When I was in Seattle, WA, I had the goal to get to the top of the highest point in the lower 48 states, Mt. Rainier. I bought the right gear. I went into training. I learned from a woman who had been up Mount Everest three separate times.
On the day of the climb, we hiked up to Camp Muir, a base camp about 10,000 feet up. From there, we slept in a tiny wooden cabin to acclimate to the altitude and rest up for the final ascent. We went to bed at 6pm and woke up around Midnight. (You have to leave early in order to cross the ice bridges before the daylight gets too hot, the bridge melts and you fall to your death.)
It was about eight hours up when a blizzard kicked in. The air was sparse. The wind was frigid. My fingers were frozen. And it was only getting nastier. Some of the other climb groups had already turned around and gone back.
About an hour from the top, the lead expeditions said:
“This is getting pretty bad. I haven’t seen it this bad before. What do you think? We could go to the top and see the marvelous views, but…
If we don’t turn around, we could get frostbite or die.
So we thought about it and said:
“I’m sure Google images probably has some might fine photos of the top. So...
Sometimes suffering isn’t worth it.
Today we are continuing our series called Dear Church. It’s a series based on letters from Jesus to seven different churches. The letter for today looks at a church that was dealing with suffering…even suffering because they were believers. Our goal today is to understand what kind of suffering believers have to deal with and whether it’s worth that suffering.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The One who Knows Suffering
This letter starts in Revelation 2:8: “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty —yet you are rich!”
A few notes:
The letter is again written to the angel. We said that’s most likely referencing their pastoral leadership which, in turn, means it’s a letter written to the church in Smyrna.
Smyrna was an ancient Greek city at a central point on the Aegean coast. Because its positioning allowed for advantageous port conditions and an easily defendable city, Smyrna was full of people. In other words, it was a great place to start a church.
And someone had. We don’t know the exact apostle or disciple that founded it, which shows that the Gospel was spreading beyond the work rate of the apostles alone. This church was probably not started by one of the 12 apostles, yet Jesus considers it a church. Similarly, our church wasn’t started by one of the Apostles, yet Jesus would call it a real church.
Because the Holy Spirit was at work in the word.
Here in Raleigh.
So, both are churches.
Finally, the speaker is Jesus. This is his letter. And since this is a letter to a church that is suffering, he offers his credentials on the subject:
(1) Jesus Existed before SUFFERING
These are the words of him who is the First (v.8) Jesus existed eternally long before suffering ever existed. He created a world that was perfect, apart from suffering. Then, he watched as humans foolishly were led by the devil into suffering.
Don’t think that Jesus’ main goal is to end suffering?
To bring life back to the way that it once was?
It’d be like cleaning your living room, putting all the toys in their place and removing all the crumbs from the floor – making the place a gorgeous Better Homes and Gardens style living area.
Then, your kids happen.
And you’d like to see it back to the way it was when you were finished cleaning.
The same is true for God. He has on his heart a desire to bring things back to the way they were long before suffering happened.
And here’s the good news about that:
(2) Jesus will OUTLAST Suffering
These are the words of him who is the Last. (v.8) As in, he will last beyond all suffering.
He will outlast cancer.
He will outlast financial difficulties.
He will outlast persecutions.
He will outlast terrorism.
He will outlast racism.
He will outlast the little angry emojis that people put upon Christian content on Social Media.
He will outlast every form of suffering.
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t suffered.
(3) Jesus is FAMILIAR with suffering
These are the words of him who died. (v.8)
Do you know how Jesus died?
He was arrested by a mob.
He was beaten by that mob.
He was smacked and slapped till the early hours of the morning.
He was whipped thirty times with a 7 stranded leather whip that had metal shards on the end. (Also known as flogged)
He had a crown of thorns smashed down onto his head.
He was hit with a staff.
He was laid down upon two giant pieces of wood.
He had one nail driven through his right hand.
He had another nail driven through his left hand.
He had one more nail driven through his feet.
He hung on that cross as his lungs slowly collapsed.
He was abandoned by his friends.
He was betrayed by his disciples.
He was crucified by his people.
He had our sin and guilt and shame plaguing his soul.
He was familiar with suffering.
Suffering even to death!
Now – he lives.
He lives and walks among his churches.
(4) Jesus Knows YOUR suffering
Pause and reflect on that truth.
Because it’s easy to think:
No one knows my suffering.
No one understands.
No one gets this sadness I feel.
No one grasps the loneliness that I go through.
No one truly gets the depths of my depression.
Jesus is speaking to you. He says:
I know it feels like no one knows, but I know.
I know what it’s like to suffer.
I know that you are suffering.
I know what it is you’re suffering:
I know that you feel so poor because you are suffering.
In the midst of suffering…
You are rich.
(5) Jesus Gives Eternal RICHES to the Suffering
You are rich.
Rich in my love.
Rich in forgiveness.
Rich in the promise of eternal life.
You have a place in my family that all of the money in the world would be unable to buy.
You may be suffering, but you are not suffering from a lack of my promises.
II. Truths about Our Suffering
After giving his credentials as to why he is an expert in suffering, Jesus has a few things to say about the suffering that the people of Smyrna were going through. He says:
I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan. (v.9)
Apparently there was a group that was slandering the church. It was a group that claimed to be Jewish but wasn’t. This isn’t genealogical. Jesus is referring to people who were did not have a faith that matched the Old Testament faith, but pretended they did.
Because the Old Testament Jewish faith was that God would send a Messiah to save us from our sins. Overtime some Jews abandoned that faith and replaced it as, “God doesn’t need to save us from our sins, because I am Jewish and do Jewish things.”
When Jesus showed up, a “phony” Jewish faith is exactly what the Pharisees had. Jesus was the Messiah. The real Jewish faith would have believed in him. Instead, the “phony” Jewish faith rejected Jesus as Messiah because “they were good enough Jewish people on their own.”
Now after Jesus, this group was persecuting the church in Smyrna and it was bad enough to be called “suffering”:
Maybe they were calling them names.
Maybe some of them worked on the local tax board and were taxing their church building heavily.
Maybe some of them paid of the Roman soldiers to throw church members in prison.
Regardless, the church was suffering. What did Jesus say about this suffering? A few things:
(1) Believers WILL Suffer for their Faith
Look at what Jesus says in Verse 10: Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. At first glance, this seems comforting. But if you are a Smyrnian, don’t you think they read this and responded by saying:
What? About to suffer? You mean this isn’t even done yet?
That’s the truth.
For the Smyrnian people.
And for us:
The truth is that believers in Jesus will suffer.
Some suffering will happen because we’re on a sinful world where sinful people hurt one another. (Gossip, racism, and unfaithfulness)
Some suffering will happen because we’re in an imperfect world. (Cancer, pollution, and natural disasters)
Some suffering will happen because we’re believers in Jesus. (Things like angry comments on your Christian blog, being excluded from parties because you’re “That lousy Christian,” being yelled at by your spouse because “I’m not into that Jesus junk.”)
Jesus said this:
Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me. (Luke 10:16)
Just like you might not like a football team and, as a result, you don’t like fans of a certain football team.
Or you don’t like a politician and, as a result, you don’t like followers of that politician.
It’s the same thing with Jesus:
If someone doesn’t like Jesus.
They don’t like his followers.
If sinners made Jesus suffer,
They will make his followers suffer too.
(2) The Real Villain is the DEVIL
Because if it was just a bunch of humans making us suffer, you might think:
I can take them, Jesus. I took a few defense classes once, so…I got this.
But these people aren’t the real ones behind it. Look at what Jesus says about who was really behind the Smyrnian suffering:
I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you. (v.10b)
Now it wasn’t as if the devil showed up with a red pitchfork in his hands and pointy ears like some kind of Halloween costume.
But he influenced.
He gave people ideas like:
You should tell that Jesus supporter that he’s an idiot.
You should tell that Roman guard that Christian is breaking law by praying in public.
You should break up with your wife because the amount of Bible talk she has is crazy.
The same is true today.
The real villain isn’t whoever is persecuting you.
It’s the devil himself.
(3) Suffering Lasts for AWHILE
Because look at what Jesus says next:
You will suffer persecution for ten days.” (v.10c)
That doesn’t sound awful.
It’s the reason I sign up for ten days at a fitness camp. I figure – that’s not too long. I can handle it.
Or maybe you sign up for a ten day visit to your in-laws. You figure – that’s just over a week. I got this.
10 days of persecution? That’s doable.
But here’s the thing about numbers in revelation. They are metaphoric:
The number 3 represents God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The number 4 represents humans. Humans were created in God’s image, but aren’t God.
The number 7 represents the church. It’s 3 plus 4, where God connects with humans.
The number 10? It represents completeness.
Meaning the church at Smyrna would suffer until the suffering was completed.
In other words, for a while.
And the reality is that Christians will suffer…until their suffering on earth is completed.
Suffering will be a part of your life when you’re 5.
When you’re a teenager.
When you’re middle aged.
When you’re a senior.
Even suffering for your faith…
…will be a part of your life for a while.
Only for a while.
(4) The faithful will receive the CROWN of LIFE
Look at what Jesus says at the end of verse 10:
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Back at this time, the victor’s crown was associated with the Olympics. It was made of olive branches and given to the winner.
To the winner of the 100-meter dash: Victor’s crown.
To the winner of the 1600-meter run: Victor’s crown.
To the winner of the pole vault: Victor’s crown
To the winner of the steeple chase (whatever a steeple chase is): Victor’s crown.
After all the training.
After all the sweating.
After all the suffering.
A victor’s crown.
Look at what Jesus promises to those who are victorious.
Who go through suffering in this life.
But hold on to Jesus:
A victor’s crown.
But not just any victor’s crown. This isn’t made from olive branches.
It’s made of life.
Do you get it?
If you hold to Jesus despite the suffering this life brings, you will have eternal life.
Death won’t win.
You will defeat it.
Just like Jesus defeated death, you will defeat death too.
You will live.
