There was something wrong with the night.
I mean, they knew that, they had been told that, but even so, even if you didn’t know – it just felt… off.
Maybe it was a chill beyond the usual that settled on the desert when the sun dropped beyond the horizon. Maybe it was the way all the people in the homes around them were also rushing about to make their final preparations, to make sure nothing had been overlooked. People were just a little more frenzied than usual for the end of the day. Even if you hadn’t been paying attention, you’d notice – something was wrong.
And something was wrong, after all. Death was coming that night. Not that their lives were any picnic either. Slavery in the desert was all they knew. Many of them each day were worked to death before night ever fell. But this was different. This time, there was a statement from God. This night, the oldest male of each generation, the firstborn son would be struck dead before dawn. The threat, the warning of God hung in the air like a fog that refused to move. And so the Israelites faced down this evening of death on their last night in Egypt.
There is something wrong with your life.
Maybe you know that already, maybe you don’t. But if you don’t, I doubt hearing that really shocks you.
Even if you don’t know it as head-knowledge, you can probably feel it already, can’t you? Something about your life just feels… off.
Maybe it’s just a feeling, like something just out of the corner of your eye that you just can’t see.
Something ominous and looming out there in the shadows – dangerous, but it’s never there when you turn around. I don’t mean there’s something literally stalking you though, I just mean this sense that there’s something wrong, there’s some danger there just out of perception but you can never quite look at it.
In fact, maybe you could see it if you tried, if you turned and looked. But the truth is you’re terrified to. After all, who knows what it might really be. No, no better to ignore it, better to stay distracted by what you’re doing than try to figure that out. Focus on what you’re doing right now, on the job, the wife, the kids, the checkbook. It’s probably just a trick of your imagination anyway, stop thinking about it and it will go away. Or at least, if you concentrate hard enough on what you’re doing, you won’t notice it anymore.
But even that doesn’t quite work. Rolling up your sleeves and plunging in elbow-deep to the work in front of you, it works sometimes, but it really doesn’t. It’s still wrong. Something is still wrong! Why? All the promises made to you when you were a child never seem to come true. You work hard, you try your best, you have at least some of the things you were promised would make you complete, right? A family, a home or a few nice things… where’s the peace? Where’s the contentment? Why does it still feel wrong? Maybe you’re still missing part of the puzzle. You search for the one missing thing – each one you think, “this is it, now that I have this, I’ll be good and that feeling will go away.” A vacation, a nicer house, a new home theater, a stronger relationship, a better paying job with less stress, each time something else and this time it will work.
But it never works. I told you, there is something wrong with your life. A statement from God himself hangs over your life like a fog that refuses to move. Death is coming. And not just any death. Not just the end of this life, the end of your life forever. God has programmed into you this truth; those who do evil will be punished. Evil, huh? Well then why am I nervous? I’m not evil. Aren’t you? The world around may lie to you, tell you that’s not you, but the disquiet within you says otherwise. You would never really ask those closest to you “do you think I’m evil?”, but even if you did they would say “of course not.” That doesn’t mean they’re right.
But you know things they don’t know. You know there’s not a perfect record stretching back across your life. You’ve worked hard, done your best, but it’s not been perfect. There were moments when you gave in and did what you wanted and maybe the cost for you or someone you cared about was high. Maybe there didn’t seem to be any cost at all, but you could tell it wasn’t right. And now you drag the guilt of that behind you.
I invite you to stop shifting your eyes away from it, to stop seeing this just out of the corner of your eye and look square at this; our God describes for us exactly what it is. It is ugly and it is scary, but we cannot deal with it if we do not know what it is. There is something wrong with your life; there is a hole running through you, a tear in your very self that we call “sin”. That doesn’t really tell us enough though.
What is “sin”?
Sin is what God is not. Sin is shadow and darkness when God is light. God is good, God is perfect. Sin is not. God operates on one driving principle; selfless love. God seeks the good of everyone else above his own at all times, regardless of what it costs him. Sin is the opposite; sin is to grab for yourself regardless of what it costs others. I hope you see that you do not qualify on your own for holiness.
Maybe you like to think of yourself as a pretty selfless person; but have you been at all times to everyone? Don’t lie to yourself, it does no good. We are all of us, unholy. Sinful.
Now understand this. Holiness and sinfulness are not just choices or lifestyles. In a sense, they are like forces of nature, light and dark, magnetic poles and gravity. Sin cannot exist in the presence of the Holy. And that is where the fear comes from. God is Holy. You are not. This life will end, and God tells us that you will either be brought in to be with him or you will be thrown out to spend eternity without him.
If you are sinful, and if sin cannot exist in the presence of the holy, then which will it be for you? This is what is wrong with your life. A sentence of eternal death hangs in the air….and there is nothing you can do about it.
But the Israelites in Egypt were not panicked. Frenzied, hurried, maybe even a little fearful, sure. But not panicked. God told them, warned them what was coming. But he also told them exactly what was needed to escape the death that came that night. It would take the blood of a lamb. A single ewe lamb, one year old, spotless and without defect. The lamb would die instead, the blood was to be painted on the door frames of their houses. God would see the blood shed, and spare those inside.
So they did this. That night, as God promised, an angel of death passed over Egypt as by God’s decree, the firstborn son of each household was struck down in his sleep. But wherever there was the blood of the lamb, the angel stayed his hand. The angel saw the household through the blood, and they were spared. God had given the warning to all of Egypt, and he had given his directions just the same. Those who ignored the feeling that something was wrong; those who did not listen and did nothing about it – there was death in that house that night. Those who listened to God, who trusted his words of warning and deliverance were safe.
And so, I am not panicked either, and neither should you. Yes, there is something wrong with our lives.
We should feel the weight of how important this is. Yes, we should maybe even be a little fearful just because of the stakes involved. But truly afraid? No. God has warned us about this hole in our lives, about the holiness we are missing not to terrify us, but so that we pay attention, because of just how important this is. He shouts that this is life and death to get eyes on him. Because God tells us exactly what we need to escape the death that’s coming for us. It will take the blood of a lamb. A single ewe lamb, spotless and without defect. The lamb will die instead and his blood will cover you; and death will pass over you.
As a remembrance of what he had done for them, God commanded the Israelites to observe the Passover every year. At the same time of year, at the same day, at the same hour, each household would again sacrifice a single ewe lamb, one year old, without defect or blemish, to remember how God spared them from death. Then, over a thousand years after the first Passover, on Friday of that week, the day that the lamb was killed, just before the moment when the sound would resonate from the Temple informing everyone that now was the time to sacrifice the lamb; the following happened:
After this, knowing that everything had now been finished, and to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus said, “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine was sitting there. So they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished!” Then, bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.
The time had come, the lamb was to be sacrificed. But not just any lamb. The real Lamb. The one who was intended all along. Everything that went before it was a show, foreshadowing. It had no real effect.
Only an equal sacrifice could count for you. It had to be another person. Yet if it was just another person, what good would that do? Even if that person didn’t need saving themselves, their sacrifice would only save you. But what if God himself were both a person and God? How could you ever tip the scale of human life to outweigh that? You can’t. The one sacrifice would pay for everyone. And the Lamb did just that.
You are not holy? Jesus is. You committed crimes against God? Jesus didn’t. The Lamb had no defect and no blemish. He is what you are not. He has what you lack. God was ready to pour out his justice against all the evil ever committed, all in one fell swoop. Jesus, his Son, the Lamb, stood up and took your place. He climbed on the cross and there he took everything that your sin earned. He became your sin, he became your curse. And when it was done, he uttered those words. “It is finished.”
One word really, and I’d like to render it a little differently tonight if you’ll permit me. “Complete.” That is what happened on the cross right then. God’s plan to stand in your place so you would not suffer was completed – he died in your place. The foreshadowing he’d been showing the world since the first Passover meal was completed – the Lamb was sacrificed so that death would pass over you. You, missing the holiness God requires to be in his presence forever, you are completed. At that one moment, everything was made complete, everything was made the way God intended from the beginning.
Look at the cross. Realize what the sacrifice there has done for you. There may have been something wrong with your life once, there may have been a hole, something missing, something terrifyingly wrong, but Jesus has filled that with his death. The blood of the lamb was shed for you and so death holds no power over you. You are complete with Jesus’ gift of himself. You are given what you once lacked. God the Father will gladly welcome you into his kingdom when this is all over. You are complete in him.
Tonight, we gather in reverent awe to pay our respects for the tremendous sacrifice our Lord went through on our behalf. There is sadness, yes, because when I look at him hanging to die I know it is my fault he is there. When his lifeless body is removed and placed in the grave, it is because of me that this happened. But we are not here to leave this evening morose and depressed. We know that God did this willingly, out of love for you, individually. He knew you. He knows who you are. He could’ve spared himself that much more suffering by not including you in his sacrifice, but he didn’t. He wanted to do it. And as we close the tomb and walk away tonight we needn’t pretend we don’t know what Sunday will bring. If Sunday did not bring what it does, then tonight would be meaningless. We may leave tonight somber and reverent, but we still leave with hope and joy in our hearts. We know what this night means for us. Jesus made us complete. In him, we are what we are meant to be forever.
I cannot tell you what will happen in your life in the days between now and the time you are called eternal rest in him. I can tell you that in Jesus and his sacrifice, it doesn’t matter. In him, your end is set and will not be changed. Your life is complete. In Jesus, your sins are paid for, the gift of holiness is given to you, heaven is yours. There is nothing else to chase after. There is nothing else to fear. There is nothing else wrong with your life. The Lamb has made you complete. Amen.
The pharmacy aisle in the grocery story can be a confusing mess.
Julianna was sick last week. The virus sponges got to her. So, I was at Walgreens looking at medicine for a flu.
Problems is: There’s no such thing as just flu medicine. There’s medicine for the runny nose. Medicine for the stuffy nose. Medicine for the runny and stuffy nose. Medicine for a cough. Medicine for a hoarse cough. Medicine for a mild cough – for chills, for fever, for sneezes, for wheezes, for sore throat, for upset tummy, for high fever, for low fever, for nighttime, for daytime, for midday time – and for just about any of these countless combinations.
It’s hard to know which you need to treat your specific symptoms!
