spoke to her, “Woman, why are you crying?” The irony apparent in the allusion: “Why are you crying at the grave of a man who has risen from the dead? Surely that’s good news.”
“They’ve taken my Lord away; and I don’t know where they have put him!” she retorted. Not for a moment thinking that the two men dressed in brilliant, shining, otherworldly white might have an idea or two about his whereabouts.
She turned to leave. Walked a few steps. And her knees hit the ground with a thud—the kind of thud that happens when you no longer care about standing in the slightest.
How awful. How terrible. He’s dead. My Savior is gone. I’m still in my sins. I’m forever guilty. I’m an outcast again.
In between loud sniffs, Mary heard a few gentle steps approaching.
Dear woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?
She looked up. Her eyes filled with tears and her vision blurred. It must be the gardener. That jerk! “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him!” (v.15) Please. Help. Me.
But the gardener didn’t answer her question.
In fact, he ignored it.
He simply said, “Mary.” (v.16)
And when he said it, Mary’s soul instantly quieted. She had heard that voice before.
It was the voice that told her demons to leave.
It was the voice that told her she was free.
It was the voice that had forgiven her.
“Teacher!!” She cried while simultaneously standing up and throwing her arms around him. “Teacher you’re alive!” And as she soaked in that moment – a reunion with her Savior – her tears of sadness were turned to joy. Her fear of God was turned to joy in God. Her guilty heart became guilt free.
I. Guilt Blind Us from the Truth
This section from John 20 is very moving. Our sermon today is about leaving guilt behind. Mary is a great case study on the effect that guilt can have on us. Because think of what she saw on that first Easter morning! It’s not like she went to the tomb and found Jesus’ body torn to pieces by a wild animal or one of the disciples murdered and lying next to him.
She saw angels.
She saw an empty tomb.
She saw the risen Jesus himself.
But she greets all of these things with melancholy.
That’d be like someone going to the ice cream shop and bringing you back a big banana split with all of your favorite toppings – hot fudge, caramel, rainbow colored sprinkles, a dollop of whipped cream and one of those bright red cherries on top – and they say, “This is for you.” And you respond: “Life is terrible.”
It doesn’t make much sense.
But the reason Mary misses it is that she’s so filled with grief and guilt from the past days. She’s blinded by it. Scripture is really interesting here, because particularly when it mentions Jesus – it says that Mary didn’t realize it was Jesus. It’s interesting because in a similar situation with two disciples travelling a road from Jerusalem to Emmaus—they don’t realize it’s Jesus either. But in that instance Luke records, “They were kept from recognizing him.”
That means that Jesus isn’t hiding anything from Mary! The empty tomb and the angels are shouting the same thing at her – Rejoice! Jesus is alive!
But she misses it.
She’s blinded by guilt.
The same thing happens to us. Guilt blind us from seeing the truth.
You know Jesus died.
You also know that Jesus has risen.
You know that means your forgiveness of sins!
But even though you and I know that – how often do we find ourselves thinking --
My sin is too big.
My sin is too much.
My sin is too often.
My sin is too awful.
My sin is too dark.
My sin is too shameful.
It’s like the guilt overtakes us. It blinds us. It shows us only our actions on replay again and again and again.
We miss the whole resurrection. It’s like we’re viewing him as dead…even when he’s alive right before our very eyes!
II. The Resurrection Means Guilt is Gone
And that’s no good. Remember our passage from last week. 1 Corinthians 15 says, “If Christ has not been raised – you are still in your sins.” That means you aren’t forgiven. It means God hates you. It means that God will punish you will hell.
But Christ has been raised.
And you are not in your sins!
Another passage that brings this out is from Romans 4:25. It says this, “Jesus…was raised to life for our justification.”
Justification is a courtroom term. So, think of Judge Judy or Judge Joe Brown. Ever seen those TV shows? At the end of the show, they offer a verdict. They bang their gavel. They call one of the parties GUILTY and the other INNOCENT – justified.
It must feel pretty good to be proven innocent in a court of law.
It must feel even better to be proven innocent in a court of law when you’re actually guilty.
That’s what Jesus resurrection means for you. It means that God has tried you and found you innocent.
He found you innocent because he already found Jesus guilty for your sins.
If you want to remember justification (Write this down) Think: Just as if I hadn’t sinned! Because that’s how God sees you – as innocent. Because of Jesus.
That’s true, no matter your sins.
No sin is too big.
No sin is too much.
No sin is too often.
No sin is too awful.
No sin is too dark.
No sin is too shameful.
Christ died. Christ has risen. And you have been declared free from guilt!
III. What Now?
1. Hear His Voice
Because maybe you noticed this about Mary. She missed all of the joyous things right before her face. Even those joyous things didn’t make her feel better. It wasn’t the empty tomb. It wasn’t the shining bright angels. It wasn’t even Jesus – there in the flesh right in front of her.
It was His voice.
The loving voice of God himself.
That same voice speaks to you and me. It speaks to us in His Word. It calls out gently to you and says, “__________ (insert your name here), you are forgiven. You are loved. Your guilt is gone.”
When you’re dealing with guilt, it’s heavy and it’s a burden – listen to his voice. Take a moment and meditate on the resurrection story. Memorize and repeat Romans 4:25. Look at a cross – and notice that it’s empty – meaning you are forgiven.
2. Leave Your Guilt Behind
Because guilt is kind of like picking up a big old bag of garbage. It’s heavy, there’s wet sand and a broken pieces of concrete in there and carrying it with you everywhere you go - it’s heavy. It’s a burden. It makes life hard.
Carrying around guilt is like that. It’s heavy. It’s a burden. It’s hard.
But there’s one more aspect of this illustration. Because carrying around guilt after you know Jesus is also unnecessary.
It’s like picking up that big old bag of garbage – from the side of your road where it was already waiting for the dump truck! And Dad pokes his head out the window – “What are you doing? Why are you moving it? Someone already did! It’s right where it needs to be.”
