We are continuing our summer sermon series on the Early Church. Last week we heard how God directed the missionaries to the west, across the sea, into a foreign colony, down by a river – all for the sake of one woman named Lydia.
Lydia heard the Gospel, believed, and was baptized. Then, she became a partner in kingdom work.
That’s where we pick up. Lydia’s home was now the base of operations for Paul, Silas, and their mission crew.
Today we’re going to see how God worked through their mission work in Philippi to proclaim FREEDOM. Before we begin, let’s pray: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Freedom from Evil
Acts 16:16 picks up the story some weeks later. The missionaries had gone back to the river where they met Lydia. It was a decent place for them to meet with people, preach sermons, and share the message of Jesus. They even started to get a bit of a following -- just not one they wanted: Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” (Acts 16:16-17)
A few notes:
This girl was a female slave. Unfortunately, you read that right. It was the 1st century and slavery was very common. Slaves were used to by their owners for housework, for fieldwork, for work down at the local harbor, and for any type of job that could earn the owner some money.
This slave worked for her owners by predicting the future. She read people’s palms. She gazed into crystal balls. She flipped over cards and told them about whether their dreamy new boyfriend was going to end up being Mr. Right.
She was able to do this because she had a spirit.
This was not a spirit of ambition.
It isn’t the type of “spirit” that gets people to work hard and end up on America’s Got Talent.
It wasn’t a good spirit.
It wasn’t the Holy Spirit.
It was an evil spirit.
This might be an undesirable truth, but it’s true nonetheless. Evil spirits are real. The Bible says that they are fallen angels. The devil was the first to fall by rebelling against God. But he wasn’t the only one. Others followed. They lost their godliness. They became evil. They became demons.
And it’s the truth.
Think about it:
If Jesus said he would rise from the dead…And he did.
Then, we need to believe what Jesus said.
And Jesus said that angels were real.
And so are demons.
One of those demons had possessed this slave girl. While this allowed her to do some amazing things like tell the future, it was a wretched life:
She was a prisoner in her own body.
She was influenced by demonic forces.
She was a slave in her own mind.
But not just to the demons! Her owners didn’t care one bit. She made them money! She was their ticket to the fancy new home theater with the 70” HD TV that they wanted. It didn’t matter if she suffered; she made them cash.
But now she found herself a second job. She followed the missionaries around shouting to the crowds: “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days…Paul became…annoyed. (Acts 16:17-18a)
That might seem strange. Because if you look at her words, they are filled with truth!
The missionaries were the servant of the God? Truth.
That God is the Most High God? Truth.
They were telling people the way to be saved? Yes, through Jesus.
Why is Paul annoyed at this addition to their missionary team?
Imagine for a minute that someone stumbled into church right now. They reeked of booze. They smelled of alcohol and cigarettes. In fact, they’d been on a booze bender ever since the 4th of July. They made their way to the front. And every time I made a point in the sermon, they lifted their bottle of Mad Dog 20/20, took a swig and shouted: “This guy’s speaking the truth about Jesus.”
Best case scenario? It’s annoying.
Worst case scenario? People leave before they hear the saving Gospel of Jesus.
It was the same thing for Paul. People were beginning to think: “If this Paul guy is associated with that demon-possessed slave girl, then they probably just want our money. It’s another hoax. Time to move on.”
But what could Paul do?
She was possessed by a demon.
She was held captive by the evil spirit.
She was a prisoner in her own body and mind – terrified and corned by a powerful devil.
Paul couldn’t do anything.
Paul said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. (v.18b)
“At that moment.”
Not: “After a long period of time.”
Not: “After a struggle.”
Not even: “After a while.”
“At that moment.”
Because “at that moment” Jesus defied Satan.
“At that moment” the demon cowered at God’s power.
“At that moment” the evil spirit went running at the mention of Jesus’ name.
“At that moment” Jesus freed her.
Free from demonic influence.
Free from her owners’ heavy hand.
Free from her life as a sideshow.
She was free.
Here’s the first truth for this morning:
Jesus frees us from the power of evil.
We had an ant problem at our house. On top of the front banister there were hundreds of ants crawling around near our front door and making their home out of rotted a piece of wood. So, I went to the store and looked at pest control options.
There was a poisonous spray.
There was a baited trap.
There was a good old fly swatter, if I wanted to spend the next 48 hours waiting and swatting.
I came home with a little tube of gunk. (Call it “anti-ant gunk”) The directions state to take the gunk, spread it across the area that the ants will be crawling and wait. What happens is that it smells so sweet to the ants that they can’t help but make their way onto it. But then? It’s so sticky they can’t get away from it.
They become trapped.
Evil is just like that.
It seems nice.
Then, it traps you.
The fun of a mildly racist joke that leads to racism firmly entrenched in every conversation made throughout the workday.
The allure of pornography’s next exciting click leading to click number 178.
The pull of greed’s desire for more – even if that greed is standing over me, like a master – forcing me to work more and more and more…
The initial high of a drug. The chemical induced desire to give over all your money for just one more taste.
The feeling of release from letting your rage on your spouse – a moment you’ll need to defend – by releasing the rage all over again.
Evil takes over.
Evil takes control.
Evil leave us as prisoners.
Jesus lived perfectly against evil.
He died innocently for the evil you have committed.
He rose triumphantly after having conquered evil on the cross!
Jesus frees from the power of evil.
Jesus frees YOU from the power of evil.
In fact, Jesus said this:
If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (Jn. 8:36)
And Jesus did set you free.
And you are free.
You are free…
Whatever evil you’re fighting against.
Whatever evil feels like it’s controlling you.
He is your leader.
He is your Savior.
He is your Rescuer.
II. Freedom from Fear
Unfortunately, not everybody was thrilled with the freedom that this young woman was now experiencing. When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. (Acts 16:19)
Because they didn’t care that she was free from the demon that possessed her.
They were losing money!
It might be like a strip club owner that is losing a dancer.
Or a drug dealer that’s losing one of his customers.
Or even a boss that’s losing a worker’s availability to make him more money on a Sunday morning.
Sometimes when you try to abandon sin, people get upset that you’re doing so.
That’s what happened to this girl. Her former employers became angry and they had some weight with the city. They got leaders to listen to their side of the story…
That Paul and Silas had broken their merchandise.
That they had ruined their income.
That they had looted their business.
And the leadership listened.
Paul and Silas were stripped.
They were beaten with rods.
They were flogged.
They were thrown into prison.
And as they were thrown into prison, the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. (16:23) So, he put them into the inner cell. The maximum-security part of the prison with extra doors and extra locks. In addition, he fastened their feet in the stocks. (v.24) They couldn’t even stand up to begin investigating an escape route.
The jailer brushed his hands together:
“That should hold them. I’ve done my job. Nothing can break those bonds.”
About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. And the other prisoners were listening to them. (v.25)
“The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want.” (Psalm 23:1)
“Surely it is God who saves me, I will trust in him and not be afraid.” (Isaiah 12:2)
“This is the Day the Lord has made. Rejoice! And be so very glad.” (Psalm 118:24)
The jailer could hear them in the distance:
How could they sound so free when they were so…NOT!?!
I wouldn’t be like that. I’d be terrified.
I already am.
Because if I were to mess this job up, well…
I’d rather just go to sleep rather than consider the outcome of that.
Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. (v.26)
And the jailer woke up in a panic!
The doors are open!
If those prisoners are gone, then I’m as good as dead.
I won’t see my family again.
I won’t see my kids again.
If the Romans don’t kill me, then that angry mob will.
The jailer threw himself on the floor.
He drew his swords and was about to kill himself…
“Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (v.28)
The jailer stopped.
He sniffled back a few tears.
He recognized that voice. It was the one that had just been singing to God.
He set the sword down and made his way to the jail cells to find the prisoners still there.
His job wasn’t in jeopardy.
His life wasn’t in jeopardy.
A rush of emotion came over the jailer. His eyes were filled with tears of thankfulness as he looked at the men who had a chance to leave the jail cell but remained.
He spoke: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved.” (v.29)
Because I’ve lived my whole life in fear.
I’ve lived my life afraid of death.
Afraid of losing everything.
Afraid of punishment and eternal hellfire.
What must I do to be saved? (v.29)
Paul didn’t state it explicitly.
But it’s implied.
The jailer couldn’t do anything to save himself.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. (v.31-32)
Friends, the same is true for you.
Jesus provides freedom from evil’s power.
But he also provides freedom of another variety.
TRUTH: Jesus brings freedom from fear.
If you’re a dog, the 4th of July must be on the scariest holiday. There are strange people attending backyard BBQs, their owners’ hands turning into sparking things, and loud booms, signifying the end of the world…all night long.
But if you’re a human, there’s plenty to fear as well.
That some terrorist will be part of an Independence Celebration.
That war will break in America – ending many lives.
That the sickness will end in death.
And there’s nothing scarier in the world than our natural spiritual state before God.
We are sinners.
We are guilt.
We deserve death.
And it’s coming for each one of us.
Jesus removed our sins.
Jesus removed our guilt.
Jesus removed our eternal death sentence.
Jesus transformed death from a separation from God and our believing loved ones.
Into an eternal reunion together with our Father and them.
Praise the Lord! There is no reason to be afraid.
Look at the change in the jailer:
At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wound. No longer afraid.
He had himself and all his household baptized. No longer afraid.
The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them. No longer afraid.
He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. No longer afraid of death, because death would not stop him. (v.32-34)
You don’t have to be afraid any longer.
The worst thing that could happen to you in this life, it’s also the best:
Your death means your eternal life. All because of Jesus!
Friends, Jesus means freedom.
Freedom from sin.
Freedom from guilt.
Freedom from shame.
Be free from fear.
Be free from evil.
Because FREE is who you are in Jesus. Amen.
We are in the middle of our Eyewitness sermon series and so far, we have heard Eyewitness reports from Mary Magdalene and from the Emmaus Disciples (Named? Cleopas and the other guy). In addition, we heard there’s a group of at least three other women (Mary the mother of James, Joanna and others—Lk. 24:10) who saw Jesus alive as well. That means by evening on Easter Sunday there are 5 people who have witnessed Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
The unlikely story is building credibility.
DNA testing was introduced into our court system in the early 90s. Did you know that hundreds of people who were previously convicted by eyewitness reports have been found not-guilty thanks to the DNA Testing? In 70% of those cases, the reason for conviction was the eyewitness testimony of one or two people.
John Wixted, a psychologist for the University of California, San Diego – wanted to see how useful eyewitness testimony was. He conducted an experiment with police that focused on 348 robberies in 2013 that involved an eyewitness and a single suspect. He showed the eyewitness a group of 5 photos in which one was the convicted robber. The eyewitnesses got the correct suspect 1/3 of the time.
