Today is a Transfiguration Sunday and we are celebrating the Transfiguration of Jesus. Yet – you might not have ever heard about that.
It isn’t a national holiday.
Nobody takes off of work.
There isn’t a Charlie Brown Transfiguration Special.
There isn’t a Transfiguration Sunday section of the Greeting Cards.
So, our goal today is simple: (1) understand what the Transfiguration is and (2) determine how it affects us. 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. What is it?
First, we should define “transfiguration.” Because it isn’t a word that we use on a day to day basis. People don’t say things like “My Molly, you really have transfigured since yesterday!” If you did, Molly might respond by saying: “Take that back…you!”
The dictionary definition of transfiguration is this: “A complete change of appearance into a more beautiful or more spiritual state.”
The first thing I think of is the movie “She’s All That.” Remember that 90s movie with Freddie Prinze Jr? It’s about a guy who is challenged by his friends to turn the “geek” of the school into the prom queen. But…I don’t know how hard it is. Basically, all he does is have her take off her glasses and let her hair down and – voila – Prom Queen.
The transfiguration we are celebrating today is about whole lot more than letting your hair down and taking off your glasses.
It started out like a normal day. Jesus took a few of his disciples up a small mountain. He wanted to get some time for peace, quiet, restoration and prayer.
And when they get to the top, Jesus went over to the nearest rock.
Got down on his knees.
Propped up his elbows on the rock and immediately devoted himself to deep prayer.
The disciples follow suit.
They found their own rock.
They propped their own elbows up.
They began their prayers:
“Dear Lord, Thank you so much for your…ZZZZZZ.”
“Huh? I mean…thank you so much for the manamanamah.”
They were sleepy.
They were tired.
I imagine Peter enjoyed a pleasant dream of fishing on the Galilean Sea – and pictures himself holding up the prize-winning bass about 5 feet long.
A bright light.
It isn’t the camera flash of the Paparazzi photographing his fish.
The bright light isn’t coming from the dream world.
Peter opens his eyes and immediately is blinded.
Squinting cautiously, he tries again.
“It must be the sunset,” he thinks. “I must have been sleeping for a while.”
But Peter feels the warmth of the sun overhead.
That means the light isn’t coming from a sunup or sundown.
He squints harder.
It’s coming from the face of Jesus.
Like the sun.
But it’s not just his face! It was his clothing, too.
To be fair – Jesus wore a white tunic. That was common. But they had been out in a desert-like climate. Over time dirt affects pure whites. They start to yellow with some brown climbing up from the bottom of the tunic.
They hadn’t come up to do laundry.
And yet – Jesus’ clothes were a brilliant white.
A shining white.
A gleaming white.
Then, Peter’s eyes went to the right. Next to Jesus stood an older man with a long beard. I always picture him with two giant tablets of stone with what appears to be 10 commands written on them.
Peter thinks: “Wait. I know my Sunday School stories. That can be none other than Moses. The prophet God used to lead Israel out of slavery in Egypt. But…wait…isn’t he…”
Before he could finish, another man…a bit younger looking.
‘Elijah and I are excited to be here!” Moses said. “It’s amazing really! I lived thousands of years ago – Elijah lived hundreds. But both of us were doing our work, preaching what we did, telling the people about the coming Messiah. And that Messiah is YOU Jesus! We are so excited to see your work in progress.”
Peter listened as they continued.
He listened as they spoke about God’s plan of salvation.
He listened as they spoke about Old Testament prophecy.
He listened as they spoke about God’s love for his people.
Until…he couldn’t handle it anymore!
I’m…I’m…Peter. I fish!
It’s amazing to see you here! That you took time out of heaven to join us.
And Jesus – you’re glowing and shimmering and doing an incredible miraculous thing!
You can do anything!
So…um…I know you’re visiting from heaven, but…how I can help your stay more comfortable?
I know! I can build a tent for you out of a few olive branches! It’ll be just like you’re at home…
Before anyone could answer, a cloud began developing.
A thick, dark cloud.
It enveloped Elijah.
It enveloped Moses.
It enveloped Jesus.
It enveloped the other disciples.
It enveloped Peter.
He could no longer see Jesus, but a faint, glowing light from where he had been standing.
Then, the fog did something else unusual.
“This is my Son, whom I have chosen. You must listen to him.” (Luke 9:35)
Peter fell to the ground.
This wasn’t fun and games ANYMORE!