Today, we’re starting our series called Psalms of Lent. It’s a series based on Psalms – and we’re doing it in Lent. But it’s more than that. The Psalms are a collection of 150 God-inspired poems. They were often used as songs for worship. Some of the most well-known verses of the Bible comes from the Psalms.
Over the next five weeks, we want to look at five Psalms that specifically address 5 spiritual symptoms that you might be going through as we go through the Lenten season. Hopefully you familiarize yourself with them and keep them on hand when you are experiencing the very symptoms that these Psalms describe.
As always before we delve in, let’s say a prayer and ask God to bless us: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Reasons to Avoid Temptation
The Psalm we’re going to start with is Psalm 1 – the very first Psalm. As you’re paging to Psalm 1, a few notes: Psalms consists of 5 books. Mini-books, if you will. Each book is a collection of Psalms. (Think of it like sequels – Book One: A New Hope; Book Two: God’s Word Strikes Back; Book Three: Return of the Psalmist.) Now the Psalms in each book are often linked and arranged by authorship. That’s why many think Psalm 1 is probably written by King David. Most of the Psalms in book one of the Psalms were written by King David. Since this Psalm is next to other Davidic Psalms, a Psalm of David would be a pretty good bet.
The content of Psalm 1 would make a lot of sense then. It’s all about Temptation. Temptation is something that David knew well. Throughout his historic and well-written career as king of Israel, he had moments of following God’s Word and moments of following himself. Moments of Trusting God (see: defeating a giant named Goliath) and moments of trusting his own urges (see: luring a bathing woman up to his room to have sex with her.)
Whether it is David or not – Psalm 1 is a very important Psalm. It succinctly and efficiently offers encouragement to flee temptation and to follow God.
(1) Temptation Leaves You Unhappy
Look at verses 1-2.
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked
Or stand in the way that sinners take
Or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the LORD
And who meditates on his law, day and night.
The Hebrew word “blessed” simply means “happy.” “Happy” is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked. "Happy" is the one who doesn’t stand in the path of sinners. "Happy" is the one who doesn’t sit amongst mockers. And you are all nodding your heads. This makes sense while we’re in church.
But it doesn’t always make sense, does it?
Pretend it’s Friday afternoon. You’ve finished all your work. Your desk is cleaned up. Your laptop is packed. You are ready to leave work, pick up your spouse, and head out to catch the show with the tickets you bought months ago!
Then, the boss pokes his head into your office: “I’m gonna need you to stay and finish the report I was working on. I’ve got a plane to catch for my trip to Hawaii.”
God’s Word might not make you very happy at that moment. God’s Word says, “Be gentle.” God’s Word says, “Listen to your boss.” God’s Word says, “Don’t gossip.” But at that exact moment you want to do the opposite of all those things! It might make you happier to call him names. It might make you happier to vent on Facebook. It might make you happier to simply leave work and not do anything he says ever again. It might make you happier to find his picture on the company website on his desk and draw a moustache on it with Microsoft Paint.
But next week Monday when you’ve got a pink slip on your desk and you don’t have a job anymore and you don’t have money to support your family anymore and there’s all kinds of long term stress in your life now...It might not be so happy.
There’s a reason we translate blessed as blessed as opposed to happy. Happy is a temporary word. Blessed is a long-term word. Blessed leads to long-term happiness, long-term, spiritual happiness.
There is no guilt.
There are better relationships with your family.
There are better relationships with your friends.
There’s a better relationship with your God.
Long term spiritual happiness is given to those who love to follow God’s Word.
Long term spiritual happiness does not come to those who follow temptation.
Keep that in mind the next time that you are tempted:
This temptation cannot bring you long term spiritual happiness.
Temptation can only bring you long term spiritual unhappiness.
Which is precisely why God wants me to avoid it.
(2) Your Spiritual Fruit Withers
How so? Psalm 1 explains by using an awesome illustration in verse 3:
The blessed person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither
—whatever they do prospers.
If you walk alongside church right now you’ll notice these little black, mechanical, robot looking things. They aren’t robots. They are sprinkler heads. Now that we’re entering the spring season – we’ll be getting plenty of sun. The sprinkler heads are a part of an irrigation system that gives the plants the necessary water in addition to the sun they have been receiving. Without it – and if the watering of the plants was up to me – the plants would probably die. They wouldn’t get enough water. I’d forget.
Of course, in the Old Testament, irrigation systems were a bit different. People would dig trenches from the edge of a river leading to the area with their crops. From there, they’d take buckets and water their crops.
But they didn’t need to do that near the river’s edge. How come? The water from the river naturally soaked into the dry ground on either side of it. The plants and trees growing near the water’s edge – got all the water they needed. They were extremely healthy.
It’s the same thing with the one who plants themselves near God’s Word. When they do so, they have planted themselves near the nourishment needed to keep a healthy faith.
They are planted near the promises of God’s love.
The roots of faith drink in the mercy of God’s grace.
The water of life provides all the nutrients needed to be exactly what God wants them to be.
They yield fruit – the exact fruit that God desires – the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
That sounds nice.
Unfortunately, the reverse is also true.
The farther you get away from the water; the less healthy a plant is.
The farther you get away from God’s Word; the less healthy your spiritual fruit is.
In fact, if you stopped watering a plant and only sprayed Weed B’ Gone on it – the only thing that plant is doing is dying. Quickly. That’s what it’s like to get apart from God’s Word and get into temptation. You’re only feeding your life with sin after sin after sin.
Your fruit will wither.
Peace is replaced with hostility because -- What I did wasn’t that bad.
Joy is replaced with guilt because -- What I did was that bad.
Love is replaced with hatred -- especially with that guy over there who is trying to judge me!
Gentleness, goodness, and self-control are replaced with harshness, badness and a complete lack of self-control.
The good fruit God had in mind for you – withers.
The last reason to stay away from temptation is simple and also extremely intimidating. Look at verses 4-6:
Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
This section compares those who follow temptation to chaff. Do you know what chaff is? It’s the unimportant, light, worthless part of a wheat stalk. The part that doesn’t get made into bread. The part that doesn’t become flour. The part that doesn’t help to nourish and feed a family.
Chaff is the part that blows in the wind.
It’s the part that the farmer walks all over.
It’s the part that is completely and utterly worthless.
That’s the wicked. That’s those who follow temptation to wicked things.
They fly back and forth doing whatever pleases them—whatever wave of modern thought comes next – that’s the way the wicked go.
The result? Since they can’t stand up to temptation – they won’t stand before God.
They’ll fall flat on their back as God stands over them with eyes of fire and judgment ready to destroy them.
And that’s the final result of sin…destruction.
It’s true. Maybe you know?
Sin destroys relationships.
Sin destroys health.
Sin destroys mental health.
Sin destroys peace with God.
Sin destroys eternity.
It’s a scary reason, but a big reason to avoid temptation – it leads to destruction.
II. Are You in Danger?
Of course, you might be thinking: “Pastor, I appreciate all of this advice, but I don’t know that it applies to me. I don’t do a lot with the wicked. I don’t eat at the Waffle House each Tuesday morning with a group of Terrorists nor have I played Scrabble with a porn production crew. This sermon would be better preached to those out there not me in here.”
Just to be sure there’s not a disconnect on another word in this Psalm, let’s break apart the word -- “wicked.”
To humans us “wicked” usually means “the really bad people -- the other people –the people who do the sins that I would never do.”
But to God? To God – wicked means, “sinner.”
As in any sin.
As in any size.
As in falling to any temptation.
Look at what God’s Word says again, “Blessed is the one who doesn’t walk with the wicked nor stand in the way of sinners nor sit in the seat of mockers.” (v.1) This line of three is a key part of Hebrew poetry. A thought is repeated three times – three ways – for emphasis to clearly and completely draw out the truth that is trying to be made.
The truth that’s being made here? Those who are wicked…or mock...or sin are not blessed.
And those who stay influenced to sin by those who sin are not blessed.
It means if you walking with that group at work who tells dirty jokes about God’s gift of sex - you aren’t blessed.
It means if you stand in the back, nodding your head as your family says racist things about a group of people – you aren’t blessed.
It means if you sit at that fellowship table after church and participate in the gossip about WHO did WHAT and WHEN – you aren’t blessed.
And if you have a temptation that you’ve been following, then everything that we’ve just mentioned is happening to you!
You can’t know true happiness.
Your spiritual fruit is withering.
You’re on the path to destruction.
III. Follow Something (or someone) Else
One more word study. Verse 2 says this:
Blessed is the One...whose delight is in the law of the LORD
And who meditates on his law, day and night.
The word for Law in the Hebrew is Torah. But it also has another meaning, “Word.” This makes a lot of sense. God’s Word contains his law – things that he says. Universal truths that he enforces.
Which is huge.
Because God’s Word contains more than simply “to-dos” and “not-to-dos”. It contains Jesus Christ. The only one who completely and utterly defeated temptation.
We hear about it in Matthew 4:
Jesus has been in the desert.
He hasn’t eaten anything for 40 days.
He’s going through all the things that that tend to make us easy prey for temptation.
Now he’s on top of a mountain.
The devil shows up.
He glides over to Jesus.
He leans in.
His tongue speaks sweetly.
You think this is hard?
Wait till the next part of your journey.
God wants you to suffer.
He wants you to be crucified.
He wants you to die.
That sounds awful.
Tell you what – I’ll give you everything you’ve ever wanted.
Everything your eyes can see!
Only – stop worshipping your Father.
Bow down and worship me.
You’ll be happier.
You’ll be stronger.
You’ll prevent your destruction.
Just do it.
Jesus turns his head.
His energy returns.
He glares at the devil and speaks with authority. “Away from me Satan. It is written: Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” (Lk. 4:8)
And good thing Jesus did.
That time and every time.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says this, “God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Understand what this means --
Because Jesus lived apart from sin – he was able to offer his life for ours.
Because he died on the cross – he suffered the destruction for falling to temptation that we deserved.
Because he rose from the dead – he offers to you the perfect life that he lived.
In other words:
If you have fallen to temptation, turn to Jesus.
In him is full forgiveness.
That’s why staying planted by his Word is so – completely and absolutely important!
Because in God’s Word we hear about Jesus.
In God’s Word – we are nourished by God’s forgiveness.
One final blessing. Read verse 6 again:
For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous.
There’s no one better to have on your side as you fight temptation.
There’s no one else who sees all of your struggles.
There’s no one else who sees all of your temptations.