But…in addition to quizzing eyewitnesses on the correct suspect, he also asked them about their certainty – whether they were unsure, certain, or very certain.
Of the people who were very certain? They correctly identified the suspect 75% of the time.
And when there was even one other supporting eyewitness, the rate of correct identification shot up to 90%.
By evening on the very first Easter, Jesus was identified as risen by at least 5 eyewitnesses.
And their confidence? It was through the roof! They didn’t see Jesus running away or from a distance, but up close and personal.
But…they aren’t even the beginning of the eyewitness accounts.
Today we’ll look an eyewitness account that probably quadruples the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. The goal? Gain your confidence that Jesus is alive. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Eyewitness Account
The eyewitness account is recorded in both the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Luke. We’re going be in both, starting with John. It says, “On the evening of that first day of the week...the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders…” (Jn. 20:19)
The section starts by describing a group of disciples together. The Gospel of Luke helps us better define who the group was gathered together.
A few notes:
It doesn’t involve Judas – he betrayed Judas and took his life because of the guilt.
It doesn’t involve Thomas – take note – we’ll talk more about that next week.
It does involve the Emmaus disciples – Cleopas and what’s-his-name show up to tell them all about their eyewitness experience.
It involves the women – Mary Magdalene, other Mary and Joanna, the other woman – who had seen Jesus rise from the dead.
And…maybe even a few others.
In short, the group is somewhere around 15-20 people.
And the doors were locked. It’s almost a horror film like setting. The disciples have the doors locked, latched, barred, with a couple pieces of furniture stacked against the door – all because they are afraid of the Jewish leaders.
The Jewish leaders just killed Jesus.
They crucified him.
They acted like a mob, wrongfully arrested him, falsely accused him, illegally convicted him, and forced Pilate’s hand to have him crucified.
What if the leaders did the same to them?
What if they had 12 more crosses just waiting to be filled with 12 more disciples?
What if any encounter with a Jewish leader would end the same way that Jesus’ encounter did…death?
And so, they hid.
And…all day long people had been entering the room with really weird accounts.
“We went to the grave and we thought he’d be dead, but the stone was moved!”
“An angel. A brilliantly bright angel. He saw us and spoke to us and said Jesus was alive.”
“It’s true. We listened to Mary. We ran to look. There wasn’t a body in the tomb.”
“I came back later and saw Jesus himself! I know it…because I heard his voice. A voice that healed me from demons.”
“We walked on the road with him. We talked with him. Would we have come all the way back here from Emmaus – a 7-mile sprint? – if we hadn’t really seen something?”
And to be fair – the reports brought excitement.
They brought mystery.
They brought questions.
But mostly…they brought fear.
Lots and lots of fear.
Because this fear of the Jews – had obviously caused their friends – delusions….
…their mind was playing tricks on them!
…a slow descent into madness.
How long until it hit them?
In the midst of the fear, confusion and hushed conversations…
Another guest appeared into the room.
Everyone was so distracted that they did not hear him enter.
Granted --- he didn’t knock.
He just appeared.
While they were…talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36-37)
And the disciples…have anything but peace!
It’s the ghost!
He’s seeking vengeance.
He’s back to haunt us.
Jesus lifted up his hands.
The disciples braced themselves for the inevitable plasma-ball to come out and consume them.
Jesus said this, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (v.38)
One by one…the disciples looked at each other.
“Touch him? Touch the ghost?”
“You do it.”
“No, you do it.”
“I’m not touching the ghost!”
Finally, Peter pushes his brother Andrew forward.
He lifts up his hand.
He places it on Jesus’ hand…and…
“Whoa…Guys. It’s real.”
The other disciples quickly come over.
They feel the bumps on his skin.
They feel the hairs on his arms.
They touched the holes near his hands.
He has flesh and bone – just like any other living human has.
Jesus asks, “Do you have anything here to eat?” (v.42)
One of them hands over the fish sandwich.
They pass it to Jesus.
It’ll probably fall to the floor – he’s a spirit.
Jesus ate it in their presence. (v.43)
It went into his mouth.
Chewed by his teeth.
Tasted by his tongue.
Into his throat
Into his belly.
Just like it does with any living human being.
Then, Jesus gave them something else.
He said to them, “This is what I said would happen. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Old Testament.” (v.44)
I had to die.
And I had to rise.
Just as it was written:
“God, you will not abandon my soul to the grave, nor let your Holy One see decay.” (Psalm 16:10)
“After he has suffered, the Messiah will see the light of life…” (Isaiah 53:11)
“Just as Jonah was three days and night in the belly of a fish, so the Son of man will be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth.” (Mt. 12:40)
Friends I am alive.
Jesus’ words echoed…
And the disciples came to a realization.
This wasn’t a hallucination.
This wasn’t a vision.
This wasn’t even a ghost.
This was something much worse.
This was real.
And it couldn’t be more terrifying!
Because the last time most of them saw Jesus?
It was in a garden, late at night, running away as he got arrested.
They had abandoned him.
They had denied him.
They had watched…without doing anything…as he died a slow, painful death on the cross.
They sinned against him…
Now he was back.
Proof that He was who He said He was.
Proof that He was God Almighty who controlled hurricanes, volcanoes and flash floods.
Proof that He was real --- and He was back – and He was back for one reason only:
One by one by the disciples looked towards the grounds.
They knew they were sinners and they were awaiting their sin-hating God to utterly destroy them.
Instead he repeated:
“Peace be with you.”
I am God.
I am alive.
I have the power of life and death.
But I am not angry. (Isaiah 27:4)
I am not here to get you.
I am not here for revenge.
I am here because we won.
Because your sins are forgiven.
Because we are at peace.
II. Resurrection Truth
There it is. The biggest, most populated eyewitness account that we’ve encountered to date.
It’s filled with reasons for confidence.
It’s filled with truth.
What is that truth? Three things:
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Yep. Third time that it’s come up as a truth to learn from the eyewitness account.
Think about it. Jesus goes out of his way to prove that His physical, tangible body is in working order again.
His digestive system works.
His joints work.
His skin works.
He even invites the disciples – all 20-some of them – to do a full, thorough investigation.
Don’t you think they did everything possible to determine if it really was real or not?
Some tapped him.
Someone pinched him.
I gotta imagine someone might have even tried to pluck his arm hair out.
And Jesus allows it! Because it’s real.
And, it’s not just any old tangible working body, but his own working body.
He’s had the nail marks in his hands to prove it.
He’s had holes in his feet to prove it.
He had a big, old slit in his side to prove it.
If this was all one big ruse, then Jesus would have had to convince someone, “Hey, do you mind posing as me after I die on the cross? Really? Cool. Now…I know it sounds crazy, but would you be willing to shove nails into your hands, a stake through your feet and a spear into your side? We’re gonna need those wounds to heal up in order to convince people that it’s really me.”
It didn’t happen.
What did happen?
Jesus really, absolutely, complete rose from the dead.
And that’s important.
Because that means…
(2) We Have Peace
It’s a phrase that Jesus repeats a few times.
“Peace be with you.”
“Peace be with you.”
Because as hard as it might be to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, it might be harder to believe that we have peace with God.
Because we have guilt.
We have sinned.
We have shame.
Truth is – you might be believing that God is so angry with you.
Because of past sins.
Because of BIG past sins.
Because of repeated sins.
Because of unbelief.
Because of not following Jesus.
Because you haven’t been whom God called you to be!
And so…you don’t believe.
And the biggest reason you don’t believe in the resurrection is not be a lack of evidence.
But your biggest reason for not believing in the resurrection is the ramifications.
I am a sinner and lo, God hates me!
But…if Jesus rose.
Then, sin has been defeated.
And…if Jesus rose,
Your sin has been paid for.
And…if your sin has been paid for. Completely. 100% perfectly.
Then, God’s wrath has subsided.
And if God’s wrath has subsided.
Then, you have no reason to be afraid.
Hear Jesus’ words to you:
“Peace be with you.”
Understand. It isn’t because your sin isn’t a big deal – it’s a huge deal.
It isn’t because God doesn’t hate sin and evil – He absolutely does.
It isn’t because you’ve done enough to make up for it – you can’t, and you won’t.
It’s because of Jesus.
Unbelievable as it is – it’s true.
About as unbelievable as a resurrection – also true.
The visible nature of the resurrection provides tangible proof of the invisible truth of reconciliation with God. (Romans 4:25)
The resurrection is the visible proof of the invisible truth:
You have peace with God.
Which leads to our final truth:
(3) You have been Sent
To end his encounter with the disciples, Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Do you get it?
God sent Jesus to bring us back to peace with Him.
And He sent risen Jesus to His disciples to confirm that peace with Him.
And He is sending us to share that peace with others.
He is sending YOU to share that peace with others.
Because there are people out there who are far apart from God.
Who are entangled in sin.
Who are covered in guilt.
Who are like those disciples huddled in that room afraid to face the world because they have no peace.
You give them that peace.
You tell them about Jesus.
And there aren’t any qualifications!
He doesn’t say, “If you have Seminary Certification then you have been sent.” Nope.
Qualifications for sharing Jesus include:
(1) Believing in Jesus.
(2) Hearing his call to “Go” and “Be sent.”
Which you just heard…
SO…this means you!
If you’ve known about Jesus since you were a child? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you’ve known about Jesus since this last Easter. Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are a 40 plus year member of this church? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you aren’t even a member yet? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are going home to a retirement community? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are going home to hang out in your playroom? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a master’s degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a bachelor’s degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a high school degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you don’t have any degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live near people who look and act like you? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you live near people who don’t look and don’t act like you? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a Republican? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a Democrat? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a political agnostic? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Raleigh? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Durham? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Wake Forest? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
IF you live in Chapel Hill? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Cary, Zebulon, Fuquay Varina, Rolesville, Louisburg…or any other villle or burg that I’m forgetting to mention here:
Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are a someone or an anyone who knows about Jesus…
(And friends – Jesus is talking to you)
You have been sent. Go and tell about Jesus.
And the Holy Spirit will be with you. Amen.
Picture the scene. You’re standing nearby. A friend of yours has someone come up to them who starts making all sorts of obnoxious, false statements targeting them. Afterwards your friend comes over to you and says, “Why didn’t you say anything?”
Picture another scene. You’re seated near your friend. A fabricated, false lawsuit has been brought against them. So there you sit in a courtroom as the case is heard. You’re not called on to say anything at the hearing. But after it is done your friend turns to you and says: “Thanks for your support. It meant the world to me.”