He was in the presence of the Holy, All-powerful, Sin-hating and sin-punishing God of heaven and earth!
And…he, Peter, was a sinner.
Peter made himself as flat as he could to the ground.
Pretending that he was mud.
Because he felt like mud.
And he thought that if he blended in with the mud, God might just leave him.
Which would be better than being left a pile of smoke at the hands of God’s almighty wrath.
Things grew quiet.
The voice stopped speaking.
A bird cawed in the distance.
A hand gently patted Peter’s back.
“Peter, it’s okay. Get up.”
He looked up to see the warm smile of his Savior.
The cloud was gone.
The light was gone.
The prophets were gone.
It was only Jesus.
And Peter got up.
And Peter dusted himself off.
And Peter followed Jesus.
Nobody said anything about what they had seen.
Not James or John.
They just let things get…back…to normal?
II. Why is it Important?
This is the Transfiguration. Whether Peter knew the word or not, that’s what he saw.
And it’s not just “a transfiguration” because I don’t know that there ever is a more incredible, more divine, more fantastic change in one person’s appearance than THE face shining, tunic gleaming, heavenly people entertaining, cloud encompassing, divine voice speaking, Transfiguration of our Lord and Savior.
But why would God go to this trouble?
What message is He bringing to his disciples?
What message is He bringing to You?
A few things:
1) Jesus is Divine
Have you ever seen an episode of Scooby Doo before? At the end of the episode, after the kids in the Mystery Van have trapped the bad guy in some kind of comical, haphazard way – there’s the unmasking. Velma, the smartest of the group, walks over to the ghoul or goblin and grabs him by the scruff of their neck to reveal – it was the Janitor! (He would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids).
In the Transfiguration, Jesus unmasks. Not that He is wearing any kind of mask at all. But for the majority of his lifetime Jesus appears to be an everyday, ordinary a human.
He eats like humans do.
He sleeps like humans do.
He grows like humans do.
He does humans things like humans do.
He is 100% human.
But along the way, every once in a while, he also does things that ordinary humans can NOT do.
He speaks to a blind man’s eyes, and those are instantly able to see.
He walks on liquid water.
He tells storms to stop and they do.
He changes water into wine.
He raises the dead.
Think of these miracles like glimpses into the fact that Jesus is not just human – but something else spectacular.
Someone else spectacular.
At the Transfiguration?
The mask is off.
He’s not just a human being.
He’s also true GOD.
He is divine.
He is able to make his face glow, his clothing gleam, souls from heaven appear, a cloud to envelope and the simultaneous voice of the Father speak.
That’s even what the voice says! The voice says, “This is my Son.”
When a human says that about a person, he is generally referring to a different person.
A human fathers another human.
But when God calls Jesus his Son.
God fathers God.
But since God is eternal.
And God is one.
Jesus is not a lesser God.
But the one true God who always has been.
Maybe stop with the logic of the situation and look only at the miracle of the Transfiguration.
Jesus is God.
And if you have been spending your lifetime looking for God…
If you’ve practiced yoga and drank tea to get in touch with the Spirit…
If you’ve read books and studied world religions to find the ONE…
If you’ve done experiments and tried to identify the specific God…
There’s no need to look any father.
Jesus is God. And he came to earth with a purpose.
Which leads to our second main truth about the Transfiguration:
2) Jesus’ Main Purpose was Dying for You!
Because you would think that once God was up on that mountain surrounded by people in awe of Him, he would love it.
He would tell Peter to build him a throne.
He’d tell James and John to go get others.
He’d sit up on the mountain, gleaming brilliantly and waiting for people to come and worship Him.
Jesus returns to his human appearance.
He walks down the mountain.
He begins his journey to Jerusalem where he will eventually die on the cross.
The Transfiguration makes it clear! Jesus’ death wasn’t unstoppable.
If he wished….
…he could have dazzled so brightly that the crowd coming to arrest him would have been blinded.
…he could have called down from heaven every believer who’d passed and handed them a sword of fire to vanquish the soldiers who came to arrest him.
…he could have swallowed the crowd of people who were going to convict him in the courtroom and had the booming voice of the Father speak to his accusers: “This is my Son! Let Him Go.”
He could have prevented his death.
But He didn’t.
Because His death didn’t happen on accident! His death happened because it was His main purpose was saving you.
Think about it: God could have remained up in heaven.