If you know Jesus as your Savior and you’re still carrying around guilt, Jesus says something similar:
“Why are you carrying that around? I carried it to where it was supposed to be. I took it to the cross. I deposited it in the grave.”
Why not leave it there?
Brothers and sisters, listen to Jesus. Leave your guilt at the cross. Leave today unburdened. Leave forgiven…because in Jesus…you are. Amen.
18 years the woman had been disfigured.
18 years the woman had been crumpled over.
18 years the woman had heard the comments.
“Do you see the hump? What happened to her?”
“She looks just like Quasimodo. She’s a hunchback.”
“Oh, child – don’t go near her. You don’t know where she’s been.”
Her daughters used to come around – sure. But lately they had not wanted to be seen by her.
The same with her friends – their friendships stopped as the ridicule started. They didn’t want to be a part of it.
Every once in a while, a passerby would stop over her – drop a penny in her jar, tell her that “it’d be ok,” and they were “glad to meet her” but that was the end of it.
No new friendships blossomed.
None of these people returned.
Nobody seemed to care.
She was all alone.
That loneliness? It was powerful. It sunk to the bottom depths of our soul. It filled her with sadness – a deep and dark depression – an expectation that nobody cared about it. Not even God.
In the midst of another day alone with her darkest thoughts, a voice called out to her. This voice was different. It wasn’t mocking. It wasn’t pitying. It wasn’t talking about her or above her or down at her.
It was talking to her.
The owner of the voice was surrounded by a group of people. They all seemed to be very invested in what he had to say. But he seemed to only be invested in her. He called her over to him, “Dear woman – come here.”
This was different.
This was caring.
This felt wonderful.
And when she did hobble over – his gentleness not changing after he saw her disfiguration – she felt a peace overcome her.
He spoke to her, “Dear woman…”
The implication – I see you. I care about you. I am here for you.
Then he said this, “Be set free from your infirmity.” (Luke 13:12)
The woman felt a release. She looked at him. He smiled. She slowly straightened. She was healed.
18 years. 18 years – and now she knew – She wasn’t alone. Now she knew – Jesus cared.
Jesus cares about you too. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t times that we feel lonely – I even feel it as a pastor. Today’s Psalm helps to remind us that we are not alone – no matter how much we feel like it. Before we begin, let’s say a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. How Long…Will I Feel Lonely?
Psalm 13 comes from King David again. So - similar to last week – there were lots of ups and downs in David’s career. Lots of good times, but also a lot of bad times. Times he even felt alone.
Like when he marched out to battle a giant of a man named Goliath – while all the other Israelite soldiers cowered.
Or the time when he ran away from the King of Israel – King Saul – who wanted to kill David before he took his throne.
Or he time when his own son, Absalom – tried to take the crown away from David, his dad – ousting him from the palace and turning the half the nation against him.
Pick one of those times – any of those times – and you get a sense of the loneliness that King David was feeling. Listen to what he writes,
How long LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Do you see the repeated question? How long... The implication is that David has been feeling very sad and lonely for what seems like – at least to David – a very long time.
Look at his accusations?
How long will you forget me? As if the Lord of heaven above – the very one formed him, created him, and Scripture says, “Anointed him specially to be king over Israel,” had forgotten all about him!
How long will you hide your face from me? As if David and God were playing a game of hide and seek, but God was refusing to come out – even after David had shouted, “Olly olly oxen free!”
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts? There’s this picture of a spiritual WrestleMania that was going on with David. The voice saying, “God loves you,” going one on one with the voice that says, “God hates you.” The thought of “I’m alone,” facing off in an iron man match against the thought, “God is with me.” The comfort of “God is with me,” being put into submission by the terror that “you are all alone.”
How long will my enemy triumph over me? Again – we don’t know exactly which enemy is referring to. Saul? David considered him God’s representative. Absalom? That was David’s son. One of the Philistines? Maybe.
But there could be another option.
Another enemy at work.
Another enemy that’s always at work.
An enemy that achieves that was achieving a great victory when he convinced David – God’s chosen instrument – that God wasn’t with him.
I’m talking about The Enemy - the devil.
What about you?
Do you feel like God has forgotten you?
Do you think he is hiding his face from you?
Do you find yourself wrestling with your thoughts against God’s promises?
Do you find yourself feeling – alone?
There’s a television show that took place around 2004. It was called Solitary. The premise of the show was that people would volunteer to be locked in a room without anyone else. The only one to talk to them was a giant robot named VAL. (Great name for a heartless, evil robot by the way) The show then served 2 purposes -- #1 it gave away $500,000 to the one who lasted in the room the longest, but #2 – more interesting – it showed how the human being reacts to being alone – to feeling alone.
It wasn’t good. Usually contestants left in tears, broke down or shouted at the top of their lungs until they were removed.
That’s because we are creatures that are meant to be together. Even back in the garden of Eden – “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two become one flesh.” (Genesis 2) Granted – that’s talking about the special relationship between a husband and a wife, but it’s also true that God wanted humans to exist in community. To communicate with each other. To be with each other. To be together.
That’s why being alone…is so hard. That’s why it leads to such depression. That’s why it leads to very dark feelings.
And that’s why when you feel that way – cry out to God! Look at how David’s heart cried out. Hear his cry for help:
3 Look on me and answer; Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my foes will rejoice when I fall.
Maybe that’s your cry.
Maybe you want God to answer.
Maybe, you want him to show you, to prove to you that you aren’t alone.
Listen to what comes next
II. How Long will God be with You?
5 But I trust in your unfailing love.
There’s that key word again – one of the most key words in all of Scripture: But. But means “There’s more.” But means, “There’s a contrasting truth.” But means, “Listen and hear how God fixes things.”
Look at the phrase that follows. I trust in your unfailing love.
Here is the difference between humans and God. Human friendships last for a time. Eventually – they end. Whether it’s from distance, busyness, arguments or death.
Human friendships last for a time, but eventually fail.
If you trust in human friendships to give you community, these friendship will fail you. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But one day. They will.