You didn’t say a thing in either case. You were just there. So why the different reactions from your friend?
Isn’t this true? That…
In both cases, we see an important truth: there are instances a person “speaks”/communicates without even opening their mouth. Agreed?
Now think of your connection to Jesus, and think of the ways you face attack – ways you’re under siege to follow the one (pointing to failure to stand) and give up the other (pointing to making a stand for what is true). That’s the issue we’re exploring tonight in our Disciple under siege topic of Silence. Sound like something relevant to our lives as disciples today? Yeah.
Let’s start with the narrative of our Bible section, then move on to make application in our lives.
As we hear our Bible verses listen for which one of the two kinds of silence (noted above) we observe here in John 18:15-18. I thought I had an answer for that. But I had to take a step-back from my presuppositions and ask: “What do we know for certain, based on what God reveals here?” Take a look for yourself: (Read John 18:15-18)
15 Simon Peter and another disciple kept following Jesus. That disciple was known to the high priest, so he went into the high priest’s courtyard with Jesus. 16 But Peter stood outside by the door. So the other disciple, the one known to the high priest, went out and talked to the girl watching the door and brought Peter in.
17 “You are not one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” the girl at the door asked Peter.
“I am not!” he said.
18 The servants and guards were standing around a fire of coals that they had made because it was cold. While they warmed themselves, Peter was standing with them, warming himself too.
Ok, for the following statements that I’m going to project, choose an answer: T, F, or WJDK. Everybody understand those options? T is for? True. F is for? False. WJDK is for? Maybe if we shorten it to the texting lingo “DK” it will help. DK is for? Don’t Know. So answer WJDK if there is something We Just Don’t Know. Ok, statement #1:
Answer: We DK. We don’t even know if it was John. Even if we take it to be John, which I personally think is the case, the other gospel accounts indicate that Peter’s denial in John 18:17 goes with the description in vs.18. │So though John is with Peter in vs.16, WJDK where John is at this time when Peter is gathered with others by the fire.
Let’s do one more statement – T, F, or WJDK:
Answer: WJDK. Though some come to this conclusion, others don’t. And one small word in vs.17, which I had previously overlooked, tipped the scale for me personally on how I’m leaning on seeing John’s “silence” during this time of Jesus’ trial.
We hear right away in vs.15 that this other disciple, we’ll take it to be John, was known to the high priest and obviously also to others there like the girl watching the door. But there is more known to those others about John than just his identity. He is known at the scene this night as being a disciple of Jesus. This makes sense, right? He was seen all over Jerusalem with Jesus. The high priest’s servant girl shows that she knew this about John. It’s in the question she asks Peter. It shows up in one little word: “too.” The NIV didn’t specifically bring out this word in its translation. You see, the servant girl wasn’t just asking if Peter was a disciple of Jesus. She knew John was a disciple of Jesus, and was asking if Peter was also one of his disciples.
And so, with that snippet of info in view, we might very easily come down on the side of viewing John’s presence during Jesus trial much like this conclusion I read: “it sets up John and Peter as two very different disciples [at this scene]. John is not at all secretive about the fact that he is a disciple of Jesus—even the high priest’s servant girl knew this about him!”
And even if you’re left wondering about how to take John’s presence at this scene – because we don’t have definitive word –, here’s a place to land. A place from which to move forward. The People’s Bible commentary on this section simply handles John’s presence by leaving us with questions to ponder, questions like this:
“And John – why did he tell this part of the story of Peter’s denial…?”
This seems to be the best approach to get at the application for ourselves. Leave the issue of John’s silence posed in the form of a question. What that really can encourage us to do is: ask the kind of questions that will make concrete application for our lives. When it comes to the topic of “silence,” what we do know – with certainty – are the ways we are under siege.
I said at the outset: Think of the ways you face attack – to follow the one (silence as a failure of friendship or of standing up for truth) … and give up the other (making a stand for what is true, even sometimes by presence).
I know the different paths I’m tempted to take, and I know where I’ve failed and fallen to temptation. What are the different junctures where you have encountered temptations to be silent? Take a few moments. Either jot down or come up with a mental list. If you’re with your child(ren), talk it through with them.
Did you have any examples like these:
Or more specific to tonight’s account: to be silent where untrue comments are spoken about Jesus - about truths we know from the Bible.
The prior topic in our disciples under siege series that I shared was “fleeing” from Jesus. “Fleeing” and “silence” that fails to stand up for what is true - both deal with fear. One does something in reply. The other does nothing in reply. But both have this in common: they are failures to follow God’s will. The one: doing something God forbids. The other: failing to do something God commands.
We can’t look at this topic without seeing and confessing the times in our lives when our silence has been sin. I could have spoken more often. I missed opportunities because I was scared of people’s response, because I didn’t want to receive ridicule, because I feared the potential tension it might insert into the moment or into future interactions with the person or people involved. I confess the good that I’ve failed to do – my sins of silence are one type.
Here’s the good news. We don’t walk away tonight weighed down by our past failures. What Jesus did this night (John 18) and the next day (Good Friday) assures us of that.
Read Mark 14:60-62. We heard earlier tonight a time Jesus was silent too. Jesus was silent in reply to the false accusations brought against him. His silence is for a different reason. He doesn’t run from God’s will. He doesn’t try to defend himself; he doesn’t try to step away from all the shame and blame and punishment coming his way. He is silent as he goes about his task. He only speaks up to tell the truth of who He is: God the Son. And then He goes to complete the work for which He came: to take our sin and curse of hell. He took that all without complaint, or objection, all so that… He may loudly proclaim us as FORGIVEN at his death and resurrection.
That’s the news that gives you peace. It means peace in your relationship with God: through faith in Jesus you have the complete peace of your sins all removed.
Something else brought about at the same time is this; it’s brought through the same assurance. When I keep that relationship in view, that reality in view of the peace I have with God, it puts me at peace as I go into the world and let my connection to Jesus show. I’m strengthened with the assurance that Jesus has provided me a security that is eternal and priceless.
Every time I hear God’s good news bringing that truth, it takes away the reasons I thought I had to fear. I’m freed from feeling that my security is dependent on what people think of me. I’m filled with joy to know my connection to Jesus provides my security. And I’m set free through that news to let shine my connection to Jesus and the joy it brings me. I’m given heart and strength to give voice for the world to know: the truth of what Jesus had done, the truth that I hold dear.
May the grace of our God give us strength, peace and joy that overflows in lives – lives that they shine with our connection to Him, reflecting His love and truth for all to hear and see!
Do you know what a guy romper is?
Apparently, it’s a thing. A romper is a shirt and short combo. It’s a onesie – first made popular by women and that kind of makes sense. But the other day someone told me that they had made it into a guy thing. I didn’t believe. I doubted.
Maybe you’re doubting.
But it’s real. I saw it. Pictures of guy’s rompers unbuttoned near the top and exposing manly chest hairs in all their glory.
Sometimes things are unbelievable.
Sometimes things are “guy romper” unbelievable.
And somethings things are dead guy, put in the tomb, and three days later risen from the dead unbelievable.
Do you believe the unbelievable? Or do you doubt?
Today we’re going to hear about a disciple who doubted and we’re going to listen to how Jesus handled the situation. My hope is that it helps to remove some of your doubts. Before we do that, let’s pray:
I. Waiting to See?
Our lesson for today comes from John 20:24. It says: Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.
Now…I don’t know what Thomas was doing.
Maybe he was out grabbing some Chinese takeout.
Maybe he was working out with his run club.
Maybe he was applying for jobs – since the disciple gig fell through.
For whatever the reason Thomas missed the very first Easter. When all the other disciples were filled with joy, wonder and amazement at the appearance of the resurrected Lord, Thomas was being filled with disappointment as he waited in line at the grocery store with only one checkout attendant.
So…when Thomas carefully approached the unmarked apartment that the disciples had made their hideout, he braced himself for the sadness that he was about to encounter: Grown men crying. Grown men scared. Grown men grieved by the reality that the Savior that they loved, that they devoted years of their life to, that they hoped in, was dead.
Thomas looked in his shopping bag.
I hope this bucket of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream will do the trick. Passover Pecan – it’s a new flavor.
But as Thomas opened the door, he didn’t find the melancholy that he expected.
Thomas! Where were you? I can’t believe you missed it!
It’s Jesus. He’s alive. We saw him.
I didn’t believe it at first either…but it’s really him. Truly him…I touched his hands. I felt his side!
It’s Jesus! It’s Jesus! Jesus is alive!
Thomas’ words had quite the bite. Enough! Stop being crazy. I don’t know what happened or what you think you saw – but whatever it was …it wasn’t Jesus. He’s dead. His body bled out. His lungs collapsed. The soldiers, who are paid professionals at killing people, killed him. They took his body down from the cross. They confirmed his death. They brought his body to others who confirmed his death. Our friend, Joseph, buried him! I think he would have stopped if he had noticed the lungs moving. But he didn’t. They buried him. They closed the grave…Do you know why?
The other disciples humored him.
Because he was DEAD!! D.E.A.D. DEAD! Dead – dead. Dead…dead…DEAD! And our discipleship is dead! If you want to stay here and make up stories and follow some imaginary friend, go right ahead. As for me, I’m going to go live. I won’t follow what’s dead. Because dead things are dead and dead things stay…DEAD!
It was quiet for a moment. Thomas’ chest stopped speaking to catch his breath – as his blood pressure sky rocketed.
Then, someone spoke.
Thomas. I know how you feel. I felt the same way. Even when I saw him…I thought it was just a ghost.
But then…Then, I touched him. I felt the hand that had helped me away from my sinful life. Then, I put my finger into the nail marks and I placed my hand into his side. I saw him eat – bread and fish --- just like a living human being. I thought he was dead. But, Thomas, I saw Him. I felt him. I was with him.
And all the other disciples concurred. They took turns telling how they had seen him, how they had touched him, how they had felt him. Surely, they couldn’t all be seeing things. Surely, they couldn’t all have been tricked. Surely, they couldn’t all be so foolish.
And Thomas listened.
And Thomas thought.
And Thomas laid down one simple ultimatum:
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands with my own eyes and touch the wound mark on his side with my own hands – I will not believe.” (20:25)
That’s Thomas. Affectionately known forevermore as Doubting Thomas. Which is unfortunate. Perhaps the man would have preferred to be known as Believing Thomas or Ravishing Thomas or Muscular Thomas. But he’s remembered mostly for one thing – doubting.
What about you? Is that the adjective that could describe you? Do you doubt or do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Do you believe he’s your Savior?
