Looking for a job can be difficult.
Searching for jobs online.
Filing out applications.
Phoning, emailing, texting to check on those applications.
And the interview!
You rent a suit coat.
You part your hair ever so particularly.
You practice saying: “I’m not in it for the money, but because of the sheer joy I get from filling out spreadsheets and alphabetically filing documentation.”
As challenging as finding a job can be…
It gets exponentially more difficult if you have something on your record.
A terrible credit report.
A job history with a few firings.
Even an incriminating Facebook photo or post that you forgot to delete.
Past mistakes can make it difficult to find work in the now…
But what about God’s kingdom?
What if you have mistakes in your past?
Surely – if humans wouldn’t hire you – God, who is perfect, wouldn’t want you to work in his kingdom either…right?
Today’s EYEWITNESS account is about a guy named Peter, who had made some rather big blunders while working in God’s kingdom. We want to learn (1) what his failures were (2) how they affected his role in God’s kingdom and (3) what that means for our roles in kingdom work. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Peter’s Story
We are continuing where we left off last week. If you remember, Jesus had appeared to his disciples on the Sea of Galilee. When he appeared, he told them to toss their nets into the lake and – immediately – the net is full of fish. Amazing – because Jesus was 100 yards away on shore and the disciples had been out all night without catching anything.
But that wasn’t it – as the disciples row the boat to shore, Jesus already has fish sandwiches cooking over the fire for them to eat. It’d be similar to someone gifting you a $100 Starbucks gift card and then, when they invite you to Starbucks – they pay for the coffee for you.
Jesus did the same. He provided abundantly.
He provides abundantly.
And I’ll bet the disciples were loving this interaction.
Because Jesus was back!
He conquered death!
He was alive!
He was just as powerful as ever!
And he was with them.
This was great news --- for most of them.
While Peter was happy to see Jesus alive, it also reminded him of the last conversation that they shared.
It had been back before Jesus died.
Back before Jesus was arrested.
They had been sitting down for a meal and Jesus had said, “I tell you the truth. You will all fall away on account on me.” (Matthew 26:31)
And Peter heard it.
And believed most of it.
“Even if all fall away on account of you, Jesus, I never will.” (Matthew 26:33)
I mean…I’m Peter!
Jesus gave me that name.
It means “Rock.”
I am Peter and…I will not fall!
Turned to Peter.
Looked him straight in the eye.
And said this:
“Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me – three times.” (v.34)
Peter would never forget those exact words.
Before that night was over a group of soldiers had come to arrest Jesus.
Swords, clubs, and spears – Peter was frightened like the rest of the disciples and ran away.
Then, sure, he regained his senses and made it into the courtyard where they were holding the illegal late-night trial of Jesus.
Only to deny knowing him.
But three times.
And then? The rooster crowed.
The one Jesus had predicted would crow - it crowed!
Peter hated roosters now.
Because now they were a reminder of how he had sinned.
A reminder of how he had failed…
A reminder of how he had fallen…
A reminder of his guilt.
Guilt is always tricky. It can easily burden a soul.
But Peter’s guilt was especially difficult for a trifecta of reasons that are especially hard to get over. For a few reasons:
He didn’t deny Jesus one time. He didn’t deny Jesus two times. He denied him three times in one evening. (Although during that third time it says that he called down curses upon himself, so even thought it was one “time period” perhaps it was a bunch of times within that time period).
Repeated guilt is hard.
We were given a good deal on a Prius a while back. Great car. Great gas mileage. Fun to drive.
But it’s extremely low to the ground. The bumper is about 2 inches from the street. So, when you come down our driveway which is on a decent incline…if you don’t turn the wheels at a specific angle to the right and back out at that exact angle – the front bumper scrapes.
Do you know how many times I’ve gotten that wrong? (I’m especially guilty of it every morning when I haven’t had my coffee yet) I keep messing up and I keep feeling guilty about it. In fact, the front bumper is cracked in all kinds of places. And it now serves as a 21st century, sheen black version of a rooster. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of my failures!
Repeated guilt is hard.
Repeatedly drinking too much.
Repeatedly losing your temper.
Repeatedly looking at porn.
Repeatedly lying to your spouse.
Repeatedly being jerk at work.
Repeatedly being a bully to your family.
Repeated guilt is hard because there’s no excuse.
The devil comes along and says,
You know better!
But you did it anyway.
This is unforgivable.
Because Peter was a leader. He was a disciple; more than that – an apostle. There were only twelve of those hand selected and chosen by Jesus. And of those twelve disciples – Peter was definitely a leader among them: He had the privilege of walking on water. He saw Jesus heal a dead girl when many of them didn’t. He was chosen along with only two others to see Jesus go up on a mountain and reveal his heavenly brilliance. Peter was a leader.
And then he fell.
And when leaders fall…
They quickly become leaders in holding onto guilt.
Maybe you know.
Whether you’re a leader in your family.
Or a leader here at church.
Or a leader among your friends.
Or a teacher of kids.
Or even…you’re the only one at work who is Christian – making you a spiritual leader by default – and then you sin…?
How’s that feel?
The devil comes along and whispers:
“You’re a leader…and you did that?”
“I’m not sure you’re a leader anymore…”
“…I’m not even sure you’re a part of his kingdom.”
Because by the time Peter gets to the third denial, there’s a crowd of people gathered around him:
A crowd of people watch him as he shakes his head vigorously.
A crowd of people listening as cusses out Jesus.
A crowd of people taking mental note of his sin.
I wonder how many of those people Peter saw again.
I wonder how that went?
Public guilt is hard.
There’s this thing I receive every Monday called a Call Report. “Call” is a reference to the special “calling” that a ministry worker has to their particularly congregation. The “call report” details any changes in those ministry positions. It’ll say: “Pastor So-and-So retired.” “Pastor what’s-his-face is switching congregations.” And even “Pastor who’s-his-name has decided to remain at his current congregation.”
But every once in a while, it says this:
“Pastor removed for cause.”
To me, it’s a terrifying expression. It means “removed for doing some gross outward sin.” It’s a phrase that no pastor ever wants said about them. It’s terrifying among our pastor circles, because it is a phrase that screams: “Failure.”
And everyone now knows you as…
Not as a brother.
Not as a pastor.
Not even as your first name…
But as “Pastor, Removed for Cause.”
But as a non-pastor you can feel the same thing.
You might have a sin that your family knows about.
That your coworkers know about.
That your friends saw you do.
And now every moment you spend around them is spent like Peter:
Did they see me sin?
Do they know about my guilt?
Do they think of me as SINNER?
Like you’ve got a big old black marker on your forehead everywhere you go that says: “INSERT SIN HERE.”
Public sin is hard.
Any one of these three types of guilt are challenging on their own! If you’re dealing with any of these, they can overload you. Burden you. Suffocate you.
Peter had to deal with all three all at once. That’s an extreme amount of guilt.
And it needs an extreme amount of restoration.
II. Peter’s Restoration
Peter finished up his breakfast.
Another meal done.
Another visitation from Jesus without having to talk about the sinful things that I did.
If I just keep a low profile, stay quiet, and avoid eye contact, I should be able to avoid him altogether.
Peter turned around to find Jesus standing right in front of him.
Face to face.
Eye to eye.
Heart to heart.
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
At this point, the conversation seemed a bit too familiar.
Three times? Really?
It reminded him of those three times that he denied Jesus.
Peter said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. (Jn. 21:15-17)
He doesn’t ream Peter out.
He doesn’t kick Peter out.
He doesn’t even respond to Peter’s claims of loving him with: “Umm…No, you didn’t. Remember?”
Jesus doesn’t bring guilt.
He brings restoration.
Restoration to God’s kingdom comes out of Jesus' work.
It didn’t come out of Peter earning it. Peter hadn’t done anything to make up for what he did.
But Jesus did do something.
Jesus did everything.
He lived perfectly when Peter could not.
He died innocently in his place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of Peter’s sin.
The same is true with you.
If you’ve sinned against God.
If you have repeated guilt.
If you have public guilt.
If you have leader guilt.
Jesus doesn’t make you do something to make up for it.
Jesus did everything for you.
He lived perfectly when you could not.
He died innocently in your place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sin.
Remember earlier – when we talked about having a criminal record and how hard it is to find work with that record. One thing that you can do is you can get your record exponged.
It takes a lot of money.
A lot of time with lawyers. '
A lot of paperwork and a lot of pleading with a judge...
But it is sometimes possible to get it expunged, erased and cleared.
Understand this – Jesus has expunged your record.
He did all the work.
He paid for it completely.
Your guilt is expunged, erased, cleared.
In short – listen to Jesus’ message to you right now:
You are restored to my kingdom.
You are guilt free.
You are forgiven…and…You have work to do.
Restoration to God’s kingdom means Restoration to Kingdom Work.
That’s a bit unexpected. Because the devil would love to have you think:
“OK, fine. You are a part of his kingdom, but…Stay in the back. Go into the corner. Hide. Because you are not worthy of being on the front lines.”
But that’s not what Jesus says.
In Peter’s restoration, He goes straight to telling him to work for his kingdom.
He gives him a job.
He restores him not only to his kingdom, but to work in his kingdom.
And God has done the same for you.
He restored you to his kingdom.
He has restored you to kingdom work.
III. Kingdom Work
And what does that kingdom work look like? You get an idea in Jesus’ instruction to Peter.
Feed His Sheep.
Jesus says that is what true love for him is:
Feed my lambs. (v.15)
Take care of my sheep. (v.16)
Feed my Sheep. (v.17)
Does he own a farm I’ve never heard of?
Did he develop some petting zoo?
Does Jesus have a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow?
When Jesus talks about his lambs and his sheep, he’s talking about his people.
When Jesus talks about feeding those lambs and sheep, he’s talking about sharing the message of reconciliation with others.
You know the same message that gives you hope and comfort…
Give it to others!
Love for Jesus means sharing his message.
Telling your neighbor about Jesus.
Spreading the Gospel to your coworkers.
Sharing forgiveness with a church friend.
Teaching the little children about their Savior.
Inviting the community of North Raleigh to hear of God’s love.
He’s talking about our very mission:
To plant the Message of Jesus in the heart of north Raleigh.
When you are sharing the message of forgiveness, you are caring for sheep.
You’re leading someone to streams of living water.
You’re giving them some of God’s forgiveness.
You’re feeding them a steady diet of “Jesus died for you. Believe in him. You are forgiven.”
Here’s the challenge. The devil will love to convince that we aren’t worthy of sharing the message.
He’ll say that you aren’t qualified for that kind of work.
He’ll say that you are a failure.
He’ll say that you should leave that to others who aren’t as much of a failure.
But here’s the thing about feeding sheep.
It doesn’t matter if the farmer puts the food in the bucket.
It doesn’t matter if the farm hand puts the food into the bucket.
It doesn’t matter some disenfranchised, former farm hand puts the food into the bucket.
The sheep eat the food.
The food nourishes the sheep.
The sheep get the health benefits of the food -- no matter the moral background of the one who put the food into the buckets.
It’s the same with kingdom work.
The power is in the Word.
And those who are a part of kingdom are qualified to work with it.
And you…are an important part of his kingdom work.
Feed his lambs.
Take care of his sheep.
Feed them with the Gospel of Jesus.
We are in the middle of our Eyewitness sermon series and so far, we have heard Eyewitness reports from Mary Magdalene and from the Emmaus Disciples (Named? Cleopas and the other guy). In addition, we heard there’s a group of at least three other women (Mary the mother of James, Joanna and others—Lk. 24:10) who saw Jesus alive as well. That means by evening on Easter Sunday there are 5 people who have witnessed Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
The unlikely story is building credibility.