And about this life…
It won’t be one of suffering.
(5) The Faithful’s SUFFERING will END
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death. (v.11)
That’s sounds awful.
First death is bad enough.
It’s nothing but suffering.
Nothing but awful.
Nothing but hell…
…because it is hell.
But dear believers, that’s not anything you have to be worried about. The faithful will not be hurt even in the slightest by hell.
Because in heaven? There is no hell.
In heaven? There is no death.
In heaven? There is NO suffering.
No suffering for faith.
No arguments with spouses.
No rebellious kids.
No ostracization from friends.
No suffering of any amount, variety or kind.
In heaven, SUFFERING is done.
Because you’re with the one that defeated suffering.
You’re with Jesus.
III. WHAT NOW?
Jesus’ words are simple: Be Faithful.
Because when being a believer gets hard, it’s tempting to not be faithful.
“I became a believer and I still get sick.
I still have work problems.
I still have financial difficulties.
Only now people ridicule me for my faith.”
It might seem easier to stop being faithful so that you won’t have this momentary suffering.
If you stay faithful, in the midst of the momentary suffering, you will have eternal blessings.
Because God is faithful.
That won’t change.
He sent his Son Jesus for you.
And through faith in him you will be removed from suffering…forever.
We have a leak on our roof. The rain comes down through a circular vent that was installed through the shingles and OSB without a line of caulk to protect the space surrounding it. My first attempt at fixing it (cover the area with tin foil) only worked until the tin toil blew off the roof. (About 2 days) On my second attempt, I went up to the roof with a caulking gun that I had loaded with roofing tar. I took that tar and did a nice circle around the opening. Case closed. (Julianna, man do you have handy husband.)
But that wasn’t it. It was still leaky. I went back to the roof, but couldn’t find an opening, so I decided to approach it from the other side. I went up into our crawl space attic, maneuvered around the insulation and shined a tiny flashlight up to the hole from the other direction. Sure enough! There were a few tiny little holes that were still allowing water into our place.
So, I picked up the caulking gun, pressed it against the holes and…
I tried again.
I pumped it a solid 7 or 8 times more until…
Apparently, I had forgotten to open up the top of the caulking tube. As a result, it busted out the back and all over my hands.
That tar was messy.
I used soap.
I used a second kind of soap.
I used a third kind of soap.
It was messy.
Today we’re starting our sermon series called MESSY. It’s all about something that’s the spiritual equivalent of tar all over your hands: something called sin. Something that can get all over your life, all over your relationships, and all over your relationship with God. Today we just wanted to identify what sin is and how we deal with it. But 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. What is Sin?
The Scripture that we’re looking at today is from the book of Mark. Mark is a guy who was an eyewitness to Jesus’ life. So, it’s likely that he was there for the event that we’re taking a look at today. Listen to what happens: As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17)
This story is actually recorded in two other places of Scripture. In Matthew’s version, we learn that he was a young man. (Mt. 19:20) In Luke’s version, we learn that he was a ruler. (Lk. 18:18) In all of the stories, we learn that he was rich.
So, here’s what you need to understand…
This guy was impressive.
He was the kind of guy who worked hard throughout his life. Maybe he was first chair trumpet, captain of the soccer team and the homecoming king all while graduating Cum Laude with three sets of honor cords.
The kind of guy that was no stranger to inheritance. His grandpa’s 401k. His dad’s H&R Block business. He was….
The kind of guy with a family boat house on Lake Gaston.
The kind of guy who’d gotten on Shark Tank and received a royalty deal from Mr. Wonderful.
The kind of guy who’d be an Instagram influencer – literally paid by companies — just to include a shot of himself drinking a Coca-Cola on his next social media post.
He was successful.
He also knew that none of this stuff was eternal life.
The assets would eventually run out.
The Lexus would stop running.
The six pack of abs would eventually fade to fat…then dust.
But he had earned everything else in his life.
Hence the question:
Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Why do you call me good? There is no one good, but God alone. (v.18)
Understand what Jesus is saying:
God is good.
And eternal life is God’s.
Then eternal life must be good.
And since God is good.
And his commands are God’s.
Then, his commands are good.
And since eternal life is good.
And God’s commands are good.
To get to eternal life, one simply needs to do the good that your good God commands you to do:
Do not murder. Murder bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not commit adultery. Unfaithfulness is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not steal. Theft is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not give false testimony. Lying is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do not defraud. Gossip is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Honor your Father and Mother. Disrespect is bad. It isn’t good. Don’t do it.
Do the good things. You inherit eternal life.
Do the bad things. You won’t.
Sin is the MESSINESS of OPPOSING God.
It’s like eating healthy. If you’re trying to eat healthy, then food is either good for your body or good for your taste buds.
Carrot mush. Good for your body, not for taste.
Deep friend Carrot Cake. Good for taste, not for body.
Bran Flakes. Good for body.
Frosted Flakes. Good for taste.
Kombucha. Good for body.
Vanilla Dr. Pepper. Good for taste.
Brussel sprouts. Good for body.
Doritos. Good for taste.
Brussel sprout flavored Doritos? Not good for either. Let’s make sure that it’ll never happen.
Sin and God are like that.
They are in opposition.
What’s good for sin is not good for God.
What’s good for God is not good for sin.
II. Sin is Messy
And one of the reasons that God has assigned the sinful things as sin is because sin causes all kinds of messiness in our lives.
Thinks about it:
(1) Sin Messes up Relationships
Just consider some of the sins that Jesus mentions here.
Stealing? It messes up your relationship with the friend you stole 20 bucks from.
Gossip? It messes up your relationship with the person who finds out you have been gossiping about them.
Adultery? It messes up your relationship with your spouse, with the person you’re commit adultery with, with the spouse of the person you’re committing adultery with, with your parents, with your spouse’s parents, with your parents of the person you’ve committed adultery with, with the parents of the spouse of the persons you’ve committed adultery with, with your siblings, with your siblings in law, with their friends, with your friends, and, God forbid, any children that are in the mix.
Now you might say:
Only if I get caught!
Is that really true?
Because even if you don’t get caught stealing, the relationship with your friend is affected because now you have to think of ways to lie to your friend and remember the lies that you said in order not to get caught.
And even if you don’t get caught by the person you’re gossiping about, the people you’re gossiping to hear what you’re saying, recognize what you’re doing, and are making mental notes to keep you at a distance.
And even if you don’t get caught in adultery, you quickly find yourself nitpicking and complaining about any minor offense from your spouse because you need to soothe your conscience and come up with tangible reasons to tell yourself: “It’s ok what I’m doing.”
Sin messes up relationships with others.
(2) Sin Messes Up Self Image
Because what happens when you sin?
You don’t usually feel good about you it.
You feel anxious.
You feel sad.
You feel guilty.
And here’s the thing, when people say things like “You’re such a good person.”
You nod and accept, but deep down there’s this little voice that says: “If they only knew…”
They wouldn’t call me good.
They’d call me -- unfaithful.
Which leads to our next issue…
(3) Sin Messes Up Your Relationship with God
It’s Back to Church Sunday. One thing I’ve been doing this week is reaching out to people who used to worship here but haven’t in a while. Just a simple message telling them that we missed them and would love for them to return.
In the process, I invited one friend of mine. And the person responded: “I’ll think about it.”
So, I followed up yesterday and asked if they might make it? They said they didn’t have a car. I said, “We could give a ride.”
They responded: “I don’t think I can get up that early.” I said: “The last service is at 11 am.”
Finally, they said: “Pastor, I can’t come, because life is mess right now. I need to get it together first. I can’t let God see me like this. I’m too guilty.”
How sad. Sin drives people apart from God.
It causes us to distance ourselves from him.
We miss out on knowing we have his protection.
We miss out on being uplifted by his love.
We miss out on hearing about his incredible plan for us.
We just kind of drift…away.
But none of this worries our impressive young man. When he hears Jesus’ answer, he’s feeling pretty good. Because Jesus mentioned a bunch of commands, that he hasn’t broken.
He hasn’t murdered.
He hasn’t committed adultery.
He hasn’t lied.
He’s done good.
He says to Jesus:
All these I have kept since I was a boy. (v.20)
Jesus looked at him.
Jesus loved him.
Jesus spoke to his heart:
One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have. Sell your 401k. Sell your internet business. Sell your stock in Disney. Sell your 70” HD TV. Sell your XBOX. Sell your Coach Handbag. Sell your Air Jordans. Sell your season tickets. Sell everything.
And give to the poor. To the homeless. To the impoverished. To the elderly man who can’t afford healthcare. To the guy at the I-540 on ramp asking for change. To the immigrant who can’t get a job because of the way he looks.
And you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come follow me. (v.21)
But the young man didn’t follow Jesus.
His face fell.
He grew sad.
He turned and left.
Because you see, Jesus had exposed his sin.
Did you catch it?
He loved earthly treasure more than heavenly treasure.
He loved STUFF more than the CREATOR of stuff.
He broke the 1st Commandment: You shall have no other gods.
He did bad.
He wasn’t good.
But more intriguing than the young man’s response, is what Jesus says next.
How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!... It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. (v.23,24)
Have you ever seen a camel before? It’s a big old animal. The average camel is 6 feet tall at the shoulder, 7 feet tall at the hump. It weighs about 1500 pounds.
The eye of a needle? It’s much tinier. It’s so tiny because it is designed for only a thread to pass through it.
I don’t have a camel with me. (The Greensboro Zoo wouldn’t get back to my request to borrow one)
But I do have this stuffed camel.
And this needle.
No matter how hard I smush it.
No matter how hard I jam it.
No matter how hard I push it.
It is impossible for this stuffed camel to go through the eye of this needle.
It is impossible for a real camel to go through the eye of a needle.
And it is impossible for a rich young man earn his way through the gates of heaven.
In fact, it is impossible for anyone to earn their way into the gates of heaven.
(4) Sin Messes Up Our Entrance into Heaven
Heaven is a good place.
Heaven is a divinely good place.