You have basically the same information:
You know that he died. Thomas knew that.
You have people telling you that Jesus rose – Thomas did too.
You know that typically dead people stay dead. That was something that Thomas knew and Thomas believed…deeply.
To be fair, Thomas had the miracles:
He saw the blind man see – and when he doubted it – he asked the blind man how many fingers he was holding up – and the blind man told him. Repeatedly.
He saw the lame man walk…and when he doubted it – he asked the man to stand – and he started doing the Electric Slide.
He saw the men with leprosy cured…and when he doubted it – and after much coaxing – he touched skin that felt as fresh and new as a Neutrogena model’s face.
Yet when Thomas is faced with the biggest and most impressive miracle of all – he doesn’t believe.
He gives an ultimatum.
Good idea? Bad idea? Giving an ultimatum to God. That’s like a little preschooler turning to his parent and saying, “Unless I see these so called ‘germs’, then I won’t wash my hands…!” The ultimatum is silly. The child should trust the parent. He knows way more. She understands way more.
And the ultimatum for God is just as silly. The child – (read: human) – should trust the parent— (read: God). He knows way more. He understands way more.
He is way more!
And yet. We aren’t that unfamiliar with ultimatums. In fact, Thomas’ nickname, did you see it? It’s Didymus. Didymus means “twin.” It probably meant that Thomas was a twin.
But I can’t help but notice how my language, sometimes, twins Thomas’?
Yes, God. I’ll believe that you’re with me as a pastor – as long as you add 12 new church members by the end of the week.
Yes God. I’ll believe that you’re with us, as long as you get groundbreaking going on the preschool by next Thursday.
Yes, God. I’ll believe that you love me as long as you stop people from being mean to me.
And when I talk like that. I can’t help but think that my last name must be Didymus.
I can’t help but think that I am Thomas’ brother.
Are you our relative too?
Sure, I’ll become a believer in Jesus – when he appears to me and proves it.
I’ll trust you more God…if you find me a job by the end of the week.
I will be an awesome believer – once you get me the perfect boyfriend.
I’ll really devoted myself to you – when you finally give me a kid.
I’ll believe in God – if he heals me from this cancer.
Here’s the deal with ultimatums -- If anyone should be giving anyone ultimatums, it’s God giving it to us.
He created the earth.
He provides for it.
He created you.
He provides for you.
He sent his Son.
He lived perfectly for you.
He rose from the dead.
He is the one with the right to an ultimatum because he’s the One with the power!
And (to be honest) he has given an ultimatum? Wanna hear it?
John 3 says this, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life…but whoever does not believe will be condemned, because they haven’t believed in his Son!”
In other words:
God came off his throne.
God became human.
God lived 33 perfect years when you couldn’t.
God died innocently in your place so you wouldn’t have to.
God rose triumphantly to prove it to you!
Finally, God used someone in your life – maybe a mom, maybe a dad, maybe a Sunday School Teacher…maybe me right now – to bring this message to you.
And if, after all that, your response is: I don’t believe it.
Well… God says you’ll believe it one day.
One day – when it won’t be a matter of faith.
One day when you feel the hand of his wrath.
One day when it’s too late.
II. Believing to See!
But don’t believe out of fear. Believe in the risen Jesus because it’s true.
Fast forward our story one week. The day of the week is the same. The time of day is the same. The cast of characters is the same. The door is locked the same. And Jesus appeared among them – the same. Listen to this. Verse 26 is almost a carbon copy of verse 19: Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
But one thing is different. This time Thomas is there. And Jesus walks right up to him.
“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (v.27)
Thomas felt the flesh of his hand.
Thomas felt the ridged remainders of the nail marks.
Thomas felt the jagged edges that the spear had left behind.
Thomas looked Jesus in the eyes.
And this time? He fell to the ground:
“My Lord and My God!” (v.28)
Jesus lifted him up. Jesus hugged him. Jesus forgave him.
And then, Jesus said something very interesting:
“Because you have seen me, you have believed. Thomas, blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
Is that you?
Do you believe even though you haven’t seen?
Do you believe even though you’ve only heard?
Then, you are blessed.
The blessings are numerous:
You have forgiveness with God.
You have forgiveness from all of your doubts.
You have forgiveness for your unbelief.
You have peace with God.
You have joy in your salvation.
You have God’s love.
You have none of God’s wrath and all of his blessing.
You have the promise that you will see him.
Can you picture that? That’s what heaven is. The moment when you and I will see our Savior with our own eyes!
You will see the nail marked hands – a testimony to his love for you.
You will see the flesh wound in his side – a testimony to his compassion for you.
You will see Jesus – move and breathe and being alive – a testimony to His Power.
Thomas believed because he saw.
Don’t ask to see and then believe; but believe and you will see.
That’s what faith is. Hebrews says this, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for; and certain of what we do not see.”
And what do we hope for? That we too will conquer death. That we too will be in heaven. That we too will be with God. That we too are forgiven!
And what we do not see? Jesus’ hands. Jesus’ feet. Jesus’ side. We don’t see the risen Lord Jesus.
But just like Thomas didn’t see Jesus; it doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t risen.
And, in fact, it almost makes you wonder if Thomas’ absence wasn’t God ordained.
God knew Thomas would doubt.
And God knew we would doubt.
So, God led Thomas away.
And Thomas doubted.
But then Jesus appeared.
And Thomas’ doubts went away.
And if doubting Thomas, doubting skeptic, I’ve seen Jesus do all kinds of miracles, but I won’t believe this miracle to be true – Thomas doubts, but then believes.
That means the truth? Is true.
It’s not a myth.
It’s not fake new.
It’s not a fairy tale.
Jesus has risen. You are his.
Stop doubting and believe. Amen.
My brothers and sisters in Christ,
God’s word that I would like to take time to study with you today comes from the book of Exodus in chapter 34. And before we begin, allow me a moment to read through it with you:
29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the LORD had given him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the LORD’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD.
Now, I would love to take the time to pull back and give you the long version of our context here, of how we came to the point of this reading, but I think most of you want to be home before dinner time. Exodus is a great read, I suggest picking it up when you get home if you’re unfamiliar with it, but there’s really no way I can do the previous 33 chapters justice right now.
Suffice to say at this point, Moses is returning from the mountaintop to bring the laws to God’s people. This is his second trip. The last time he tried this, the people gave him up for dead after he was gone a few weeks, they abandoned God and turned to worshipping a golden calf. But not this time. And this time, Moses, unaware, had a face that shone with the glory of the Lord he had seen. The shining glory was not his own, it was a reflection, an after-effect of what he had seen. He had been in the presence of God Almighty and that showed to the Israelites when he returned. We have no frame of reference to even imagine what it was like, but we can certainly say it was a divine glory that these people were not used to seeing. So, what did they think of this? Were there lines outside Moses’ tent to go in and see it? Did the people come up to congratulate him, “Wow Moses, that’s so cool to see something like that!” No. They were afraid to even come near him.
Should that surprise us? No, it shouldn’t. Find one instance in the Bible, one time in recorded history where God’s glory shone to human beings, even in a limited capacity, and the person or people in question did not cower in fear. From God walking in the garden after the fall to find Adam and Eve, to the angel visitors who announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, to the disciples we read about at the mount of transfiguration, being confronted with the shining glory of God himself makes us afraid. Why? You may say, well it’s supernatural, we’re not used to it, naturally we’re afraid of the unknown. But there’s more to it than that. That doesn’t account for the kind of terror we read about when people see the glory of God. Why such fear?
I’m going to answer that question, but first let me turn this around. Because once you understand it, it’s actually not so amazing that people confronted with God are so afraid. What’s amazing is that people aren’t that terrified all the time. What do I mean? Let me explain to you a little bit about how our God has wired us. You see, God has stamped our hearts with his law, by nature he has placed in all of us a (somewhat) reliable standard of what is right and what is wrong. And when we do wrong, that voice inside us lets us know. That voice speaks up and stings us with the guilt of what we did and more to the point, fear of the consequences. The conscience is a terrifying thing.
Because we can’t live up to it. It is always there accusing us of something new we did wrong today or something we should have done that we ignored because it was convenient. Lost my temper on the freeway again. That same sinful indulgence I swore I’d never do again, did it again today. The perfectly reasonable excuse I made to get out of helping someone in need. It’s always there, every time, telling us we don’t measure up. We can’t keep it quiet because we can’t be good enough. If you don’t believe me, really listen to it for a day. Just a day. You can’t keep it quiet by what you do.
So, why aren’t we terrified all the time? How do people live with this terrifying voice inside them? We ignore it, we distract it, we turn away from listening to it just so we can have a moment’s peace where we’re not afraid of it. We’ve gotten really good at doing this over the centuries. We hum little rhymes of needless distractions, we focus on petty and inane things and pretend it’s not there, or worst of all we take up the morality of our culture and use that to sand the edges off it so it until it’s just a dull prod instead of a sharp sting.
Does that help? Yes, but no. The pain of the conscience exists for a reason and ignoring it is very dangerous. Like physical pain exists to warn us that something is wrong with our body, the conscience is there to warn us that something is wrong with our soul. Drowning out the conscience, ignoring it, that’s like taking painkillers to deal with a gunshot. It might make you comfy, but it’s not going to end well. Ignoring the conscience doesn’t change what it’s trying to tell us. It doesn’t change the fact that we are not good enough and we deserve punishment from God for it. The conscience is not there to be ignored, it’s there to convince you of that truth. You are not good enough. I hate to be a downer, but that is a fact. Ignoring or refusing it doesn’t change it. In fact, the sooner we accept that truth, the sooner there is hope for us. Because when we give up on ourselves, that’s when we go to find a solution elsewhere, outside ourselves. The conscience exists to convince you that you need God to save you.
But because we’re so good at ignoring our conscience, God sometimes has to stir it back up so we listen. Nothing does that quite like the literal glory of God in your sight. There’s a truth you can’t deny. Here’s holiness and perfection and wisdom and power and compared to what I am – well that’s an eye opener that can only leave you terrified. But we need that before there can be hope.
Do you see why, out of love for us, God might have to put the literal “fear of God” in us? If we don’t think we need him, if we think we can make it on our own, that’s dangerous. And so because he loves you, God will take steps to reignite that fear of him, he will make you afraid of him – not because he likes seeing you cower before his might! – he will make you afraid so that he can come at take that fear away.