DNA testing was introduced into our court system in the early 90s. Did you know that hundreds of people who were previously convicted by eyewitness reports have been found not-guilty thanks to the DNA Testing? In 70% of those cases, the reason for conviction was the eyewitness testimony of one or two people.
John Wixted, a psychologist for the University of California, San Diego – wanted to see how useful eyewitness testimony was. He conducted an experiment with police that focused on 348 robberies in 2013 that involved an eyewitness and a single suspect. He showed the eyewitness a group of 5 photos in which one was the convicted robber. The eyewitnesses got the correct suspect 1/3 of the time.
But…in addition to quizzing eyewitnesses on the correct suspect, he also asked them about their certainty – whether they were unsure, certain, or very certain.
Of the people who were very certain? They correctly identified the suspect 75% of the time.
And when there was even one other supporting eyewitness, the rate of correct identification shot up to 90%.
By evening on the very first Easter, Jesus was identified as risen by at least 5 eyewitnesses.
And their confidence? It was through the roof! They didn’t see Jesus running away or from a distance, but up close and personal.
But…they aren’t even the beginning of the eyewitness accounts.
Today we’ll look an eyewitness account that probably quadruples the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. The goal? Gain your confidence that Jesus is alive. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Eyewitness Account
The eyewitness account is recorded in both the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Luke. We’re going be in both, starting with John. It says, “On the evening of that first day of the week...the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders…” (Jn. 20:19)
The section starts by describing a group of disciples together. The Gospel of Luke helps us better define who the group was gathered together.
A few notes:
It doesn’t involve Judas – he betrayed Judas and took his life because of the guilt.
It doesn’t involve Thomas – take note – we’ll talk more about that next week.
It does involve the Emmaus disciples – Cleopas and what’s-his-name show up to tell them all about their eyewitness experience.
It involves the women – Mary Magdalene, other Mary and Joanna, the other woman – who had seen Jesus rise from the dead.
And…maybe even a few others.
In short, the group is somewhere around 15-20 people.
And the doors were locked. It’s almost a horror film like setting. The disciples have the doors locked, latched, barred, with a couple pieces of furniture stacked against the door – all because they are afraid of the Jewish leaders.
The Jewish leaders just killed Jesus.
They crucified him.
They acted like a mob, wrongfully arrested him, falsely accused him, illegally convicted him, and forced Pilate’s hand to have him crucified.
What if the leaders did the same to them?
What if they had 12 more crosses just waiting to be filled with 12 more disciples?
What if any encounter with a Jewish leader would end the same way that Jesus’ encounter did…death?
And so, they hid.
And…all day long people had been entering the room with really weird accounts.
“We went to the grave and we thought he’d be dead, but the stone was moved!”
“An angel. A brilliantly bright angel. He saw us and spoke to us and said Jesus was alive.”
“It’s true. We listened to Mary. We ran to look. There wasn’t a body in the tomb.”
“I came back later and saw Jesus himself! I know it…because I heard his voice. A voice that healed me from demons.”
“We walked on the road with him. We talked with him. Would we have come all the way back here from Emmaus – a 7-mile sprint? – if we hadn’t really seen something?”
And to be fair – the reports brought excitement.
They brought mystery.
They brought questions.
But mostly…they brought fear.
Lots and lots of fear.
Because this fear of the Jews – had obviously caused their friends – delusions….
…their mind was playing tricks on them!
…a slow descent into madness.
How long until it hit them?
In the midst of the fear, confusion and hushed conversations…
Another guest appeared into the room.
Everyone was so distracted that they did not hear him enter.
Granted --- he didn’t knock.
He just appeared.
While they were…talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36-37)
And the disciples…have anything but peace!
It’s the ghost!
He’s seeking vengeance.
He’s back to haunt us.
Jesus lifted up his hands.
The disciples braced themselves for the inevitable plasma-ball to come out and consume them.
Jesus said this, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (v.38)
One by one…the disciples looked at each other.
“Touch him? Touch the ghost?”
“You do it.”
“No, you do it.”
“I’m not touching the ghost!”
Finally, Peter pushes his brother Andrew forward.
He lifts up his hand.
He places it on Jesus’ hand…and…
“Whoa…Guys. It’s real.”
The other disciples quickly come over.
They feel the bumps on his skin.
They feel the hairs on his arms.
They touched the holes near his hands.
He has flesh and bone – just like any other living human has.
Jesus asks, “Do you have anything here to eat?” (v.42)
One of them hands over the fish sandwich.
They pass it to Jesus.
It’ll probably fall to the floor – he’s a spirit.
Jesus ate it in their presence. (v.43)
It went into his mouth.
Chewed by his teeth.
Tasted by his tongue.
Into his throat
Into his belly.
Just like it does with any living human being.
Then, Jesus gave them something else.
He said to them, “This is what I said would happen. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Old Testament.” (v.44)
I had to die.
And I had to rise.
Just as it was written:
“God, you will not abandon my soul to the grave, nor let your Holy One see decay.” (Psalm 16:10)
“After he has suffered, the Messiah will see the light of life…” (Isaiah 53:11)
“Just as Jonah was three days and night in the belly of a fish, so the Son of man will be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth.” (Mt. 12:40)
Friends I am alive.
Jesus’ words echoed…
And the disciples came to a realization.
This wasn’t a hallucination.
This wasn’t a vision.
This wasn’t even a ghost.
This was something much worse.
This was real.
And it couldn’t be more terrifying!
Because the last time most of them saw Jesus?
It was in a garden, late at night, running away as he got arrested.
They had abandoned him.
They had denied him.
They had watched…without doing anything…as he died a slow, painful death on the cross.
They sinned against him…
Now he was back.
Proof that He was who He said He was.
Proof that He was God Almighty who controlled hurricanes, volcanoes and flash floods.
Proof that He was real --- and He was back – and He was back for one reason only:
One by one by the disciples looked towards the grounds.
They knew they were sinners and they were awaiting their sin-hating God to utterly destroy them.
Instead he repeated:
“Peace be with you.”
I am God.
I am alive.
I have the power of life and death.
But I am not angry. (Isaiah 27:4)
I am not here to get you.
I am not here for revenge.
I am here because we won.
Because your sins are forgiven.
Because we are at peace.
II. Resurrection Truth
There it is. The biggest, most populated eyewitness account that we’ve encountered to date.
It’s filled with reasons for confidence.
It’s filled with truth.
What is that truth? Three things:
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Yep. Third time that it’s come up as a truth to learn from the eyewitness account.
Think about it. Jesus goes out of his way to prove that His physical, tangible body is in working order again.
His digestive system works.
His joints work.
His skin works.
He even invites the disciples – all 20-some of them – to do a full, thorough investigation.
Don’t you think they did everything possible to determine if it really was real or not?
Some tapped him.
Someone pinched him.
I gotta imagine someone might have even tried to pluck his arm hair out.
And Jesus allows it! Because it’s real.
And, it’s not just any old tangible working body, but his own working body.
He’s had the nail marks in his hands to prove it.
He’s had holes in his feet to prove it.
He had a big, old slit in his side to prove it.
If this was all one big ruse, then Jesus would have had to convince someone, “Hey, do you mind posing as me after I die on the cross? Really? Cool. Now…I know it sounds crazy, but would you be willing to shove nails into your hands, a stake through your feet and a spear into your side? We’re gonna need those wounds to heal up in order to convince people that it’s really me.”
It didn’t happen.
What did happen?
Jesus really, absolutely, complete rose from the dead.
And that’s important.
Because that means…
(2) We Have Peace
It’s a phrase that Jesus repeats a few times.
“Peace be with you.”
“Peace be with you.”
Because as hard as it might be to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, it might be harder to believe that we have peace with God.
Because we have guilt.
We have sinned.
We have shame.
Truth is – you might be believing that God is so angry with you.
Because of past sins.
Because of BIG past sins.
Because of repeated sins.
Because of unbelief.
Because of not following Jesus.
Because you haven’t been whom God called you to be!
And so…you don’t believe.
And the biggest reason you don’t believe in the resurrection is not be a lack of evidence.
But your biggest reason for not believing in the resurrection is the ramifications.
I am a sinner and lo, God hates me!
But…if Jesus rose.
Then, sin has been defeated.
And…if Jesus rose,
Your sin has been paid for.
And…if your sin has been paid for. Completely. 100% perfectly.
Then, God’s wrath has subsided.
And if God’s wrath has subsided.
Then, you have no reason to be afraid.
Hear Jesus’ words to you:
“Peace be with you.”
Understand. It isn’t because your sin isn’t a big deal – it’s a huge deal.
It isn’t because God doesn’t hate sin and evil – He absolutely does.
It isn’t because you’ve done enough to make up for it – you can’t, and you won’t.
It’s because of Jesus.
Unbelievable as it is – it’s true.
About as unbelievable as a resurrection – also true.
The visible nature of the resurrection provides tangible proof of the invisible truth of reconciliation with God. (Romans 4:25)
The resurrection is the visible proof of the invisible truth:
You have peace with God.
Which leads to our final truth:
(3) You have been Sent
To end his encounter with the disciples, Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Do you get it?
God sent Jesus to bring us back to peace with Him.
And He sent risen Jesus to His disciples to confirm that peace with Him.
And He is sending us to share that peace with others.
He is sending YOU to share that peace with others.
Because there are people out there who are far apart from God.
Who are entangled in sin.
Who are covered in guilt.
Who are like those disciples huddled in that room afraid to face the world because they have no peace.
You give them that peace.
You tell them about Jesus.
And there aren’t any qualifications!
He doesn’t say, “If you have Seminary Certification then you have been sent.” Nope.
Qualifications for sharing Jesus include:
(1) Believing in Jesus.
(2) Hearing his call to “Go” and “Be sent.”
Which you just heard…
SO…this means you!
If you’ve known about Jesus since you were a child? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you’ve known about Jesus since this last Easter. Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are a 40 plus year member of this church? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you aren’t even a member yet? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are going home to a retirement community? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are going home to hang out in your playroom? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a master’s degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a bachelor’s degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a high school degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you don’t have any degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live near people who look and act like you? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you live near people who don’t look and don’t act like you? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a Republican? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a Democrat? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a political agnostic? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Raleigh? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Durham? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Wake Forest? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
IF you live in Chapel Hill? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Cary, Zebulon, Fuquay Varina, Rolesville, Louisburg…or any other villle or burg that I’m forgetting to mention here:
Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are a someone or an anyone who knows about Jesus…
(And friends – Jesus is talking to you)
You have been sent. Go and tell about Jesus.
And the Holy Spirit will be with you. Amen.
We are four weeks into our Fighting Temptation series.
Question: How is it going with that?
Are you on a hot streak against temptation like never before?
Have you been sinless for three weeks?
Are you a perfect, 1,567-0 against every temptation in the month of March?
Maybe a better question is:
Have you won any temptation battles?
Today we’re going to talk about what to do when you have failed at fighting temptation. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Two Different Reactions
The lesson we are going to look at is from the book of James 4. James is a letter written by James, a pastor in the early Christian church to Christians everywhere. In his letter, James gives all kinds of guidance to FIGHT temptation. He tells them to not be prideful (1:11), to be slow to anger (1:19), to get rid of moral filth (1:20), to watch their tongues (1:24), to not show favoritism (2:1), to care for others (2:15), to not curse (3:10), to not be envious (3:14), to be peace-loving (3:17), to not fight amongst each other (4:1), to not covet (4:3), and to not be romantic with someone that isn’t your spouse (4:4).