It is a place without any sin.
And if you’ve got sin on you…
If you’ve got a big sin…
If you’ve got a little sin…
If you’ve got any sin…
…it is impossible for you to earn your way into heaven.
III. The Solution
Jesus’ disciples are shocked all this. Because this impressive young gentleman, who had earned all varieties of accolades in his lifetime, wasn’t able to earn the accolade of heaven.
If he wasn’t getting in, then…
What about us?
Because he’s got it together, we don’t.
He’s impressive; we’re not.
He’s got everything going for him; not us.
He was the Bill Gates, the Mark Zuckerberg, the Elon Musk.
If he wasn’t getting in, then…
Who can be saved? (v.26)
Listen to Jesus’ response:
With humans, this is impossible. But not with God; with God all things are possible. (v.27)
Do you get it?
Heaven is impossible for any being with sin to earn.
He doesn’t have any sin.
He doesn’t struggle with wrong.
He isn’t messy…at all.
(1) Sin hasn’t MESSED UP God
Unlike all of the rest of us, God is sinless. He’s still good. He doesn’t do wrong. He doesn’t have any mess on his eternal being. He remains pure.
You won’t catch God in the fellowship area after church gossiping about that one guy.
You can’t Google for God’s criminal record because he doesn’t have any.
You won’t find photos of God from 2011 on Social Media in which he’s engaged in lewd activity.
You won’t find any racists tweets that have been deleted from God’s account.
God is incorruptible.
God is perfect.
God is sinless.
Sin hasn’t messed up God.
And it never will.
Which is big news.
Because it means
(2) God is the ONE to Clean the Mess Up
Think about it:
When I had that tar all over my hands, one of the worst things that could have done would be to try and wipe it off by rubbing my dirty hands together.
(It’s what I did), but it failed miserably.
Messy hands cannot clean up messy hands.
Sinful hands cannot clean up sinful hands.
But God’s hands aren’t dirty.
God’s hands aren’t messy.
God’s hands are holy.
God’s hands are pure.
God’s hands are divine.
God is the one to clean the mess up.
God is the one to clean YOUR mess up.
He is the ONLY one to clean your mess up.
He had to act.
And he did.
Back to the story. Peter is the name of one of Jesus’ disciples and he is having a hard time believing that he can’t earn heaven. So, he says to Jesus this: “WE have left everything to follow you.” (v.28)
That’s what you told the young man to do.
That’s what we did.
Granted, we didn’t have as much as he did, but we still left it.
We are following you.
Does that count for something?
Look at Jesus’ response:
Truly I tell you…no one who has left home for me and the Gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age…and in the age to come eternal life. (v.29-30)
Isn’t that strange?
Jesus just promised Peter eternal life.
It wasn’t because Peter could earn it. He couldn’t.
It wasn’t because Peter was perfect. He was a sinner.
It was because Peter followed Jesus.
But why would that work?
Jesus is God.
(3) The MESSINESS of Sin is Removed by Jesus
He is God come into this messy world.
He is God dealing with the messiness of humanity.
He is God who suffered a messy, bloody death at the hands of humans on the cross.
But when he died.
He took the messiness of your sins with him.
He took the messiness of your guilt to the cross.
He through the messiness of your sins into the grave…and the stone door was slammed shut.
And there they remained.
Jesus and our sins in the grave.
On the third day?
Jesus came out alive.
But our sins? They stayed there…dead.
Jesus has removed the messiness of your sins.
In Jesus you are clean.
In Jesus you are messiness-less.
In Jesus, you are forgiven.
You might think -
All the sins I have.
All the ways I’ve made a mess of it.
All the messiness in my heart.
But not for God.
God specializes in the impossible.
Like rising from the dead.
He did the visually impossible to prove the invisibly impossible
He did the visually impossible: rising from the dead, to prove the invisible impossible: removal of all the messiness of your sins.
IV. What Now?
It’s what the rich young man didn’t do. Follow Jesus.
It’s what the poor disciples did do. Follow Jesus.
And it’s what God is calling you to do: Follow Jesus.
It’s the way out of your sinful mess. Follow Jesus.
It’s the way out of your messy guilt. Follow Jesus.
It’s the way out of this messy world to place where there’s never any mess…
I was once called to a hospital room late at night. The elderly man I went to see was in grave condition. He was hooked up to a breathing machine. He was unable to move. His eyes were red and there were purple splotches creeping up his neck.
But when I got there…whatever brightness could come to his eyes, did.
Pastor, I’m so glad you’re here.
Pastor, I’m not gonna last much longer.
Pastor, I’ve been thinking about my life.
About how I messed things up with my wife.
About how I messed things up with my children.
About how I messed…things…up.
But…as big of a mess up as I was…
I know it’s not too big of a mess for Jesus.
Because ain’t nothing too big of a mess for Jesus.
He was right.
And he is right with Jesus.
Follow your Savior friends. He’ll fix your eternal mess and bring you to eternal life. Amen.
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.
I’ve been experiencing some problems in my prayer life recently.
The things that I pray for don’t seem to be happening.
This has been going on for years!
I prayed for a pony when I was younger; never happened.
I’ve prayed for it to rain Doritos. Not once.
I’ve prayed for a couple million bucks to show up in my bank account. (I don’t know that there’s ever been a million that passed through the account since its inception)
On a more serious note – my wife and I have been praying for a child.
But…we’re about seven years in.
No little pastor.
No little Julianna.
Maybe the same thing has happened to you.
Maybe you’ve asked for something “good” and God has answered with something “bad.”
What’s the deal? Doesn’t God understand how prayer works?
Jesus has something to say on the matter. Check out his words from Matthew 7: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?”
Think about it:
If your son came up to you with his big, tear-filled eyes and said to you, “Mommy, my tummy’s grumbling. Can I have a piece of bread?” Would any of you say: “Sure, son!” Walk away. Grab a plate, a knife and some butter and then SLAM a big old rock onto the plate. “Bon Appetite!”
If your daughter really wanted a pet and said to you, “Daddy, I want to get a gold fish and name it Princess.” How many of you would say, “Sure, honey. Anything for you.” Get into car, you head to the pet store, and come back with a poisonous King Cobra. “Here you go sweetie. Although…I don’t know if we should name him Princess.”
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (v.11)
If you then, though you are an imperfect, sin-tainted, selfish human being, know to give a good gift to your child…
What do you think your perfect, holiness-radiating, selfless God will give to you?
God can ONLY give good gifts.
So…what’s the rub then? Why does God’s answers to our prayers sometimes seem disappointing? Two reasons. And they both involve inaccurate assumptions on our part.
(1) Assuming Your Request is Good
Think back to the Doritos prayer. I thought raining Doritos would be good.
It would also ruin the ecosystem, result in my digesting all kinds of germs, and probably ruin the Cool Ranch flavor!
Your child may think they know what is best. They may truly believe that staying up late and eating ice cream is what’s best – it’s certainly what they want most at that moment. However, a father who truly loves his children knows that staying up late and eating ice cream will result in children who don’t feel good shortly after and will have a following 12-hour period of crabbiness. The father looks at the whole picture, and knowing better than his child, may tell his child no – out of love!
The same is true for some of our real deal, difficult requests…
They may not always be centered in ‘goodness.’
They may be centered in “our sinful, imperfectness.”
Back to the prayer for a child.
One of the main reasons that I am praying for one?
I want one.
I want to be a father.
I want to teach them how to play catch.
I want to teach them how to ride a bike.
It sounds nice…
Did you hear what I was praying?
I want…I want…I want.
What about what God wants?
What about God’s desire to increase his eternal family?
What about planting the message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh?
What about God’s desire to shape and mold myself and my wife and grow our faith as we dig deeper into His Word for answers?
What about the fact that I might not know what is good – eternally, absolutely, perfectly…good?
Friends, I don’t know your prayer requests.
But I know you too are an imperfect, broken, human being.
Could it be that our imperfect, broken human heart requests imperfect, broken things from our Father?
Thank God he doesn’t give us exactly what we want.
Thank God that he gives us exactly what is good.
Thank God that when I ask for a snake…God gives me a fish.
Thank God that when I ask for a stone…God gives me some bread.
(2) Assuming God’s Answers Can Be Bad
Because sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes. Your boyfriend is leaving you.”
Sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes, you will lose that job.”
Sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes. It’s confirmed. You have cancer.”
The temptation might be to say, “God, bad answer.”
The reality? God doesn’t give bad answers.
We might not always know how.
We might not always know why.
We might not always know much of anything.
But we do know one certain and sure reality:
God’s answers are only good.
Because God is only good.
Case and point? The cross.
We asked for a Savior.
We asked for God to send someone to help us.
We asked for God to get rid of our guilt, grief, and shame.
We probably pictured some type of superhero-looking guy.
A modern-day Avenger.
With an epic Thor like weapon and luscious, Chris Hemsworth looks.
We didn’t get that.
We got a carpenter’s apprentice.
A guy without a home.
A mild mannered dude who got roughed up and physically beaten on more than one occasion.
He was cursed at.
Arrested, convicted, bloodied, and killed.
And it’s easy to look up at the cross.
At his broken, bloodied, beaten body…
And say, “This can’t be any good. God, you didn’t answer my prayer. God, you don’t know what you’re doing!”
But we’d be wrong.
Because three days, later…
Three days later, Jesus didn’t just beat evil.
He didn’t just destroy sin.
He didn’t just wipe out death forever.
He guaranteed eternal life to you.
Do you see it? God answered your prayers.
Praying for a better life? God answered.
Praying for removal of guilt? God answered.
Praying for a Savior from all the junk you’re dealing with? God answered when he sent Jesus.
And Now? God keeps giving good gifts.
God isn’t hit or miss.
His gifts are always good.
That boyfriend? Could lead you away from faith.
That job? Could distract you from teaching your kids about their Savior.
That cancer? It’s will draw you closer in faith to me AND allow you all kinds of opportunity to witness to your family and friends until you join him in heaven apart from cancer…forever.