So God comes to us and reminds us of who he is, and who we are. God, who only ever gives of himself to us. Who only has ever given to us what is best for us. God who has always shown you perfect love, always modeled to you perfect love. Nothing in your life has happened without God saying, “This exists because it is best for you, because I love you.” This God is the one we have torn at in our selfishness. This God is the one we’ve shouted at in anger because he didn’t do what we want. This God is the one we’ve ignored because it suited our interest and comfort that particular day. This God is the one we’ve had the ridiculous audacity to defiantly yell at him that he is doing it wrong and that we know better than him.
Back up a second and look at that shining glory again – who is it again you’re acting like this towards? God almighty who called the universe into being with mere words. God who brought you to life, gave you a soul and made you who you are. God who directs the events of this world every day. God who has the power to stop armies with a word and bring down nations with a thought. Who can open the earth to swallow whole those who defy him or choose to bring the dead to life. This God, with infinite power, with no authority over him, this God is the one you’ve defied and angered. It’s terrifying to look at this truth, but necessary. This fear of God is the beginning of hope. It seems counter-intuitive, I know, but the more fully we see our God’s true glory and holiness, the more fully we understand just how utterly we fail – the better off we are. Because once we’ve given up on ourselves, then we’re ready to be saved.
Aaron and the other leaders were afraid at Sinai… but that’s not all we get from God’s shining glory. What about the other mountain we read about today? Is that the reaction the disciples had on the mount of Transfiguration? Well, yes – but what did Jesus say right after? “Do not be afraid.” Fear was not the purpose of this trip. Jesus went up on the mountain with his closest disciples and gave them a glimpse behind the curtain of his humanity so they would have a truth to hold onto in the dark days ahead. This event was given to them by Jesus to be a comfort. They saw who he really was. They saw his glory and power. Soon it wouldn’t look like that anymore. Soon he would be arrested. He would be brutally beaten. He would be executed. It would look bad. But guys, put two and two together! The sheer power and glory radiating from this mountaintop – these things that happened – surely the God who revealed himself on the mountain could stop them any time. If these things happened, then it had to be because this is what Jesus wanted. He chose this dark end because of what it would do for you.
I want you to understand this – it was about you. He had you in mind as he endured and as he died. He didn’t save you just because you came with the package. He didn’t say to himself, “Well, I might as well do this, it’ll take care of everyone at once and be done with it.” If it was just you, only you, if you were the only sinner in all of history who needed him, he still would have done it. Because it was the only way to rescue you from yourself. Your crimes deserve death. His death for you frees you. The holiness and power of God should terrify you by nature, but we know that power and perfection stood up for us. And that very holiness that covers you now, that ensures you don’t ever need to be afraid of God again. His holiness does not stand against you, it is given to you by faith, and it is yours to wear freely. You are forgiven. The conscience exists to remind us of this fatal wound in our soul. Jesus has healed it, by his death. Completely in him, the conscience does not hold any fear for us again.
The shining glory of the Lord does this all for us. It needs to terrify us so we give up on ourselves and turn to him. And that same God with the same shining perfection and power freely gives us this truth, “I’ve got it covered,” he says. “What you did wrong, I fixed. I forgive you, and I grant you eternal life with me.” That voice is almighty and perfect. It does not lie. It does not make mistakes. There’s peace in that glory that we could never have on our own.
Of course, you and I don’t see the Lord’s glory face to face much these days, do we? But does that really change anything? Perhaps the Lord doesn’t physically appear in his glory so much anymore as he did to Moses or the disciples. But he still shines. He shines through his Word. Our Bibles, the scriptures are still our connection to him. What an amazing blessing we have, to have that glory on hand wherever we go. To be able to look into the face of that glory and remember just how badly we need him and how he in turn has filled that need perfectly. Make no mistake, in a very real way we still see our God face to face when we study his Word. And what’s more, we still reflect his glory into the world just as Moses did. The longer and more often we are exposed to him in the Scriptures regularly, the brighter that glory will shine by the Holy Spirit’s power. And that reflected glory will have an effect on the people around us.
You shine the reflected glory of God no differently than Moses when you reflect God’s Word in your life. Whenever choose his way over your way. When we don’t follow the crowd at work or home just because it’s easier. When we respond with love and forgiveness to those who try to hurt us, even when they don’t want it. When we try to help those who hate us. When we say “yes” for our God, even when the whole world is telling us that “no” is the right answer. Powered by our God, our godly words and actions shine the glory of the Lord at the world to remind them to be afraid. The glory we reflect stirs up in them the reminder that they don’t measure up and they need help. By shining the love of God at them, we want them to know the truth. They need a savior. And once they understand the need, we have that same Savior to offer them.
Brothers and Sisters, I want you to understand the importance of the task God asks of you in your life here. A life lived for Christ isn’t only a nice thing to do for God as a thank you to his love. It’s not only something you do to make your life better, knowing his ways are best. A life lived for Christ is the most pivotal way that we can shine with the reflected glory of our Lord into the world. Through those words and actions we reach out to try to save everyone around us. Start at the source of his glory. Soak it in through his Word. Take every opportunity to connect with the God you are not good enough for but the God who has made you good by his mercy and power. Look to the glory he reveals to you, and reflect that glory into your lives. Amen.
I. Joseph’s Plan
He looked down at the receipt that he had from the local florist and smiled. He had just purchased tens of dozens of flowers. Lilies, crocuses, wildflowers and roses. Some in vases, some in bundles and some to be attached directly to his bride’s dress and pinned to her hair. He didn’t have them yet, but at the right time on the right day, they would be arranged, delivered and set up.
Joseph made a check mark next to “flowers.”
Another stop made.
Another arrangement finished.
Another part of the plan – done.
Joseph was engaged to be married. It was a part of his plan. Rather – Mary, his bride-to-be, was a part of his plan. He had been looking forward to being with her for quite some time. He had seen her around the village of Nazareth. He had spoken with her as he delivered a table to a neighbor in his community. He had fallen for her. He had spoken to his parents. He had spoken to her parents. He had arranged to pay a dowry – a sum of money to show commitment to her and thankfulness to the family – he had worked hard, saved up, and asked her to be his wife.
Now – he looked forward to the next part of the plan. First, the wedding. Then, a family --- walking the streets with this lovely lady in his arm. Lifting his head up a little higher: “How’d a gruff carpenter like you end up with such a lady?” He dreamt of sitting down to Passover meal with his family. He dreams of children – a girl with Mary’s eyes – a boy with Joseph’s eyes. Family gatherings filled with comments from aunts and uncles: “Doesn’t he look like you?” “Doesn’t she have her father’s charm?”
But that was going to come. For now he’s waiting. Joseph was a righteous man. He was faithful to God and God’s Word. He wouldn’t sleep with her until he’d made his commitment. Until he’d commit his life, his spirit, his wallet, his love, and all the rest of himself, he wasn’t going to commit to unbuttoning his pants. And he wasn’t going to ask Mary for that special gift until he had given her everything!
So he waited.
He waited for that part of that plan.
He waited patiently.
One day as he worked on a brand-new piece of cabinetry for the Rabbi, his beautiful bride to be entered his workshop. He wiped the dust of his hands. He brushed it off of his pants. He made his way over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. He was excited to see her. Excited to hear her news. Excited to hear what other parts of the plan for the wedding he could cross off the list.
“The invitations? Are they out?”
“The food? Did you make a decision?”
“The music? Are we really letting your cousin Larry’s timbre band play the reception?”
“Joseph,” Mary interrupted. “I’m pregnant.”
Joseph’s smile faded faster than the dust on a board when the wind caught it. Pregnant? That wasn’t part of the plan. Not now. That wasn’t the part of the plan until later.
And Joseph knew his biology. This child wasn’t his. He had a been waiting. He had been waiting – hard as it was to wait – he had been waiting, patiently. But apparently, Mary hadn’t. Apparently, Mary didn’t care. Apparently the here and the now and a moment of pleasure was more important than the plan!
Joseph – I wasn’t unfaithful. Joseph – this child isn’t from an earthly guy. This child is of the Holy Spirit. (v.19)
Holy Spirit, huh? Is that what they’re calling it. Joseph, was it?
Bill the fancy city lawyer who had moved from Jerusalem?
Jacob, the butcher’s son?
Or was it Zacharias – the Rabbi’s kid? He had seen the way that he had been looking at her.
Joseph’s mind was swimming.
This was a DISASTER! This wasn’t the plan! And the plan was blowing up in his face.
Gone was the wedding.
Gone were the well wishes of family and friends.
Gone were the family meals.
Gone was the little boy with his nose and the little girl with his eyes – they wouldn’t even have his chin!
II. God’s Plan
Joseph was wandering the streets in distress – with his breath tinted with stale wine -- when he passed by the local synagogue:
You know, what was the point God?
I tried to listen to you. I tried to wait. I tried to do it by the book!
Why did this have to happen to me?
Why not some other guy?
Why not one of those non-religious, non-believing types?
Why did you let my plan change?
Still – he loved her.
He was thankful for her.
He didn’t want to embarrass her.
So, Joseph decided on a new plan: (v.19) Joseph had in mind to divorce her quietly.
No loud announcements. No complaining at the bar. No posting it in Facebook for all to see.
A quiet cancellation.
No more meeting with the venue.
No need to meet with the priest.
Maybe he could get his money back on the flowers.
Joseph made it home and started reformulating his plan. He put finishing touches on his NEW plan: who to tell, how to cancel, how to avoid embarrassment, and how to get his money back on the flowers -- written down bullet point by bullet point on a tablet at his bedside.
Until finally, he was exhausted enough to fall asleep.
That night, as he dreamt of that horrible moment that Mary told him this horrible news -- as he looked at the nervous expression on her face and heard the anger in his own voice – something was different.
Someone else was in the scene.
Someone who was shining brilliantly.
An angel of the LORD appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (v.20)
It’s from God.
The God who is always good.
The God who gave you life.
The God who gave you wonderful parents.
The God who blessed you with those talented, carpentry hands.
The God who blessed you with money for the dowry, money for the wedding, and money for those wedding flowers.
The God who blessed you with Mary.
Is the same God blessing you with this child.
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (v.21)
Because Joseph – this child means more than a family for you.
This child means you are a part of God’s family.
This child means that you are forgiven for doubting me.
This child means that through faith in him you will be God’s child.
III. What now?
How’s that for a story? How’s that for a change in plans? While this story is Joseph’s story – and there are elements that are unique to his story – there are two important truths for you and I to take away when it comes to our plans in 2017.
(1) God’s Plan is Better
Take this note: Mary and Joseph’s plan wasn't a bad plan. They were going to get married. They were going to wait to sleep together until after they publicly committed. They were protecting each other’s hearts – even as they followed God’s plan for marriage.