That’s a lot of commands.
That’s a lot of opportunity for temptation.
But about midway through chapter 4, James begins to talk about what to do if you find yourself falling to temptation. He identifies two completely different approaches to losing: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (4:6)
Have any of you been watching the NCAA Tournament? Teams win and teams lose. It’s interesting to listen to teams when they lose – whether it’s in an interview or Twitter – there’s really two different reactions to losing:
Some say, “We lost. We didn’t play well. We didn’t deserve to win. We failed.”
Others say, “It was the refs’ fault.” “My teammate didn’t play up to his potential.” “I read a mean tweet and I wasn’t able to focus like I should.”
Two different reactions:
Humility and Pride.
It’s the same thing when we fail at temptation.
We can respond in humility or pride.
God opposes the proud.
God gives grace to the humble.
II. Types of Pride
But it’s not necessarily that easy.
One of the trickiest things about pride is that pride tends to be very good at disguising itself.
It’s very good at not realizing its own sinfulness.
It’s very good at making you think – that it’s not prideful at all.
Because of that – I would submit that each and every one of us -- even long time Christians – struggle with some version of pride when we fail to temptation.
Here’s a list of a few different prideful ways that we respond when we fall to temptation. Which one are you?
1. The Bar-lower-er
It’s like the high jump. Did any of you have to do the high jump back in high school gym class? It isn’t easy. You have to time your run, time your approach, plant off the back foot while arching your back in the air, throwing your feet back and then jack-knifing over the top.
If you aren’t very good at it, what happens? The coach lowers the bar. From 5 foot to 4 foot 6 inches to 4 foot to…maybe let’s try laying the bar on the ground.
Bar-lower-ers do the same thing with the bar of conduct that God has set:
“God, I know you said to love my spouse – but marriage is hard. You should be happy! I wasn’t that rude.”
“I know the Bible says, ‘Don’t lust,’ but that’s unrealistic. God’s probably happy that I didn’t actually sleep with her…for long.”
“I know the Bible says, ‘Love your neighbor,’ but have you met my neighbors? I’ll tolerate them. What more can you really ask for?”
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the bar-lower-er makes it over the fake bar that he set up – while ignoring the divine bar that God set up way over his head.
2. The Fixer
That name comes from politics. A fixer is the person on your political team who has the ability to fix any negative, dirty laundry news story and make you into the hero of the narrative. If you’ve ever watched Scandal, this is Olivia Pope’s job. She finds out the bad story that’s going to hurt her client, she reworks it, and feeds that story out instead in order to make her client look good.
The Spiritual Fixer responds to sin the same way.
Bitter and angry at work? No. I was just standing my ground against all the bitter and angry people who were challenging my ideas!
Cheated on my wife? Nope. I’m just a romantic. A fan of true love. I’m the good guy in the story.
Said something racist? Nope. I was baited into it…by some other friends…who knew it would happen. They’re the real racists.
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the fixer imagines himself the hero of his story --- even when God says he’s clearly not.
3. The Accountant
Kudos to actual accountants. They do impressive work. They take numbers. They take receipts. They take line items and mistakes and put them all together to try and make the numbers balance – no matter how it is.
This is hard work. It’s why Kevin from The Office developed a “Keleven” It’s a made up, magic number he uses to balance the numbers when he can’t figure out the mistake.
The Spiritual Accountant does the same thing. They try to take the seeming “good” that they’ve done and balance it against the bad that they just committed. Like some kind of magic number, they try to make it balance.
Sure. I was grumpy this morning. But I was nice from like 1:15-3:30p yesterday afternoon so…
I have been gossiping a lot lately. But I did go to church Sunday and Wednesday for the Meditation service.
I know I told a lie there. But this morning I told like 4 truths. Things like “Good morning” and “I had an egg for breakfast.” It all balances out.
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the Spiritual Accountant thinks they’ve made up for their wrongdoing – even when God says the only way to make up for sinful wrongdoing is death.
4. The Bootstrapper
This type of person “Pulls themselves up by their Bootstraps.” Have you heard that phrase? Apparently, it means to be lying on the ground with your boots on and then, to grab ahold of the strap at the top of the boot until you are standing. This isn’t actually that possible. It’s really, really, really hard. Hence the phrase, “Pulling yourself up by your bootsteps” being an exemplary thing. If you can do that, then people will forget all about the fact that you fell – they’ll be way too impressed by the fact that you pulled yourself up by the bootstraps.
Spiritual Bootstrappers think they can do the same thing. They focus on how they’ll get themselves out of sin to distract themselves – and God – from the fact that they have sinned.
I know. I know. I got drunk for the 8th day in a row You might even call me addicted. No worries. When I get out of this, it’ll be that much more impressive.
Yes, I lost it on my kids again. But I’m gonna keep improving, keep working harder, and I’ll figure out how to deal with 4 whining kids all by myself.
And…I said things that made my spouse mad at me. But I’ll fix it. I’ll buy flowers. I’ll buy a nice card. I’ll send her a cutesy emoji. I’ll pull myself out of the pit I dug.
And there’s no sorrow.
There’s no humility.
Because the Bootstrapper distracts himself from his severe sin by looking at his half-hearted, sin-tainted, feeble efforts at righting it.
5. The Humble Looking
This seems a bit like an oxymoron. Because this type of response to sinning doesn’t seem prideful at all. In fact, they sound humble. They say things like, “I am a miserable sinner.” “I did an awful job.” “I am a horrible, no good, very bad person – God!”
It sounds humble.
God, I have so much sin, that it’s too much for you to handle on your own. I’ll try to help.
God, I’ve done so much wrong. I don’t think your blood can cover it all.
God, I really messed up. I can’t ask you to help. I don’t belong in church. That wouldn’t be right.
There’s false sorrow.
There’s false humility.
And there’s this strange clinging to a tiny ounce of sinful dignity, because “I’ll feel better about myself if I can help God out with getting rid of my sins.”
Here’s the truth:
All five of these responses to sin are prideful.
All five of these responses to sin set oneself up against God.
The Bar-lower-er says, “God, your bar wasn’t good enough. I’ll make my own.”
The Fixer says, “God, you don’t know the whole story. You’re wrong for rebuking me.”
The Accountant says, “God, if you don’t accept all the good I do for you, you’re the one who isn’t any good.”
The Bootstrapper says, “God, don’t patronize me. I don’t need your help. Even if you tell me I do need your help.”
The Humble Looking says, “God, you can’t do this on your own. You need my help.”
All five of these responses to falling at sin will leave you…imagining that you’re up and on your feet again.
When in reality…
You’re still lying on the ground.
You’re still beaten.
You. Aren’t. Getting. Up.
God opposes the proud…
God gives grace to the humble. (v.6)
III. Blessings of Humility
Our Old Testament lesson was from the book of Judges. Have you ever read the book of Judges? It fits in really well with today’s lesson, because it is filled with a very repetitive theme:
Repeated, repetitive failures to temptation.
It’s a cycle.
Israel falls to temptation.
God warns them to stop.
Israel has too much pride to listen.
God warns them again.
Israel still doesn’t listen and…
God is against them.
God sends a foreign nation to overtake them.
Israel is overrun by the Assyrians, the Moabites, the Philistines.
The once proud people of Israel are defeated – lying flat on their backs.
As they are on their backs…
They realize that they cannot get themselves out of the predicament.
Their story changes.
They ask God for mercy.
He sends a conqueror.
He sends a hero.
He fights for his people and gives them the victory!
Friends, there is blessing in humility. Look at what James says:
1. The Devil Flees
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (v.7)
Which seems strange. Because you would expect your best chance at beating the devil to involve puffing your chest out, getting really big, really prideful. Like scaring off a grizzly bear. You act as impressive as possible so as to scare him off.
The devil is not scared of you.
Not one bit.
On the other hand, when you are humble…
When you admit that you can’t do it alone…
When you call out for help…
He’s absolutely terrified!
2. God Comes Near
This is the reason the devil is terrified. Look at what James writes, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (v.8)
Because God is a God of mercy.
He is a God of compassion.
He is a God who helps those who need help.
He erupts volcanos.
He flicks his wrists to send hurricane like winds.
He pours out rushing flood waters.
He is the undisputed, undefeated, champion against temptation – and there is no love lost between him and the devil.
God shows up and the devil runs.
He does one of those things that the Roadrunner used to do in Looney Tunes and leaves a cloud of dust behind.
James writes, “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (v.8b)
Because the reality is that falling to temptation can feel awfully icky.
It can feel like the end of a long day working outside.
There’s dried sweat on your forehead.
Dirt under your finger nails.
And this…stench that just seems to be deeply entrenched in your skin.
He washes us cleans.
He washes away your guilt.
He washes away your shame.
He washes away the stink and the stench.
And replaces it with the beautiful perfume of the phrase: “Forgiven.”
4. Uplifting to the Highest Heights
James writes, “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (v. 9-10)
The truth is the humbling yourself means that you will be lowering yourself.
There’s a moment when you say, “I am a sinner.”
A moment when you say, “I failed, again.”
A moment when you say, “I can’t do this on my own.”
During that time, you can feel really low.
God forgives you.
God uplifts you.
God lifts you up beyond where you were before – and places you up beside Him – in His kingdom!
Do you get it? If you fall and a friend picks you up, your feet are back on solid ground.
But if you fall and God picks you up…your feet are on heavenly ground.
IV. What Now?
The one WHAT NOW? It’s pretty simple:
When you fail against temptation…
Humbly seek God’s help.
Humbly hear his promise of forgiveness.
No matter how many times you’ve fallen to temptation.
Like the son in the story that Jesus told.
Remember what he did?
He came up to his dad – long before his dad was dead – and said, “Give me my inheritance! I’ve had enough of living under your roof. I’m sick and tired of doing what you tell me to do. I’m sick of being here. There’s a whole world full of life out there. Give my money. Give my money so I can leave and never have to look at your ugly face again.”
And his dad was sad.
But he gave him the inheritance.
A couple hundred thousand dollars.
And the son takes the money.
He heads to the city.
He goes downtown.
He rents a high-rise $4,000 a month apartment.
Every night he goes to the finest steak restaurants.
He drinks top notch scotch after drinking top shelf vodka after drinking a $25 dollar shot of whiskey.
And he buys for his friends.
And he buys illegal drugs for him and his friends.
And he buys women for him and his friends.
And he wakes up around 2 pm the next day.
And does it all over again.
The money’s out.
No one will hire him.
He gets evicted.
His “friends” ignore his text messages.
He pretends to have enough cash for an Uber out of the city – only to pretend like he left his wallet in the other pants when he gets to a local pig farm that’s hiring.
And he gets a job.
Feeding the pigs.
He gives them slimy old applesauce.
He gives them moldy old cheese.
He gives them this greenish, brownish muck that he’s not sure – isn’t snot.
It looks so good.
He’s so hungry.
And he says to himself, “I should never have done it. I should never have left my dad. I had it good in my dad’s house. I was fed. I was clothed. I was…home.”
I don’t deserve to be his son.
But…maybe he’ll let me clean the outhouse. And gives me a few pieces of bread for supper.
He makes his way to his dad’s house.
When he reaches the dirt road, the long dirt road that leads to his Father’s house…
He takes a deep breath…before he walks up.
But before he can get far, way off in the distance…his dad. He sees him! And he takes off down the dirt road.