Because that’s the ultimate good.
Brothers and sisters, God’s answers all always good. Trust Him.
Whether he gives you some bread, some fish, or an eternal Savior…
God’s answers are always good. Amen.
Today we are continuing our series called The Kingdom of God is Like. It’s a series all about parables. Parables are short earthly stories that teaching about the eternal kingdom of God. Last week, so far, we have heard that the kingdom of God is like a sower, a growing seed, a mustard seed, a homeless fox, an abandoned burial plot and a plow.
Today’s parable is well timed, because it fits in perfectly with a certain holiday.
I don’t know about you, but this past Wednesday, there seemed to be an extreme increase in the number of pirates that live in Raleigh.
Over at the new school, we have a security system with a key fob and you’d think it would lock out pirates, but these pirates were tricky and made their way into the school -- little 3-foot-tall pirates. With eye patches and stuffed parrots.
Pirates love treasure: gold necklaces, silver artifacts, coins, jewelry, bottles of rum. They loved treasure so much that they’d run ashore near a local port, approach someone’s front step and force them to give them treasure.
Not at all unlike what some little 3-foot-tall pirates did around my house on Wednesday!
And then, pirates take the treasure, sail to some deserted isle and bury it.
Deep under the ground.
With a few pieces of wood lain across the top:
“X” marks the spot.
Jesus’ parable today says this: “The kingdom of God is like a hidden treasure.” Before we look at it, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Hidden Treasure
Jesus’ parable is from Matthew 13. Take a look: The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. (v.44) In his parable, the treasure is found by a man at work in a field.
It’s the middle of the hot day.
He’s using a fence post digger to dig a hole for the fence post he’s installing around the back of his owner’s property.
He’s slams and digs.
He slams and digs.
He slams and digs.
All day long.
Sometime around quitting time….
He slams and…
He slams and…
At first, he thinks it’s a rock. He looks around to see if he can adjust the post hole so he doesn’t have to go through the trouble of moving the rock. But right as he’s about to adjust the hole to the right and he’s thinking of his company’s slogan: “THE RIGHT HOLE IN THE RIGHT SPOT ALL THE TIME,” the glint of the evening sun shines off of something in the middle of the ground.
What is it?
He reaches down.
He brushes the dirt off the top to reveal – a metal crest on the top of an ancient chest.
His heart starts pounding.
To the front.
To the back.
To the side.
Until he gets enough of the dirt out of the way to pull the chest out of the hole and look inside.
It must be worth millions of dollars.
The man looks around.
The thing is – this isn’t his land. It isn’t his property. And the chest isn’t his property.
If he lets anyone know that he found it on this land, then the treasure will no longer be his. It’ll belong to the guy who’s fence he’s digging.
He puts the chest back into the hole.
He covers it with dirt.
He takes two twigs and aligns them in an “x”.
He heads up to his employer, wishes him a good evening and leaves for the day.
But his work isn’t done.
Later that night, he gets onto his bank account and empties his 401k into his checking account.
He goes on Facebook marketplace and begins placing anything he owns on sale:
His bass fishing boat.
His Mickey Mantle Rookie Card.
Even his Xbox!
The next morning, he heads to the bank and he puts his house on mortgage!
He takes all of this money.
He heads to work.
He slams a check worth 3 times the amount of the property onto his client’s desk:
I’ll buy this property.
I just think it’s nice.
I figure if I put fence post holes into it; it might as well be mine.
At 3 times the price, his client can’t say no.
The man buys the property.
The property is his.
Everything on the property is his.
But he doesn’t care about most of it.
He only wants THE TREASURE.
II. A Priceless Treasure
Jesus says this: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.” (v.44)
Because here is the truth:
God’s kingdom is eternally priceless.
There is nothing as valuable.
… nothing as precious.
…nothing as eternally priceless as the kingdom of God.
It lasts forever.
Brings enduring peace.
And connects you to your heavenly father.
If you’ve ever searched for kingdom of God, then, you understand the digging for treasure scenario.
Because the religious landscape can be a lot like the Sahara Desert.
Places to dig everywhere. Where is the treasure…?
And so you start digging near a very peaceful looking pile of dirt.
A lotus flower is growing nearby.
“Oh! This must be the Sand of Spirituality. I’ve heard of that. Maybe this is where I’ll find the treasure of God’s kingdom.”
And you dig
And you learn breathing practices.
And you fold your body into a pretzel.
And you listen to Yanni.
And you think that you are closer to God…
Because you stopped feeling stress…
And started feeling nothingness.
Oh, the wonderful nothingness.
Suddenly – you think of that jerk Bob from work.
He should be slapped.
And you realize…
You are the same.
You still sin.
You still feel guilty.
Now you just own a bunch of Yanni CDs.
This is not a treasure worth keeping.
You walk a bit farther and you find a big old pile of rocks.
It’d be tough work to dig over there. But then again – that’d make it the perfect place to put the treasure – under the stones of Self-Righteousness.
And you dig and work hard because you figure if you work harder than anyone else, God will be impressed!
You work hard at being nicer to your family.
You work hard at never saying a mean thing.
You work hard to give extra money to charity.
You work hard at never taking a second glance a member of the opposite sex.
You work hard at being self-righteous.
Until you’re scrolling through Facebook after a day of finding self-righteousness and…
An ad pops up for a TRIAL offer of something…with a scantily clad lady telling you to buy it.
And you look her a bit longer than you should.
And you think about using some of the money penned for God to buy that thing to make the pretty lady happy.
And your spouse walks in and sees what you’re looking at, so you say something mean in response.
And then you want to get rid of the guilty your feeling, so you tell her about all the bad things she has done.
Those stones of self-righteousness come tumbling in on top of you.
This isn’t the treasure.
And you dig other places.
You dig in the mine of Material Wealth. No treasure.
You dig under the sands of self-allegation. No treasure.
You dig in the pile of filth known as Facebook. No treasure.
No connection with God.
In fact, you start to notice a pattern – all these attempts at getting closer to God are the same:
Do Mormon things and God will like you.
Do Islamic things and God will like you.
Do Jewish things and God will like you.
Do Hindu things and God will like you.
Do Tom Cruise things and…well…Tom Cruise will get richer.
It’s all the same! It’s all worthless! It’s all meaningless!
When you’re about to give up.
When you’re tired.
When you’re exhausted.
When you say: “I’m through! I’m done with this religious stuff. God hates me and that’s that. I might as well give up. I might as well put down my shovel and…”
What was that?
There appears to be something here.
There appears to be something different here.
This is the Gospel.
It’s the message of sins forgiven.
It’s the message of the true God.
It’s the message that Jesus lived for you.
It’s the message that Jesus died for you.
It’s the message that Jesus rose for you.
It’s the message that Jesus has removed every last one of your sins.
It’s the message that you are his child, you are forgiven, and you will be in heaven with Him.
It’s this message:
You know it is was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18-19)
Think about it!
That’s the value of Jesus’ blood.
It’s more valuable than gold.
It’s more valuable than silver.
It’s more valuable than a treasure chest of jewels, a treasure chest of rubies or even a treasure chest of those golden foil wrapped coins with chocolate inside.
It’s more valuable than good works.
It’s more valuable than good feelings.
It’s more valuable than any halfhearted, sin-tainted attempts at being holy.
It’s the blood of Jesus.
Our sacrificial lamb.
The perfect Son of God.
His blood has infinite value.
And friends – it pays for your sins.
It pays for your guilt.
It means forgiveness – full forgiveness – free forgiveness – absolute forgiveness --
III. WHAT NOW?
(1) Give up Untreasures
That’s what the man who found the buried treasure did. He sold everything he had. He made room for the real treasure.
He made certain the REAL treasure would be his.
Do the same with God’s kingdom.
Because here’s the truth:
The devil will do everything possible to make you think that something that’s NOT the treasure…IS the REAL treasure.
Don’t get rid of that addiction; it’s too valuable to feeling good.
Don’t get rid of that priority; it’s too valuable to being cool.
Don’t get rid of that self- righteousness; that’s the secret treasure that truly connects you to God.
It’s all lies.
Lies that will prevent you from keeping the true treasure buried within your heart.
And if you listen to the devil, instead of burying the Gospel deep in your heart, you cling to something utterly worthless.
It’s like someone trying to offer you a check for a hundred, billion dollars!
But you really like the piece of mushed banana that you have in your left hand right now so…I’ll pass.
Don’t be foolish!
Don’t fall for the devil’s lies.
The Gospel is eternally priceless!
Get rid of the fake treasure that’s taking up the spot where you’re the REAL treasure of Jesus needs to be.
And bury the treasure of the Gospel deep in your heart.
(2) Bury the Treasure
That doesn’t mean: “Hide the Gospel and tell no one about Jesus.” Nope.
That’s entirely contradictory to Jesus’ own directive to “Go and make disciples of all nations…by teaching them.” (Matthew 28)
Rather it means to hide the Gospel deep within your own heart.
To bury it deep within your soul.
To place it into the very core of your being and who you are.
How do you do that? Get a surgery with one of the fine doctors at Duke and have him implant one of those little Bibles from the Gideons?
You spend time in God’s Word.
You read The Gospel message.
You study the Gospel message.
You gather for worship.
You gather for Bible study.
You spend time with Jesus, because in doing so – his message – the message of the Gospel – moves…
From the pages of Scripture
To your eyes.
To your brain.
To your heart.
It’s like a beautiful diamond. You go down to the Jeweler’s and look at it in the light --
And if it’s cut well – no matter how you look at it – you see something magnificent.
It’s the same with the Gospel message.
Here’s I see God’s incredible compassion.
Here I look at God’s amazing power.
Here I look at the value of Christ’s redemption.
Here I enjoy the view of my atonement.
Here I see the mesmerizing perspective of peace with God.
And here I see the glories of heaven itself.
Bury God’s kingdom deep in your heart.
** The audio has an extra story in it. You can find it here **
I said the parable of the treasure fits well into a recent holiday.