There’s no one else who can offer temptation defeating power like our Lord Christ Jesus.
We have an interesting board game at our house called What’s Yours Like? Let me tell you how it works. One player is identified as the guesser. The guesser takes turn asking the others playing What’s Yours Like?
The other players answer with one adjective based on what the drawn card for the round says. Here’s the catch. The people will be talking about the same thing, but they’ll all be talking about a different version of the same thing.
For example, imagine the card says, “Hair.” Julianna says, “Beautiful.” Another one of you says, “Curly.” Another says, “Short.” I say, “Thinning.”
It’s kind of fun. You use one adjective to describe your version of the category – all the guesser has to do is identify what category is on the card.
This got me thinking. What if the card that we got was “God.” What’s your God Like? Let’s play the game right now. If you had to come up with one word to describe your God – what would it be?
Big? Powerful? Merciful? Ancient?
I. The Fractured Human Perspective of God’s Greatness
Let’s pretend we’re playing that game with King David. Take a look at his adjective in Psalm 153:3. He writes, “Great is the Lord and most-worthy of praise.”
What do you think? Is that a fair adjective to use? Is God really Great?
I imagine that here at church just about all of your will agree. In part, because we’re surrounded by the great things God has done. Partly because who wants to say in front of the pastor “He’s not all that great.” Great is a “great” adjective to use in church. Later in this very service we’re singing the song “How Great is our God!” Makes sense. You probably believe it, too.
But is that always the adjective you would use?
What about when you are surrounded by a bunch of unbelievers who will ridicule unless you use the adjective “non-existent?”
What about when you are months behind on the rent and the McDonald's buy one get one sundae coupon is all you have for your kid's evening meal?
What about when you sabotaged your relationship, you prayed to God about it and he hasn’t fixed it yet?
What about when you’re in the hospital. You’re sick. You’re dying.
What about when you’ve moved to Raleigh and feel…lost? Alone?
Is great really the adjective you’re using to describe God then?
Or is it more like:
This contrasts David’s words. Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.
Granted. You might be thinking: Isn’t he kinda God’s boy? Didn’t God help him slay a giant named Goliath? Didn’t God help him become King of Israel? Didn’t God help him with military victory after military victory? If my life was like David’s, sure I’d say God is great.
But it isn’t.
Ever seen Bruce Almighty? It’s a movie starring Jim Carrey. In it, God -- played by Morgan Freeman -- takes a vacation and gives Jim Carey all his powers. What ensues is a bumbling, mistake making, slapstick hilarity. Bruce is a fractured human. He is constantly messing up while being God.
It's easy to think of God like that. A bumbling, stumbling, mistake making, slapstick comedy God. That’s because it’s all we know!
Ever seen the Geico commercial where humans happen to humans? The one human shuts the garage door on the other human's car – the one human accidently clips off another person’s car door as he opens it up. The one human hits the other human's parked card as he’s trying to parallel park.
We’re flawed. The things we do are flawed. Therefore, since it’s all we know – we assume God is flawed.
But TIME OUT! Isn’t the thing that we base the ‘flawness’ of God upon, the very thing that should cause us to question our own perception of God?
In other words – If we’re flawed, how can we trust our flawed interpretation that God is flawed?
Isn’t it, flawed?
II. The Unfathomability of God’s Greatness.
Take a look at what God’s Word says. God’s Word isn’t flawed. It says this: “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.” That’s God’s Word. It’s flawless. It should be enough to settle the argument for us.
But you might be thinking – isn’t that God’s Word? Isn’t that God saying God is great? Our flawed logic will think – why should I trust him? That’s like stopping by for a cup of coffee simply because the sign in the window says “It’s the best cup of coffee.” When you taste that three day old Folgers – you won’t be all that impressed.
1) The Father is Great
Instead of just hearing God says he’s great, listen to the great things it tells us about God. Judge for yourselves. Take a look at 1 John 5:4. "Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”
The world is exactly what we’ve been trying to overcome. It’s the flawed state of our world – it’s the flawed state of ourselves.
It’s sin. Sinful reasoning. Sinful actions. Sinful consequences. Sinful harming of one another. Sinful words leading to sinful decisions leading to sinful results. And ultimately sinful consequences. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.”
But look at who has the power to overcome the world; its sin and its death. It isn’t us! It’s everyone born of God. Everyone who has God as our Father!
Because this is how great the Father is! He is completely perfect. There isn’t a flaw in his being. He perfectly made a plan to overcome the awful nature of sin and the terrible plans of the devil. He guided history throughout time to lead to our salvation. He hatched an incredible plan that no flawed human would ever be able to engineer, recreate, or bring to completion.
The Father did what we could not do. He saved us from sin and He saved us from death. That’s GREAT!
Let’s keep reading and see why else the Father is so great…
2) The Son is Great
Verse 4 says, “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”
Wait a second. That seems different. I thought we said that those who overcome are the ones who have God as their Father – born of God! This gives the credit to someone else – someone who is called the Son God.
And it’s true! Because it was the Son who fulfilled the Father’s plan. Jesus was born on earth of a virgin mother. He lived a life on this earth without a single flawed decision and without a single flawed action. (He didn’t have any sin!) He lived perfectly – which is a great feat in and of itself – but then he died innocently. In a GREAT EXCHANGE. He took on your imperfections and died for you. By faith in Him, he gives you his perfection – he releases your body from frailty (you will live eternally) and he removes from the Father’s perspective all of your imperfections. (You are forgiven.)
The Father’s greatest and The Son is greatest!?!
But – how can there be two greatests?
3) The Holy Spirit is Great!
Before you get to thinking too hard – Why don’t we let God’s Word throw one more monkey wrench into the question. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.
In other words – we wouldn’t even know who Jesus is NOR would we know God’s plan for us, if the Spirit – the Holy Spirit – wasn’t involved. He’s the Truth. He speaks the Truth.
This means the Holy Spirit is Great, too! He works on our sin deadened hearts and brings them to life. He takes totally sin darkened lives and transforms them for good! He crosses cultural barriers and unites Christians together of all walks of life. He spends time and unites us together with those already in heaven.
The Holy Spirit does great things! It’s not unfair to say He’s the greatest. He’s God.
Is this just a matter of subjective perspective? It’s like trying to pick between Pizza Hut and Papa John’s and Little Caesars. They both come pretty quickly. They both taste fairly meaty. They all offer stuffed crust. Papa John’s gives pepperoncinis; but Pizza Hut has better commercials. But only Little Caesars let’s you walk in and out in less time than it takes to go to the ATM with a Hot N’ Ready to go pizza!
The Father is the great.
The Son is the great.
The Holy Spirit is the great.
But…which do we properly call the Greatest? Whom do we properly call God? Is it the Father, is it the Son, or is it the Holy Spirit?
7 There are three that testify: 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. There’s some interesting ways to interpret that. One interpretation is that this is a reference to the three that we just talked about. The Spirit refers to the Spirit. The water – refers to the flood – something that came from the mind of the Father himself. The Blood? That refers to our Savior Jesus Christ – who came to suffer the law breaking consequences that we deserved.
Notice what is says. All three are in agreement.
But this is about more than just three superbeings being on the same team. This isn’t the Avengers, the Justice League or the Powerpuff Girls.
The Father, the Son and the Spirit are in agreement, because they are one. Three in person. One in being. Triune God. Three-in-One.
This flies in the face of all human reason. I get it. But remember what we talked about earlier? Human logic is flawed. It’s sinful. It’s not God logic. Listen to what it says next: We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.
It’s the Greatness of our Father – Holy, powerful, Creator and eternal planner; the greatness of the Son – perfect, loving, mercifully and risen; AND the greatness of the Spirit – life giving, faith producing, world changing Counselor ---- all combined into One.
III. WHAT NOW?
1) Make Him Your God.
Make the Triune God yours. Believe him. There are incredible benefits:
1 John 5:11-12 tells us about all those benefits: And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life!
Is that you? Think about this – even though the world may be tough. Even though life may be flawed. Even though things might not always feel great…
…they are great. Great because in our Triune God, you've overcome.
You’ve overcome sin.
You’ve overcome the devil.
You’ve overcome death.
You’ve overcome whatever this world can throw at you.
You’ve overcome, because God – Father, Son and Spirit!
2) Make Your Adjective Clear!
Back to the What’s Yours Like? game. As fun as it is, there is probably not a worse adjective to give than simply “great.” Because what does that really mean? Great like big? Great like awesome? Great like Frosted Flakes? If you want to win, give that adjective. It’ll confuse the guesser. If you want to be fair, make the adjective clear.
Make your adjective for God clear!
Because it's very easy for our adjectives to be unclear to others.
Daddy, you say God is great -- but why isn’t he greater than your pillow on a Sunday morning?
Honey, I know you say God is great -- but why is the sixth episode of Arrested Development on Netflix more important than a Bible study?
Friend, I know you say God is great -- why do you believe that your problems are beyond him?
Make sure that people understand who you think is the Greatest. Because our God is the Greatest – and unfathomably so.
And God? He's given an adjective for you. When the devil comes and asks Him, What's Yours Like? and his crooked, nailed finger is pointing at you...God uses an interesting adjective to describe you:
This Sermon is based on Matthew 26:15-18, 20-22
15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus[b] Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!
Pilate slipped into the tub & let the bubbles cover his body until they tickled his nose.
This was so much better.
Earlier that day he had averted disaster. An angry mob had been awaiting him at dawn. They had demanded the blood of this guy named Jesus. Pilate had interviewed him and, found him to be a bit crazy, but unworthy of the death sentence these Jewish people wanted to inflict upon him. Pilate had tried to release him, but the people would have none of it. They wanted blood and they weren’t leaving until they got it.
So…Pilate shirked his responsibility. He sent Jesus to his friend Herod. Herod was the one who was supposed to be in charge of the Jews anyways. Plus – Pilate didn’t like him that much. It made him smile to think of Herod dealing with all those awful people while he was letting the warmth of the tub soothe his muscles.
“Enter.” He told one of his servants as he lifted a glass of wine to his lips.
Umm…sir. They’re back. The Jews. With Jesus.
The wine came flying out of his mouth. Him?
I. The People’s Choice
After Pilate had re-robed, he made his way out toward the angry crowd.
15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd.