But if you trust in God? If God is the source of your community?
Listen again – His love is unfailing.
There is no mountain high enough.
There is no valley low enough.
There is no river wide enough.
To keep Him from you.
He’s never too busy.
He does not die – he’s eternal.
And when we’ve been argumentative? When we’ve been sinful? When our refusal to commune with him has set up this barrier of sin?
He knocks it down!
Like my dog, Clay. He’s fairly loyal. He loves to be by his owners whenever he can. If he’s ever separated from his owners, he starts to whine. It’s kind of obnoxious – definitely high pitched. But comforting to know how much he wants to be with us.
With our new house – there’s a patio in back. The back patio has a screen door. One of the reasons that we got a new house was so that we could let them in the back yard to play. We specifically thought the dogs would like the yard.
And they do. But the first time we left Clay in the back yard? He whined. He barked. He scratched. He –literally – broke through the screen door and made his way into the living room just to be with us.
God’s love is similar.
God’s love is better.
When our sins separated us from God – he came down to earth. He busted through the barrier of sin. He died gruesomely on the cross; he went into the grave; he rose triumphantly from death – and broke down the barrier between you and him.
Do you hear that? Listen again – When you had separated yourself from God – God did the unthinkable – He gave up his life to bring you back to Him!
Still think that no one cares about you? God’s love is unfailing. It hasn’t changed. It hasn’t lessened. It hasn’t grown weaker. He still loves you and cares for you with the same incredible desire.
You are not alone.
God is with you.
III. What Now?
(1) Look Where You’re At!
Did you notice what it says in verse 6. My heart rejoices in your salvation. That’s the same heart that earlier was filled with hurt. Earlier was filled with sadness. Earlier was filled with loneliness.
Now? It’s filled with joy. Why?
Because it is In God’s salvation.
Pastor, am I in God’s salvation?
Do you believe in Jesus?
Then, look where you’re at. You’re in God’s salvation. That means you’re with God. Because God is in God’s salvation. He’s there. You’re there. You’re together.
You aren’t alone.
No matter what you’re going through.
Financial hardships? Not alone.
Relational struggles? Not alone.
Disconnected from people? Not alone.
God is with you. You are in his salvation.
Because what other way can you react when you realize that your incredible God is right beside you!?!
It’s like a musical! People break out into song all the time. They break out into song when they find someone they have a crush on. They break into song when it’s a “beautiful morning.” They break out into song when they are seeing the “Wells Fargo wagon coming down the street.”
How awesome to know that your loving, incredible, forgiving, all powerful, all loving God is with you and will never leave you!
(3) Look Who Else is With You
Finally, look at who else is with you. Because if you’re in God’s salvation and your neighbor is in God’s salvation and I’m in God’s salvation – many of us are in God’s salvation – It’s not a very lonely room. It’s a packed house.
Lean on our brothers and sisters. Feeling lonely? Tell them. Talk to them. Work on building relationships here so that you have someone to uplift you and remind you that you are not alone.
And if someone comes to you for that encouragement? Give it to them. Don’t ignore them. In fact, if you see someone who looks lonely, could you go out of your way to show love to them? Just like God went out of his way to show love to you.
God is with you.
And if God is with you – then you know that even the dark time you are experiencing now – will go away.
Because look how David finishes the Psalm – The Lord has done good things for me.
David remembered how he felt alone with Goliath – but God helped him defeat the giant.
David remembered how he felt alone with Saul was attacking him – but God kept him safe.
David remembered how he felt alone when Absalom rebelled – but God defended him.
When God’s there’s, there’s no need to worry.
So why worry? Amen.
I’ll admit it. During the holiday season, I struggle with patience.
I remember very specifically – my grandma had sent a large gift in the mail and placed it under the tree. It was huge! It took up about 1/6th of the space under the plastic evergreen. And Grandma sent it early--about two weeks before Christmas. Every day it stared at me. It taunted me. It stuck it’s tongue out at me and said, “Nanana boo boo, you can’t open me yet.”
One day, I had my chance. Mom had to run to the store for a moment and I was going to be home alone for 15 minutes. I acted nonchalant, “See ya later,” and waited until I heard the car pull out of the driveway, and immediately ran over to the tree. I took my finger nail. I aimed for the back of the present. I figured if I just opened a finger nail’s worth of wrapping paper – no one would know I looked and I would know what it was.
Carefully. Surgically. Slowly. I slit and I saw: Brown. The brown of a big cardboard box. No words. No clue. Nothing.
I pulled a bit more. Still no clues. Still nothing.
I kept pulling until I could read a word or two: “Nutrition facts: Hydrogenated oil.” UGH! I was foiled by a present inside a box that wasn’t from the original present!
And I tried to put the wrapping paper back, but by now the mark was too big. Too huge. The best I could do was turn the present upside down, hope no one noticed it, and blame my dog if they did!
Patience…It’s hard. It’s really hard at Christmas. Waiting for presents. Waiting in line. Waiting in parking lots. Waiting for Christmas break. It’s hard to wait for Christmas, to the point that impatience, frustration, and anxiety become the main themes of the season.
Today we are going to continue our series called Old Fashioned Christmas. We will look at how people remained patient before the very first Christmas ever arrived. Something they waited for longer than a month – longer than a year – but thousands of years for! (Can you imagine waiting that long for a gift?)
Today’s goal is to: (1) Understand why Old Testament Israelites were willing to wait so patiently for so long for the first Christmas (2) grab some of their patience and use it as we await Christmas – and better yet -- the return of our Savior. Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Old Testament Patience
Our lesson this morning comes from the Psalms. The book of Psalms is a collection of poetry and songs that marvelously declare the praises of God in rhythm and rhyme. Because of that some of the most well-known Bible passages come from the Psalms: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.” (Psalm 23) or “God is our Refuge and strength and every present help in trouble. (Psalm 46)
The particular Psalm we want to look at is numbered 130. It is an authorless Psalm. Not that no one wrote it, but that the author is unknown. It doesn’t tell us who wrote it.