And the son thinks, “Here he comes. He’s going to give it to me. He’s going to scream at me. He’s going to tell me how awful and terrible I messed up and that I should buzz off and never be around again.”
And as his dad approaches.
He lifts up his hand.
And his son braces himself to be smacked on the cheek.
His hand doesn’t hit his face.
It embraces him.
But the son shrugs him off! “Seriously, Dad! I sinned. I did wrong. I don’t deserve to be your son! Let me work my way back. Let me do my own thing. Let me be a worker on the lowest run in your farm.”
But the dad…isn’t listening.
“Hey Walter! My son’s back!! Run; tell the cooks to get the steaks from the freezer. Go grab some of my finest wines. And text everyone that I know. There’s a party at my house tonight.”
Because…This son of mine is lost; but NOW? is found.
Friends, this is God’s reaction to you.
When you fail against temptation, humbly return.
And you’ll be welcomed home.
I’ve been experiencing some problems in my prayer life recently.
The things that I pray for don’t seem to be happening.
This has been going on for years!
I prayed for a pony when I was younger; never happened.
I’ve prayed for it to rain Doritos. Not once.
I’ve prayed for a couple million bucks to show up in my bank account. (I don’t know that there’s ever been a million that passed through the account since its inception)
On a more serious note – my wife and I have been praying for a child.
But…we’re about seven years in.
No little pastor.
No little Julianna.
Maybe the same thing has happened to you.
Maybe you’ve asked for something “good” and God has answered with something “bad.”
What’s the deal? Doesn’t God understand how prayer works?
Jesus has something to say on the matter. Check out his words from Matthew 7: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?”
Think about it:
If your son came up to you with his big, tear-filled eyes and said to you, “Mommy, my tummy’s grumbling. Can I have a piece of bread?” Would any of you say: “Sure, son!” Walk away. Grab a plate, a knife and some butter and then SLAM a big old rock onto the plate. “Bon Appetite!”
If your daughter really wanted a pet and said to you, “Daddy, I want to get a gold fish and name it Princess.” How many of you would say, “Sure, honey. Anything for you.” Get into car, you head to the pet store, and come back with a poisonous King Cobra. “Here you go sweetie. Although…I don’t know if we should name him Princess.”
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (v.11)
If you then, though you are an imperfect, sin-tainted, selfish human being, know to give a good gift to your child…
What do you think your perfect, holiness-radiating, selfless God will give to you?
God can ONLY give good gifts.
So…what’s the rub then? Why does God’s answers to our prayers sometimes seem disappointing? Two reasons. And they both involve inaccurate assumptions on our part.
(1) Assuming Your Request is Good
Think back to the Doritos prayer. I thought raining Doritos would be good.
It would also ruin the ecosystem, result in my digesting all kinds of germs, and probably ruin the Cool Ranch flavor!
Your child may think they know what is best. They may truly believe that staying up late and eating ice cream is what’s best – it’s certainly what they want most at that moment. However, a father who truly loves his children knows that staying up late and eating ice cream will result in children who don’t feel good shortly after and will have a following 12-hour period of crabbiness. The father looks at the whole picture, and knowing better than his child, may tell his child no – out of love!
The same is true for some of our real deal, difficult requests…
They may not always be centered in ‘goodness.’
They may be centered in “our sinful, imperfectness.”
Back to the prayer for a child.
One of the main reasons that I am praying for one?
I want one.
I want to be a father.
I want to teach them how to play catch.
I want to teach them how to ride a bike.
It sounds nice…
Did you hear what I was praying?
I want…I want…I want.
What about what God wants?
What about God’s desire to increase his eternal family?
What about planting the message of Jesus in the Heart of North Raleigh?
What about God’s desire to shape and mold myself and my wife and grow our faith as we dig deeper into His Word for answers?
What about the fact that I might not know what is good – eternally, absolutely, perfectly…good?
Friends, I don’t know your prayer requests.
But I know you too are an imperfect, broken, human being.
Could it be that our imperfect, broken human heart requests imperfect, broken things from our Father?
Thank God he doesn’t give us exactly what we want.
Thank God that he gives us exactly what is good.
Thank God that when I ask for a snake…God gives me a fish.
Thank God that when I ask for a stone…God gives me some bread.
(2) Assuming God’s Answers Can Be Bad
Because sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes. Your boyfriend is leaving you.”
Sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes, you will lose that job.”
Sometimes at the end of your prayers, God’s answer may be, “Yes. It’s confirmed. You have cancer.”
The temptation might be to say, “God, bad answer.”
The reality? God doesn’t give bad answers.
We might not always know how.
We might not always know why.
We might not always know much of anything.
But we do know one certain and sure reality:
God’s answers are only good.
Because God is only good.
Case and point? The cross.
We asked for a Savior.
We asked for God to send someone to help us.
We asked for God to get rid of our guilt, grief, and shame.
We probably pictured some type of superhero-looking guy.
A modern-day Avenger.
With an epic Thor like weapon and luscious, Chris Hemsworth looks.
We didn’t get that.
We got a carpenter’s apprentice.
A guy without a home.
A mild mannered dude who got roughed up and physically beaten on more than one occasion.
He was cursed at.
Arrested, convicted, bloodied, and killed.
And it’s easy to look up at the cross.
At his broken, bloodied, beaten body…
And say, “This can’t be any good. God, you didn’t answer my prayer. God, you don’t know what you’re doing!”
But we’d be wrong.
Because three days, later…
Three days later, Jesus didn’t just beat evil.
He didn’t just destroy sin.
He didn’t just wipe out death forever.
He guaranteed eternal life to you.
Do you see it? God answered your prayers.
Praying for a better life? God answered.
Praying for removal of guilt? God answered.
Praying for a Savior from all the junk you’re dealing with? God answered when he sent Jesus.
And Now? God keeps giving good gifts.
God isn’t hit or miss.
His gifts are always good.
That boyfriend? Could lead you away from faith.
That job? Could distract you from teaching your kids about their Savior.
That cancer? It’s will draw you closer in faith to me AND allow you all kinds of opportunity to witness to your family and friends until you join him in heaven apart from cancer…forever.
Because that’s the ultimate good.
Brothers and sisters, God’s answers all always good. Trust Him.
Whether he gives you some bread, some fish, or an eternal Savior…
God’s answers are always good. Amen.
Andrew looked around as he held his finger to his lips. Through the dim candlelight, the expression on the faces of his comrades was very clear:
Eyes were wide.
Perspiration beaded on their foreheads.
They were scared.
Ok. I think they’ve past. It’s alright to whisper (and make sure you whisper!)
Slowly faint murmurs trickled back into the night air.
I thought that was chainmail for sure.
Sooner or later it will be and the soldiers will knock down the door and they’ll corner us and they’ll arrest us and we’ll be crucified too.
They will if you can’t keep your voice down!
It was an undisclosed room in the heart of the city. The building was non-descript and unlabeled. The old sandy bricks blended in with the bricks next door. The lights were low – to not attract attention and the doors were barred – to not let anyone in. Because of the wind, it was hard to hear any noise come from inside the building.
For all intents and purposes, the building was abandoned.
But inside the building? It was full of life – hearts beating at a steady 120 bpm. It looked like a triage unit…for spiritual warriors. These men had seen their leader die no more than three days earlier. It was an awful death. They had seen blood dripping from his forehead, blood spurting out of his wrists, blood falling down his back and blood coughing up and dripping down his beard as his lungs breathed his last.
That’s what the Jewish leaders had done to Jesus.
That’s what the Jewish leaders were going to do to them.
But that wasn’t the worst of it.
A few hours ago – one of their friends had told them that Jesus was alive. Some women had seen him. Mary Magdalene had seen him. Peter had seen him. And about half an hour ago – two more disciples had burst through the door saying the same thing.
That should have been exciting.
It was confusing.
Confusing and a bit terrifying.
Because last they saw Jesus – Jesus who loved them – who cared for them – who gave them hope – who gave them purpose and meaning – who healed them and promised them peace – that Jesus – last they saw that Jesus?
They abandoned him.
They left him for dead.
They pretended like they didn’t even care for him.
If the reports were true, then…he had conquered death.
He was unstoppable.
He was God.
And He was out for vengeance.
James could picture it now. Soon Jesus would show up, eyes like fire – and zap them with his miracles. He’d send Legions of demons into Andrew. (Mark 5) He’d stuff Philip full of all 12 baskets of bread. (Jn. 6) He’d warp Peter into a raging sea where he wouldn’t reach down and rescue him from drowning. (Mt. 14) And give the rest of them advanced stages of leprosy. (Lk. 5)
And me? James gulped. He couldn’t escape the feeling that Jesus would call down fire on him – the very fire he had once asked Jesus to call down on those who didn’t follow him. On those who abandoned him. On those who pretended like they didn’t know him.
You know. People like him.
I. Be Afraid to Hide
I know how the disciples feel.
They had sinned against God.
They had sinned against Jesus.
They had done it – even after they had become convinced that Jesus was God.
I’ve done that.
It’s kind of like when you’re shopping at Kohl’s – and there’s a sale, because there’s always a sale – and as you’re rifling through the dresses you catch a glimpse through the CLEARANCE rack of that one friend – that former friend – that you badmouthed and wronged and called four letter names. What do you do? Duck down real low and seem real, real interested in whether that blouse is cotton or polyester.
Or if you’re at a restaurant, having a good time with your family, stuffing a piece of pizza into your mouth and suddenly you almost choke on your pepperoni. There’s that one gal you used to date that ended when you were a jerk. So, what do you do? Keep your eye on where she is sitting and be sure to look everywhere but where she is sitting when you are leaving.
It’s so easy to do that with God.
In fact, it’s really easy.
Here’s a quick 5 steps to avoiding God:
1) Don’t Open your Bible. Read Facebook. Read Harry Potter Books. Just don’t read the book about God and what he expects of us. In fact, to be sure that you don’t open it on accident, why not simply glue it shut?
2) Don’t Even LIKE Any Jesus Things. The Instagram algorithm will see that you liked a passage and they will star to show you (horror of horrors) more Bible passage. Just remember – Swipe left.
3) Screen Pastor’s Calls. In fact – block him and all of the elders completely. Then you won’t even be bothered by guilty feelings for not answering.
4) Never drive by church. In fact, enter it into your GPS as a route to completely avoid church. Live right next to church? Simple. Just get an UBER and sit in the back with a blindfold.
5) Get rid of all your Jesus friends. Peer pressure isn’t good. Why would you want peer pressure to spend time with God? Instead – drop all of your church friends. Don’t talk to them. Don’t text them. Don’t snap them. Ignore them. Sooner or later they’ll get the hint…leave you alone…and you’ll never have to think about God again!
But here’s the problem with this fear – hiding from God doesn’t fix anything!
Your sin remains and you can’t hide from him.
Just ask Adam and Eve. (Genesis 3)
Or Jonah. (Jonah 4)
Or Saul. (Acts 9)
Or how about Psalm 139:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
You can’t hide from God.
Eventually God and you will meet.
Eventually you will stand before the center of his throne.
Eventually you will face Him.
Where were you?
And if you’re response is: Sorry, God. I was hiding from you.
How do you think he’ll respond? (HINT: Divine fireballs from heaven; that isn’t too far off. )
II. Don’t Be Afraid to Come Near
This was why James was on edge.
This is why he was frightened.
This is why he was watching that front door like a hawk.
It’s also why he almost passed out when someone appeared behind him.