But that plan – while it wasn’t bad or wrong – wasn’t as good as God’s plan.
Look at his name again: Jesus – because he will save the people from his sins. That’s the God part. That’s the part that humans didn’t plan NOR could they manufacture if they did plan it!
God’s plan involved much more for Joseph -- more than a game of touch football in the yard. More than a young apprentice to help with carpentry work. More than somebody to carry on his family name.
God’s plan gave Joseph a Savior.
God’s plan is always better. Keep that in mind. It was true for Joseph. It’s true for you.
Scripture says this, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
That’s an interesting passage. Because how believable that passage is usually depends on what’s going on in our life. For instance, when things are going well, that passage is so easy to believe:
I got a new job – part of God’s plan!
I came into some money – this is God!
I have a clean bill of health – Thank you Lord!
We’re having a baby – What a blessed part of God’s plan.
But what happens when things aren’t so great? Is this passage, suddenly untrue?
I lose my job –God, where are you?
I am out of money – God must have forgotten his plan.
I have a disease – Way to go God.
We can’t have a baby – God, you don’t have any good plans for me, do you?
But even when things look bad, God is still planning things for our God – for your good:
Take Jesus – the little unborn baby in our story.
He grows up.
He is arrested when he hadn’t done anything wrong.
He is beaten, slapped, whipped, falsely accused, wrongfully imprisoned and hung up on a cross to die!
That looks awful!
But with those words – the angel’s promise to Joseph came true. Jesus saved the people from their sins!
He saved us from our doubts.
He saved us from accusing God.
He saved us from accusing God of not having good plans for us, by accomplishing his good plans for us.
That cross looks awful – but it means the most good for us.
Trust his plan --- even if it’s different. It’s always better.
Like my friend’s dad—Tad. I had met him a few times when we went over to my friend’s house to play video games. Tad was always busy. He had a job. He wore nice suits. He made lots of money. He had a nice car. He owned a very nice boat that he would use to go up on the lake and fish on weekends. He had an NFL ticket – and would sit in his easy chair all Sunday watching his teams. He didn’t have time for God. He had a plan that was going just fine without God!
But then, Tad got sick. Stage 4 cancer. Suddenly – work didn’t matter as much. Money didn’t matter as much. Nothing mattered as much as God.
He met with his son’s pastor. He spent a month vigorously studying the Bible. He came to faith in Jesus. He was baptized into Jesus name. He received Lord’s Supper for the first time. He was reminded of God’s promises in Scripture that Whoever believe in Jesus, will not perish but have eternal life. (Jn. 3:16)
Then, Tad died. But he didn’t perish, he went on to eternal life.
Cancer sounds bad. But God used that cancer as part of his plan for Tad – to take him away from hell – and bring him to eternal life in heaven!
Wow. God’s plans are good. God’s plans are better.
(2) God’s Plan is Planned
This is a second thing to take comfort in. God’s plans are made well in advance – hundreds of years in advance.
Look at what it says about God’s plan for Joseph in verses 22-23: All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel,’ which means – ‘God with us'.”
Understand then, that God’s plan for Joseph was not a last second, last ditch effort. Notice that God didn’t just come to Joseph and do a last second switcheroo. This wasn’t like heading out to eat, seeing that the line is too long for Chick-fil-A, so you stop at Taco Bell instead. Nope.
This good plan was on God’s heart and put into motion long before Joseph’s heart was ever put into motion.
The same is true for you. God’s plan is guiding your life
Now understand – this doesn’t mean that we are puppets. It’s not like we have strings and God moves us accordingly. God isn’t telling me, “Move your right arm now,” and “turn and smile right now.” Nope.
God gives us the freedom to choose. Freedom to choose whether to drink coffee or not. Freedom to choose whether to drink Folgers or Starbucks. Freedom to choose whether to drink another – or three or four.
We have choices, but God is still guiding us.
Think of it like a preschooler coloring a page. (Maybe a picture of a party hat and confetti for New Year’s). Dad might sit down behind this child. He might grab the crayon. He might help them keep the coloring in the lines. He guides; he leads; he directs.
God does the same for you. He guides. He leads. He directs. He did it in 2016. Maybe you can see how!
He’ll do it again in 2017. He will guide you. He will lead you. He will direct you!
Granted: You know that preschooler can whine and complain that his dad is helping him. In fact, he can even have a breakdown and push dad off of him – simply because he wants to go where he wants!
And, granted: You can do the same to God. You can whine and complain and push him off of you because you don’t want to follow his directions.
But that will eventually lead you to hell.
Because God’s plan is for you to get to heaven.
Trust him. Trust his Word. Trust his Son Jesus – and he will get you there. No matter what turns your life takes or what happens to you in 2017. God is guiding you to eternal life.
That’s what Joseph did. Our section ends like this: When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (v.24-25)
Do the same. Trust God. Follow him in 2017….no matter where you go and what happens to your plans.
I. The Worst Kind of Fear
The doors were locked.
A deadbolt. Another deadbolt.. A few boxes stacked in front of the door. One of those giant wooden planks that sits atop two metal supports on both sides. There was no way anyone was getting in.
It was evening on the very first Easter Sunday. The disciples were gathered together and talking in hushed voices:
“Do you think the Pharisees will come after us?”
“Do you think they’ll want us dead? Or was Jesus enough?”
“Do you think they know who I am? I can’t remember if they saw my face when we were running away last Thursday night!”
“Do you think crucifixion will be as bad as it sounds?”
Then, their hushed panic was interrupted by a knock on the door. A few of them jumped. Quietly Matthew peeped through the tiny hole in the door.
It was Mary Magdalene. They let her in, they told her not to scare them like that. But she wasn’t listening. She was a sobbing mess. “They’ve stolen his body!” She sobbed. “I couldn’t even see him.”
Peter and John put their arms around her. They lifted up their hoods so that they wouldn’t be seen. They ran with her to investigate.
As the other disciples waited, they heard another knock. Their breaths were short again. Slowly they opened the door to reveal the group of women that Mary had abandoned. They weren’t nearly stressed. In fact, they seemed joyful.
“Shhh!” Nathanael tried to quiet them down. “You’re making too much noise. They’ll hear us.”
“What of it!?!” Today is too great not to shout HALLELUJAH!” They began talking about angels – and resurrection – and how they had seen Jesus.
Okay. That was impossible. Jesus was dead.
Maybe, they needed to lay down. Maybe their emotions were getting the best of them.
But then, Peter and John returned. Yep. The tomb was empty alright. There wasn’t a trace of a body in there. And if you didn’t trust John, you could trust Peter. He was thorough like that.
Then, a third knock. “It’s Clopas!” said a voice. As they opened the door Philip exclaimed, “I thought you were heading to Emmaus today!”
“We were, but then…we saw Him….Jesus….He’s alive.”
As all of these stories marinated, the mood of the room changed. There was a buzz. Could it be? Could he really…? Could Jesus be...alive?
Then, someone else joined them.
Someone else who didn’t knock.
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them.
And at first, the disciples were shocked. Was this a hallucination? No, the others saw it too. Was it a ghost? No…the floor creaked when he walked. Was it a look alike? No…they had spent three years with the Lord, they knew his unmistakeable face.
Suddenly, a dread fell over the disciples. Jesus wasn’t a hallucination. Jesus wasn’t a ghost. Jesus wasn’t a vision. It was much worse than that.
Jesus was alive.
(1) They Had Wronged Him!
You might be thinking. Why? Why would that be bad news to them? Jesus was alive!
Tell me -- Have you ever had a bad morning? You’re on the way to work and you kind of brush past some guy to get into the elevator – you force him to take the next one – and about fifteen minutes later as your boss is leading the morning meeting for work – you see the elevator guy again – turns out; he’s the C.E.O.
Or maybe you’re at the edge of Falls of Neuse. You’re waiting…and waiting…and waiting to turn left onto it. Finally, you pull out just a tad close to a car that looks like its pretty far away, but as soon as the car turns on it’s flashing blues and reds, you realize that cop car was a lot closer than I thought.
This is exactly how the disciples felt!
Jesus was alive, sure. But he was also the guy they had just abandoned. He was also the guy some of them had just denied knowing. He was the guy they had let die on that cross.
(2) They Couldn’t Hide from Him!
Remember: The doors were locked. And that locked door was meant for the Romans. But when they looked behind Jesus, the doors were still locked. They couldn’t hide from Jesus.
That meant when Matthew tried to slip behind Simeon – “Maybe he can’t see me.” Or Andrew pretended to be asleep. And Philip sat in back thinking – “If I don’t move, maybe he won’t see me.”
Jesus still saw them. They couldn’t hide from Jesus.
(3) He was God!
Here’s the scariest part of all. It wasn’t like they had sinned against one another. It wasn’t as if one of them was yelling at the other one for stealing his favorite tunic without asking. It wasn’t as if they had sinned against another human.
If Jesus was really standing before him, it meant He had really risen from the dead. If he had really risen from the dead, it meant he really was God!
The God of heaven. The God of hellfire and brimstone. The God who when he got sick of storms told them to buzz off. The God who when he was angry with demons sent them away from this earth. The God who spoke to terrible disease and sent them packing with his burning anger.
What was to stop him from doing just that. To them. Right now.
Do you understand the disciple’s fear? Maybe you’ve wronged God. Maybe you’ve done some pretty bad sins. Maybe you came here today troubled by something awful that you did just last night. In fact, maybe that’s why it was hard to get here today. (Or maybe it's why you are only reading this online.)
But here's the problem...
Have you ever played hide & seek with some kids before? Kids have pretty good hiding spots. They can get into a lot better hiding places than dad. Dad gets to hide behind the shower curtain and behind the door and that’s about it. (And now I just gave away my two best hiding spots.) Kids can get into really good spots though. Behind the washing machine, inside the cupboard, under the bed.
But what happens when you find them. What do kids do? They cover their eyes. They cover their eyes because they figure that somehow you can’t see them, if they can’t see you.
Do you ever get so scared of God that you think like that? That you figure – as long as I don’t approach God – as long as I don’t go to church – as long as I don’t read that one part in the Bible – then, I’m good.
That doesn’t work. You can’t hide from God.
He sees your sins. He sees all your sins.
Even the sins that you think he doesn’t see – He sees.
The pornography at night?
The flirting with the guy that’s not your husband?
The cheating on the test when the teachers isn’t looking?
Stealing that money from your friend's purse?
Others might not see it. God does. God hates sin. He hates it with a hellfire vengeance.
II. The Best Kind of Antidote
Do you feel that? I do. It’s fear. Fear because we’ve sinned. Fear because God knows it. Fear because that sin was against God.