Similar to the Presidential pardoning of turkey, only instead of a turkey, each year the governor would pardon a criminal. He wouldn’t choose just any criminal. He wouldn’t choose one that was advantageous to him. He would let the people decide. It was a show of goodwill. A way to endear him to his people. A way to settle down the crowds.
So…The people chose the man to release, but he would choose the options.
16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 17 So… Pilate asked the crowd, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas or Jesus…the Messiah?”
A little bit about Jesus Barabbas. John 18:40 calls him an “insurrectionist.” That means he had revolted against the government. He had caused civil unrest. He hated the current politics. And Mark 15:11 says he had “Committed murder.” That’s probably the actual charge that had gotten him thrown into prison. Murder. Probably during the insurrection.
Murder done in the name of politics.
Kinda sounds like a terrorist, huh?
In essence, this is the choice before the people. Do you want me to release Jesus the Terrorist OR Jesus the Savior of the world? Granted, Pilate didn’t view Jesus as the Savior. He viewed it more like Jesus the Terrorist versus Jesus the mild mannered, slightly off his rock, theologian.
Still…the choice was obvious wasn’t it?
For a moment, Pilate stood with his arms crossed. For a moment, he smiled a smug smile. For a moment, he outsmarted those pesky Jews. For a moment, he had saved an innocent man. For a moment, he had hopes of a relaxing luncheon. For a moment…
…then the crowd made their choice.
21b “Give us Barabbas!”
Pilate was in shock. “Are you serious? You want the terrorist? You want the murderer? You don’t mind that your families won’t be safe and the marketplace might be filled with discord. You don’t have a problem with another possible attack in the future? You’d rather get rid of this Jesus guy simply because you don’t want to have to deal with your sins?"
22 What do you want me to do with Jesus?
The answer was simple…and disgusting, “Crucify Him!”
II. Your Choice
Sometimes they make bad choices on the Oscars. Do you agree?
I remember a few years ago trying to watch every Oscar nominated film. Films that were described as “artsy;” "compelling” and “thought provoking.” After I had seen them, if anyone had asked me for a description of the film I would have used the adjectives: “boring, actionless & mind-numbing.”
Of course -- you’re talking to a guy who still doesn’t understand why Minions didn’t even get nominated, but…Do you get my point?
As bad a choice as they sometimes make in the Oscars, how much worse of a choice did that crowd make outside Pilate's palace!
Instead of someone who gives life, they chose someone who ended it.
Instead of someone who promotes peace, they chose someone who disrupted it.
Instead of someone who provides a heavenly kingdom, they chose someone who broke down earthly kingdoms.
But enough about them.
What about you?
Who did you choose?
Pastor, what are you talking about? I’m not 2,000 years old. I wasn’t there at the palace...I haven’t even been to Israel. I’ve never seen the Roman palace.
True. Your choice was probably not presented by a first century Roman governor.
Maybe it was presented by a friend…
…by an internet link.
...by a guy you met at the bar.
…by the group that likes to complain after church.
Who did you choose?
Jesus? Not always. Barabbas? No. Perhaps someone else. Someone with…
A name like PORN.
A name like GREED.
A name like RACISM.
A name like RAGE.
Names like ADDICTION, SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE, HOMOSEXUALITY, COMPLAINING, PRIDE, LUST, VITRIOL, DOUBT and SELFISHNESS.
Here’s the deal. We know how bad these things are. We know that PORN ruins families. We know that GREED ruins marriages. We know that COMPLAINING destroys the work of the church. We know that ADDICTIONS destroy the body. We know that IMMORALITY ruins our self worth. We know that PRIDE is intolerable to God.
And we know that Jesus is the Savior. He brings forgiveness. He brings eternal life. He brings love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Yet we still find ourselves struggling to choose Him!?!
Hebrews 6:4-6 says this, “Those who fall…are crucifying the Son of God all over again!” You are driving a nail into his hands. You are swinging the hammer with all their might. You are joining your voice with the crowd.
You are NOT choosing Jesus.
III. God’s Choice
I’ll tell you what:
My arms are tired. I’ve been swinging the hammer so often lately. I’ve been choosing my sins over Jesus. I’ve done wrong.
I…I…I am Barabbas.
I deserve punishment.
I deserve death.
I deserve the cross.
But…God won’t bring it. God provided a substitute.
Do you remember our Old Testament lesson? It was that section that talked about animal sacrifices. For those who are living in downtown Raleigh and are convinced that meat comes from a plastic wrapper at a local McDonalds – this sounds a bit disturbing. If you have ever lived on a farm, then you might understand the sacrifice that animals need to make for you to feed your belly and live.
But here’s where this section is still strange. The goat in the section we were talking about – was not to be eaten. It wasn’t being turned into a burger. It wouldn’t become a delicious slice of goat jerky. It would be killed. It’s blood collected and it was sprinkled…on the altar, on the ground, and on the people. Disturbing? It should be! Because that’s how disturbing our sinful choices are to God! Remember: “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
But look at why the animal was killed: "Sacrifice the Goat for a sin offering.” In other words – it would die in the place of the people. It would die for the people’s sins.
UNDERSTAND THIS: These animals didn’t actually take away the sins of the people; they were simply an illustration of one who would die and would take away the sins of the people.
Another substitute. An eternal one.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin…” That’s Jesus! He lived a perfect life. He chose God every chance he could. He never chose wrong. He never chose sin.
Then, God chose to sacrifice Him.
As bad as it might be picture an innocent animal dying, how much greater when the one dying is God’s eternal, perfect, Son?
But look at why it happened: God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us! Jesus was our substitute. God chose him to suffer. He chose you to live. It wasn’t just Barabbas who got to live because Jesus died.
It’s you. Grasp that.
It’s kind of like having the choice to get a new 2016 Lexus with chrome plating, auto driving capabilities, bluetooth hook up and even a mini bar in the back seat...AND a 1987 Chevy Lumina minivan – with exhaust problems, a missing tire, and a busted radio.
God chose the broken down minivan! He chose you.
Because He chose Jesus, because Jesus died for you, because Jesus rose again three days later conquering sin and death, God chooses to say to you, “You are forgiven. Believe me. Be saved.”
IV. What Now?
1. Relish God’s Choice.
Today is selection Sunday. Basketball teams across the nation will be waiting to see if they make the big 64 team tournament. Some are locks. Some are pretty sure and some are on the bubble.
For those on the bubble, when they find out that they are in, they’ll celebrate! They’ll take a moment and take it all in – to enjoy the confetti, try on tournament shirts and ball caps, and tweet to all their friends how excited they are.
You. Take the day. Take today. Take today and relish this: God chose you!
Because there are plenty of times that we aren’t chosen. Someone else is chosen for the job. Someone else is chosen for the date. Someone else is chosen for the promotion. Someone else is chosen for the part in the school play. Someone else is chosen first for the kickball team at recess…in fact, everyone else might be chosen first.
But today we are reminded that God chose you. He chose you over his Son. He gave up his perfect Son Jesus for you. I need you to write that down. “God chose me.” Write it down and place it somewhere you will read it. Hang it on your fridge. Place it on the dash in your car. Label an alarm on your phone to come up and remind you of that truth everyday!
This will give you strength to follow our section action point…
2) Choose Jesus.
As soon as the worship songs stop, as soon as I shake your hands and wish you a good week, as soon as you get out those doors, the devil will strike. “Choose complaining -- that person is cutting you off in the parking lot!” “Choose bitterness – those kids are running in the hallway.” "Choose gossip – Because it looks like that one lady has information about that other lady.”
Be ready for it. Be ready and choose something different.
Choosing Jesus is choosing to love.
It’s choosing to honor your wife.
It’s choosing to love your kids.
It’s choosing to obey your parents.
It’s choosing to do what it is Jesus did, when he chose us and gave his life up for us!
Choose Jesus and…
3) Avoid the Voter’s Booth Mentality
You aren’t supposed to talk politics with each other. As North Carolina has its primaries, you might be nervous to tell others who you voted for. You may just simply say “mm hmm," to whoever they ask if you vote for. It’d be a great way to avoid confrontation.
If you want to do that with politics, fine. I will. But when it comes to Jesus, don’t hide it. Don’t keep your choice to yourself. Make it obvious. Make it loud. Tell your coworkers your plans to worship Jesus this Easter. Tell your friends what an awesome message from God you heard today. Pass it on via Facebook. Pass it on via Twitter. Take an Easter invite – don’t throw it away – and (gasp) INVITE SOMEONE!
Let the fact that God chose you empower your choosing of him. To the Lord be glory forever and ever! Amen.
We’re taking a look at a part of Jesus’ High priestly prayer. It’s a prayer that takes place on the night that Jesus is betrayed. It happens right before he is crucified. He starts by praying for strength to be crucified for the sins of the world. Then, he prays for God to strengthen his twelve apostles – who will soon be without a leader and tasked with “making disciples of all nations.” But the last part of the prayer is very interesting. It’s a neat little treatise on unity.
I. God Wants Us to be One.
Take a look at John 17:0. Jesus says, “My prayer is not for them (the 12 apostles) alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message. That’s talking about Christians. It’s talking about the people the disciples would meet at Pentecost. The people that they would meet on their missionary journeys. The people who would believe through the very words that they wrote down. (By the way, the message we’re studying was written by John. John – one of the twelve through whom people would believe in Jesus.)
Jesus is praying not just for people in the 1st century, but the 21st century. Not just people in Israel, but in America. Not just people from Jerusalem, but people of all background, cultures, and history living in modern day, Raleigh, NC.
Jesus is praying for us. Through them, we’re united to Him.
What is He praying for us? Let him conclude his thought: “That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”
This is unity is not just some ‘loose’ concept. It isn’t “I like the ACC.” And now NC State, Duke, and UNC fans are all intimately united as one – until they play each other. Then, their throw Bojangles chicken at each other in the parking lot.
The Unity God wants is much more intimate than that. Jesus describes it this way, “I want them to be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”
That’s a pretty impressive unity. Because, as the Bible teaches, God is Triune. Get this. The Bible mentions The Father. It mentions the Son. It mentions the Holy Spirit. However – it also categorically condemns the notion that there are three different gods. The Bible makes it as clear as the Old Testament Jewish mantra stated, “The Lord our God, the LORD is one.”
But here’ where it gets strange. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. Three separate person. One undivided God. Three distinct people – one divine essence.