On the evening of the first day of the week…the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus appeared among them. (Jn. 20:19)
Pay careful attention to what it says. There is no knock. There is no ringing of the doorbell. This is no verbal conversion, no opening of the door, and no sneaking in the back.
Jesus simply appears – a miracle.
And it’s silent.
James’ heart is racing.
James’ fear is at an all-time high.
It’s him. He’s here to get us!
Jesus looks at them.
Jesus looks at him.
Jesus opens his mouth.
He lifts up his hands.
James ducks for fear of the fireball death.
And Jesus speaks:
Peace be with you.
As in – My brothers.
As in – I defeated your sin.
As in – I defeated death.
As in – I am alive.
As in – Your sins are remembered no more.
As in – I forgive you.
As in – I. Love. You.
But Pastor – that’s what Jesus said to the 12 disciples. I’m not one of those. They were only gone for 3 days. I’ve been gone lots longer.
Check out Romans 5:1. It says this, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And that “we” there? That’s the Apostle Paul talking to the citizens of Rome. Citizens who didn’t know Jesus – citizens who had been apart from God their entire life.
Paul is announcing what God announced at Jesus’ resurrection: “You – humans – have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I am announcing what Paul announced that God announced at Jesus’ resurrection: You have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The reason for the peace? It isn’t that your sin isn’t so bad. It isn’t that you weren’t gone so long. It isn’t that at least you weren’t as bad as your neighbor.
“Since we have been declared innocent through faith…” (Rom. 5:1)
That faith? It’s in Christ.
That Christ? He declares us innocent.
That innocence? It declares us at peace with God.
To put it simply: God isn’t angry at you, because of Jesus.
And yes! That’s hard to believe. It was hard for the disciples. So, what does Jesus do? After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. He proved that he had risen. He proved that he was alive. He proved that he had defeated death and sin and everything that separated them from God.
The response? The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
He had risen.
He wasn’t angry.
They were no longer afraid.
III. WHAT NOW?
1. Come Near God
Disciples go towards Jesus – see his open hands – and are encouraged. In fact, Overjoyed!
You go near Jesus. Heed his words of warning – hear his words of comfort.
Julianna – a text of forgiveness – how much better to hear it from her lips – same with God.
2. Share Peace
Because it’s really interesting what Jesus says next: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)
Do you know someone who needs peace? I bet you do. Listen to what Jesus tells. It isn’t ignoring them. It isn’t send them a Facebook like. It’s sharing PEACE with them.
Tell them about Jesus. Tell them about the cross. Tell how he lived for them. Died for them. Rose for them. Tell them about how he forgives sins and proclaims peace to all who believe.
Do you know anyone with a really strong faith?
The kind of person who always has a Scripture.
The kind of person who’s always praising God.
The kind of person who always trusts that God is in control…even when it looks like He isn’t.
I do. Her name is Aunt Marce. She’s has been an influential faith figure throughout my life. She’s given me cards to encourage my faith, Christmas ornaments and Easter decorations that do the same. When I got older she sent letters encouraging me and encouraging me to be a pastor. She always talked about Jesus with me – and her house had many reminders of her Savior.
But now that I’m older – I’m beginning to realize that she had this faith through some difficult circumstances.
One of her sons grew up and moved far away from her.
Another son committed suicide.
Now she’s older and she’s developed Alzheimer’s.
That’s hard stuff.
That’s faith questioning stuff.
Yet when I saw her at my Grandma’s funerals recently – she was still in love with God. She told me that it was nice to have everyone together. I mentioned that Grandma was in heaven. She didn’t miss a beat and responded, “Yes. Of course, she is. Jesus loved her!”
In amazing circumstances.
How do you get a faith like that?
How do you grow a strong faith?
Try as you might – running to the corner, clenching your fists together and muttering, “Believe,” over and over until you are blue in the face won’t work.
I. The Case of the Emmaus Disciples
Check out Luke 24. It’s the afternoon of the very first Easter. Two men are travelling on the road from Jerusalem to a surrounding village about 7 miles out called Emmaus. Granted – 7 miles doesn’t seem like a very long journey, but this is long before cars and these men don’t own a horse. They are walking. So, they’ve got about 4 hours’ worth of walking to do.
And as they walked, they talked. But their discussion wasn’t very uplifting. They talked about Jesus’ arrest. They talked about Jesus’ false trial. They talked about his conviction and his crucifixion. They talked about how they thought he had been the Messiah, but now…they were certain he wasn’t. And they also talked about what they had heard that morning – that some women went to the tomb and supposedly saw him.
But they weren’t uplifted by this.
They were discouraged.
They were confused.
They were losing faith.
Until a stranger interrupted them. He happened to be going the same way and he wanted some company, too. He asked them what the news was around Jerusalem.
Have you been living under a rock? Don’t you know what’s been going on? Don’t you know what happened? With Jesus? With the crucifixion?
So, they told him:
“Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
That, good sir, is what’s been going on.
That, good sir, is what’s got us bummed.
The man looked at them. He shook his head. And called them FOOLS.
And for a moment, the disciples stopped looking sad. Now they looked a bit angry.
The man continued, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? Didn’t he?” (v.25-26)
The disciples looked at each other. They shrugged their shoulders. It didn’t look like they got it.
So, he explained.
Didn’t Adam and Eve sin? Didn’t their sin plunge our world into darkness? Weren’t things hopeless? Wasn’t the devil laughing at his victory? And didn’t God step in and make a promise? Genesis 3:15 “I will put enmity between you and he woman – her offspring will crush your head, though you will strike his heel.”
Wasn’t this offspring the promise of the Messiah?
Didn’t it promise that the Messiah would be suffer pain – a venomous bite to the heel?
Doesn’t it also promise that this bite to the heel would be nothing compared to the crushing of Satan’s head?
Doesn’t a death on the cross that ends in a resurrection 3 days later fit nicely?
Didn’t this promise continue through the centuries?
Didn’t this promise make its way to the Psalms?
Don’t the Psalms say that the Messiah would be mocked? That men would cast dice for his clothing? That he would be pierced? Even that his tongue would be dry and they would give him gall to drink?
Didn’t those exact things happen to Jesus?
Didn’t Isaiah prophecy about this too?
Didn’t it say he would be pierced?
Didn’t it say he would be crushed?
Didn’t it say he would suffer punishment?
Didn’t it say the Messiah would see the light of life?
Didn’t that happen to Jesus?
As the man talked, the disciples hung on his every word. They were so intrigued that they barely noticed they were passing the boulevard to their home.
Stay with us sir; for it is nearly evening. The day is almost over.
And we want to hear more.
I’m not even sad anymore.
I actually…feel pretty good.
So the fellow obliged.
He went in.
He washed up.
He sat down.
He gave thanks.
He broke bread.
He began to pass it out.
And then…something happened. Maybe it was the way that he broke the bread. Maybe it was this that seemed familiar. Maybe it was the certainty with which he spoke to God.
“Their eyes were opened and they recognized him as Jesus.”
And then he was gone.
He vanished from their home.
But in his place…?
In his place he left something behind.
II. How to Ignite Your Faith
This is pretty amazing. Because in the span of a few hours, the disciples go from sad and confused, to joyous and confident! Their faith goes from smoldering to a full-on bonfire. How do we know? Look at what they do next! They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. (v.33) They did the 7-mile journey all over again! Who cares if their feet were tired? Who cares if they had to work tomorrow? Who cares if it was getting dark? They grab some bread for the road, slap on some peanut butter and go right back to Jerusalem – They can’t wait to share their story.
How did that happen?
How do you duplicate it?
Take a few notes from the story?
Because you might say – The answer is obvious pastor. Their faith was burning because they saw Jesus – risen from the dead -- with their own two eyes. If I got to see Jesus, my faith would move mountains. If I could see one of those miracles, I’d be one of those Bible Bangers on late night TV.
But look closely at verse 32. It’s right after Jesus leaves them. They say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They don’t say, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us after we saw him alive again!” Cause that’s pretty awesome! That’s what we’d expect to be the catalyst for their burning faith.
But it’s not. In fact, their hearts were burning before they realized they were in the presence of the risen Jesus. Their hearts were burning – on the road. On the road as they talked about: The Scriptures.
You know: This thing. The Bible.
It’s not like it’s any different. We have the same Old Testament that they have. In fact, dare I saw – we have it better. We’ve got the New Testament—a wonderful explanation of all Jesus did and how he fulfills all the Old Testament prophecy.
We have the exact tool necessary to ignite our faith.
2. Ignite Your Faith with God’s Word
You could picture God’s Word a lot like a lighter then. When our faith is smoldering, when it looks like it’s about to go out – even when it does, it is God’s Word that lights it back on fire again.
Actually, scratch that. God’s Word is more than a lighter. It’s like a blow torch or a big old Homecoming bonfire. (You know the type. The school letter burning out on the field as some really bad sketch comedy happens in the foreground presented by the Freshman class.) God’s Word is a bonfire because it’s powerful. It’s has incredible, glorious, faith relighting and igniting truths all throughout.
Truth like Jesus saves.
Truth like Jesus brings us peace with God.
Truth like Jesus removed all of your sins.
Truth like Jesus removed all of your guilt.
Truth like Jesus removed the sting of death.
Truth like Jesus brings forgiveness.
Truth like Jesus rose from the dead.
Truth like you too will rise from the dead.
Truth like you will live in heaven eternally.
Truth like it has been God’s plan to have you in heaven to eternity—from eternity!
Truth like “yes” God does love you.
A taking his last breath on the cross bunch.
If you want to have a burning faith, head to the bonfire of God’s Word. Reignite it on his awesome truth.
Don’t do that thing where you pray: “Dear Lord, please light my faith on fire for you. Amen.” Then, your phone buzzes. You open up your text messages and it’s a reminder of Bible study going on at church tomorrow night – so you swipe left. I don’t have time for Bible study. I’m waiting for God to answer my prayer and give me faith.
That’s not how God works.
That’s not how he worked with the Emmaus disciples.
It’s not how he will work with you.
He will work the same way he worked in the story – through God’s Word.
So…Study God’s Word. Simple as that.
3. Fan the Flame
That’s one of the first things your dad teaches you when you go camping. The campfire needs air. So, once you’ve constructed the perfect fire – scrapes of newspaper (aka kindling) on the bottom, teepee of sticks over the top, and bigger logs ready to catch fire once it’s going. Dad takes two sticks. He rubs them together. Until there’s a spark. And then? He blows on it. Singes a few whiskers, but he blows on it. That acts like fuel and causes the fire to grow into a blaze.
Do the same with your faith. 2 Timothy is a letter where Paul, the older pastor, writes to a young pastor. He says, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God!”
And faith is one of those gifts from God. Don’t let it go out. Don’t forget to feed that faith with God’s Word. Don’t think, “I have faith now. I’m sure that I’ll be able to go through all of the awful hardships, challenges, and adversities of this sinful, no good, everyone’s out to get you world without ever touching a Bible again.”
You need God.
You need God’s Word.
You need the fuel of God’s Word to fuel that flame in your heart.
If you want a strong faith, make this a priority.
If you want to keep faith, make this a priority.
In fact, make it THE priority.
God will do the rest.
God will set your hearts on fire.
That’s what my aunt did. In fact, that was her secret. It wasn’t some miracle she witnessed. It wasn’t a direct communication with God’s voice. It wasn’t a secret green elixir that she drank each morning.
It was a Bible study.
It was reading a chapter a day.
It was going to church.
Now that may sound simple. Maybe even unimpressive.