But I wasn’t referring to Halloween.
Wednesday was also the 501st Anniversary of the Reformation. It’s the anniversary of a time when the treasure of Gospel was rediscovered.
Because the religious climate at that time – in the Christian church – was such that there was no treasure.
If you wanted to get God’s’ forgiveness, you needed to…
Do good things.
Say prayers to Mary.
Cross yourself in the right way.
Give money to charity.
And buy pieces of paper that said: “You are forgiven.”
And it was in that climate – in that treasure-less church that God re-revealed the TRUE treasure of the Gospel.
That Jesus is your Savior.
That in Him you are forgiven.
That by faith you are saved.
Friends, it’s 500 years later.
That treasure is at our fingertips again.
Don’t lose it.
Bury it deep within.
Ever heard of the Truth campaign?
It’s a group that’s become well known in the early 2000s for exposing the “Truth” about cigaretts. They ran ads on radio, TV and publications about the dangers of tobacco. They exposed the “Truth” that it contained poison and showed the “Truth about what it can do to you.
It’s safe to say that the campaign worked. I’m not sure too many Americans would tell you that smoking is healthy. (At least we don’t hold it to the same level as an apple.)
It kind of makes you wonder what people used to think about smoking. What kind of misconceptions did they have in order to make this campaign necessary?
Try this. Google: CIGARETTE ADS. I found a couple from the 30s and 40s that are pretty interesting.
There’s one showcasing a young model that says, “Smoking…makes you sleek and slender.” (That’s an interesting way to burn calories.)
Another shows a smiling dentists that simple says, “Dentists approve!”
My favorite has a doctor…smoking & a caption above his head that reads “20,679 physicians say smoking Luckies is less irritating!” -- Why such a specific number? I’m not sure.
It’s one thing to have a misconception about smoking. It’s another thing to have a misconception about spiritual Truth.
Today, we’re taking a look at the next step in our walk with Jesus to the cross. We’ll meet a man named Pilate who has a few misconceptions about Truth. Our goal is to learn about 3 common misconceptions, examine ourselves to prevent them from overtaking us, and turn to Jesus for the truth about the Truth.
I. Pilate’s All Too Common Misconceptions on Truth
Take a look at John 18:28. It says, “28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning.”
I can just picture the scene. Pilate has just woken up from a long stressful day of being the Roman governor. He tossed and turned all night after dealing with very political issues. He’s doing morning stretches. He’s drinking his morning coffee, “Roman Empire Blend.” He’s still got his cozy slippers on when --
-- a violently loud mob starts screaming outside of his window.
Can you imagine what that’s like? I have never had to wake up to violent protestors outside my apartment window. You? It’s one of the reasons I would never, ever, ever want to be President of the U.S.
So I picture Pilate being very grumpy. Sighing as he puts on his governor clothes. Gritting his teeth as he walks the cold, long hallways to the reception area. Thinking, “What in the world do these people want!?!”
1) Misconception: Eternal Truth Isn’t My Responsibility
Pilate makes his wait out to the steps of the praetorium. He sees a man chained up, bruises on his face, and swelling on his right eye. He motions for the crowd to quiet down. He raises his voice (because he didn’t have a microphone) and shouts – “What charges do you have against this man!?!”
“If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you,” the crowd replied. In other words, “Dude, there’s a reason we came to you. We wouldn’t have bugged you, if we didn’t have a need to. This guy says that he’s a king. We don’t think he is. We need your help getting to the TRUTH!”
Pilate’s response is very interesting. “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own laws,” What does this have to do with me? Why do you think it’s my responsibility? You want to know; you figure out the truth on your own.
It’s here that Pilate exhibits the first very common misconception about the truth: “The truth isn’t my responsibility.” That’s still a misconception that’s around today.
Sounds a lot like Pilate.
But that response didn’t get Pilate very far. Look at what the people reminded him of, 32“We have no right to execute anyone.” You do Pilate. We don’t have the authority. It’d be similar to a room monitor trying to expel one of his classmates – he doesn’t have the authority. He has to go to the teacher – even the principal to make it happen.
Figuring out the truth about Jesus was Pilate’s literal job. Caesar was paying him to do this. He couldn’t shirk his responsibility.
Here’s the thing – Determining eternal truth is your responsibility too.
Ever been to the book of Ecclesiastes? It’s not just an awesome word for a biblical spelling bee. It’s an interesting 12, chapter book written by King Solomon. Solomon was very wise. He’s one of the wisest men to ever live. In Ecclesiastes, he retrospectively looks at his life and he writes about what the meaning of life is all about. Check out his conclusion in 12:13 “Fear God and keep His commands; this is the responsibility of all mankind.”
In other words – Discover the truth. Learn about the truth. Live by the Truth.
It’s your responsibility, because God said so.
And if you don't?
Well, what happens when your car is making a funny noise. Your spouse tells you to take it in to get looked at--twice. Your coworker says you should get it looked at. Your friends says, "Bud, what's wrong with your car." The guy at the McDonald's drive thru says, "That sounds funny. You should get it looked at!"
Whose fault is it when you find yourself on the side of I-540 with a smoking engine?
And whose fault is it when you appear before God and he asks if you've fulfilled your responsibility in finding out the truth about Him?
(Hint: They both have the same answer.)
2) Misconception: Eternal Truth Doesn't Affect Me.
After Pilate realized it was his job, no matter how much he didn’t want it to be, he told his guards to bring Jesus to a quieter room. They entered into the palace and they both sat down. Pilate in all of his gubernatorial grandeur. Jesus in sweat & blood.\
Pilate got to the point. “Are you a King?” Because of all the charges against Jesus, this is the one that was most concerning. If he was a king, he might lead a revolt. If he led a revolt, pilate might not see it coming. If Pilate didn’t see it coming, he might lose control of his province. If he lost control of his province, he would upset Caesar. If he upset Caesar, Caesar would fire him –
Or kill him.
Jesus answered Pilate’s question with a question. “Is that your own idea? Or did others talk to you about me?”
Pilate’s response is a bit defensive. 35 “Am I a Jew? Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me.” I’m a Roman. This truth isn’t important to me. It doesn’t pertain to me. Why would I care?
Maybe you feel that way. “Pastor – I know this seems important to you, but that’s because you’re a pastor. Eternal truth just isn’t really my thing. I’m not theological. I’m not religious. This stuff is for people like that. Jesus is important, but his truth doesn’t pertain to me.”
But that’d be like saying “I’m not a weather man, so this week’s weather doesn’t pertain to me,” or “I’m not a dentist so the cavity in my mouth doesn’t pertain to me.”
The weather does.
The cavity does.
Eternal truth does too.
In fact, look at Jesus’ response in verse 36 “My kingdom is not of this world…. ” In other words, you’re right. This isn’t a truth for the Roman people. But it also isn’t a truth for the Jewish people.
It’s not geographical. It’s not racial. It’s not cultural. “…my kingdom is not from this world.”
It’s spiritual. It’s eternal. It’s divine.
Truth does not bypass you because you don’t think it pertains to you. That’d be like telling the cop who caught you going into the restaurant without a shirt AND without shoes that you didn’t realize the sign on the front of the door that says ,”No shirt, no shoes, no service” actually pertained to you.
It does. Even if you don’t think it does, it does.
It’s the same with eternal truth. What you believe about eternal truth matters…
3) Misconception: Truth Can be Whatever you Want it to Be
After Jesus’ response, Pilate seems to let the phrases about his kingdom being out this world completely fly over his head. Remember: He wants to get this investigation over with. He fixates on one word: ‘You are a king then!” That’s his Eureka moment! His “Elementary my dear Watson!” You are king and we can get this trial over with. Pilate gets up and he starts shuffling his papers. He pulls Jesus up by the underarm, because he can’t wait to go tell the crowd his findings and send him away.
But Jesus slowed him down: “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
That must have struck Pilate. It was a divisive statement. Jesus was claiming to be a king of truth. He was claiming that all who were on the side of truth were on his side and everyone who wasn’t on his side wasn’t on the side of truth.
Pilate scoffed. “What is truth?”
This is the third and most dangerous misconception about truth. “Truth can’t be discovered.” It's really common here in American too.
Have you ever heard of the phrase: "You do You?" It's a Hashtag that's used to demonstrate the differences in people.
You like Coke; I drink Pepsi. You do You and I'll do me.
You like Monopology? You do you. I'll play Chutes & Ladders.
It works pretty well when describing likes, dislikes, and inanimate objects.
But here's the problem: We use the same kind of thinking when it comes to religion.
You're Buddhist? You do you.
You worship Allah? Cool. You do you.
You don't believe in God at all. You do you. We'll all end up in the same place anyway.
But is that really how it works? Is eternal truth whatever you want it to be?
Do ya’ll see this. (holding up a red hymnal) This a rhinoceros. Right?
You’re all thinking, “What’s wrong with Pastor? Someone needs to check the coffee. Because that’s not a rhinoceros. It’s not big. It’s not grey. It doesn’t have a giant horns coming out of its face. In fact, it doesn’t have a face. It’s a Confessional Lutheran hymnal.”
My response is: “Nope. I think it’s a rhino. That’s my truth. Your truth can be that’s it’s a hymnal, but my truth is equally as true as yours because I believe it to be so. You don’t have the right to tell me I’m wrong.”
Does that make any sense at all?
Does it make any sense when it comes to religious things?
NO! God only meant one thing. No matter how strongly you feel something is the truth, that doesn't make it the truth.
What the Truth is makes the Truth the Truth!
Believing that truth can be whatever you want -- as long as you believe it hard enough is a misconception! Such a misconception of truth maintains that the only TRUTH is that there is no TRUTH…except that TRUTH by it’s very definition is not TRUE.
Brothers and sistesr, this is wrong. It’s mind numbing & wrong.