It think that’s neat. Because it helps us to understand and attribute the feelings of the Psalm to common, everyday Israelites. Kinda like me – a common, everyday, Raleigh-an.
Look at the problem the author is having: 1 Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy…with you there is forgiveness.
Again -- the specifics of the author’s problem isn’t mentioned. But it’s bad enough to be described as “the depths.”
Think of the bottom of a well. Dark. Musty air. Hard to breath. Scary.
But the author isn’t referring to physical depths. He talked about forgiveness which is a very spiritual concept. The author was dealing with guilt. The author was dealing with the consequences of sin. The author was dealing with the loneliness of separation from God.
Have you ever been in spiritual depths?
Of course, not, Pastor! I’m fine. It’s Christmas. I’m feeling holly, jolly, decking the halls with Falalalas and having a Merry Christmas.
But if we’re honest, spiritual lows are more common around Christmas than you think:
• Finances are challenging – and hopefully I can get a Dollar Tree gift or two for our kids. They wouldn’t be challenging, if I hadn’t have made so many mistakes.
• I won’t be getting a Christmas card from that person on Facebook – I said what I shouldn’t have said. No amount of merry or eggnog can fix it.
• I’ll be alone this Christmas. My family? They don’t want to see me. I’ve done too much wrong to each of them.
• I can’t listen to that song on the radio! The merry and happy that I hear – just isn’t how I feel and I feel even worse when I realize that I don’t feel that way either.
• Hospital rooms aren’t very exciting. All I want for Christmas is a CANCER FREE diagnosis.
The reality behind Christmas is that we’re still sinners. We still have guilt. We still have spiritual lows because of that guilt. Maybe that’s by we love Christmas. Maybe we love the happy singing, happy gifts, and happy drinks because they take our minds off of the spiritual depths for just a second. We feel happy for just a second. We feel ok for just a second. We’ll hear someone say, “You are kind. You are so nice…” as opposed to the inner voice that says, “You’re a bad mom – a no good father – a good for nothing friend.”
Christmas cheer can erase that!...
…Until December 26th. Then, we realize it’s all still there.
Your financially poor decisions are still a part of your credit report.
That person on Facebook still won’t talk to you.
Your family that was angry with you is still angry with you.
And your sins against God are still written down.
In fact, look at what the Psalmist writes about God – If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand? (130:3) There’s a similar thought in a cute, kids’ Santa Claus song. "He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty or nice.” That means his list says your name. It says naughty or nice. It determines whether you get coal or a new, metallic Slinky.
God’s list is much different.
God’s list has your name – and every last sin that you ever did written underneath it in 12 point Times New Heaven font!
God’s list doesn’t miss anything.
8:23am Pulled into parking lot and swore at the car who took your spot.
8:25am Refused to hold door for fellow employee because “I just don’t like him that much.”
8:26am Looked down that woman’s shirt who stood on the elevator in front of me.
8:26am and 32 seconds Checked out her rear as she left the elevator.
8:27am Ignored the “hello” of that one guy at work, because he didn’t say hi to me yesterday.
8:31am Told a lie about the boss’ love life because it’s fun to bring him down a notch or two.
8:34am Logged onto Facebook because I don’t feel like working.
8:39am Typed an angry political comment into a blog and called someone a bunch of names, because they are those bunch of names.
8:41am Typed a vulgar reply to a person who typed a vulgar reply to my political comment.
8:43am Typed an even more vulgar reply to a person who typed an even more vulgar reply to my political comment.
8:47am Saw Bible passage – scrolled through it quickly. Tried not to think about God.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand?
None of could stand.
All of us would be convicted.
No amount of garland...
No amount of gingerbread cookies.
No number of Elf on the Shelf positions could save us.
4 But, with you, O Lord, is forgiveness.
Do you get it? This is why the Psalmist was waiting on God. This is why the Psalmist was waiting on his promise of the Savior. Because there was no one else and nothing else that could fix that problem.
No one else that could fix sin.
No one else that could remove guilt.
No one else that could say, “You’re forgiven” and have that last eternally!
Hence the author waited.
Hence the Old Testament people waited.
And for a long time!
The timeline of the Savior starts with a guy named Abraham. God shows up and tells Abraham that he will one day send a Savior through his family. Abraham waits. Abraham grows old. Before Abraham dies, he passes that on to his son Isaac. God tells Isaac the same thing. One day the Savior will come through his family. Isaac waits. Isaac grows old. Before Isaac dies, he passes it on his to his son Jacob. And it’s the same thing with Jacob to his son….and his son to his son…and so on and so on and so on and so on. For close to 8000 years.
That’s a long time.
That’s a lot of waiting.
That’s a lot of patience.
And during that time Israel could have stopped hoping. And many of them did. The Old Testament talks all about that. Some started worship statues. Some started worshipping artistic poles. Some stopped thinking about God and worried more about the bank.
In essence, some stopped waiting for God.
But some waited.
From generation, to generation, to generation, they waited.
Until one night in Bethlehem…
Until a great, great, great, many times over grandson named Joseph had a son.
Until a Savior was born. Christ, the Lord.” (Lk. 2)
II. New Testament, You, Patience
But it’s hard to wait like the Psalmist. It’s hard to wait for God.
Story of not waiting for God.
God is worth waiting for.
Why? Look at verse 7. With the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins. There’s three key reasons to wait for God contained within that very verse.
(1) His Unfailing Love
If you put up Christmas lights, you know all too well that they can fail…easily. Usually it’s after you’ve tested them out, checked out every light, turned each one to make sure they are inserted correctly, strung them up on the outside of the house, and plugged it in...for about five seconds of oohs and ahs before bzzt!!! The lights go out and you gotta start all over.
God’s love is not like that. God’s love doesn’t bzzt! and shut off. God’s love is constant. His promise of forgiveness is constant. His eternal promise of heaven is constant.