But it works. It ignites your heart again and again.
There it was.
Mary had refused to face it earlier that day – but after complaining to the disciples and an hour or so of shedding tears, Mary stiffened up. She calmed her voice. She fought back tears; and she made her way back to the entrance of Jesus’ tomb. But as soon as she saw the stone rolled to the side of it – she broke into tears all over again.
How could they? How could they do this? They killed him! Wasn’t that enough? They killed him and now they were off doing who knows what to his body! How could you do that to such a man?
He was my friend. He was my friend when no one else was. I had demons inside of me. Seven of them, to be exact. Demons that I struggled with. Demons that controlled my life. Demons that caused me to do awful things. Demons that made people avoid. Demons that made people look the other way and mouth, “Who wants to talk to that crazy person?”
But Jesus didn’t avoid me.
Jesus came up to me.
Jesus was a friend.
Jesus healed me.
More than my friend, he was also my Savior. He brought me peace with God. He offered forgiveness. He promised to take away my sins!
But…now he’s dead. He hasn’t done any of that. I feel as guilty now as I did before. I’m a lost cause. I’m a dirty, rotten, no good, very bad, shameful sinner, far apart from God– and there’s nothing that dead Jesus can do about it.
Mary stumbled, loudly fighting back tears, to the entrance. This time she looked inside, hopelessly.
What she saw – what she saw was something that should have given her hope. Two angels. Dressed in white. Glowing with God’s glory. Divine. One on each end of the rock bed where Jesus’ body had been laid – like some kind of blinking, neon sign to say – “Hey look Mary! He is risen!” (v.12)
But Mary kept sobbing.
The angels spoke to her, “Woman, why are you crying?” The irony apparent in the allusion: “Why are you crying at the grave of a man who has risen from the dead? Surely that’s good news.”
“They’ve taken my Lord away; and I don’t know where they have put him!” she retorted. Not for a moment thinking that the two men dressed in brilliant, shining, otherworldly white might have an idea or two about his whereabouts.
She turned to leave. Walked a few steps. And her knees hit the ground with a thud—the kind of thud that happens when you no longer care about standing in the slightest.
How awful. How terrible. He’s dead. My Savior is gone. I’m still in my sins. I’m forever guilty. I’m an outcast again.
In between loud sniffs, Mary heard a few gentle steps approaching.
Dear woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?
She looked up. Her eyes filled with tears and her vision blurred. It must be the gardener. That jerk! “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him!” (v.15) Please. Help. Me.
But the gardener didn’t answer her question.
In fact, he ignored it.
He simply said, “Mary.” (v.16)
And when he said it, Mary’s soul instantly quieted. She had heard that voice before.
It was the voice that told her demons to leave.
It was the voice that told her she was free.
It was the voice that had forgiven her.
“Teacher!!” She cried while simultaneously standing up and throwing her arms around him. “Teacher you’re alive!” And as she soaked in that moment – a reunion with her Savior – her tears of sadness were turned to joy. Her fear of God was turned to joy in God. Her guilty heart became guilt free.
I. Guilt Blind Us from the Truth
This section from John 20 is very moving. Our sermon today is about leaving guilt behind. Mary is a great case study on the effect that guilt can have on us. Because think of what she saw on that first Easter morning! It’s not like she went to the tomb and found Jesus’ body torn to pieces by a wild animal or one of the disciples murdered and lying next to him.
She saw angels.
She saw an empty tomb.
She saw the risen Jesus himself.
But she greets all of these things with melancholy.
That’d be like someone going to the ice cream shop and bringing you back a big banana split with all of your favorite toppings – hot fudge, caramel, rainbow colored sprinkles, a dollop of whipped cream and one of those bright red cherries on top – and they say, “This is for you.” And you respond: “Life is terrible.”
It doesn’t make much sense.
But the reason Mary misses it is that she’s so filled with grief and guilt from the past days. She’s blinded by it. Scripture is really interesting here, because particularly when it mentions Jesus – it says that Mary didn’t realize it was Jesus. It’s interesting because in a similar situation with two disciples travelling a road from Jerusalem to Emmaus—they don’t realize it’s Jesus either. But in that instance Luke records, “They were kept from recognizing him.”
That means that Jesus isn’t hiding anything from Mary! The empty tomb and the angels are shouting the same thing at her – Rejoice! Jesus is alive!
But she misses it.
She’s blinded by guilt.
The same thing happens to us. Guilt blind us from seeing the truth.
You know Jesus died.
You also know that Jesus has risen.
You know that means your forgiveness of sins!
But even though you and I know that – how often do we find ourselves thinking --
My sin is too big.
My sin is too much.
My sin is too often.
My sin is too awful.
My sin is too dark.
My sin is too shameful.
It’s like the guilt overtakes us. It blinds us. It shows us only our actions on replay again and again and again.
We miss the whole resurrection. It’s like we’re viewing him as dead…even when he’s alive right before our very eyes!
II. The Resurrection Means Guilt is Gone
And that’s no good. Remember our passage from last week. 1 Corinthians 15 says, “If Christ has not been raised – you are still in your sins.” That means you aren’t forgiven. It means God hates you. It means that God will punish you will hell.
But Christ has been raised.
And you are not in your sins!
Another passage that brings this out is from Romans 4:25. It says this, “Jesus…was raised to life for our justification.”
Justification is a courtroom term. So, think of Judge Judy or Judge Joe Brown. Ever seen those TV shows? At the end of the show, they offer a verdict. They bang their gavel. They call one of the parties GUILTY and the other INNOCENT – justified.
It must feel pretty good to be proven innocent in a court of law.
It must feel even better to be proven innocent in a court of law when you’re actually guilty.
That’s what Jesus resurrection means for you. It means that God has tried you and found you innocent.
He found you innocent because he already found Jesus guilty for your sins.
If you want to remember justification (Write this down) Think: Just as if I hadn’t sinned! Because that’s how God sees you – as innocent. Because of Jesus.
That’s true, no matter your sins.
No sin is too big.
No sin is too much.
No sin is too often.
No sin is too awful.
No sin is too dark.
No sin is too shameful.
Christ died. Christ has risen. And you have been declared free from guilt!
III. What Now?
1. Hear His Voice
Because maybe you noticed this about Mary. She missed all of the joyous things right before her face. Even those joyous things didn’t make her feel better. It wasn’t the empty tomb. It wasn’t the shining bright angels. It wasn’t even Jesus – there in the flesh right in front of her.
It was His voice.
The loving voice of God himself.
That same voice speaks to you and me. It speaks to us in His Word. It calls out gently to you and says, “__________ (insert your name here), you are forgiven. You are loved. Your guilt is gone.”
When you’re dealing with guilt, it’s heavy and it’s a burden – listen to his voice. Take a moment and meditate on the resurrection story. Memorize and repeat Romans 4:25. Look at a cross – and notice that it’s empty – meaning you are forgiven.
2. Leave Your Guilt Behind
Because guilt is kind of like picking up a big old bag of garbage. It’s heavy, there’s wet sand and a broken pieces of concrete in there and carrying it with you everywhere you go - it’s heavy. It’s a burden. It makes life hard.
Carrying around guilt is like that. It’s heavy. It’s a burden. It’s hard.
But there’s one more aspect of this illustration. Because carrying around guilt after you know Jesus is also unnecessary.
It’s like picking up that big old bag of garbage – from the side of your road where it was already waiting for the dump truck! And Dad pokes his head out the window – “What are you doing? Why are you moving it? Someone already did! It’s right where it needs to be.”
If you know Jesus as your Savior and you’re still carrying around guilt, Jesus says something similar:
“Why are you carrying that around? I carried it to where it was supposed to be. I took it to the cross. I deposited it in the grave.”
Why not leave it there?
Brothers and sisters, listen to Jesus. Leave your guilt at the cross. Leave today unburdened. Leave forgiven…because in Jesus…you are. Amen.
The last two Sundays, you have been digging into the book of Psalms. These verbal masterpieces paint many word pictures for us on the canvas of Scripture. Today’s Psalm, 143 is no exception. In it we see the scene of someone on the run from enemies. And when he is caught, those enemies throw him to the ground and then throw him into a deep dark hole where he is left to rot. It is only the thought of the good old days and especially the thought of what His God has done for him in those days that gets him through the situation he is in. But when the morning comes, the man finds that God rescues him from this deep dark hole. From then on, he is determined to seek the protection of God and to spend the rest of his life in service to the One who rescued him from his oppressors.
That is the basic picture that King David sets before us in the Psalm. Now, it is our job for the rest of this morning to discover what this means for us and how we can apply this particular portion of God’s Word to our everyday lives.
A key to unlocking this Psalm is found in verse 9 “Rescue me from my enemies of Lord, for I hide myself in you.” So this morning, let’s consider how we are encouraged by Scripture to HIDE IN GOD. We Hide In God I. For Protection II. For Salvation and III. For Direction
I. For Protection Who were the enemies that David needed protection from? If you recall briefly the story of David, you will remember that there was a civil war within his own country. David was to be the next God appointed King in place of Saul. Although David served Saul faithfully, Saul did not trust him and tried to kill him. Even after David did become king there was plotting and murder and intrigue going on inside his own family. David even had to physically run and hide. At times, he slept in caves and lived on the run. 3 “The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart is dismayed”. That is a picture of physical and mental defeat. So where does he go? He turns to the Lord, the God whom he knows has done great things in the past. “I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.”
If you were David what great deeds of his God would come to mind? Certainly, he must have remembered how God used him to defeat the giant, Goliath. Maybe he also thought about other ancient acts of God told to him by his parents like God delivering the Israelites from pharaoh by parting the Red Sea or of God protecting His people in the desert by appearing as a protective pillar of Fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day. Or maybe he recalled how God provided for the Israelite nation of over a million people in the wilderness by sending quail and manna for them to eat. … When David wrapped himself up in the facts of Who his God was and what His God could do, he could pray with confidence “For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life; in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.” HIDING IN GOD David found confidence and protection from his enemies. That is the same God that we have too. Our enemies and oppressors are no greater than those that attacked David. Be confident in God’s promise to guard and keep you too. He has done it in the past for his people. He will do it for you as well because God’s promise to you is “If you make the Most High your dwelling...then no harm will befall you...for He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. .” (Psalm 919-11)
II. For Salvation David certainly was oppressed by physical enemies in his life. Yet, it was the spiritual enemies that were even more dangerous. He knew what it was like to be tormented and oppressed by power, by guilt, by lust, by laziness. He had been there and done that. He was no stranger to sin. He knew how dangerous sin was. In V1 O Lord, hear my prayer listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief. Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you.”
Do you remember the story about David and Bathsheba? David, as king felt he could have whatever he wanted and what he wanted was the wife of one of his generals, Uriah. So he arranged to have this general “accidentally” killed in battle so that David could have his wife, Bathsheba. For over a year, David tried to live as though he had done nothing wrong. But he could not stand before God. He had tried to live outside of God’s mercy. It didn’t work. His conscience and God’s law had condemned him. In fact David said in Psalm 32 When I kept silent my bones wasted away...for day and night your hand was heavy on me: my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. (Psalm 32: 3,4)
While being oppressed by other people can be a great burden and in some parts of the world, religious oppression can even be life threatening there are even more dangerous enemies than physical oppression. Satan certainly is one of them. The world around us is another as it threatens and entices us. Living as a Christian in a non-Christian world is not easy. When was the last time you noticed that TV shows were getting more moral and less offensive toward Christian values? Or when was the last time that our so called “freedoms” in this country have made it easier live your faith? Those are attacks on our God and our faith.