II. The Truth about the Truth
Since Pilate is so filled with misconceptions about truth, maybe we shouldn’t listen to him. Besides, He didn’t make deaf people hear. He didn’t make blind people see. He didn’t make lame people walk. He didn’t stop storms, cast out demons, and heal the sick. He didn’t die and then three days later come back to life.
Pilate’s truth would have been that all those things were impossible. But Jesus did those things. Jesus knew truth lots better than he did.
In fact, if Pilate would have calmed down. If he would have relaxed for a moment. If he would have put in some effort, he could have heard Jesus answer Pilate’s question – the same way he had much earlier in his ministry.
Matthew 14:16 “I am the Truth.”
The truth that exposes your sins.
The truth that exposes your guilt.
The truth that exposes your condemnation.
The truth that loves you dearly.
The truth that died for your.
The truth that rose for you.
The truth that makes “you are forgiven” true.
The truth that makes “you are at peace” true.
The truth that makes “you will live forever” true.
The truth is Jesus. The truth is that only Jesus will make these things true.
So…listen to him!“Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” I doubt anyone is going to raise their hands and say, “I want to be on the side of falsehood!” We want to be on the side of truth. Therefore, listen to Jesus.
Don’t listen to false teachers.
Don’t listen to false preachers.
Don’t listen to a world with ideas and teachings that are contradictory to what Jesus said.
There can be only one truth! Jesus is that truth.
Pilate did. “ish”. He came out and said there was no reason to put Jesus to death. He didn’t say he believed in Jesus. He didn’t say he didn’t. He simply said, I believe he doesn’t deserve to die. When the people protested, Pilate had enough and he sent them to another governor named Herod. Pilate wiped off his hands. Breahted a sigh of relief and got his royal bubble bath ready.
But…remember Pilate…He isn’t done in this story yet. We’ll talk about him more next week when the crowd comes raucously back to the palace.
Don’t wait for God to give you another opportunity. Follow the truth now. Learn from the truth now.
Get on the side of truth. Now! Amen.
I’m from Wisconsin. I love the Green Bay Packers and I try to never miss a game.
But we live in North Carolina. The Packers aren’t always on television. So I have to be creative. I can go to a sports bar – I can make friends with those who have an NFL ticket – or I can sneak a peek through someone’s back window.
One time I was feeling a bit sick and I didn’t want to go out. So I opened up my computer and I typed into Google, “WATCH PACKERS ONLINE FOR FREE.” Sure enough – a link popped up right away with that exact phrase, “WATCH PACKERS ONLINE FOR FREE.” I clicked on it.
I was taken to a “kind of shady" looking website where there wasn’t a lot of punctuation and every letter was lowercased, but right in the middle was a big flashing GREEN button that said, “WATCH FREE HERE!” Again – I clicked. This time an ad popped up, “Complete 2 of 3 offers for access to the game.” The offers? Sign up for two year subscription to a magazine; buy $20 of stuff at Home Depot OR take a 45 minute survey for a clinical trial.
FREE isn’t so FREE, is it?
That was for watching a Packer game. How much do you think heaven costs? How much do you think forgiveness costs? What about peace, eternal life, and victory for your soul?
I. Salvation Can’t Be Bought
Romans 2:6 says this, “God will repay each according to what he has done.” You get paid what you have earned. If you work 4 hours, you get paid for 4 hours. If you work 8 hours, you get paid for 8 hours. If you work on commission, you get paid for the work you did.
Romans is saying, “if you want salvation, you’ve gotta earn it.”
Ever heard of UBER? It’s a phone app that allows you to request a ride from just about anywhere. Only uber isn’t a taxi service, it simply alerts people who have signed up to be Uber drivers that you need to be picked up and moved from point A to point B.
Being an UBER driver sounds pretty sweet. You get paid for gas and for the time spent in the car driving person from A to B. Once more people use this service, I imagine you can live in and this becomes a full time job. But – if you live in the outskirts, Concord OR Rolesville – probably not a full time job. You probably aren’t as busy.
What does it take then to get heaven?
How much do you have to do to earn salvation?
How many hours do you have to put in?
Take a look at Romans 2:7 “Those who persist in doing good will be given eternal life.” Notice that word persist. That means “To continue in.” There’s no qualifier in this sentence. It doesn’t say, “Persist for a while.” “Persist for a week.” “Persist for a month.” Nope. It simply says, “Persist.”
As in, “All the time.”
Sound easy enough? Just do good, speak good, and think good all the time.
But, I gotta ask, do you even think you’ll persist in good until noon? As you’re leaving, will you fight over the radio? “I want Justin Bieber – but my NFL game is starting.” Will you argue over lunch? Swear at the first turnover during your football game? Lust as the cameras pans in on the cheerleaders? Or dream about the guy next door doing yard work with his shirt off? Yell at the kids, not because they’re doing anything wrong, but because they’re annoying you. Call up your mom to bad mouth your sister and have enough glasses of wine that the room starts to spin.
Honestly – we might not even persist in doing good the rest of this church service. We might see someone and start thinking about how much we hate them. We might ignore the sermon because we want to check out our fantasy stats. We might gossip with the person next to us during the sermon because, “Did you see how ornery those kids were?”
Let’s be honest. We haven’t persisted in doing good. We can’t persist in doing good. We don’t quality for receiving eternal life.
What then? What do we do if we haven’t done persistent good, but instead we’ve done sin? Romans 6:23 explains it very simply, “The wages of sin is death.”
It’s Halloween weekend. Did you see anything scary? Miniature witches? An exorbitant amount of spider webs? My neighbors have a scarecrow that’s motion censored and moves when you get close. (I didn’t get scared at all. I promise.)
But Halloween’s not that scary. Afterall, it’s pretend. That Romans passage? It is. It mentions death. It talks about eternal separation. It mentions the hellfire wrath of God against sin.
I can understand if you don’t want to believe it. It’s a terrifying thing to be true. But just because it’s terrifying, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Just because you don’t believe it, doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
Sin is scary and the wages of in is scary.
Ask Martin Luther. He was a 16th century monk. Martin Luther was terrified of God. He understood sin. He understood that a Good God MUST hate sin; therefore, Martin would try to soothe God’s anger. He would lock himself in a dark tower. He’d beat himself. He’d starve himself. He’d pay money to the priests earn forgiveness.
Yet he knew it wasn’t working. He knew he was still persisting in bad. He knew he was earning death.
Then, Martin got to studying the Bible for himself. He learned Greek and Hebrew so that he could read the Bible in its original languages. When he did, what he found shocked him.
Here for instance. Read the entirety of Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.”
Every birthday party – there are always some gifts you look forward to and others that you can do without, right? Grandmas’ gifts? Awesome. She’d give you a Nintendo game or a sweet book. Mom? She always knew exactly what you wanted. Crazy Aunt sally? She'd knit two pairs of socks that didn’t match because she ran out of the color yarn she was using.
Look at who is giving a gift in Romans 6. It’s God! The divine Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t run out of yarn. He owns all things. He has an unlimted supply of everything.
What he gave – is even better than one of those cards with cash in it – God give something that lasts forever. He gifted us eternal life in Christ Jesus.
This wasn’t cheap for God. Notice he gave us eternal life in Christ Jesus. Eternal life was so costly, so expensive, that God had to give up the life of his one and only, persisting in doing good, never sinned once, holy in every way Son.
And this was hard. Jesus endured nails through his hands. He endured thorns pressed into his head. He endured a slow painful death on a cross.
But he stayed up there. He stayed up there because he loved you too much. He stayed up there to save you. He stayed up there, because you couldn’t pay for salvation. He stayed up there because he could. He stayed up there because salvation MUST BE A GIFT!
Three day later, what happened to him? He came back to life. He rose from the dead. He didn’t die trying to win you a gift, but he came back to life triumphant because he had had!
Look at the result. Romans 3:24 says this, “We are justified freely by God’s grace in Jesus.” Justified is a courtroom term. It’s legal speak. It means, “Not guilty,” or, “Innocent.” “Forgiven.”
It means that when God is judging you, God remembers Jesus. He says, “This one persisted in doing good, give him eternal life!”
The devil objects, “Didn’t you see it? Didn’t you watch this person’s life? The porn use. The time he cheated on his wife. The time he stole money at work. The lies. The guilt. The greed. The anger. God – it’s all over this person. Don’t you see how sinful they are?!”
And God? “No.”
This is grace. It’s a gift – an eternal, incredible, divine gift from God to you!
But, here’s the thing. The devil didn’t convince God that Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough; so the devil will try to convince you. “That Pastor is foolish. Grace might work for that Wally Cleaver over there, but not you. Jesus isn’t enough. Grace isn’t enough. You need to do better. You need to earn your salvation. You need to get better – which you’ll never do – so you might as well give up!”
Romans 11:6, “If it is by grace, then it is not by works; for it were, grace would no longer be grace.”
In the back of church, there are a bunch of free Bibles. Guests, please take one. If anyone else wants one to take to a friend or coworker, go for it.
Now, if we had someone back by the Bible with a cash register and one of those little card swiper thingies who said, “That’ll be $5.” Then, we can’t say “Come get your gift.” It’s not a gift. Even if the Bibles cost a penny OR sign up to be a member in our church, then it wouldn’t be a gift.
Same thing with salvation. It is a gift. It’s yours by faith. It’s yours without having to earn it. It’s your by grace alone.
Now what? Believe it. Don’t leave this gift behind. Experience its benefits.
Like the Philippian Jailer. Do you know that story?
There had just been an earthquake. As the dust settled and the landscape calmed, the insides of the jailer became a jumbled mess. “Shoot. Did the prisoners get out? Are they getting away? If they do, where should I go? The Romans will kill me. If they do, who will look after my family? Who will pay for their food? How much longer do I have to live? When I die, where will I go? How will I face God? Will it be peaceful? Or will I be punished?"
The jailer ran to the cell. Hoping – praying that they were still closed. Hoping – praying that the men were still in them. Hoping – praying that he would get to keep his life.
As he turned the corner, his heart dropped. He saw a cell door – wide open.