This truth is so hard to comprehend that Christians have been struggling for centuries to define it. The point is that this union; this unity is so wonderful and outrageously above our own detection that we can’t always tell where one ends and another begins.
We recently bought two leads for our dogs to hang out in our backyard. Each leash is about 100 feet. We didn’t want them to feel confined. But guess what? The other day they were whining while I was grilling. I looked over and they only had about 10 feet of leash each. Why? They had tangled their leashes together into a giant knot. I didn’t know where one leash started and they other ended!
That’s the kind of unity God is. That’s also the kind of unity God desires. A unity that is so intimately woven together that the outsider cannot tell where one ends and the other begins.
God doesn’t want divisions. He doesn’t want old and young. New believers and longtime Gethsemane members; traditional music fans and contemporary lovers; white Christians; black Christians, Christians and Hispanic Christians.
God wants unity. God wants Christians. That’s the unity that God wants us to have at Gethsemane!
II. If You Cause Divisions…?
Is that the kind of unity we have? Do you come here on a Sunday, survey the group that has gathered together and think – “Ah, my brothers and sisters! What a blessing to be here!”
Do you drive into the parking lot and think “Oh no, that cruddy old 2000 Ford Explorer is in the parking lot. I don’t want to see that person. He’s kind of annoying.”
Do you stop by the member photo board and think – “I haven’t seen that person in a while. Why are they still a member? We should kick them out. They haven’t earned this like I did.”
Do you survey the back of church and think, “I could sit there, but they’re new – what could I say to them? I could sit in back, but it looks like there are quite a few moms here with quite a few kids. Ugh! I suppose I could sit there, but that’s two rows away from that lady whom I haven’t forgiven for something she said 6 months ago. Or I could sit up front – but that’s too close to that woman that I want to gossip about…so…I guess I’ll go hide in the infant room!”
If that’s how you think, you have a different attitude than God. Take a look at how God feels about it: “I pray…that all (Believers) may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you….May they be one as we are one; I in them and you in me.”
God wants unity. He desires unity among his people. He desires unity among his family. He desires all to be united with him. If someone is working against that unity, then what? You aren’t just dividing up among ‘some church group.’ You are dividing up Christ’s family.
You are working against Christ.
Practically speaking, what does this look like in our church? Here are a few examples:
If you gossip, you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
If you refuse to forgive, you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
If you aren’t sorry about hurting someone here, you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
If you attack others, you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
If you whisper when others aren’t looking, you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
If you are playing church politics, you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
If you get together with friends and talk about how you didn’t like this pastor and/or you thought a former pastor was no good, then you are causing divisions and you are working against Christ.
Question? Do you really want to be working against Christ? At some point, God will grant your request. God will set you opposite him.
Forever. In Hell.
Repent then. Turn from your evil desires to make church about your agenda and not God’s. Turn and hear God’s agenda one more time:
I pray…that all (Believers) may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you….May they be one as we are one; I in them and you in me.”
That includes you. Even if you have been letting unforgiveness, gossip, and selfishness get the best of you – know this: God still desires you to be a part of this.
How do I know? God wanted unity with you so badly, that when your sinful selfishness got in the way he became a human being, walked the earth, did miracles, healed diseases, cured defects, and then allowed himself to be arrested, falsely accused, tortured and killed on two pieces of wood!
He did this to take away your sin.
He did this to restore you to God.
He did this to make you one with Him.
III. Our United Goal is Sharing Jesus
Football just started. How do you think your favorite team would fare if after the QB yelled hike, all the linemen, who are supposed to be on his side, turned around, ransacked him, and dog piled on top of him? Not very well! It doesn’t work when people have different goals, does it?
This is the problem. We won’t work if we have different goals. In fact, if we all selfishly have our own goals – we would have 159 different ways that we are being pulled. Some of the ways would be polar opposites. We would be a mess.
We would not be serving Jesus.
We need a goal to be united around. Jesus gives us that goal in this very part of Scripture, “May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me…Then, the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Jesus’ stated goal is to share his message with the world. To tell others what he has done. That he has lived perfectly, when we could not; that he died innocently, in our place; that he rose triumphantly for our sins; that, John 3:16 “Whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
This is our goal!
Let’s be clear. That’s what “Gather to the Garden” means. It means “Gather people to hear about God’s love in sending a Savior from sin.”
Our goal isn’t making a sweet preschool. It isn’t to save up lots of money. It isn’t to make an awesome ice cream social. It isn’t to provide community events, give you worship in the exact way you like best, help you make friends, find you a boyfriend, or provided a nice venue for a wedding and a funeral.
Our goal, our ultimate goal, our eyes focused on the goal in spite of what might come is the goal of sharing Jesus!
“Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even has you have loved me.”
At Jesus’ time, the world knew about God’s love through Jesus’ words, deeds, and actions. He literally walked the earth and told people.
Now? People know of God’s love through you. Through me. THROUGH US.
Through Sunday School teachers preparing lessons, parents bringing them an hour early on a Sunday morning, and those without kids encouraging those parents – “I know it was tough; but it’s so important!” God’s Work is done.
Through greeters in the parking lot making guests feel welcome, through ushers smiling and handing a worship folder, and through those in the pews offering a friendly “Hello,” God’s Work is done.
Through Precious Lambs teachers who have trained long and hard, through special gifts and prayers of the congregations, through time spent at a workday scrubbing the walls with a small wash cloth, God’s work is done!
IV. Jesus is the Glue
But, even when we know what we are united and we know we should be united, it is hard. We are sinful people. It’s hard to love sinful people and it’s hard for sinful people to love.
How can we overcome sin? How can we remain united?
Listen to Jesus’ words right in the middle of our text: 2 "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.”
Jesus gave us his glory. He gave us his perfection. He gave us his love. He gave us his forgiveness.
This is our strength.
May God always keep us united. Amen.
I’m sure it seemed like every other, run of the mill crucifixion.
As the Roman soldier adjusted his cincture and wiped his brow after hoisting the heavy cross under the hot Middle Eastern sun, he was prepared for things to go just as they normally did. There would be cries of pain and moan of agony from the convicted. There would be crowds of people gathering to watch, more for the sport of it, than out of compassion. There would be curses hurled at the criminals, blood splattering the dust, and a few tears from the loved ones of the condemned. Slowly, just as always, he would have a front row seat as he watched the life of another human being gradually drift away from him.
At first, it looked like every other crucifixion he had been a part of. But then, it became very different.
It started with the criminal. Usually they were no good, scum of he earth types. They would curse those who were cursing htem. They’d spit and spew forth insults as their dying breath enabled them.
But this guy, this Jesus, remained silent. He didn’t say much. He didn’t sweat. He didn’t insult. In fact, the first time he spoke, he said words of kindness.
“Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
This Jesus had a sign above his head. It was common for crimnals to have signs which explained their crimes. But the sign above Jesus didn’t say, “Murderer,” or “Adulterer.” It didn’t say, “Thief,” or even “Tax Evader.”
It said: “King.”
And the crowds. Never before had so many come to watch a crucifixion. The tone of this crowd was violent too. They vehemently hated this man. They despised him. It seemed that they couldn’t get enough of hurling insults at him.
But others…others loved him. As the soldier stood at his post, he couldn’t help but overhear some of the things they called him, “Savior,” “Redeemer,” “Messiah,”….”Friend.”
Then things got very strange. It was the middle of the day, the hottest part of the day, the part when the sun is the strongest.
That’s when it grew dark. Nighttime dark. Can’t see your hand in front of your face dark.
While the soldier couldn’t see; he could hear. He heard the voice of this JEsus. Strong. Convicting. Careful. Loving. The gentle words of this Jesus penetrated and haunted his brutal, Roman heart.
Then, Jesus cried out. He cried out and shouted, “It is finished.” With finality. With authority. With joy…almost.
Then, he spoke once more, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Then, he died.
And as he died, at that exact moment of his death, the One who controls earthquakes, seemed to respond. The earth began to shake. It trembled. It trembled a powerful tremble – and as the soldier braced himself against he foot of the cross – he saw rocks splitting into two.
Then, the earth calmed. The soldier thought. He thought about what had happened. He thought about who this Jesus was.
He came to a terrifying conclusion: “Surely this was the Son of God.”
Can you imagine the terror going through his mind? He had just participated in the killing God’s divine Son? He had killed the divine Savior. He had murdered God Himself!
I’m sure his mind began racing. “What have I done? How will I ever be forgiven? I won’t. I killed God’s son. He’ll come after me. The Lord of heaven and earth will come after me, find me, and obliterate me.”
The soldier beat his chest. This was a terrible realization.
But to be fair. This soldier was not alone in killing God’s Son. He wasn’t the reason Jesus had died. Nor was it the fault of the other soldiers, the crowd that chanted “Crucify,” Pontius Pilate who condemned Him, or even the chief priests who plotted this whole death months in advance.
These people didn’t killed Jesus.
Romans 4:25 says this, “Jesus was delivered over to death, for (or “because of”) our transgressions.”
Do you understand what that is saying? It says that the reason Jesus was up there, the reason Jesus died, The reason he hung on the cross was your sins. He hung as a substitute. He hung to take the brutal punishment that your sins deserved.
It really forces you to rethink sin, doesn’t it? It’s so easy for us to go through life and think of sin as “no big deal.” “I’m not perfect.” “Everybody sins.” “I’m not as bad others.”
But you are bad enough that your sins resulted in Jesus dying on the cross.
I don’t care what kind of sin it was either. Your sins led to this. Whether “big sins” like adultery, murder, or brutal violence – or “smaller sins” greed, a white lie, a little name calling, not really worshipping God with all your heart.
Sin is Sin. Sin caused Jesus to die. Sin killed Jesus. Your Sin killed Jesus. My sin killed Jesus.
Our sins killed God’s Son.
The soldiers was right. Surely this was God’s Son. It’s a terrifying thought.
But we are gathered here today, not because what happened thousands of years ago is terrifying. But because it is good. Good Friday.
Consider Romans 4:25 again, “He was delivered over to death for our sins.” He was the substitute. He took the brunt force of God’s wrath against sin and there is no force of wrath left for you.
It’s true that you deserved to be on that cross 2000 years ago, but it’s also true that Jesus died for you. The punishment that happened – is over. There is no punishment that remains.