Our own sinful tendencies can oppress us too. We know God’s laws were not spoken only for everyone else. They were given for you and for me also. The reflection of ourselves that we see when we look into the mirror of God’s ten commandments isn’t very eye appealing. If our sins showed up like measles or chickenpox we would be red with sores covering our entire body.
Sometimes it is our own bad choices that get us into trouble in the first place. The person who has “just one more” drink and then gets behind the wheel and is the cause of a serious accident is responsible for that poor choice. The person who knows he has a problem with lust or with his words and then jumps on that runaway “train” anyway is still guilty before God. Our sinful choices are not only followed by consequences but also by tormenting guilt when the conscience says “You promised yourself you wouldn’t do that again. You know it is wrong and sinful but you did it anyway. You’re going to have to pay for that one yourself!
Where do you run to get away from guilt? The answer is not to try to cover up your guilt by ignoring your sin or to get involved in more sinful situations. In faith, King David encourages us to HIDE IN GOD. “O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy: in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief.” In his sin, he did not hide FROM God but rather hid IN God because his God was the LORD.
It is the Lord that we also cry to for mercy. That name LORD, is loaded with meaning. It means the Covenant God, the God who promised to Abraham “I will be your God and you will be my people”. The Lord is the God who promised to save His people from their sins by sacrificing His only Son. The Lord is the God who is faithful to His promises so David and we can depend on Him. He forgives our sins, covers them, wipes them out so times of refreshing come to us…
God is firm and trustworthy. He does not waiver in keeping His promises. St. Peter put it like this “Salvation is found in no one else for there is no other name under heaven, given among men by which we must be saved”. Or to put it another way, Jesus is the only way For Salvation. In the face of your own sinfulness, don’t run FROM God, run TO Him. Throw yourself into His loving, forgiving arms for your salvation.
III. For Direction We need to notice one last message of our Psalm this morning. After Hiding In God to get protection and salvation David also says he HIDES IN GOD For Direction in his life.. V8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul...10 Teach me to do you will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.
Hiding in God doesn’t me that once you have been blessed with forgiveness and protection you shut yourself up in a church and never peek out again. It means you stay close to Him as you live your life in the here and now. But how you live your life has been changed. Instead of living for self you live for Him who was selfless.
We look to our Savior God for direction in life. We find that direction from His Word. For example, Galatians 5:25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Do you remember the wrist bands popular a few years ago - the WWJD ones? They stood for what would Jesus do. That is an excellent question to ask yourself as long as you aren’t trying to do in order to get. Our doing is done in order to praise God. Our doing is a response to who we are and what God has done for us. We love Him because He first loved us. The blessings we receive by Hiding in God lead us to love and speak and do and think for God. In order to walk down the right path, we must know. That is where the Bible comes into our lives. When we HIDE IN GOD we stay close to His message of love. We surround ourselves with His forgiveness as we celebrate Lord’s Supper with fellow believers. We received encouragement as we learn and grow and are guided by God’s Word.
There are many enemies out there in the big wide wicked world, the greatest of which you and I cannot even see. Satan and our own sinful desires want to attack and persecute us. Psalm 143 is a great place to turn when you are feeling oppressed. It is a handbook for a Christian’s life which centers around the encouragement to HIDE IN GOD. When you stay close to Him and His Word, you will find what you need the most in the face of oppression - protection, salvation and direction for your life here and your life to come. Amen.
I. The Worst Kind of Fear
The doors were locked.
A deadbolt. Another deadbolt.. A few boxes stacked in front of the door. One of those giant wooden planks that sits atop two metal supports on both sides. There was no way anyone was getting in.
It was evening on the very first Easter Sunday. The disciples were gathered together and talking in hushed voices:
“Do you think the Pharisees will come after us?”
“Do you think they’ll want us dead? Or was Jesus enough?”
“Do you think they know who I am? I can’t remember if they saw my face when we were running away last Thursday night!”
“Do you think crucifixion will be as bad as it sounds?”
Then, their hushed panic was interrupted by a knock on the door. A few of them jumped. Quietly Matthew peeped through the tiny hole in the door.
It was Mary Magdalene. They let her in, they told her not to scare them like that. But she wasn’t listening. She was a sobbing mess. “They’ve stolen his body!” She sobbed. “I couldn’t even see him.”
Peter and John put their arms around her. They lifted up their hoods so that they wouldn’t be seen. They ran with her to investigate.
As the other disciples waited, they heard another knock. Their breaths were short again. Slowly they opened the door to reveal the group of women that Mary had abandoned. They weren’t nearly stressed. In fact, they seemed joyful.
“Shhh!” Nathanael tried to quiet them down. “You’re making too much noise. They’ll hear us.”
“What of it!?!” Today is too great not to shout HALLELUJAH!” They began talking about angels – and resurrection – and how they had seen Jesus.
Okay. That was impossible. Jesus was dead.
Maybe, they needed to lay down. Maybe their emotions were getting the best of them.
But then, Peter and John returned. Yep. The tomb was empty alright. There wasn’t a trace of a body in there. And if you didn’t trust John, you could trust Peter. He was thorough like that.
Then, a third knock. “It’s Clopas!” said a voice. As they opened the door Philip exclaimed, “I thought you were heading to Emmaus today!”
“We were, but then…we saw Him….Jesus….He’s alive.”
As all of these stories marinated, the mood of the room changed. There was a buzz. Could it be? Could he really…? Could Jesus be...alive?
Then, someone else joined them.
Someone else who didn’t knock.
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them.
And at first, the disciples were shocked. Was this a hallucination? No, the others saw it too. Was it a ghost? No…the floor creaked when he walked. Was it a look alike? No…they had spent three years with the Lord, they knew his unmistakeable face.
Suddenly, a dread fell over the disciples. Jesus wasn’t a hallucination. Jesus wasn’t a ghost. Jesus wasn’t a vision. It was much worse than that.
Jesus was alive.
(1) They Had Wronged Him!
You might be thinking. Why? Why would that be bad news to them? Jesus was alive!
Tell me -- Have you ever had a bad morning? You’re on the way to work and you kind of brush past some guy to get into the elevator – you force him to take the next one – and about fifteen minutes later as your boss is leading the morning meeting for work – you see the elevator guy again – turns out; he’s the C.E.O.
Or maybe you’re at the edge of Falls of Neuse. You’re waiting…and waiting…and waiting to turn left onto it. Finally, you pull out just a tad close to a car that looks like its pretty far away, but as soon as the car turns on it’s flashing blues and reds, you realize that cop car was a lot closer than I thought.
This is exactly how the disciples felt!
Jesus was alive, sure. But he was also the guy they had just abandoned. He was also the guy some of them had just denied knowing. He was the guy they had let die on that cross.
(2) They Couldn’t Hide from Him!
Remember: The doors were locked. And that locked door was meant for the Romans. But when they looked behind Jesus, the doors were still locked. They couldn’t hide from Jesus.
That meant when Matthew tried to slip behind Simeon – “Maybe he can’t see me.” Or Andrew pretended to be asleep. And Philip sat in back thinking – “If I don’t move, maybe he won’t see me.”
Jesus still saw them. They couldn’t hide from Jesus.
(3) He was God!
Here’s the scariest part of all. It wasn’t like they had sinned against one another. It wasn’t as if one of them was yelling at the other one for stealing his favorite tunic without asking. It wasn’t as if they had sinned against another human.
If Jesus was really standing before him, it meant He had really risen from the dead. If he had really risen from the dead, it meant he really was God!
The God of heaven. The God of hellfire and brimstone. The God who when he got sick of storms told them to buzz off. The God who when he was angry with demons sent them away from this earth. The God who spoke to terrible disease and sent them packing with his burning anger.
What was to stop him from doing just that. To them. Right now.
Do you understand the disciple’s fear? Maybe you’ve wronged God. Maybe you’ve done some pretty bad sins. Maybe you came here today troubled by something awful that you did just last night. In fact, maybe that’s why it was hard to get here today. (Or maybe it's why you are only reading this online.)
But here's the problem...
Have you ever played hide & seek with some kids before? Kids have pretty good hiding spots. They can get into a lot better hiding places than dad. Dad gets to hide behind the shower curtain and behind the door and that’s about it. (And now I just gave away my two best hiding spots.) Kids can get into really good spots though. Behind the washing machine, inside the cupboard, under the bed.
But what happens when you find them. What do kids do? They cover their eyes. They cover their eyes because they figure that somehow you can’t see them, if they can’t see you.
Do you ever get so scared of God that you think like that? That you figure – as long as I don’t approach God – as long as I don’t go to church – as long as I don’t read that one part in the Bible – then, I’m good.
That doesn’t work. You can’t hide from God.
He sees your sins. He sees all your sins.
Even the sins that you think he doesn’t see – He sees.
The pornography at night?
The flirting with the guy that’s not your husband?
The cheating on the test when the teachers isn’t looking?
Stealing that money from your friend's purse?
Others might not see it. God does. God hates sin. He hates it with a hellfire vengeance.
II. The Best Kind of Antidote
Do you feel that? I do. It’s fear. Fear because we’ve sinned. Fear because God knows it. Fear because that sin was against God.
That’s the kind of fear the disciples were experiencing. They trembled. Each hoping that Jesus would make it quick and painless. Then, Jesus moved. His mouth opened. The disciples braced themselves. He spoke:
“Peace be with you!” As in…It worked. As in…You have been saved. As in…You’re forgiven.
Can you imagine that collective breath that was let out in that room? Jesus wasn’t there to get revenge. He was there to give them assurance. He was there to tell them of their salvation. He was there to tell them that his sacrifice had worked. He was there to tell them that He was victorious and they were at peace with God!
Because that’s what the resurrection means. Jesus’ resurrection means that he defeated sin, death, and hell. It means that those who believe in him are forgiven. It means that you are forgiven!
Pastor, I know all that. But I still get scared. Life is tough. Finances are difficult. Relationships are hard. My job is in the air. The devil…the devil loves to make me doubt this peace I have with God. What do I do when I’m scared?
A couple things.
1) Don’t Hide.
We already said that doesn’t work. God sees all things. God is there for all things. It’s like when you see your kid do something he isn’t supposed to. He might as well come clean. You saw him do it.
God’s already seen it. Don’t lie. Don’t hide it. Bring it to him.
Secondly, bring it to him, because he wants PEACE with you. Even though He isn’t the one who wronged your relationship – that’s on you – God still wants peace with you. That’s why he came to this earth. That’s why he died on the cross. That’s why he rose from the dead and spoke to the disciples and had the disciples write it down so that you would hear His desire. PEACE.
Scripture says this, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just. He will forgive us all our sins.”
Confess your sins to God. Confess the ones that are public. Confess the ones that are obvious. Confess the ones that are private, hidden, known only to you and God. Confess your sins – and hear his promise of forgiveness.
2) Come Back to Reality
I remember the very first haunted house I ever went to. It was a gym at our local grade school – with a few spooky cobwebs hanging from the basketball hoops. But there was one part that was creepy. They made me put on a blindfold and reach my hand into a bowl. I grasped what I thought was earthworms and eyeballs!
I was bawling. I threw them on the ground. I was panicking as we left – so badly that my dad took me back inside to show me that I hadn’t touched worms and eyeballs but spaghetti and meatballs.
Oh. Thanks for that reality check.
That’s what Jesus helped the disciples do. A smile. Kindness. Words of promise. The reality was that Jesus wasn’t dead. He wasn’t dead and he wasn’t mad at them. He had died for their sins and there was no reason to be afraid.