That’s the kind of fear the disciples were experiencing. They trembled. Each hoping that Jesus would make it quick and painless. Then, Jesus moved. His mouth opened. The disciples braced themselves. He spoke:
“Peace be with you!” As in…It worked. As in…You have been saved. As in…You’re forgiven.
Can you imagine that collective breath that was let out in that room? Jesus wasn’t there to get revenge. He was there to give them assurance. He was there to tell them of their salvation. He was there to tell them that his sacrifice had worked. He was there to tell them that He was victorious and they were at peace with God!
Because that’s what the resurrection means. Jesus’ resurrection means that he defeated sin, death, and hell. It means that those who believe in him are forgiven. It means that you are forgiven!
Pastor, I know all that. But I still get scared. Life is tough. Finances are difficult. Relationships are hard. My job is in the air. The devil…the devil loves to make me doubt this peace I have with God. What do I do when I’m scared?
A couple things.
1) Don’t Hide.
We already said that doesn’t work. God sees all things. God is there for all things. It’s like when you see your kid do something he isn’t supposed to. He might as well come clean. You saw him do it.
God’s already seen it. Don’t lie. Don’t hide it. Bring it to him.
Secondly, bring it to him, because he wants PEACE with you. Even though He isn’t the one who wronged your relationship – that’s on you – God still wants peace with you. That’s why he came to this earth. That’s why he died on the cross. That’s why he rose from the dead and spoke to the disciples and had the disciples write it down so that you would hear His desire. PEACE.
Scripture says this, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just. He will forgive us all our sins.”
Confess your sins to God. Confess the ones that are public. Confess the ones that are obvious. Confess the ones that are private, hidden, known only to you and God. Confess your sins – and hear his promise of forgiveness.
2) Come Back to Reality
I remember the very first haunted house I ever went to. It was a gym at our local grade school – with a few spooky cobwebs hanging from the basketball hoops. But there was one part that was creepy. They made me put on a blindfold and reach my hand into a bowl. I grasped what I thought was earthworms and eyeballs!
I was bawling. I threw them on the ground. I was panicking as we left – so badly that my dad took me back inside to show me that I hadn’t touched worms and eyeballs but spaghetti and meatballs.
Oh. Thanks for that reality check.
That’s what Jesus helped the disciples do. A smile. Kindness. Words of promise. The reality was that Jesus wasn’t dead. He wasn’t dead and he wasn’t mad at them. He had died for their sins and there was no reason to be afraid.
When you’re dealing with fear, come back to reality.
When you think you’re all alone, come back to reality – Jesus is with you.
When you think everyone is against you, come back to reality – Jesus has your back.
When you think God can’t handle this, come back to reality – Jesus died and came back to life!
3) Examine His Wounds
That’s one of the things Jesus did for his disciples. He showcased that it was really him. He let them run their hands on the nail marks in his hands and place their hands into the spear mark in his side.
When they touched his wounds, they didn’t just see some kind of really cool scars.
They saw his love. “He did this for me?”
They saw his power. “These scars defeated death?”
They saw his resurrection. “They are moving; he is still alive; praise God!”
Pastor – how can I do that? I don’t get the privilege of seeing the resurrected Lord Jesus with my physical eyes like the disciples.
I’m gonna tell you the same thing we said last week. If you want to examine his wounds, examine the Scriptures. Read his Word. It’s not overkill that God’s telling us to do it a second time. In his Word we see the pain God went through. We see the pangs that his heart goes through as we sin against him. We see the pain he suffers at his betrayal. We see the awful suffering of his crucifixion. You’ll see that he did this for you. Because he loves you that much.
4) Understand this Phrase: “Peace be With You.”
That’s God talking! There is no one higher. It isn’t me talking. It isn’t an angel talking. This is a message of peace, straight from the top!
If you’ve got peace with him…
Romans 8 says just that. Take a look. It says this, “31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things…35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" Can money troubles? Bill collectors? Cancer or AIDS? Drugs or alcohol? Divorce or loneliness? Terrorists, explosion and attacks? NO!
"37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!"
May these words keep us from fear now and always. Amen.
“It is my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself.” These words began Franklin Roosevelt’s first inauguration speech, given in the darkest days of the Great Depression to give comfort, confidence, and courage to a desperate American populace. The fear of fear was something Roosevelt practiced through the even more trying days of WWII until his death 70 years ago. Inspiring words given by an inspirational leader. Yet what limits our fear so that it is contained by itself? Fear can grow and move with any of our many new challenges in our lives. When attacks by the devil and the world are at the point of overwhelming us, fear paralyzes our faith and trust in God. Yet God tells us to always trust the powerful Savior. Our human weakness cannot hinder his power and love.
Putting trust in God is something that is often talked about but less often done; “In God we Trust” is our nation’s motto after all. When we are faced with difficult circumstances it is natural to look to a stronger power. As children we turn to our parents, grandparents and teachers, later to friends, bosses, spouses, doctors and banks, corporations, and governments to aid us where we fall short. Yet all of those things can and have let us down. Who else can we turn to when all else fails? Sadly, we often turn to God as a last resort and ask him to help us. Many people did turn to Jesus when he walked on this earth, often in the most desperate of circumstances. Yes, they put their faith in Jesus, yet it was a faith that was timid and nervous.
In today’s reading we find the account of Jairus, the synagogue leader, begging Jesus to save his ill daughter’s life. We don’t know exactly where Jesus and his disciples landed after crossing the Sea of Galilee, but many believe that he returned to his base of ministry operations in Capernaum. By this time Jesus had already preached, driven out demons and healed many in this area. No doubt Jairus had heard of Jesus and he had ample opportunity to witness his ministry. Jairus was a lay leader in the synagogue, something similar to an elder or president in the congregation. He was a man who seemed to have a rather happy life. Jairus was a man blessed with a wife and daughter, a girl of 12 whom he still viewed as a dear little child. He had the respect of those in his community, and was wealthy enough to have servants. Yet, just like today, status cannot prevent a person from suffering hardships and disaster.
Whether his daughter’s illness came suddenly or progressed slowly, we do not know, but it is clear that the little girl’s life was in danger. It is a terrible feeling any parent has when he or she looks down on an ill child who is suffering in pain; all that is made worse by feeling powerless to help. Very quickly the perfect life can be clouded over by hopelessness. But Jairus had not lost all hope, he turned to only one who could help. In his time of need he looked Jesus.
One can see how distressing this situation was to Jairus, once he saw Jesus he immediately fell to his feet and begged for his precious little girl’s life. No words were necessary, of course Jesus was willing to go and help him. It was a desperate and urgent situation. Every minute counted. Yet, Jairus wasn’t the only one who desperately put hope in Jesus that day. A woman had been suffering for 12 years from internal bleeding, 12 years! That was the entire lifespan of Jairus’ daughter. She had spent her whole fortune on doctors, operations, and medicine in attempting to fix her condition. Yet despite their best human efforts, her bleeding became worse. We ourselves have experienced many similar stories. An illness or medical condition is no light matter. It can easily consume a person’s time and money and leave them a hollow shell of their former selves. Yet this woman too, had a glimmer of hope. At last she put her faith and trust in the power of Jesus and her faith was rewarded. She was healed.
Yet there is something disturbing in the faith of both Jairus and this woman. They both were hindered by fear. They had seen and heard of Jesus’ merciful healings and the love that he had to offer to everyone freely. Yet the woman too fell at Jesus’ feet and trembled with fear. While all this was happening, Jairus must have been standing by anxiously as precious time was lost by this woman’s distraction. Then he was dealt the heavy blow he was so desperately trying to avoid. Word came that his daughter had died, and this message was followed by very poor advice to leave Jesus alone and not to trouble him. “Don’t trouble the teacher anymore.” The servants thought it was hopeless now, a done deal. Jairus’ weak hope had been transformed by doubt into fear. Nothing could change the fact that his little girl was dead and gone forever.
Jairus must have been visibly distressed and afraid when he heard of his daughter’s death, for Jesus himself said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe!” A few days before Jesus came to heal Jairus’ daughter he calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee. During that storm his very own disciples were afraid that they would lose their lives. After calming their fears as well as the storm Jesus taught them that they should trust him. He would always care for them; with him their lives were secure. Jesus tells Jairus the same thing when it seems like all hope is lost.
As Jesus arrived at Jairus’ house he came across professional mourners who were already hard at work; wailing and crying loudly. Their job was to set and maintain a mood of sadness and defeat. The shaken Jairus would find no comfort in them. Once Jesus arrived there was no need of despair or distress. He sent them away, the girl was not gone forever, but only “sleeping.”
How often do we find ourselves in similar situations? No matter where we are in life you and I have hard things to do and many challenges to overcome. Homework and chores add up, responsibilities at home and at work can come into conflict. That nice nest you were building yourself may not look so cozy anymore. Relationships and health deteriorate, and yes, loved ones leave and die. Our natural reaction is to turn to ourselves first, we like to be self-reliant we like to be in control. But we are open to the idea of asking for help when we need it. We turn to family and friends, and professionals. Yet they too fail us; they cannot love and care for us perfectly. All this time we ignore the one standing by to strengthen, help and support us. God our Father, Savior and Comforter is always there in his Word and Sacraments. We know that our weakness in health or faith cannot stop God’s love and power. We know we don’t have to be afraid because Jesus teaches us not to be! He tells us clearly who he is. He is our prophet, priest and king, our sacrificial lamb who atoned for all our sins. Through baptism we are buried with him and raised with him. We cannot be separated from his love.
You see, all people have three common enemies: sin, death, and the devil. Jesus has defeated all of them. Throughout the Gospels we see how Jesus drove out demons, resisted temptation, healed frail bodies and forgave sins that only God could forgive. The whole time he also had power over death. Death was no longer final but temporary. A simple rest before we are raised and renewed After reassuring Jairus and encouraging his faith, he showed Jairus, his disciples, the mourners, and us that death cannot stop him. With two simple, yet powerful words, he fully restored life and health to that 12 year old girl; immediately she got up and even needed food. Jesus overcame the death which had claimed this girl. With his own death and resurrection Jesus has secured our own inevitable resurrection at the final call of the last trumpet of victory.
The pressures and distresses of this world can make us feel desperation and despair. We often face challenges that make us afraid for ourselves and our future. We are comforted by Jesus’ words to lose all fear, and simply trust and believe in him. Instead of turning to ourselves to find courage in dark times, turn to the one who heals and saves us from sin and death. Jairus and the suffering woman turned to Jesus in faith yet were hindered by fear. We have God’s own reassurances we need not have any fear at all, not even our weakness can kinder Jesus’ power and love. Whatever else happens, we know that Jesus is our life and eternal resurrection. Amen.