How do you know it’s true for you? How do you know that it’s not just true for his followers – his really good followers – the people who haven’t done as much wrong as you?
Remember the words of the soldier: “Surely, this was the Son of God.”
Jesus’ life was no ordinary life. His death was no ordinary death. His blood was no ordinary blood.
Jesus’ death covers your sin. And your sin. And your sin. And your sin. It covers every last one of your sins.
It covers the big sins that haunt your heart. It covers the repeated sins that you struggle against.
It cover the sins that have ruined relationships. It covers the sins that have kept you from God.
The Son of God is powerful. Just as he had done miracles all his life, so he did miracles on that Good Friday. As he had cleansed men from leprosy, so he cleansed you from sin. As he cast out demons, so he cast out the devil. As he made the mute to speak, so he causes us to shout in joy. As he restored the health of the sick, so he restored our spiritual health. As he stopped storms, so he stopped death. As he brought people back to life from the dead, so he brought us back from the dead—he gave us spiritual AND eternal life.
I read the first part of Romans 4:25 earlier, “He was delivered over to death because of our sins.” Now…let me read the second part, “He was raised to life because of our justification.”
Keep this in the back of your mind. Jesus’ substitute worked. The Father looked down at his Son and said, “Well done.” He looked down at the world and said, “Be at peace.”
He looked down at you and said, “You are forgiven.” He said, "You are my child." He said, "One day, by faith in my Son, you will join me in heaven...forever escaped from the very things that made Good Friday so sad."
No more Sin. No more sadness. No more pain. No more sorrow.
No more death.
And Jesus? Don't worry about him. In fact if you look at the words of the soldier one last time there is reason to rejoice:
"Surely this is the Son of God."
"Surely death cannot hold him."
"Surely he will rise."
Please join us for Easter. Amen.
During midweek Lenten services we will be having some guest speakers come and visit. What would you do if I told you that next Wednesday Stephen Hawking – professed atheist and extreme evolutionist were leading worship here. Then, a week later the highest ranking ISIS officer we could get a hold of would be preaching. Finally, to wrap up our series Ozzy Osbourne – the self professed “Prince of Darkness” would come to challenge your minds.
Some of you are shaking your head. The people I just mentioned are enemies of Christianity. They are enemies of Jesus. They don’t agree with his theology. They don’t believe in him. They don’t want his message to succeed. An enemy of Jesus would make for a bad sermon…
Over these coming weeks we will have guest speakers and they will not be enemies of Jesus. They will be fellow Christian pastors. However in our sermons we will be examining a few key statements of Jesus’ enemies. Statements that unwittingly and unbeknownst to them made for some great sermons in Jesus’ favor.
The first sermon we’ll look at took place in bad guy headquarters. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and all the Teachers of the law – a collection of men who hated Jesus -- had gathered together to plan evil things. They were like the Secret Society of Supervillains that used to fight against Superman, Batman, and the Justice League.
Now these groups of people didn’t normally get along. The Pharisees believed in a resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees did not. Often they would quarrel about who was right.
Not on this day. On this particular day they gathered together with one express purpose. They only had one item on the agenda –Jesus.
Jesus had been significantly weakening their religious status. The people were listening to Him and not them. Each one of their groups saw less and less people gathering for their Thursday night Rabbinical studies.
But it was more than that. Jesus had been embarrassing them. He had embarrassed them with his knowledge of the Sabbath. He had pointed out where they were wrong in Scripture. He had called them sinners –perish the thought – and then went to spend time with dirty thieves and prostitutes. Real “sinners.”
Jesus had been making them look bad. But that wasn’t what bothered them the most. Take a look at John 10:47-48 “The chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
Do you see the problem? It wasn’t just that Jesus was speaking a message opposed to the message that they promoted. They had dealt with that before. It was that Jesus’ message was accompanied by signs.
A man with a shriveled hand had it restored to full health by Jesus.
A man who couldn’t see had his sight restored by Jesus.
Most recently a man who had died – Lazarus – had his life restored by Jesus.
Note this – these leaders don’t question whether these miracles happened. They don’t gather together to send out a task force investigating whether these were real or not. They believed they were. They believed the miracles had happened. They knew Lazarus had died and they had heard solid evidence that he was alive again.
They didn’t disbelieve the miracles. They just didn’t believe in Jesus.
“If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
It was becoming chaotic in the room. Sniveling. Whining. Anger. Everyone talking at once. Everyone offering their concerns. No one knew what to do? How could they stop this Jesus!
Then, one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up.
Caiaphas was not your run of the mill temple officials. He garnered respect. He had earned respect. His position as high priest warranted respect. When he spoke, picture the whole room quieting down. He had something important to say:
“You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
Everyone quieted down. Everyone nodded. They agreed.
From that time on they plotted to kill him.
But the other teachers weren’t the only ones who agreed with what Caiaphas had to say. Take a look at these Old Testament passages:
“He was led like a lamb to the slaughter…He was cut off from the land of the living…He was assigned a grave with the wicked. He poured out his life.” (Isaiah 53)
"And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced…" (Zechariah 12:10)
"(The Messiah will be) poured out like water, and all (his) bones are out of joined….God lays (him) in the dust of death.” (Psalm 22:14-15)
Caiaphas, who taught Old Testament, didn’t believe that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament, was now agreeing with the Old Testament about Jesus’ death on earth?
It wasn’t just the Old Testament that agreed with Caiaphas. Jesus himself had spoken similarly.
1 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)
Jesus was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” (Mark 9:31)
33 “We are going up to Jerusalem,” Jesus said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:33-34)
Caiaphas, who hated Jesus, was now in complete agreement with Jesus on what should happen to Jesus next.
But it wasn’t just Jesus.
Remember what the Jewish people referred to the Old Testament as. They called it the Word of God. Remember what God the Father had spoken from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. With him I am well pleased!”
If God the Father was the ultimate author of the Old Testament and He had spoken from the cloud approval with Jesus, then it was his plan too. It was God the Father’s plan that Jesus would die in place of many people!
But while Caiaphas was in agreement that one man should die for the people. His reasoning was much different than God’s reasoning. Caiaphas thought they needed to kill Jesus to keep him from stirring up the people more. If they got too stirred up, the Roman government which was in control at the time would certainly put a stop to his rebellion. They would send soldiers. They would send more soldiers. They would slaughter the rebellious Jews. Caiaphas wanted Jesus dead before that could happen.
But God the Father wanted Jesus to die for an altogether different reason:
Scripture says this:
“The Wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)
“The one who sins is the one who will die.” (Ezekiel 18:4)
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
God wasn’t concerned with the Romans killing the Jews. God was concerned with sin killing them. Eternally.
God wasn’t just concerned with the Jews either. God was concerned with all people. He was concerned for you and me.
God wasn’t just concerned about a physical death. But an eternal death. A forever death in hell.
So God planned it as Caiaphas said it, “It is better…that one man die for the people…”
If you had a chance to go back in time and kill Hitler as a young man, would you do it? You’d probably save hundreds of thousands of lives. How about Osama bin Laden? What if you could prevent 9/11?
Do you understand God’s reasoning for killing Jesus? This is exactly what John explains about Caiaphas’ statement. 51 "He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.”
It wasn’t as if Jesus was an enemy who would kill me. It wasn’t as if Jesus needed to die because he was bad.
Jesus needed to die because he was good. He was the only one who was good. He was the only one who didn’t earn a punishment in death and therefore was the only one who could be a substitute in death.
· Jesus died as a ransom to set them free from sins. (Hebrews 9:17)
· God made (Jesus) who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)
· He died for sins once for all. (Hebrews 7:27)
God’s plan worked. God’s plan was better.
Do you question it?
If it wasn’t for God’s plan and Jesus’ death, then what?
You’d gather to confess your sins tonight and I’d say, “Too bad.”
You’d pray to God for forgiveness and search the Bible only to find, “God hates you. There’s nothing you can do.”
You’d turn to me in counseling, confess a sin, and I’d say, “Here’s a bottle of Scotch. I don’t know what else might make you feel better about your impending doom.”
But Jesus did die.
He did die for your sins.
You gather to confess your sins tonight and God says, “You’re forgiven.”
You pray to God for forgiveness and find in the Bible, “You are my child.”
You turn for help from a Christian friend and hear, “Jesus died for you. Your sins are forgiven. You will not die, but live.”
That’s better. Better by far.
Thanks be to Jesus for making it so. Amen.
Do you have anyone coming over for the holidays? Family? Friends? Third cousins twice removed? Ever notice how your preparation for guests depends on who the guest is?
For instance, if my mom is coming to visit I’ll deep clean the house, strategically place photographs of my family on all of the walls, and make sure that there are only organic, Gluten free, healthy food choices lining our shelves.
It's different with my college buddies. No cleaning required, a couple of old WWF DVDs on hand, and a bunch of bags of Doritos ready for supper—and lunch.
What if Jesus was coming to your house? What would you do? Throw out your explicit rap CDs? Dust a few Bibles off their shelves and place them opened on the tables? Print off some inspirational Scripture verses and hang them on your wall? ("I always have these up Jesus!") Train your live in boyfriend to say, “No, I’m just stopping by for a visit. I don’t live here.” What would you do if Jesus was coming?
Guess what? Jesus is coming. He’s coming for you! Take a look at Revelation 22. It’s our final vision and in this vision John sees and hears Jesus saying this, “Behold, I am coming soon!” Listen to the words that John hear from Jesus himself:
Take a look at that first phrase. Notice that adverb. “Soon.” That’s very nonspecific, isn’t it? The Packer game will happen soon. Thanksgiving is coming soon. Christmas is coming soon. This sermon might get done…’soon.’
Since it is so general, I fear we can often delay getting ready. But that's not smart NOR is it what Jesus wants us to do. The word implies urgency. Jesus is very specific. He is coming soon. Not later. Not after a while. Not after a delay. “I am coming soon.” Whether he comes for you specifically to take you to heaven OR whether returns on the Last Day – Jesus wants you to be ready, because either one of those things could happen at any time.
Now you might be thinking, “So what? Why should I prepare to see Jesus? What’s the big deal? What makes him any different than preparing to see my dentist?” The next part of the text gives us three reasons why Jesus coming is a big deal. Look at verses 12-13, “My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
1) Jesus is Bringing an Awesome Reward
Whenever my grandma visits, she always brings gifts. Specifically, she always bring Chex Mix. It’s delicious. So…when I know she is coming, I get excited for such an awesome gift.