With the Lord is unfailing love. (v.7a) His unfailing love is worth waiting for.
(2) Full Redemption
That’s a bit different from the majority of holiday sales. Sometimes they are too good to be true. You’ll be walking in the mall and a big sign 90% off! catches your eye. Who doesn’t stop for that sale? That’s $10 for a $100 item.
Then, you get inside. And…
The sale items are the ones with the yellow dot.
The items with the yellow dot are on the back-clearance rack.
The items on the back-clearance rack are nothing else than a few pairs of extra small slacks and a bright pink necktie that clashes with just about every shirt you own.
God’s redemption is not like that. God’s redemption is not just for the sins that are small OR the sins that no one thinks that much about in the back corner. God’s redemption found in Jesus is for all sins. It’s for every bit of every one of your sins.
It’s a complete payment. With him is full redemption. (v.7b)
A payment worth waiting for.
(3) He Himself
And it comes from God himself.
That’s what my mom always told me about a certain someone at Christmas. He had elves that worked for him. At the mall, he wasn’t even there himself. That’s too tough to get one on one time with him! Besides – how would these helpers ever get the message about my Red Ryder BB Gun to the big red guy in the first place?
But God is the one who personally came for your salvation.
He didn’t send a helper.
He didn’t send an angel.
He came himself.
That’s what the angel means when he says, “This is your Savior, Christ the Lord.” He means this is your Savior – God himself!
It means, God’s perfect, incredible, never failing, full redemption giving hands, took care of your salvation.
That’s a guy worth waiting for. That’s a God worth waiting for.
That’s why the Psalmist was so excited. He wrote, 5 I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his Word I put my hope. 6 I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Have any of you ever worked at night? Back then, there weren’t clocks, so the only way you knew that your job was almost over was the amount of darkness in the sky.
1:30 am. Still dark.
3:00 am. Darker still.
But come 4:45 am. It’s a dark grey.
5:15 am you can see your hand in front of your face.
6am, you start to get excited. You start to walk back to the office. There’s a beat to your step, because soon you look and...the sun peeks over the horizon. The day is here.
Wait for God like that.
With joy…because one day in this dark, sad, sin filled world, you’ll wake up. You’ll look at the horizon. The Son will come.
It will be morning.
Out of the dark depths of sin, guilt and shame.
Into the light of forgiveness, joy and God’s love.
It’s worth waiting for God. Amen.
What would you do inside of a fish?
Yes, that is a strange question and, yes, I really am opening my sermon with it. But humor me and think about it. What would you do if you suddenly found yourself inside of a fish?
Perhaps you’re thinking about the movie Pinocchio. Remember that? Pinocchio’s dad gets swallowed by a monstrous whale named Monstro. When Pinocchio becomes brave enough to go after him, he expects to find Gepetto, his dad, near death. But inside he finds him cooking a meal and playing some cards. Honestly, that’s not so bad. It’s sounds just like Geppetto was roughing it for a bit.
But cartoons aren’t reality. The Scriptures say that Jonah wasn’t swallowed by some gigantic whale with room enough for a king sized bed and a continental breakfast spread. It says Jonah was swallowed by a big fish. (1:17) Rather than the Pinocchio scenario, picture it more like a coffin. A smelly, fishy, vile-filled, plankton stinking coffin. What do you do in such a mess?
It sounds kind of like a horror movie. Trapped, claustrophobia settling in. What do you do? Panic? Scream? Close your eyes and wait to die? At the very least – if you can keep your wits about you, you can pray for God to "have mercy and to please save me and to do so quickly before my hair smells like tuna fish forever?”
But Jonah, well, Jonah says a prayer. But not a prayer asking for help.
Jonah says a prayer of thanks.
A prayer of thanks for salvation.
A prayer of thanks for the fish.
Today we’re going to continue our series called Runaway – and we’re going to learn about what Jonah did when he was inside the fish, and even though it’s a strange place to do so, inside that fish, we’re going to learn a lot about God’s salvation. Before we study God’s Word and hear Jonah’s words from inside that big fish, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. God Brings Salvation…in Dire Situations
Take a look at Jonah 2:1. It says this, “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He said, “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help and you listened to my cry.”
Notice how dire the situation was for Jonah. He calls it his “distress.” He was in extreme anxiety and terror. Why? Well – remember the last chapter. Jonah was in the middle of the sea. He didn’t have any floaties. He didn’t have an inflatable SpongeBob to hold onto. He couldn’t stand up; he wasn't in the shallow end of the pool. There wasn’t a boat in sight and he was quickly running out of strength to tread water.
To help with the picture, have you ever tried treading water before? I remember we had to do it back in swimming lessons for 5 minutes. It was a tough five minutes. My thighs were burning; my arms were burning; my lungs were burning. That’s what happens when you know how to tread water. If you don’t, you panic and splash – and your body’s energy gets used up even more quickly!
Can you imagine how Jonah felt as this strength went away?
Can you imagine how he felt without any lifeguards or any kind of a wall close by?
That’s the terror Jonah was feeling!
His next phrase describes just how terrified he was. He says, “I was in the depths of the grave.” The metaphor is that his body was already laying inside a grave, dug about 10 feet deep with a headstone that read, “Here lies Jonah, reluctant prophet.”
In other words, Jonah thought he was a goner -- as good as dead! Lost in the middle of the ocean…slowly drowning…not a boat in sight…Jonah did the only thing he could do:
“I called to the LORD and he answered me…I called for help and you, O God, listened to my cry.”
And God didn't say, "It's too late."
God didn't take too long to get there.
God didn't assess the situation and determine that there's nothing he could do.
God took a dire situation and made it one worthy of His praise.
This leads to our first salvation truth.
Salvation Truth #1: No situation is too dire for God’s salvation.
That's important to remember. Because you might feel a bit like Jonah. I’m looking out right now. None of you are literally in a pool of water drowning. Sure, it’s humid, but you get the point.
Still you might feel like you’re drowning.
Drowning in bills and mortgage payments.