With tears streaming his face, the flickering light of the one remaining candlestand revealed that all of the cell doors had been busted open. His shook his head in disbelief. This was a disaster. There was no reason to remain. No reason to face his employers. No reason to live.
He unsheathed his sword. He took a deep breath….and…
“Don’t do it!” A voice shouted, “We are all here.”
The jailer opened his eyes. He followed the voice. There he saw the man called Paul in the corner. He was some sort of religious guy. He had the others prisoners gathered around him in prayer. He had been singing praises to God. He was smiling.
The jailer didn’t know a lot about him, but right now…right now that didn’t matter. His life had just flashed before his eyes and he hated what he saw. Now only one question went through his mind:
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Maybe he was expecting some incredible answer. Maybe he was expecting “Increase your giving to the temple.” Maybe he was expecting, “Improve your morality.” Maybe he was expecting, “You can’t; it costs too much.”
But that wasn’t what he heard. It wasn’t what Jesus taught. Paul replied, “Believe in Jesus and be baptized.”
In other words: “Trust in God’s grace. Receive his gracious promises." God did it all!
You do the same. We are saved by grace alone. Amen.
“I will raise the believers up on the last day.”
Did anyone else notice that Jesus had said that? Bartholomew looked around. He saw the people uneasily shifting their weight. If the whole idea of Jesus as Bread wasn’t strange enough, now Jesus was claiming that he could give people eternal life. He was making the statement that he could raise dead bodies back to life. No one could do that!
Sure. He’d seen Jesus do all kind of amazing things. He made the sick well. He made the blind see. He made the lame walk. He had just gotten done feeding over 5,000 people with just a few loaves of bread and two fish.
But death? Nobody could cure death. That was impossible.
But as Bartholomew scanned the crowd that had gathered in the synagogue, he saw a strange sight. In and amidst the sea of disgust and mistrust, he saw hope.
The grandma in the corner whose body was betrayed by arthritis and crumpled from degeneration.
The woman whose family had a history of heart disease.
The boy whose father had been diagnosed with the incurable and fatal disease of leprosy.
Was Jesus sure of what he was doing? Did he really want to give people the hope of eternal life?
Jesus spoke again. “Truly, Truly, I say to you, the one who believes in me, has eternal life. I am the Bread of Life” (v.47)
Bartholomew gulped. Jesus didn’t stutter.
What do you think about that? Today we’re going to take a look at perhaps the most outrageous claim that Jesus makes in this section of John 6. We’re going to hear that the Bread of life not only enriches your trust, nourishes your soul, and improves your vision – but it also Extends Life…to eternity. And we need to be asking the question: How? How can Jesus make such a promise where all of the minds at UNC and Duke combined have failed? How can Jesus defeat such a thing as death?
Let’s get into the Scriptures and listen to Jesus’ answer.
I. Bread that Gives Life…Gives Life
Here’s that phrase that we just talked about in context. It comes from John. 6:47 “Truly, Truly, I say to you, the one who believes in me, has eternal life. I am the Bread of Life.”
Ever been to the cereal aisle in the store? If you walk up and down it, you’re going to see all kinds of large print, flashy description – Vitamin enriched! Fiber Packed! Excellent source of Riboflavin! It makes it way into other things too. I saw an Orange Juice – probably for the lactose intolerant – it’s says “Vitamin C Injected” on the outside.
So it makes sense. When you eat Cereal of Fiber, you get fiber. When you drink milk of Vitamin C, you get Vitamin C.
Jesus’ claim is similar – and really simple. When you eat the Bread of Life, you receive – wait for it – LIFE!
This isn’t what normal bread can offer you. Go to the store. Eat some Wonder Bread. Grab some little Debbie Snacks. Try on the Kroger version of multigrain bread – they might be healthy. They might help you extend your life a bit. But no other bread can make the eternal life extension claim that the Bread of Life can.
Jesus says as much. In verse 49 he says, Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died.” Interesting too. Because the bread in the wilderness, literally came down from heaven. It came down in a mysterious and miraculous way! Every morning the people got up in the desert, they’d look around. They’d see white stuff. Not snow. But a piece of a bread-like substance. This was a miracle.
But even that miracle bread did not stop them from dying. All of those Israelites saw their bodies turn to dust. That bread went into their bodies. Turned into calories. It was burned. It was gone. It didn’t prevent anyone from dying. It didn’t save anyone from eternal death. It didn’t have any ability to raise a dead body back to life.
But… the Bread of Life does. 50 Here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. That’s quite the promise. So how do you suppose Jesus can make that promise? How can Jesus promise our bodies a resurrection and our souls to pass on to eternal life? What makes the Bread of Life so special? It gives life.
II. Jesus’ Flesh is Resurrection Packed
51 "I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Notice the reminder in verse 51. He is the bread that “comes down from heaven.” In other words, He is God’s Son. He has divine flesh. His flesh has divine power. That means three very important things:
A) Jesus’ Blood is Universal
What type of blood do you have? Blood types are tricky. If you have A blood, you can’t receive B blood. If you have B blood, you can’t receive A blood. If you have O blood, then you can only receive O only blood!
But Jesus’ blood? It covers the sins of all people. It cover sins of lust. It covers sins of greed. It covers sins of pride, gossip, angry, unforgiveness, hatred, disgust, apathy, idol worship – you name it. Christ is a universal donor.
On the cross, Jesus didn’t have a needle stuck in his arm, but he had nails driven into his hands. He was killed in order that your sins might be covered.
Why is that a big deal? Because the Wages of sin is death. With sin covered and removed, there is no death!
B) Jesus’ blood is Infinite
But it’s more than just universal – and able to cover any sin. Jesus’ blood is also infinite.
Think of POWs. If you have a prisoner of war, you trade. One prisoner for one prisoner. One life for another. Blood for blood. One human for one human.
But what about God’s blood? Can you imagine how many people his blood could trade for? Infinite. If God’s blood pays for an infinite number of people, that blood pays for you. It pays for your sins.
C) Jesus’ blood is victorious
Although it doesn’t appear like that way. Even look at Jesus’ words. He says, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” In other words – I will give up. I will give to the cross. I will give to nails, and thorns, and a spear to the heart. I will give up to God’s wrath against sin. I will give my life to death.
But that’s not how the story ends. Jesus returns. He is victorious over the nails, over the thorns, and the spear to the heart. He is victorious over sin. He is victorious over death. He is alive!
Do you understand why Jesus promises life? His blood is universal, infinite, and his blood always beats death!
III. It’s About Faith
Ok. So. How do you make this yours? How do you make eternal life yours?
52 … the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
This is a really good question. Because Jesus isn’t talking about cannibalism; he’s probably not talking about Lord’s Supper – something he hasn’t even established yet.
What’s interesting is Jesus’ answer. Take a look at it. It isn’t so much an explanation but a call to faith. 53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.”
I’ve gotta be honest. I don’t know how fluoride works. But I use it. (Good news, right?) It works. How about you? Can you explain Ibuprofen? Does it work? Could you draw or me a diagram to show how Nasonex works? Do you still use it?
There are plenty of things we don’t understand how they work. But we use them anyway. In trust.
Jesus flesh doesn’t require you to understand the scientific, divine process behind the removal of sin and the promise of eternal life. It’s not a matter of reason – it’s a matter of faith. Because faith connects you to Jesus. Faith connects you to the Bread of Life. Let Jesus continue, “56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.”
Has this ever happen to you? You’ve gotta get up real early in the morning. You set yoru alarm. Your phone is getting close to dead though, so you plug in the phone to the battery charger and then place it on the window ledge. You set the alarm for 5:30am. You wake up around 7am. Why? Turns out, your black lab thought it would be nice to walk right past the dangling cord of the phone and pull the charger out from the phone.
When the phone isn’t connected to the charger, it’s dead. When we aren’t connected to our Savior, we’re dead! How can you expect to live forever if you aren’t connected to he one who gives you the power to lives forever?
You can’t. So stay plugged in to Jesus. Get connected to Him with devotions. Get connected to coming to Bible classes. Get connected to Him by getting involved in church.
Because being connected to Him means life.
Let me tell you about Lisa. Lisa was a mother of three with a preschooler at the congregation I vicared at. She was a blessing to the congregation. She played music. She taught kids.
Lisa also taught us strength. She had cancer. When I was there, I got to see her battle cancer. I got to see her go to chemo. I heard her encourage others. She focused on her Lord. She found him as her strength. She trusted in him.
Then, the cancer got real bad. She had weeks to live.
I want to read to you her Facebook note. This was about a week before she died: “I know this brings much sadness. Death always will. But I hope once the shock wears off you will be able to rejoice that I am almost home. I will be waiting with open arms to greet all my friends who are saints through what Christ has done for us. To God Be the Glory!”
How can she make such a statement? She was connected to Jesus.
She...is...connected to Jesus in a way unlike any other.
You too. Stay connected to Jesus.
Is God dead?
It certainly looks like it, doesn’t it?
Immorality is increasing at an incredible rate. New science studies “prove” that it was a Big Bang and not God. “And the article had 10,000 likes on Facebook so the conclusions must be true!” Random acts of nature – mudslides, disappearing planes, capsized boats. “If God were here, he wouldn’t let that happen.”
Then, there are our personal struggles – barely able to pay rent, job on the chopping block, strained marriages, struggles in school, life threatening illnesses. They all tempt us to one sad conclusion --
God is dead.
That’s a pretty scary conclusion isn’t it? It’s the exact same scary situation that a few women followers of Jesus found themselves in early the first Easter morning.
Their leader. Their God. Was certainly dead. And there’s plenty of reason to believe this to be truth nearly 2000 years later. Just look at the witnesses:
1) The crowd at the crucifixion. They had seen Jesus’ body go through a brutal beating. Punches, slaps, and kicks on Thursday evening. A barbaric scourging at the hands of professional Roman torturers Friday morning. A crown of thorns to rest his head, then, stakes through the hands and the feet all by lunchtime! Then, they watched for three hours until his body wore out, unable to push up at the bottom of the cross, Jesus took his last breath. Then knew he was dead.