God could have said “Ya’ll messed up this world with your sin and the only thing I’ll send is a few lightning bolts to destroy you.”
Instead, God said, “I will send…myself.
I will live perfectly when you can’t.
I will die innocently in your place.
I will rise triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins!
I will save YOU!”
3) Our Salvation is CERTAIN
If I could underline, bold, italicize and put in 160-point font and still fit it on the Power Point slide, I would. Because that is only a smidgen of the confidence that we have of our forgiveness.
Jesus is not just some nice guy.
He isn’t just a well-meaning friend.
He isn’t just some person who says, “Let me know how I can help,” but when you mention a way to help says, “I’m playing golf that day.”
Jesus is God.
God always helps.
He always wins.
He always saves.
And since Jesus is God.
He saved you.
And it is absolutely, 100% certain.
No matter what you think.
No matter what others say: “You’ve done a lot of wrong.”
No matter what the devil says: “You aren’t worthy of being helped.”
No matter what you might think in your darkest hour: “I am not loveable.”
God’s voice is BIGGER.
God’s voice is LOUDER.
God’s voice comes from within the ethereal, divine cloud and says:
This is my Son, Jesus.
I chose Him.
He saved you.
You are forgiven.
III. WHAT NOW?
1. Fear God, but Don’t Fear God
That might seem like an oxymoron. But it’s the tension that the disciples who were on the mountain had to live with.
Because when they were on top of that mountain, enveloped in the cloud, with the booming voice of God shaking the earth under their feet, they were terrified! They fell to the ground, hoping and pleading with God not to destroy them.
We need the same respect for our God.
When we gather to worship, it isn’t just to hang out with some people we like.
It isn’t just to sing some songs that we like.
It isn’t just to eat some cookies that we like.
It’s to come as sinners to worship the divine, Holy, Almighty God.
And yet…don’t be terrified.
Just like Jesus, who just revealed himself to be that divine Holy God, touched his disciples on the shoulder and gently said to them, “Follow me.”
God says the same to you.
You are forgiven.
You are at peace with God.
Come into his presence without fear.
Come without terror.
2. Listen to Him!
Do you know what Bible story comes right before this? About 8 days earlier, Jesus gathers all 12 of his disciples together and he tells them that he will very soon go to Jerusalem where he will be arrested, convicted, suffer and died.
And Peter’s response?
“ABSOLUTELY NOT! I won’t allow it. That’s a terrible idea Jesus, I have a better one.”
Fast forward eight days, to Jesus’ transfiguration, when the Father’s voice speaks to him: “This is my Son…LISTEN TO HIM!”
A few days later…when Jesus again gathers his disciples together and repeats: “We are going to Jerusalem where I will be arrested, convicted, suffer and die.”
Peter doesn’t fight him this time.
Do the same.
Even if you think you know better. Listen to Jesus.
Even if your friend tells you differently. Listen to Jesus.
Even if your society makes a sophisticated argument. Listen to Jesus.
Even if a university professor tells you they know better. Listen to Jesus.
Even if you feel differently than what Jesus is saying…Listen to Jesus.
Even if your own voice tells you: “You don’t matter. You are worthless. You aren’t valuable.” Listen to Jesus.
You do matter.
You are worthwhile.
You are valuable enough to die for.
Listen to Jesus.
3. Come Down the Mountain
Examine Peter’s only words on recorded on the mountain: “Let’s setup three tents – one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah.” Part of the reason behind that statement, is that Peter is in love with what he is seeing. It’s so encouraging. It’s so obvious. It’s so uplifting. It is so certain that Jesus is God – that he doesn’t have any doubts at all. And rather than go back down that mountain to the world where people doubt, where people question, where people make fun, where Peter isn’t feeling so confident…Peter would prefer to stay on that mountain.
But he couldn’t.
Jesus had a mission to do.
Peter had a mission to do.
And you can’t either.
You have a mission to do.
Because while it’s nice to hang out together…
And it’s wonderful to be uplifted by God’s Word...
And Jesus tells us to spend time together in His Word…
Eventually we need to go.
We need to leave the mountain.
We need to leave these walls and go on our mission to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh.
Guys – this isn’t my idea.
This is God’s.
The face-shining, tunic-gleaming, cloud-encompassing, divine voice-speaking Transfiguration of our Lord and Savior.
Listen to Him.
Come down from the mountain.
Share His Word.
There was something wrong with the night.