Drowning in doctor visits and cancer medicines.
Drowning in relationship struggles and family feuds.
Drowning in guilt and sadness.
Drowning in loneliness – even depression.
Drowning in sin that leads you to sin that makes you feel so bad you sin some more!
He reaches out. He grabs your hands. He pulls you to safety. He rescues from the direst of situations.
To be fair: that’s what he’s already done and in the direst situation of all time. Remember the Colossians 2 passage from last week? Let’s look at it again this week. God rescued us from the dominion of darkness. (Col. 2:9) The dominion of darkness. That’s a dark place. The darkest of dark places. It’s a place of sin. A place of guilt. A place where you are alone with only the thoughts of how you have failed God and how you deserve his punishment! (It’s a place where we’ve all been. And if you think you aren’t there, then that’s proof that you been slurping up the abysmal water of death a bit too long).
Because being in that dominion of sin darkness is a lot like being in the middle of an ocean without a boat in site. We can’t tread water forever. We can’t swim to shore. No amount of good deeds will empower us to do a Michael Phelps and get out of there. The only thing left for us to do is die!
But while there was nothing for us to do, there was plenty for God to do. God brought us into the kingdom of the one he loves in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 2:10)
That’s when he sent Jesus. Jesus is a lifeguard. A spiritual life guard. He saw us drowning and hopped off his lookout chair in heaven. He came to earth. He went into the depths of darkness on the cross. He reached out his arms for you and grabbed a hold of you – just as a nail was drive through his palm.
And then – as we waited on the other side, our hero returns to life. Three days later he bursts forth from the dominion of darkness. He resides in the safety of the light. He grabs our hand and promises to take you with him –safely home.
If that’s what God did in the direst of situations, then what will God do in your situation?
There’s no situation too dire for God.
Your situation is not too dire for God.
II. God Brings Salvation… When I don’t Deserve it
But Pastor. I get it. God is big. God is powerful. Nothing is too dire for him.
But why would he want to help me? I haven’t been exactly listening to him very much lately. I’ve ignored his warnings. I’ve barely worshipped him. I’ve mostly acted like he didn’t exist. When I do that stuff to my friends, they don’t even respond to my messages on Facebook. Why would God ever respond to me? I don’t deserve his help.
Neither did Jonah. Remember chapter 1? God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach. Jonah ran away from Nineveh and didn’t preach. Then, Jonah got onto a boat and planned to run away from God. He betrayed God and did the exact opposite of what God wanted.
And Jonah understood that! Look at verse 3-4, “You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, “I have been banished from you sight.” Jonah doesn’t write any excuse. He knows that he turned his back on God and he knows that he deserves to have God’s back turned on him. He uses the word banished – meaning that he didn’t deserve to ever set a foot in God’s kingdom again. He knew it.
But read Jonah’s next words. “Still I will look again at your holy temple.” From complete despair to confidence. Why?
Because Jonah stopped looking at himself.
Because Jonah started looking at God.
It's like the old Magic Eye page. Do you remember it? It's a page of abstract art that if you look at it long enough without blinking it uncovers a secret 3D image of a ball or a potroast. Sometimes if you can't find it, you have to change perspective. Back up. Look at something else and return to it.
It's the same thing with salvation. If you're struggling to see how God might save you -- change perspective. Back up. Look around. Stop looking at yourself and start focusing on God.
Because of Salvation Truth #2: God Brings Salvation, even when we don’t deserve it. Consequently, that’s all the time. Yet God keeps bringing it. He gives us salvation even when we don’t remotely deserve it.
If you think that God couldn’t possibly bring you forgiveness and salvation, you’re too busy looking at yourself.
If you think that God doesn’t need to bring you forgiveness and salvation, you’re looking at yourself.
Stop it. Look at God.
Jesus says in John 6:47, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” That’s his love. Whether you are a drunkard or a pornographer, a gossip or a liar, a thief or an abuser, an adulteress or a homosexual offender. Whatever you are, whatever you were, whatever you’ve done to sin.
Receive God’s incredible salvation!
III. God’s Salvation is Complete
That sounds nice, Pastor. That sounds nice. But will it be enough? Will Jesus be enough? My situation is so big, so large, I wonder if He’ll be enough?
Have you ever gone to a fancy restaurant? I’m not talking about just a sit-down restaurant, but a sit-down and wear nice clothes restaurant? A five-star restaurant. A celebrity chef restaurant. It’s quite the experience. The ambience is gorgeous and the wait staff is extra polite. They might even bring out warm little towels to wipe your fingers on.
But then comes the meal – which you’ve been waiting for – and voila! It looks great. At least, the 4 inches of the plate that actually has food on it. You eat it; every bite about $2. You savor it, but…It’s not enough.
On the way home you stop at McDonald's for a few items off the Dollar Menu.
Do you ever wonder if God’s salvation is like that? Like it seems fancy and nice, but is it really going to be enough? It’s why we still feel so icky and still feel the pressure of trying to be perfect as if -- Jesus did a lot of this, but unless I become perfect it’ll never be enough!
Look at what God did for Jonah. It was more than enough. “The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweeds was wrapped around my head." Understand how massive Jonah’s problem was. It was a problem that would cause almost anyone to come up short on. "To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God.” (v.5-7)
What seemed impossible to Jonah – was no problem for God. He simply reached down and plucked Jonah up from danger.
God was enough. More than enough.
Salvation truth #3: Jesus is enough for you. No matter your situation, no matter how far you’ve fallen, no matter how long you’ve been gone – Jesus is enough.
He was enough for a man who had stolen and lost friends his whole life.
He was enough for a woman who had committed adultery and prostituted herself.
He was enough for a thief who was literally dying next to him.
Jesus is enough for you.
1. Throw Out Your Idols.
That was Jonah’s conclusion. He said, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” An idol is a little statue. Something that people would take and worship. They’d carve; they’d cut; they’d paint. Then, they’d say, “Save me O god (aka piece of wood that I spent hours making).”