2) But so did the soldiers. They were professionals at torture AND killing. If they didn’t get it right, they might die! So they were extra careful. Even though they were positive Jesus was dead, one soldier took a spear and stuck it into his side -- aiming for the heart. Now they knew he was dead.
3) The two men who had prepared Jesus’ body for burial knew he was dead, too. So they began traditional preparations for the dead. They covered Jesus’ hands, his feet, and his wrists with linens. They never saw his chest move. They felt no pulse. They didn't see his eyelids flicker. They knew he was dead.
4) His enemies even knew it! As the body was prepared, they came to Pilate and asked that armed guards watch over the tomb. Jesus had promised that he would rise again, but since they knew him to be dead, they were nervous that the disciples would steal his body. They asked for the guards to prevent a hoax.
5) The man in charge of the crucifixion allowed it. Because he knew Jesus was dead too. Likely, he had ordered plenty of crucifixions. No one came through them! Jesus was no different. His guards said he was dead. He was dead. They could have a guard if it made them feel better.
6) The grave workers then took their places. They helped ensure the body made its way into the tomb. They pushed a boulder in front of it. They sealed it with wax. They probably worked in shifts. One group Friday night. Another Saturday morning, Another Saturday evening. A final set early Sunday morning. None of these soldiers heard movement in the tomb. Because Jesus was dead.
7) Which is why the women early that Easter morning were so certain. They carried spices towards his tomb – not to repair him to health, but because that's how you honored the dead.
And Jesus was dead.
Even modern medicine agrees. Some people have this idea that Jesus went into a coma. "Maybe, he didn't really die. Maybe, the blood thirsty beatings, the extreme blood loss and the slow death on a cross didn't kill him. Just put him a coma." Modern medicine scoffs at such an idea. Dr. Robert Stein, one of the world's foremost pathologists wrote, "Jesus couldn't possibly have faked his death, because you can't fake the inability to breathe for all that long. Besides the spear thrust into his heart would have settled the issue once and for all...And EVEN if in some kind of miracle, he had only been in a coma, what would he have done? When he awoke in the tomb, he would have been so pathetically weak that he would have simply lay there unable to move the giant boulder that sealed him in!"
This is key then to understanding the Easter story. Jesus was certainly dead.
II. Certainly Alive.
As the women came to the tomb any fear they had from their leader having been killed must have intensified. There was an earthquake. The stone had been rolled away!!! The soldiers were passed out with shock! They appeared into the tomb.
IT WAS EMPTY! What had happened!?!
Then, they met their first witness.
His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. An angel. “He’s not here; he has risen…come and see the place where he lay! Then, go quickly and tell his disciples.”
So they hurried away from the tomb! Excited, but nervous. Who would believe them? Is an angel to be trusted?
Then, they saw someone they knew could be trusted. The women saw Jesus! “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet. At that time, I'm sure they saw the wounds on both his feet -- right where the nails had been. As he clasped their shoulders to comfort them, they saw the holes in his hands. This was no imposter. This wasn't some groggy, just out of a coma Jesus...and since they all saw Him...it wasn't a hallucination.
Who was not dead, but alive!
But those women weren’t the only witnesses.
Jesus showed himself to Mary Magdalene. A woman who could have no doubts it was him. She would never forget the face of the man who would heal her and changed her life.
Jesus showed himself to two disciples walking to Emmaus. His knowledge of scripture was unmistakable. It was him!
He showed himself to the Eleven. Well, actually, ten of them first. Thomas was missing. But when Thomas complaind that he wouldn’t believe in the resurrection until he saw it, Jesus reappeared. He showed him his hands. His feet. He ate food in front of him. He allowed Thomas to stick his hand in his side! And even doubting Thomas was convinced – this isn’t Peter trying to play a trick on me. This is "My Lord and God!"
In fact, there is no shortage of witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. over 500 people in many different places, in different times and different places. Different people. All of them were convinced it was him!
Even one of Jesus' greatest enemies – Saul -- who was convinced that Jesus was dead and that this was all a lie...so much so that he imprisoned, beat, and killed anyone who confessed to following Jesus...Saul saw Jesus. He believed he was alive. He became a follower. He went on four missionary journeys, started over 20 churches, and wrote 13 books in the Bible! Why did he make such a change? Why did it happen over night?
Because he saw that Jesus was alive!
But Paul isn't even the greatest witness. The greatest witness lie in that empty tomb.
I like Chocolate Easter bunnies. But, at our house, you aren’t supposed to eat them until Easter Sunday. So, if Julianna finds a little bit of chocolate on the corner of my mouth and accuses me of eating the bunny, all I have to do is produce the chocolate bunny—whole, in package, and untouched.
If Jesus was still dead, all the Pharisees would have to do would be to produce the dead body.
"But the disciples probably stole it!" Right! An accountant and a few fisherman overpowered the first century equivalent of heavily, armored Navy seals, and threw open the sealed rock all before the soldiers knew what hit ‘em.
There’s another problem. Why would the disciples have perpetuated the lie even to their own deaths?
What happens on crime dramas when the perpetrator is confronted with absolute evidence that he is guilty? He stops lying. He gives the truth – no matter what it convict him of.
The disciples NEVER did this. Why? Because it was the truth! They had seen Jesus die and they had seen him alive! He was their God and God was not dead!
Brothers and sisters, no explanation fits the empty tomb except for the fact that he only thing that does fit and explain the empty tomb is a historical. Very real. Resurrection.
III. What it means for Us
What interesting is that there isn’t an Empire Strikes Back to the Easter Story. The Pharisees never find Jesus and try to kill him all over again.
The truth is this: God couldn't be killed then and listen to this God can't be killed now!
Now what we normally don’t try to do is kill God with a nuclear bomb or biological warfare. No, we use reason! "I don't think God could exist and it's not reasonable that Jesus could rise from the dead, so this is nothing more than a fairy tale." We use science. "I read an article that said science still can't find scientific proof for a God that created the universe. We use emotions, "I hate that God tells us that the way I want to live my life is a sin! Therefore, he must not exist."
But God didn’t stay dead at the hands of one of the most violent deaths in the history of the world. No amount of unbelief, no amount of scientific evidence, no amount of immorality, no amount of bad circumstances, no amount of hatred can kill God!
In fact, if you still insist that Jesus is not God and definitely not alive or even real, - especially in the face of today’s testimony - I’m very nervous for you. It’s not God's who's dead…it's you.
And it happens so easily. Guilt over past sins smothers any hope in a God who forgives. Pride stamps out any obedience to a divine authority. Reason. Sinful, human reason loves to attack and destroy faith. And fear of what it might mean that God is real and Easter is true...kills your desire to find out.
But even if we are spiritually dead, there’s still hope. Because God’s not dead! In fact, he can’t be held down by death. That’s mortal stuff.
Why then did God die in the first place?
Scripture says, "He was put to death for our sins"-- the very Jesus who proved his authority to say things with his unmistakable death and resurrection – He taught all human beings are morally corrupt individuals who have done wrong against God and, as a result, die – and, when they die apart from God – die eternally!
Scripture says, "He was raised to life for our justification!" In other words, his death was the punishment for your sins. God’s wrath has been wiped away! Now, through faith in Jesus, you are forgiven and God declares you innocent of wrongdoing. In fact, he no longer threatens hell, but promises the eternal life of heaven.
3) This leads to the final truth: With faith in the God-Who’s-Not-Dead, you’re not dead! A more eloquent way of saying it this: With faith the God who Lives, you will Live! On high. With the Lord. In heaven.
This is huge!
I wish you could have met my Grandpa Dave. He was a wonderful man. I used to sit on his lap and eat Easter candy with him. I’d also try to keep the Easter candy away from the tattooed panther he had on his bicep. It didn’t like bunnies – he told me.
I haven’t celebrated an Easter with Grandpa Dave in years.
But I will. Because God lives. Through faith in him, you will too.
Dear friends. May this same ever living God be your hope this Easter and always. Amen.
Ever meet someone famous?
Sometimes it doesn't go as you plan. You bring a pen. A shiny piece of memorabilia. You hold up your Smartphone to show your capabilities for a quick photo.
And they ignore you. They move along with their bodyguards right past you as if you don't exist.
It's much different than the kind and loving boy-next-door he plays on TV.
In today's reading from John 12, a group of Greeks come looking for Jesus. He was like a celebrity at the time. Famous for his teachings and his miracles. I'm sure they were super excited to meet him. But maybe...it didn't go quite like they planned.
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. 27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Can you imagine? The Greeks meet this celebrity who begins talking about death. A strange metaphor about a seed implying his death and the death of those who follow him. Then, the promise of eternal life.
A little strange.
But what was stranger was what happened next.
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
Incredible. Remember this is before the days of the microphone and hefty sound systems. In fact, it's before the days of electricity in general. That means that trickery is right out.
The voice from heaven WAS REAL.
More importantly, it meant that what Jesus was talking about was real. God was giving his divine seal of approval to everything that Jesus had said and did!
This means that YES, Jesus would die. YES, Jesus' death would be a payment for sin. YES, he would rise again. YES, those who put their faith in him as their Savior would have eternal life too!
Just as a seed planted into the ground grows up, produces more seeds, and produces more plants, so would Jesus' death and subsequent resurrection produce more seeds of faith and more living plants. So Jesus' would go into the ground, but then he would spring us. His resurrection would then sprout seeds of faith that grew up into eternal life!
BOTTOM LINE: His death and resurrection means that you too will live eternally!
I guarantee this was not what the Greeks expected from this celebrity. Maybe, all they wanted, was a handshake and a selfie.
But Jesus gave them so much more. He gave them hope.
He gave us hope.
PRAYER: Dear LORD, help me to see you as more than just an important historical figure. Teach me to see you as the divinely sent Messiah. My true, one, and only God. Help me to put my trust wholly and firmly in you. Amen.