Easter is here. Little girls are wearing colorful Easter dresses. Houses are decorated in light pastel colors. Neon colored Easter eggs are sitting on the dining room table. There’s candy and bunnies, and marshmallow, sprinkled baby chickens. The greatest time of year is here.
It's scary isn't it?
Now you might be thinking, “Pastor, I think you’ve got Easter confused with Halloween. There are no zombies or werewolves at Easter. I mean, I’m scared that someone might eat the ears off of my chocolate bunny, but that’s about it.” No…Easter isn’t scary.
Did you know that the very first Easter was very scary? Especially for Jesus’ own disciples.
Today we’re going to take a look at why it was scary for them, why it might be scary for us, and how Jesus calms all those fears.
We’re taking a look at John 20:19-23. This is the account of what happened to the disciples on the first Easter Sunday. A disciple is a follower of Jesus. It’s also a special term used to denote twelve men who were hand selected by Jesus to learn from him and grow in faith by him. They loved him. They followed him. He was their leader.
Only a few days earlier, he had died.
So can you imagine their state of mind? Take a look at verse 9. On the evening of that first day of the week…the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders…That’s not even a full sentence and already we’ve learned a lot. Take note of a few things to better understand the disciples state of mind.
“Evening of that first day of the week.” This gives us a time frame for when this is taking place. The last day of the Jewish week was Saturday. The first day was Sunday. Jesus had died on a Friday. So this means that Jesus has been dead for three days now. The disciples have now spent the better part of three days dissecting Jesus’ death: They were leaderless. They were directionless. What would become of them? Why did they spend all that time following him? They feared for their future.
I imagine they were exhausted. It’s hard to be that level of stress for that long a time. The exhaustion would have only increased their jumpiness.
Take a look at just how jumpy they were. It says, “the disciples were together with the doors locked…”
Now why do you lock your doors? Ever been to a shady looking neighborhood at night? Maybe you click the lock shut. Guys, if you don’t want your honey to see you uneasy, you do it real sly like.
The disciples locked the door for the same reason They were scared. Not just cover their eyes scared, but lock the doors scared.
But it wasn’t just because of their future without a leader. Scripture says, “The doors were locked for fear of the Jews,” that is, the Jewish religious leaders who had been behind Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and death.
If these men did that to Jesus, what would they do to his followers? If they didn’t lock the doors and stay quiet, maybe the door would break down any moment with Roman soldiers slaughtering every last one of them. They locked the doors in fear. They didn't want anyone to get in.
Except…someone did. When the doors were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them.
Now you might expect the disciples to be joyous. Afterall, their leader was back. But far from it. In fact, Luke tells us that their first reaction was one of fear -- a greater fright than before.
Why? Here's three reasons:
Fear of the Supernatural. After all Jesus had died! If they were looking at Jesus right now, then he must be some kind of ghost or a zombie. It was as if they were stuck inside of an Alfred Hitchcock horror film. They were afraid of the supernatural.
Fear of the Insane. Because if it wasn’t a ghost, then what? A hallucination? Hard to believe that the same hallucination would come upon all of them at once, but perhaps each of them individually thought that they might be going insane. Was a straight jacket OR the Shalom Insane Asylum in their future?
Then, there was the scariest option of all: This was all real.
Because, if it was, well, the last time that many of them had seen Jesus, was with quick glances over their shoulders as they ducked between trees. He had been arrested and they had run away.
They had abandoned them. They had hidden. They had stayed away. They had let Jesus die on that cross. Peter, one of their more vocal members, had at least made it to Jesus’ trial, but when he was there he didn’t support Jesus at all.
He had pretended that he didn’t even know him.
If this was the real Jesus then, then a real miracle just happened and he really was the Son of God. What would He say to them?
Hence their final fear. The Fear of Failure.
Perhaps they could hear Jesus' voice scolding them:
“You ignorant fools. You traitors. How dare you abandon me? How could you let me die? After all that time I spent with you – three years I was your friend – three years I instructed you – you promised to never leave me and then, at the first sign of trouble – you leave me all alone! You pathetic excuse for human beings. I will destroy you with hellfire from my Almighty Father in heaven.”
The disciples trembled. They had failed.
I asked earlier if Easter made you afraid. Maybe it doesn’t. But if not, what does make you afraid?
I was watching a show on Hulu called “Solitairy.” It’s a Reality TV show in which they lock you into a room and you stay all by yourself for a long time. On one episode they do an experiment. They turn off all the lights and the computer animated voice tells them to begin describing their greatest fears.
It was interesting. No one said “snakes.” No one said “spiders.” No one said “clowns.”
Repeatedly. Repeatedly everyone’s greatest fear was FAILURE! Failures in the past resurfacing or failures in the future.
How big a role does failure play on your fears? Do you have any failures that you are dealing with this Easter? Failure to have enough money. Failure to keep that job. Failure to find a job. Failure to make your marriage perfect. Failure to make that relationship turn into marriage. Failure to stay healthy. Failure to keep your promises to your kids.
Failure to God? Because that's a whole other level. This is where the reality of Easter gets real scary. Because if Jesus really rose, then he also really died for the very real reasons that he said he died. He died for your failures before God. He died for your sins.
That’s hard to face. It’s extremely frightening for humans beings to face their failures. It’s why on Fear Factor they have people eat bugs or bungee jump off a building. Those things are scary. But not as scary as listing all your failures on national television. Can you imagine that as a challenge? “Now tell everybody our deepest, and darkest failures. Don’t minimize them. Don’t blame others. Own up to them. Face them.” No one would do it.
Maybe that’s why so many prefer to think of Easter as a fairy tale. It’s why the world loves candy, chickens, and fluffy bunnies. They are a good distraction from the scary reality of Easter. Because the reality of Easter begins in a graveyard and ends with God coming back to face all those who have failed Him.
It ends with God coming face to face with you.
Back to that tense locked room again. The disciples are shaking with fear. Their fists are clenched. Their hearts are beating. Their minds are racing. All of their eyes are on Jesus.
He speaks, “Peace be with you.”
Not, “You fools.” Not “You failures.” But “Peace.”
Remember who’s talking!?! This is the guy who claimed to be the Son of God and then, when he died, he came back to life. Three days earlier he had been dead. Many saw him die. The soldiers took his body down. Men wrapped him in cloths for burial. They placed his body in a tomb. Soldiers guarded the entrance.
Yet…here he was alive. It’s impossible. It’s a miracle. It’s a God thing!
Understand then who it was speaking peace to his disciples: It was God himself! The one whom the disciples had wronged, the one whom the disciples had failed, the one who had the power to destroy them, just spoke peace to them. He had forgiven their failures.
But it almost seems too good to be true.
Jesus gives the disciples plenty of reason to believe him. He showed them his hands and side. He let them touch his flesh. He let them examine his bones. He let them tangibly feel the very wounds that three days earlier had been formed by nails and a spear.
The disciples were overjoyed. This was no fake. This was reality. They were really seeing the Lord and they were really forgiven.
They must have shouted: Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
Look at what Jesus closes with. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
This was another encouraging word for the disciples. Soon – Jesus would ask them to preach this good news. Soon they would be arrested. Soon they would be standing before courts and soldiers with the authority to kill them.
They needn’t fear. Jesus would be with them. The Holy Spirit would be with them. God the Father, in charge of the whole plan, would be with them!
Why would they ever need to fear again? They had had ENOUGH!
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
How can Easter drive out your fears? What does the Easter message mean for you? Three things to take home in your heart this week:
1) At Easter, God speaks Peace
You might be frightened to approach God. You might be scared because of your past to get involved at church. You might be nervous to really dive into this God thing because your past failures really do haunt you -- and you don't know how God will react.
Does today's lesson give you an indication?
Scripture says this, “When you were dead in your sins…God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.”
This means that when you approach God in confession, when you approach God with your sins, when you approach God with your failures, God forgives. He is at peace with you.
Now God isn't at peace because suddenly he decided sin isn't that big of a deal. It is! If you reflected on Good Friday, you understand that our sins caused Jesus to die a gruesome death on the cross. That's how big of a deal it was.
But we do have peace with God because of Jesus. Because of his death. Because of his resurrection.
2) This Easter Peace is Real.
The other day was April Fools Day. I was reminded on my Facebook feed that you've gotta be careful of your sources when reading headlines on April Fools Day. I read that Aaron Rodgers -- my beloved Green Bay Packer Quarterback -- had been traded to the archrival Bears.
My heart skipped and then I saw where the story was coming from -- The Onion.com
What is the source for this message of Easter? It's God's Word. Inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit -- he caused the very men who saw these things about Jesus to write them down for us. These men told the account of how Jesus was seen in various times, in various places, by various people. In fact, at one time over 500 saw Jesus at once!
To combat this story, all the bad guys had to do was find the dead body. If they got it out of the grave all this resurrection stuff would have stopped.
The Easter bunny’s story isn’t as impressive. Here’s some real chocolate and some real jelly beans – they really taste like blueberries.
Jesus says this to you today: “You really did fail. You really did sin. But I really did die. I really did rise. Through faith in me, you really are forgiven. You really will live in heaven.”
3) This Resurrected, Real Jesus is With you.
Financial struggles? God is with you. Broken relationship repair? God is with you. Reconciling with a spouse? God is with you. Looking for a job? God is with you. Sick? God is with you. In the Hospital? God is with you. Past failures? God is with you. He forgives you because of Jesus. Your future? God is with you. He will guide you in Jesus.
1 John 4:8 says this, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”
There is no other perfect love than this: Jesus died for your sins. His perfect love rose from the dead. The message of Easter drives out fear. It says, “In Christ I am forgiven. In Christ, I see the reality of my forgiveness. In Christ, I know God is with me every step of the way.”
What do I have to fear? Christ is Risen; He is risen indeed!
I Witnessed an example of this the other day.
I met a woman from a far away country who didn't know much about Jesus. Honestly she was kind of scared to find out about Jesus and about God. She said that she had done many wrong things. She had cheated on friends and as a result had been called many awful names.
She was frightened to hear what God might call her.
I told her about Jesus. I told about his life. I told about his death. I told of his resurrection. I told what Jesus means for her.
She said, "This is amazing. God loves me that much. I feel different. I feel loved. I feel….brave."
“There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear.”
Today is Easter. Today Jesus says, “Enough Fear!” There is no need for fear anymore. And we believe it. We believe it because Christ is risen; He is risen indeed! Amen.