Idols aren’t super prevalent in America. At least not this kind. We’ve got other idols. Idols in the shape of money. Idols in the shape of Instagram followers. Idols in the shape of family. Idols in the shape of whoever stares at me in the mirror.
An idol is anything that tempts you to trust in it more than God.
Jonah’s advice – The guy who was literally drowning in the water and God saved him with a fish?
Drop those idols. If that’s who you trust for salvation, you will be disappointed.
Throw out your idols. Stop trusting in other things and stuff to save you. Get rid of the bottle of Jack Daniels. Block the porn website. End that ungodly relationship.
Stop trusting in them. Start trusting in Jesus.
2. Thank God for Your Fish.
Again -- this is so interesting. Because where was Jonah when he prayed this? He was inside the fish. Yet he wasn’t complaining about the fish. He wasn’t frustrated that God didn’t send a yacht for him. He wasn’t mad that he wasn’t on the beach.
He was thankful – for the fish. Look at verse 9 “Salvation comes from the Lord.” He started praising God and thanking him – even when he was inside the fish!
What’s your fish? What’s your something that’s normally bad – that God used to accomplish great good?
A job loss?
A relationship spoiled?
A health issue?
Thank God for it. Thank God that he used it to bring you back. Thank God that he used it for your salvation!
And that’s it. Jonah’s prayer ends and the final verse says, “The Lord commanded the fish and it vomited Jonah unto dry land.”
Of course that’s what makes this story very unbelievable. Truth be told thousands of churches and pastors that would never preach on this text, because “It’s insulting. It’s unbelievable. It has a nice moral, but in the end it’s a myth because no human could be inside a fish that long.”
Lots of people don’t believe it. You might run into people like that. You might be tempted not to believe it. You might be tempted to not believe anything about God’s salvation.
But…do you know who did believe it?
Jesus said, “For as Jonah was three day and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so I will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40)
Jesus didn’t just believe that the Jonah story was real.
He believed his resurrection would be real too.
And it was.
And he did.
And he will accomplish your salvation.
When my parents came down a couple of weeks ago, they brought down a few items that were still stored at their house from the two weeks Julianna and I lived there before moving to our own apartment in Raleigh. One of the items they brought down was Julianna’s wedding dress. And…she tried it on. She fit into it perfectly and looked as beautiful as ever.
So…I got to thinking…I wonder if my suitcoat still fits. The other day I went into my closet. I found what I think was my suitcoat and I tried it on.
It was a little tighter than I remember it. I had to “suck it in” in order to get the pants on. In fact, the suit was tight enough that it was a little more difficult to breathe.
The same thing can happen spiritually. Grief, sadness, and gloom can get to be too much. They can tighten themselves around you like a two sizes too small suit. Grief can metaphorically make life so stressful that it literally makes it more difficult to breath.
Perhaps there is no one who understood the suffocation effect that grief has more than Mary Magdalene. Open up your Bibles and find her story in John 20 beginning at verse 1.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. This is what Matthew 28 talked about last week as Mary was a part of that group of women who were heading toward the tomb. But John indicates that Mary was not a part of the women that made their way to the angels. Rather, she ran away from the tomb. She ran to Peter and John and told them that the tomb was open. While she was telling them this, the other women were talking to the angel and hearing the glorious message that Jesus had risen.
But Mary missed that. Instead, she must have followed behind Peter and John. Crying. Stumbling. Sobbing.
Jesus had been the one man who had ever shown her unconditional love. He had gone near her when no one else would. He had talked to her when everyone else ignored her. He had healed her…when she thought all was lost.
Scripture says, Mary had been possessed by seven demons. Jesus had driven them out.
And when Jesus had driven those demons out – he had driven out other demons. No longer did she feel unlovable. No longer did she feel unloved by God. No longer did she feel completely worthless. Jesus’ actions had shown she had value and that she had purpose.
But…they had taken that away from her. The had taken her Lord away from her.
They had killed him.
Now to make things worse, someone had added insult to injury and stolen his body. She couldn’t even give him a proper burial. She couldn’t even search from some kind of closure at his gravesite.
Eventually, she made her way to the entrance of the tomb. The guards were gone. The other women were guard. Peter and John were gone. Only Mary – Mary and an empty tomb – Mary, her broken heart and her empty tomb.
She sobbed – grief was pressing on all sides of her. It was hard to catch her breath as she collapsed in front of the door. Slowly she lifted her head. Slowly she looked inside – hoping to see a piece of his garment…a left behind hair. A sandalmark. Something to remind her of the good times. Something to remind her of her Lord.
Something to give her hope.
What she found was so much more incredible. 12 Mary bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head of the stone gurney and the other at the foot.
Now – if ever there was something that might jar Mary out of her sadness, it might be an angel. Bright, shining, gleaming. You don’t see them every day. Imagine if one appeared on Falls of Neuse as you were fighting traffic to work in the morning. Suddenly, you’re wide awake. The doldrums of the morning drive are quickly shaken off.
Mary should have noticed. She should have been filled with hope. She should have been excited. She should have at least been a bit frightened. She had divine, holy angels in front of her. Angels who would have answered her questions. Angels who could have given her good news. Angels that maybe she should have investigated.
Instead, she simply answers their question: They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have put him. And fixated on that terrible thought, filled with grief that her Savior was dead, she turned around and left.
Does that ever happened to you? Does grief ever become so great that it’s hard to focus on anything positive – even if it’s staring you in the face?
Essentially that’s what clinical depression does. It becomes a dark cloud over your life. It overshadows everything that you do.
A young woman named Erin wrote about what depression was doing to her on her blog. She said, “I feel stifled and so alone. I can’t focus and all I can write about is how much pain I’m in physically and emotionally, how tired I am, and how lost I feel. And just thinking about those things makes them worse. I am really really struggling.”
For some of you that might happen a lot. For others not as often. But hopefully you can relate.