I mean, they knew that, they had been told that, but even so, even if you didn’t know – it just felt… off.
Maybe it was a chill beyond the usual that settled on the desert when the sun dropped beyond the horizon. Maybe it was the way all the people in the homes around them were also rushing about to make their final preparations, to make sure nothing had been overlooked. People were just a little more frenzied than usual for the end of the day. Even if you hadn’t been paying attention, you’d notice – something was wrong.
And something was wrong, after all. Death was coming that night. Not that their lives were any picnic either. Slavery in the desert was all they knew. Many of them each day were worked to death before night ever fell. But this was different. This time, there was a statement from God. This night, the oldest male of each generation, the firstborn son would be struck dead before dawn. The threat, the warning of God hung in the air like a fog that refused to move. And so the Israelites faced down this evening of death on their last night in Egypt.
There is something wrong with your life.
Maybe you know that already, maybe you don’t. But if you don’t, I doubt hearing that really shocks you.
Even if you don’t know it as head-knowledge, you can probably feel it already, can’t you? Something about your life just feels… off.
Maybe it’s just a feeling, like something just out of the corner of your eye that you just can’t see.
Something ominous and looming out there in the shadows – dangerous, but it’s never there when you turn around. I don’t mean there’s something literally stalking you though, I just mean this sense that there’s something wrong, there’s some danger there just out of perception but you can never quite look at it.
In fact, maybe you could see it if you tried, if you turned and looked. But the truth is you’re terrified to. After all, who knows what it might really be. No, no better to ignore it, better to stay distracted by what you’re doing than try to figure that out. Focus on what you’re doing right now, on the job, the wife, the kids, the checkbook. It’s probably just a trick of your imagination anyway, stop thinking about it and it will go away. Or at least, if you concentrate hard enough on what you’re doing, you won’t notice it anymore.
But even that doesn’t quite work. Rolling up your sleeves and plunging in elbow-deep to the work in front of you, it works sometimes, but it really doesn’t. It’s still wrong. Something is still wrong! Why? All the promises made to you when you were a child never seem to come true. You work hard, you try your best, you have at least some of the things you were promised would make you complete, right? A family, a home or a few nice things… where’s the peace? Where’s the contentment? Why does it still feel wrong? Maybe you’re still missing part of the puzzle. You search for the one missing thing – each one you think, “this is it, now that I have this, I’ll be good and that feeling will go away.” A vacation, a nicer house, a new home theater, a stronger relationship, a better paying job with less stress, each time something else and this time it will work.
But it never works. I told you, there is something wrong with your life. A statement from God himself hangs over your life like a fog that refuses to move. Death is coming. And not just any death. Not just the end of this life, the end of your life forever. God has programmed into you this truth; those who do evil will be punished. Evil, huh? Well then why am I nervous? I’m not evil. Aren’t you? The world around may lie to you, tell you that’s not you, but the disquiet within you says otherwise. You would never really ask those closest to you “do you think I’m evil?”, but even if you did they would say “of course not.” That doesn’t mean they’re right.
But you know things they don’t know. You know there’s not a perfect record stretching back across your life. You’ve worked hard, done your best, but it’s not been perfect. There were moments when you gave in and did what you wanted and maybe the cost for you or someone you cared about was high. Maybe there didn’t seem to be any cost at all, but you could tell it wasn’t right. And now you drag the guilt of that behind you.
I invite you to stop shifting your eyes away from it, to stop seeing this just out of the corner of your eye and look square at this; our God describes for us exactly what it is. It is ugly and it is scary, but we cannot deal with it if we do not know what it is. There is something wrong with your life; there is a hole running through you, a tear in your very self that we call “sin”. That doesn’t really tell us enough though.
What is “sin”?
Sin is what God is not. Sin is shadow and darkness when God is light. God is good, God is perfect. Sin is not. God operates on one driving principle; selfless love. God seeks the good of everyone else above his own at all times, regardless of what it costs him. Sin is the opposite; sin is to grab for yourself regardless of what it costs others. I hope you see that you do not qualify on your own for holiness.
Maybe you like to think of yourself as a pretty selfless person; but have you been at all times to everyone? Don’t lie to yourself, it does no good. We are all of us, unholy. Sinful.
Now understand this. Holiness and sinfulness are not just choices or lifestyles. In a sense, they are like forces of nature, light and dark, magnetic poles and gravity. Sin cannot exist in the presence of the Holy. And that is where the fear comes from. God is Holy. You are not. This life will end, and God tells us that you will either be brought in to be with him or you will be thrown out to spend eternity without him.