What is Jesus’ gift? It’s better than Chex Mix. It’s heaven! Remember last week’s sermon – Heaven is a pretty sweet gift. Heaven means no more evil. Heaven means no more sin. Heaven means Jesus is completely and absolutely victorious forever. Heaven means Jesus wins. Heaven means no more temptation, no more fear, no more guilt, and no more pain! Heaven means that Jesus rules and we are servants in his kingdom. Heaven means people of all races, nations, and cultures joining together in one loud continuous Hallelujah to the King!
Heaven is awesome. It’s the awesome gift Jesus brings. Since he is the Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, Jesus is in control of all things. He's the start of all things. He is the end of all things. He alone is the reason that you have life on this earth. He alone will be the reason that anyone has life in heaven!
Heaven is not too difficult of a gift for Jesus to produce.
2) This Reward Depends on What You have Done
Look at what verse 12 reminds us, “I will give to each person according to what they have done.” Simply put. God will give you heaven if you have earned it.
Remember the old Raisin Bran commercials? They said, “You deserve to scoops of Raisin Bran.” And maybe you do. Maybe you smile enough to deserve two scoops of oats and raisins. But…what about heaven? Have you done enough to earn it? Have you done enough to earn an eternity of evil-less, joyful existence with the perfect and all holy God?
Look at what happens if you haven't done enough to earn heaven in verse 15, “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”
Being outside of heaven isn’t where anyone wants to be. Time to rethink your actions.
3) This Reward Depends on The King’s Opinion
Now it’s real easy to hear that declaration and think, “I’m fine. God and I are good. I’m in a decent position to get to heaven.”
But consider verse 13. Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega. The First and the Last. The Beginning and the End.” There is no one else who has the authority he does. No one ever has. No one ever will. He is the one who always has ruled. He is the one who is ruling right now. He is the one who will rule into eternity.
Despite what the world wants you to think: YOU ARE NOT IN CHARGE. You never have been. You never will be. You aren’t in charge of your life. You aren’t in charge of whether your morality was good enough. You aren’t in charge of if you should be let into heaven.
If that were the case, we'd have hundreds of billions of different standards of morality each being declared by one person (the one who lived that morality) as "good enough."
Your opinion doesn’t count when it comes to whether you should get into heaven or not. That matter is decided by God himself.
Brothers and sisters, do you see the urgency? You don’t know when Jesus is coming and when he comes he will only hand out the reward of heaven to you if you have done enough good in his own eyes!!!!
So, stop putting this off. Stop waiting to get ready for Jesus "until I get older, have kids, and it's important for them." Get ready now!
How? How do you get ready to meet this Eternal, all Holy King when he returns? It has nothing to do with cleaning up your house or making a nice pie. It has everything to do with making sure your spiritual self is right with God. And there is only one way to do that. Look at verse 14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city."
Certain places enforce a strict dress code. Private schools might require students to wear a polo and khakis. A fancy restaurant might require a tie. Most gas stations require you to wear shoes and a shirt.
What do you need to wear to get into heaven? A clean life worn like a beautiful robe. As you might have noted, our sins sully our clothes. They set in deep. They are impossible to remove. Our clothing is filthy and grimy like the clothing of one of those Spartan Races who trudges through a mud obstacle.
But blessed are those who wash their robes.
Jesus' robes weren't white. Not on Good Friday. On Good Friday, they were stained by the blood of brutal beatings, the dirt of falling on the ground, and the sweat of a failing body.
But what happened to His clothing on the outside, is nothing compared to the staining that happened to his soul on the inside.
He took on your guilt.
He took on your sin.
He took on your impossible to get out stains.
And He got rid of them.
Blessed are those who wash their robes. Not in Tide. Not in bleach. Not in their own efforts. But in the blood of the Lamb. The blood of our Savior. Because in Jesus, the dirtiness of our sinful addictions is washed off. In the waters of baptism, the slime of sexual sin is removed. The blood of our Lord penetrates even the deepest stains of pride and completely clean us off! Then, with faith in Jesus as your Savior, you wear Jesus’ perfect life as your clean, white robe. You are dressed appropriately “You may go through the gates into the city.”
How is that last statement so confident? Through faith in Jesus I will be in heaven!?! How can anyone possibly say it so confidently?
Because they have been cleaned to the specifications of the one in charge of setting the cleanliness specifications for heaven!
Think about it: In your household, who does the best job on the dishes? It’s usually mom, right? Mom is picky about those dishes being clean. She doesn’t want any smudges on the glasses or an crusty food in the corner of the oatmeal bowl. So when mom does the dishes, there are no send backs. Every dish is clean. Every dish passes her inspection and specifications.
Similarly, the one who determines whether you are ‘holy’ and able to enter heaven – is also the one who promises in Scripture to clean up your sin filled life and makes it Holy. He promises “I really hate sin and I really demand perfection. So I’m gonna do this myself. I’m going to live perfectly. I’m going to die innocently. I’m going to rise triumphantly. Then, you will put your faith in me. And with your faith in me, all of your sin will be removed. You will fit my standard of cleanliness…You will be perfect.”
By the way, THIS IS ALL TRUTH!
Look at what Jesus says next in verse 16, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches.” It’s important that Jesus says this. It’s so easy to doubt the message of sins forgiven and the promise of Jesus’ righteous robes covering our sinful flesh. But look at these words again! This isn’t something the pastor made up. It is a message from Jesus himself. Remember: Jesus gave this message to John who wrote it down and who had his scroll copied at which point a translator translated it, then printers printed it, Biblegateway put up a web page, our church secretary copy and pasted and then printed, I presented and you read it. But it still came from Jesus! Your King! The Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End…the one who has the authority to make such powerful declarations again and again: He is the One who speaks this message to you!
Get Ready! Consider what the last couple of verses mean for your preparation:
1) He is The ROOT…so stay connected to Him. Just like a root sucks up nutrients and passes them on to the rest of the plants, so Jesus nourishes all who are connected to him. And the connecting point? That’ s faith. Through faith he nourishes you for your everyday life. He strengthens you with the peace of sins forgiven, the love of God the Father, and the promise of eternal life.
2) He is The Offspring of David…so say prayers to Him. David was a king. So was Jesus. Kings listen to requests. Jesus will listen to yours too. Whatever your requests may be, feel free to lay them at the feet of your king. He is always in charge. Always on the throne. Always accepting these requests – no matter when, no matter how much, no matter how great! Keep talking to your King – and you’ll stay ready for Jesus’ return.
3) He is the BRIGHT MORNING STAR…so gaze on his beauty. See the aurora borealis of salvation. Look at the bright sunlight of salvation. Gaze at the beauty of his bloodstained brow. Marvel at the joy of the cross. Take time each day…take time later this afternoon to appreciate just what Jesus had done for you. Don’t look away from Jesus and you’ll stay ready for his kingly return.
4) Come. Come. This is a message not only from Jesus, but also from the Spirit – the Holy Spirit himself, also true God – and the bride, that is the church, all the saints in heaven cheering down to you – say, “Come!” But come where? Come to Heaven, certainly! But heaven comes through the message of Jesus. Thus, again, the Bible – Jesus – the Holy Spirit—and the Christian church encourages you – come and learn at the feet of Jesus. Come to Bible study. Come to devotion. Come to church. Come to the radio. Come to WELS Daily devotions. Come to our website to check up on sermons. Come. Come anywhere you can hear the message of Jesus!
5) Tell others to Come! Literally it says, “Let the one who hears say, “Come!” Did you hear? Good. Then say “Come!” Tell your family. Tell your friends. Literally tell them to come to church with you next week. Do it! The message that Jesus is literally that fantastic!
In fact, now that I think about it, why wait? Why wait for Jesus to come? His gifts are so awesome – forgiveness, peace, love, and joy. Why wait for him to come?
Why not come to him...now?!?
Jesus says this, “Let the one who is thirsty come" – thirsty for forgiveness? Come. Thirsty for peace? Come. Thirsty for purpose? Come. Thirsty for love? Come. Thirsty for salvation? Come. Come…and take, "take the free gift of the water of life.”
So what are you waiting for? Jesus is coming soon, but why wait?
Why not come to Him now!?!
10 “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.
11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.“Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.19 After being made alive, nhe went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were save through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
1 Peter 3:10-22
It was late at night. The middle of the water. The winds were kicking up. The rain was starting to fall. Peter’s muscles were starting to ache from all the rowing and his mind was clouded with thoughts and worries of the past days. And his eyes were tired.
Maybe too tired.
He saw him off in the distance. A man. Not rowing. Not floating. But walking…On the water.
“It’s a ghost!” his friend cried. But the figure responded, “Do not be afraid. It is I.”
Peter’s grimace softened. That was the voice of his teacher, his leader, his friend.
“Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water!” Peter cried.
“Come,” Jesus said.
Peter stood up—the boat rocking from his weight. He lifted his sandled foot over the edge. He took a deep breath. He placed it on the surface. Then, he pushed off.
No splash. He was standing on liquid water as if it were solid ground.
Another step. His confidence grew. Step by step he was filled with rejoicing. He was doing it. He too was walking on water.
But then, a wave. Crashing toward him with the roar of the ocean. Peter panicked. His feet sank. He was drowning! Fear came over him. Panicked ensued. He tried to tread water as the waves picked up, but it was no use. He couldn’t do it.
He needed help. He needed saving! And he called to the only One he knew could do that.
“Lord, save me!”
Jesus walked over. Calmly reached down. Pulled him out of the water.
Jesus saved him.
Fast forward twenty-some years. Peter is older. Peter is wiser. Now he wants to share with you the same wisdom that he learned. He wants you to be saved. He wants you to know your Savior. But he isn’t just talking about making sure that you know Ken the lifeguard’s name down at the local pool.
He wants you to know about your eternal Savior, the Lord, Jesus Christ. He wants you to remind you how you have been saved and/or show you how you can be saved by the exactly same Lord!
I. A Good Savior
First, Peter starts off by describing God our Savior. This is from 1 Peter 3:10. He says, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Back to school recently. Hopefully, you’ve learned your teacher’s favorite goodies. It’s a great way to get on their good side. Find out what they like and bring them a gift. Chocolates, Starbucks, iTunes gift cards. By the way, if you are want to do the same with your pastor, go ahead and grab a bag of delicious Nacho Cheese Doritos, that wouldn’t be offensive.