When you’re dealing with fear, come back to reality.
When you think you’re all alone, come back to reality – Jesus is with you.
When you think everyone is against you, come back to reality – Jesus has your back.
When you think God can’t handle this, come back to reality – Jesus died and came back to life!
3) Examine His Wounds
That’s one of the things Jesus did for his disciples. He showcased that it was really him. He let them run their hands on the nail marks in his hands and place their hands into the spear mark in his side.
When they touched his wounds, they didn’t just see some kind of really cool scars.
They saw his love. “He did this for me?”
They saw his power. “These scars defeated death?”
They saw his resurrection. “They are moving; he is still alive; praise God!”
Pastor – how can I do that? I don’t get the privilege of seeing the resurrected Lord Jesus with my physical eyes like the disciples.
I’m gonna tell you the same thing we said last week. If you want to examine his wounds, examine the Scriptures. Read his Word. It’s not overkill that God’s telling us to do it a second time. In his Word we see the pain God went through. We see the pangs that his heart goes through as we sin against him. We see the pain he suffers at his betrayal. We see the awful suffering of his crucifixion. You’ll see that he did this for you. Because he loves you that much.
4) Understand this Phrase: “Peace be With You.”
That’s God talking! There is no one higher. It isn’t me talking. It isn’t an angel talking. This is a message of peace, straight from the top!
If you’ve got peace with him…
Romans 8 says just that. Take a look. It says this, “31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things…35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" Can money troubles? Bill collectors? Cancer or AIDS? Drugs or alcohol? Divorce or loneliness? Terrorists, explosion and attacks? NO!
"37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!"
May these words keep us from fear now and always. Amen.
When my parents came down a couple of weeks ago, they brought down a few items that were still stored at their house from the two weeks Julianna and I lived there before moving to our own apartment in Raleigh. One of the items they brought down was Julianna’s wedding dress. And…she tried it on. She fit into it perfectly and looked as beautiful as ever.
So…I got to thinking…I wonder if my suitcoat still fits. The other day I went into my closet. I found what I think was my suitcoat and I tried it on.
It was a little tighter than I remember it. I had to “suck it in” in order to get the pants on. In fact, the suit was tight enough that it was a little more difficult to breathe.
The same thing can happen spiritually. Grief, sadness, and gloom can get to be too much. They can tighten themselves around you like a two sizes too small suit. Grief can metaphorically make life so stressful that it literally makes it more difficult to breath.
Perhaps there is no one who understood the suffocation effect that grief has more than Mary Magdalene. Open up your Bibles and find her story in John 20 beginning at verse 1.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. This is what Matthew 28 talked about last week as Mary was a part of that group of women who were heading toward the tomb. But John indicates that Mary was not a part of the women that made their way to the angels. Rather, she ran away from the tomb. She ran to Peter and John and told them that the tomb was open. While she was telling them this, the other women were talking to the angel and hearing the glorious message that Jesus had risen.
But Mary missed that. Instead, she must have followed behind Peter and John. Crying. Stumbling. Sobbing.
Jesus had been the one man who had ever shown her unconditional love. He had gone near her when no one else would. He had talked to her when everyone else ignored her. He had healed her…when she thought all was lost.
Scripture says, Mary had been possessed by seven demons. Jesus had driven them out.
And when Jesus had driven those demons out – he had driven out other demons. No longer did she feel unlovable. No longer did she feel unloved by God. No longer did she feel completely worthless. Jesus’ actions had shown she had value and that she had purpose.
But…they had taken that away from her. The had taken her Lord away from her.
They had killed him.
Now to make things worse, someone had added insult to injury and stolen his body. She couldn’t even give him a proper burial. She couldn’t even search from some kind of closure at his gravesite.
Eventually, she made her way to the entrance of the tomb. The guards were gone. The other women were guard. Peter and John were gone. Only Mary – Mary and an empty tomb – Mary, her broken heart and her empty tomb.
She sobbed – grief was pressing on all sides of her. It was hard to catch her breath as she collapsed in front of the door. Slowly she lifted her head. Slowly she looked inside – hoping to see a piece of his garment…a left behind hair. A sandalmark. Something to remind her of the good times. Something to remind her of her Lord.
Something to give her hope.
What she found was so much more incredible. 12 Mary bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head of the stone gurney and the other at the foot.
Now – if ever there was something that might jar Mary out of her sadness, it might be an angel. Bright, shining, gleaming. You don’t see them every day. Imagine if one appeared on Falls of Neuse as you were fighting traffic to work in the morning. Suddenly, you’re wide awake. The doldrums of the morning drive are quickly shaken off.
Mary should have noticed. She should have been filled with hope. She should have been excited. She should have at least been a bit frightened. She had divine, holy angels in front of her. Angels who would have answered her questions. Angels who could have given her good news. Angels that maybe she should have investigated.
Instead, she simply answers their question: They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have put him. And fixated on that terrible thought, filled with grief that her Savior was dead, she turned around and left.
Does that ever happened to you? Does grief ever become so great that it’s hard to focus on anything positive – even if it’s staring you in the face?
Essentially that’s what clinical depression does. It becomes a dark cloud over your life. It overshadows everything that you do.
A young woman named Erin wrote about what depression was doing to her on her blog. She said, “I feel stifled and so alone. I can’t focus and all I can write about is how much pain I’m in physically and emotionally, how tired I am, and how lost I feel. And just thinking about those things makes them worse. I am really really struggling.”
For some of you that might happen a lot. For others not as often. But hopefully you can relate.
Is it a chemical imbalance that leads to depression? Sure. Science has documented that. But –somewhere along the line – we have to admit that there’s a much greater cause for depression. One that can’t be counteracted with medicine and psychotherapy.
It’s called sin.
Sin that someone did to you.
Sin that you did to someone else.
Sin that you did to you.
Sin doesn’t like to be ignored.
Do you remember the story of a tell tale heart? In it, the killer takes the body and stuffs it into the floor. At first, he’s ok. But soon every time he passes that body he hears its heart beating. As if it were a loud drum, he hears it beating and reminding him day after day, moment after moment of what he’s done.
Sin is a lot like that. It beats loudly. It beats steadily. It loves to remind us over the awful, grievous things we have done –
Sinner – sinner –sinner.
Scum – worthless – unloved – sinner.
Know what? If the world is as Mary Magdalene thought it was, then Jesus is dead. There is no reason for hope. “If Christ has not been raised…you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor. 15)
There is only sin.
There is only hatred.
There is only death.
There is only eternal damnation in hell.
If Christ hasn't been raised...
II. Grief Relief
Mary staggered out of the tomb. It was all too much. She fell to the ground. Her tears hit the dirt and changed it into little salty mud droplets.
Then, a twig snapped. The quiet swish of grass blades being displaced caught her ears.
Footsteps. They spoke, “Dear woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
She looked up. Her tears were so great – she didn’t recognize the person in front of her. He must have been the gardener. Maybe he had some answers. Maybe he could help her.
She choked out the words between sobs. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
What she heard next was something she had before. Something that had accompanied her freedom from the demons. Something that had been accompanied by kind words of God’s love. Something that had been spoken by her dearest friend – in that exact same way.
She turned toward him. She cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” Which means “Teacher.” Suddenly a smile adorned her face. The tears of sadness turned to tears of joy. The grief was replaced with incredible exuberation!
It was Jesus. He was alive!
We looked at this scripture earlier. Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…That means it isn’t hopeless. It means it isn’t worthless. It means that you are not in your sins. It means the devil doesn’t win. It means death is not the end. It means you are not destined for hell. It means that by faith in Jesus you are headed to heaven!
This is incredible news.
It’s kind like driving a car out to the country in the middle of the night. Turning the headlights off for a few moments. Looking at all that’s around you. Allowing your eyes to adjust. Seeing nothing but darkness. Then, immediately switching the headlight to high beams! Man is it bright!
Jesus’ resurrection is like that. It plows through the darkness. It shines a lot on the dismal things in our lives. He will brighten every aspect of your day from now until eternity.
But pastor I’m a Christian. I still struggle. I still feel filled with grief sometimes. How do I breathe a sigh of relief? How do I stay positive when depressing things are going on all around me?
For Mary, that was what did it. She saw her Savior. She saw him living. She saw him breathing. She saw his eyes tracking her movements. She saw his chest moving as oxygen flowed in and out of him. Seeing her resurrected Savior was key.
But we don’t get that opportunity. We weren’t there at the tomb. We aren’t anywhere near Israel or 36ish AD. How do we see Jesus?
John 1:14 says, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only."
That’s Jesus. He’s the One and Only. He’s the Word.
Understand then that we see Jesus when we open up this Bible. Every time you’re in church. Every time we read a lesson. Every time we sing a Bible based hymn. Every time you turn on your Bible app at lunch. Every time you go old school and open your Grandma’s KJV at her house. Every time you are in God’s Word – you see Jesus.
You see his heart. You see his love. You see his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of his sins.
Trust God on this! It will affect your mood. It might not be a total immediate transformation. But it will work, because that’s what God’s Word does.
Listen, you wouldn’t give up taking an antibiotic after one try would you? Especially if the doctor told you to take two, 3x a day for a whole week. Don’t stop reading God’s Word ever. It produces joy!
2) Make Sure your Joy is in the Lord!
Philippians says, “Rejoice in the Lord, always!” Do you know who wrote that? The Apostle Paul. Do you know when he wrote that? He wrote it while he was in prison for telling people about the Lord.
That’s not the most compelling circumstances for joy.
Yet notice he doesn’t say, “Rejoice in the fact that today’s food is better than yesterday’s.”
He doesn’t say “Rejoice in the fact that the shackles are more comfy in this cell than the guy next door’s.”
It doesn’t even say “Rejoice in the fact that I’m smarter than my captors.”
He says, “Rejoice in the Lord!” The Lord who called me. The Lord who found me. The Lord who made me his own. The LORD who lives and breathes and is alive forever. The Lord who promises me a home with him.
Keep this in mind. It’s easy for us to want to find joy in earthly things. I got a new job. I got a raise. I got a new friend. But those things might not last. And when they do fail, you will fall back into the doldrums of sadness.
Rejoice in the LORD! He lasts forever.
This interesting. Because Mary had been sad for a few days. Yet as soon as she felt the joy of seeing her risen Savior, Jesus had work for her. He told her to get up, not to hold on to him, and instead to go and tell his disciples that he would see them soon.
Really….it makes a lot of sense. Mary had just been lifted out of sadness. She had breathed a sigh of relief. There were others who needed that news too. Others who needed their guilt lifted away.
Others who needed to know that Jesus lived.
Do you know people like that? Let me change that…You do know people like that. The only way you don’t is if you are a hermit.
Why wouldn’t you share the Gospel with them?
You might be thinking Pastor...Easter is over. You don’t have anymore of those invite cards. There isn’t a breakfast to invite people to anymore. Call me again next year!
What if you were doing some spring cleaning with your spouse and you were moving some boxes from the garage to the attic and suddenly the box filled with all of your paper weights – and in this illustration you have a lot of paper weights – a paper weight collection – what if it got to be too much and your spouse lost his balance and lay on the ground caught underneath the weight of the box?
How long would you let him wait?
Why would you let your friends wait under the weight of their sins and guilt?
Help them breathe. Share the Gospel. Tell them of how Jesus died, but also of how he came back alive. Tell how his breath allows us to breathe a sigh of relief. Amen.