Is it a chemical imbalance that leads to depression? Sure. Science has documented that. But –somewhere along the line – we have to admit that there’s a much greater cause for depression. One that can’t be counteracted with medicine and psychotherapy.
It’s called sin.
Sin that someone did to you.
Sin that you did to someone else.
Sin that you did to you.
Sin doesn’t like to be ignored.
Do you remember the story of a tell tale heart? In it, the killer takes the body and stuffs it into the floor. At first, he’s ok. But soon every time he passes that body he hears its heart beating. As if it were a loud drum, he hears it beating and reminding him day after day, moment after moment of what he’s done.
Sin is a lot like that. It beats loudly. It beats steadily. It loves to remind us over the awful, grievous things we have done –
Sinner – sinner –sinner.
Scum – worthless – unloved – sinner.
Know what? If the world is as Mary Magdalene thought it was, then Jesus is dead. There is no reason for hope. “If Christ has not been raised…you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor. 15)
There is only sin.
There is only hatred.
There is only death.
There is only eternal damnation in hell.
If Christ hasn't been raised...
II. Grief Relief
Mary staggered out of the tomb. It was all too much. She fell to the ground. Her tears hit the dirt and changed it into little salty mud droplets.
Then, a twig snapped. The quiet swish of grass blades being displaced caught her ears.
Footsteps. They spoke, “Dear woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
She looked up. Her tears were so great – she didn’t recognize the person in front of her. He must have been the gardener. Maybe he had some answers. Maybe he could help her.
She choked out the words between sobs. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
What she heard next was something she had before. Something that had accompanied her freedom from the demons. Something that had been accompanied by kind words of God’s love. Something that had been spoken by her dearest friend – in that exact same way.
She turned toward him. She cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” Which means “Teacher.” Suddenly a smile adorned her face. The tears of sadness turned to tears of joy. The grief was replaced with incredible exuberation!
It was Jesus. He was alive!
We looked at this scripture earlier. Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…That means it isn’t hopeless. It means it isn’t worthless. It means that you are not in your sins. It means the devil doesn’t win. It means death is not the end. It means you are not destined for hell. It means that by faith in Jesus you are headed to heaven!
This is incredible news.
It’s kind like driving a car out to the country in the middle of the night. Turning the headlights off for a few moments. Looking at all that’s around you. Allowing your eyes to adjust. Seeing nothing but darkness. Then, immediately switching the headlight to high beams! Man is it bright!
Jesus’ resurrection is like that. It plows through the darkness. It shines a lot on the dismal things in our lives. He will brighten every aspect of your day from now until eternity.
But pastor I’m a Christian. I still struggle. I still feel filled with grief sometimes. How do I breathe a sigh of relief? How do I stay positive when depressing things are going on all around me?
For Mary, that was what did it. She saw her Savior. She saw him living. She saw him breathing. She saw his eyes tracking her movements. She saw his chest moving as oxygen flowed in and out of him. Seeing her resurrected Savior was key.
But we don’t get that opportunity. We weren’t there at the tomb. We aren’t anywhere near Israel or 36ish AD. How do we see Jesus?
John 1:14 says, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only."
That’s Jesus. He’s the One and Only. He’s the Word.
Understand then that we see Jesus when we open up this Bible. Every time you’re in church. Every time we read a lesson. Every time we sing a Bible based hymn. Every time you turn on your Bible app at lunch. Every time you go old school and open your Grandma’s KJV at her house. Every time you are in God’s Word – you see Jesus.
You see his heart. You see his love. You see his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of his sins.
Trust God on this! It will affect your mood. It might not be a total immediate transformation. But it will work, because that’s what God’s Word does.
Listen, you wouldn’t give up taking an antibiotic after one try would you? Especially if the doctor told you to take two, 3x a day for a whole week. Don’t stop reading God’s Word ever. It produces joy!
2) Make Sure your Joy is in the Lord!
Philippians says, “Rejoice in the Lord, always!” Do you know who wrote that? The Apostle Paul. Do you know when he wrote that? He wrote it while he was in prison for telling people about the Lord.
That’s not the most compelling circumstances for joy.
Yet notice he doesn’t say, “Rejoice in the fact that today’s food is better than yesterday’s.”
He doesn’t say “Rejoice in the fact that the shackles are more comfy in this cell than the guy next door’s.”
It doesn’t even say “Rejoice in the fact that I’m smarter than my captors.”
He says, “Rejoice in the Lord!” The Lord who called me. The Lord who found me. The Lord who made me his own. The LORD who lives and breathes and is alive forever. The Lord who promises me a home with him.
Keep this in mind. It’s easy for us to want to find joy in earthly things. I got a new job. I got a raise. I got a new friend. But those things might not last. And when they do fail, you will fall back into the doldrums of sadness.
Rejoice in the LORD! He lasts forever.
This interesting. Because Mary had been sad for a few days. Yet as soon as she felt the joy of seeing her risen Savior, Jesus had work for her. He told her to get up, not to hold on to him, and instead to go and tell his disciples that he would see them soon.
Really….it makes a lot of sense. Mary had just been lifted out of sadness. She had breathed a sigh of relief. There were others who needed that news too. Others who needed their guilt lifted away.
Others who needed to know that Jesus lived.
Do you know people like that? Let me change that…You do know people like that. The only way you don’t is if you are a hermit.
Why wouldn’t you share the Gospel with them?
You might be thinking Pastor...Easter is over. You don’t have anymore of those invite cards. There isn’t a breakfast to invite people to anymore. Call me again next year!
What if you were doing some spring cleaning with your spouse and you were moving some boxes from the garage to the attic and suddenly the box filled with all of your paper weights – and in this illustration you have a lot of paper weights – a paper weight collection – what if it got to be too much and your spouse lost his balance and lay on the ground caught underneath the weight of the box?
How long would you let him wait?
Why would you let your friends wait under the weight of their sins and guilt?
Help them breathe. Share the Gospel. Tell them of how Jesus died, but also of how he came back alive. Tell how his breath allows us to breathe a sigh of relief. Amen.