What does God love? Peter makes it clear. God loves good. Therefore, we are to do good.
And even if you don’t think God exists or you have a different God in mind, then you are already on common ground with Peter’s God.
Good = Good. (Deep thoughts so early in the morning, right?)
The opposite is also true. God loves good and hates evil. Look at verse 12 again, “The face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” That word “against.” It has the idea of being an opposing foes.
Think football for a moment. As ECU or UNC or State or Duke lines up against whatever ACC foe they might line up against, they are opposites. There is no love loss. They are against each other.
God is good and therefore against evil.
But not like humans are against evil. Humans are more like that friend that cheers for other teams in the ACC as long as they aren’t playing State because “I like the ACC.”
In other words, humans are ‘flaky’ on the hatred for evil.
For instance, most humans think it is wrong to text while driving. If you are driving down the road and text, they get upset, “Stop texting and pay attention you maniac!” Then, there’s a buzz. And that same person reaches into his pocket, checks her phone, smiles, and starts texting back. “But it’s ok because this text is important!”
God is not like that. He is not against some evil. He is not against most evil. He is not even “against evil unless it benefits Him.” God is always against evil all the time.
And God isn’t like the football fan who pushes up his glasses after his team gets crushed and powerlessly sighs, “We’ll get ‘em next year.” Powerless to do anything about it.
Nope. God always gets what he wants done.
EXAMPLE -- People of Noah's Time. Hundreds of thousands of people all against God. All in love with evil. All opposed to everything he stood for and all of the morals he upheld. Only 8 people--8 PEOPLE--were on his side.
That’s not good odds.
But it was no problem for God. God verses evil. A few rain clouds later. God wins.
This is God. Good loving, evil hating, and all powerful! He is the One who saves!
II. A Savior from Evildoers
Now…what does this have to do with you? How does he save you? What does he save from? Take a look at verses 13-15. Peter writes, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.”
Peter asks a good question: “Who would harm those who do good?” In theory, the answer should be NO ONE. If you have done good, then there is no reason for anyone to harm you.
That’s not what happens in reality, is it? Here on this earth, people who do good are sometimes (oftentimes) harmed by those who do evil. The temptation is to get revenge. To repay evil for evil.
But here’s where God comes in! Because – remember what we talked about already. Remember Who it is that will harm those who harm those who harm those who do good? It’s not you it’s God. The One who is against all evil!
This is a comforting truth. For our world feels chaotic right now. Chaos and vengeance reign supreme. Hatred in Ukraine, in the middle East, in America, on our streets – in our schools. It seems like Chaos and Hatred reign!
But remember: God is still God. And he’s good. Therefore, in your hearts – set apart Christ as Lord. He still reigns. He will one day defeat evil!
Now you might be thinking. “Well…when’s that happening? Can God hurry up with that? Destroy evildoers already! I know you made a promise not to send a worldwide flood, but God, why don’t you break that promise and totally destroy all the evil people. Why don’t you get rid of everyone who’s ever done any evil at all?!”
PUMP THE BREAKS!
Do you really know what you’re asking? Do you really know what the destruction of any evildoer means for you?
III. A Savior from Ourselves
Heard that word before? If you have, how would you define it? Sometimes we say “problems” or “mistakes” or “oopsies.” But really the Greek word used for “sin” in this text means “missing the mark”! As in God set up a target that we were to aim to live our lives according to. Actions, words, and thoughts are to land on God’s prescribed mark. And remembering what we said about God being good, we know that he only prescribes actions, words and thoughts that are good.
So...If you sin and you do the opposite of the prescribed good action, then you haven’t done good. You’ve done evil.
And now, in our humans are good and can do anything they put their minds to culture, prepare for a shockwave thought: How is it that good humans are doing bad? Where does the bad come from?
Those new Coke machines in restaurants where you have over 200 flavors that you can make when you add it all up. Those are pretty cool. But, try as I might, if I head over to the Coke machine and I start looking for Pepsi, I can’t find it!
That’s because Coke comes from the Coke machine. And Pepsi comes from the Pepsi factory.
The same is true with good and evil. Good comes from good. Evil comes from evil.
The SAD TRUTH is this: If you have sinned, you are not good.
Now, I know you don’t want to hear this. No one does, but this is the most important news about yourself that every human must face. We are not good. Not God’s definition of good. We might be our definition of good. The "at least I didn’t kill anybody definition of good,” but God has much higher standards. He can’t bend for even one sin OR He himself would no longer be good!
And the SADDER TRUTH: is that we CANNOT SAVE OURSELVES. Just like Peter couldn’t pull himself out of the water, no matter what he did, so a person drowning in his own sins cannot pull himself out of sins! Not by ‘trying hard’; not by ‘doing better’; not by doing ‘good’ things. The efforts of one already stranded in the depths of his sin only result in him still being in sin!
Which leads to the SADDEST TRUTH of all. God, who loves us, has turned his face against us. His threats are now against humanity. Against us. Against me. Against you.
Therefore we need a Savior. We need someone who is standing on firm ground. We need someone who is entirely good. We need someone who is entirely God.
We need the exact Savior that Peter introduces in verse 19, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” Safe and sound. Out of the depths of our sins, out of the wave of God’s wrath, back into God’s good graces.
Listen to how Christ did it:
1) He was put to death in the body – Jesus, who had no sin, took your sin. He became what he loathed; he punished what he loathed; he suffered for what he loathed, and he saved what he loved --- you.
He defeated sin once for all. Once for us. Once...for you.
How certain is this? Peter says, “Christ was made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison that is hell who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”
Jesus went to hell, but not to surrendered. He went there to trash talk the devil. To tell whom he won. To declare to him, “You are a loser! Your plans have failed. I have died to save the world and I will save many! Whoever believes in me will not perish, but have eternal life!"
2) He saves us through his promises. Verse 20 explains how God bring this salvation to us. “In it (the ark) only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God."
Now normally when we think of the flood, we think of destruction. But Peter has an interesting perspective. He says the water saved 8 people. They floated on top of it and were saved.
That water from the flood, then symbolizes the waters of Baptism. Waters which don’t symbolize, but waters which really save. Look at verse 21 "Baptism now saves you also!" It saves because it holds out God’s promises. Promises that say, “You are now my child. In the name fo the Father, you are forgiven. In the name of the Son, you are washed. In the name of the Holy Spirit you are saved.”
Believe God’s promises to you in your Baptism. If you haven’t been baptized, believe that God’s promises will be true and be baptized!
And believe, not because of your own believing power OR your age OR your emotional attachment to Jesus.
Believe because of the awesome power behind Baptism. Look at the ends of verse 21-- Baptism saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. In other words, you are saved by same power that defeated death!
Now, you know death. It’s ugly. It’s scary. It’s frightening. It’s unbeatable. It’s evil.
But not to Jesus. He died and came back to life. The only One ever to do so on his own! And he is the same one who will save you from death too.
Think back to Peter. There he was drowning, flailing, scared. And Jesus reached out. With his hand to lift him up.
The truth is. You might feel just like Peter. When you consider your relationship with God, you might be flailing, drowning, scared. Know that God is reaching out for you, too. Not just with one arm, but with both – on that blessed cross.
Whether you have believed in it before OR this is a brand new concept to you, listen to the Lord’s call today.
I remember it vividly.
Our Sunday School had sent Mission Trifolds. The trifold could be folded out to reveal a faded picture of a church in progress of being built. In the foreground were tiny stamp sized boxes all in a row. In order to receive a stamp, you had to bring a quarter for mission money. Each stamp could be placed on the trifold until it was filled up. (Total of about $10) The idea was that you were helping to build a church.
I saved up my allowance. I took 25 cents out of my dollar each week. I slowly built my 2D church.
I remember another kid. He hadn't done anything with his mission money. That is until the day it was supposed to be complete. On that day, his mom had given him a $20 bill!!! He completed the charts all at once.
I was frustrated. It was so easy for him to give lots. It was so hard for me. Didn't God want me to build up my stamp collection for Jesus? I must not have been that impressive of a Christian. If I was, I would've needed the teacher to order more trifolds because I went through them so fast.
Is dollar amount what impresses Jesus?
Check out a similar situation: 41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12)
For some reason, I picture the rich people to look very similar to the people on Shark Tank. Mark Cuban throws a couple million in. The guy from FUBU throws another some million. Mr. Wonderful grimaces at them all and places a billion in. There's a big commotion. Everybody watches as the rich put in glorious amounts. Man do they look good.
But this woman didn't make much noise at all. No more than the noise of two copper coins hitting the bottom of the money box.
Yet to Jesus, the woman's gift was more impressive. She gave out of love for her God who loved her. She gave out of thanks for a God who had given her everything. She gave out of trust that He would take care of her -- even if this was her last amount.
Today, I don't want to ask how much you give? But...why? The WHY is so much more important than the 'how much?"
It's easy for us to give for selfish reasons. "Because it makes us look good." "Because it keeps us from looking bad." "Because we feel like we have to." "Because we can afford it." When that happens the cure is to take that selfishness to the cross. There we see a selfless Jesus who was "rich, but for our sakes became poor."
He was God. He owned everything, yet he sacrificed it for you.
Now he has given us eternal riches: forgiveness, eternal life, victory over death and the devil. (These are all things that are not for sale at your local Macys!) So give out of thanks to him! Give out of trust that he'll take care of you. Give out of love because he loved you first!
When you give to a church, a church uses that money to share the Gospel -- this good message of Jesus the Savior. Some goes to keep the lights on at the church. Some pays those who work there so they can focus on sharing the Gospel. Some goes to fliers, invitations, books, Bibles, etc. that are used to share the message with others. Still more goes to help the poor or to enable a missionary far away.
What an awesome opportunity it is! God enable us to participate in his ministry. And he's less interested in the amount, as he is interested in heart that gives out of love.
If only I had realized that in Sunday School!
PRAYER: Dear Lord, forgive me for my selfishness. Oftentimes I give of my time, talents, and treasures in order to look good or in order to get something from you. Forgive me. Instead, help me to give to your Gospel out of thankfulness for the Gospel. Use my gifts to spread your Word this Easter. Amen.