If you are sinful, and if sin cannot exist in the presence of the holy, then which will it be for you? This is what is wrong with your life. A sentence of eternal death hangs in the air….and there is nothing you can do about it.
But the Israelites in Egypt were not panicked. Frenzied, hurried, maybe even a little fearful, sure. But not panicked. God told them, warned them what was coming. But he also told them exactly what was needed to escape the death that came that night. It would take the blood of a lamb. A single ewe lamb, one year old, spotless and without defect. The lamb would die instead, the blood was to be painted on the door frames of their houses. God would see the blood shed, and spare those inside.
So they did this. That night, as God promised, an angel of death passed over Egypt as by God’s decree, the firstborn son of each household was struck down in his sleep. But wherever there was the blood of the lamb, the angel stayed his hand. The angel saw the household through the blood, and they were spared. God had given the warning to all of Egypt, and he had given his directions just the same. Those who ignored the feeling that something was wrong; those who did not listen and did nothing about it – there was death in that house that night. Those who listened to God, who trusted his words of warning and deliverance were safe.
And so, I am not panicked either, and neither should you. Yes, there is something wrong with our lives.
We should feel the weight of how important this is. Yes, we should maybe even be a little fearful just because of the stakes involved. But truly afraid? No. God has warned us about this hole in our lives, about the holiness we are missing not to terrify us, but so that we pay attention, because of just how important this is. He shouts that this is life and death to get eyes on him. Because God tells us exactly what we need to escape the death that’s coming for us. It will take the blood of a lamb. A single ewe lamb, spotless and without defect. The lamb will die instead and his blood will cover you; and death will pass over you.
As a remembrance of what he had done for them, God commanded the Israelites to observe the Passover every year. At the same time of year, at the same day, at the same hour, each household would again sacrifice a single ewe lamb, one year old, without defect or blemish, to remember how God spared them from death. Then, over a thousand years after the first Passover, on Friday of that week, the day that the lamb was killed, just before the moment when the sound would resonate from the Temple informing everyone that now was the time to sacrifice the lamb; the following happened:
After this, knowing that everything had now been finished, and to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus said, “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine was sitting there. So they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished!” Then, bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.
The time had come, the lamb was to be sacrificed. But not just any lamb. The real Lamb. The one who was intended all along. Everything that went before it was a show, foreshadowing. It had no real effect.
Only an equal sacrifice could count for you. It had to be another person. Yet if it was just another person, what good would that do? Even if that person didn’t need saving themselves, their sacrifice would only save you. But what if God himself were both a person and God? How could you ever tip the scale of human life to outweigh that? You can’t. The one sacrifice would pay for everyone. And the Lamb did just that.
You are not holy? Jesus is. You committed crimes against God? Jesus didn’t. The Lamb had no defect and no blemish. He is what you are not. He has what you lack. God was ready to pour out his justice against all the evil ever committed, all in one fell swoop. Jesus, his Son, the Lamb, stood up and took your place. He climbed on the cross and there he took everything that your sin earned. He became your sin, he became your curse. And when it was done, he uttered those words. “It is finished.”
One word really, and I’d like to render it a little differently tonight if you’ll permit me. “Complete.” That is what happened on the cross right then. God’s plan to stand in your place so you would not suffer was completed – he died in your place. The foreshadowing he’d been showing the world since the first Passover meal was completed – the Lamb was sacrificed so that death would pass over you. You, missing the holiness God requires to be in his presence forever, you are completed. At that one moment, everything was made complete, everything was made the way God intended from the beginning.
Look at the cross. Realize what the sacrifice there has done for you. There may have been something wrong with your life once, there may have been a hole, something missing, something terrifyingly wrong, but Jesus has filled that with his death. The blood of the lamb was shed for you and so death holds no power over you. You are complete with Jesus’ gift of himself. You are given what you once lacked. God the Father will gladly welcome you into his kingdom when this is all over. You are complete in him.
Tonight, we gather in reverent awe to pay our respects for the tremendous sacrifice our Lord went through on our behalf. There is sadness, yes, because when I look at him hanging to die I know it is my fault he is there. When his lifeless body is removed and placed in the grave, it is because of me that this happened. But we are not here to leave this evening morose and depressed. We know that God did this willingly, out of love for you, individually. He knew you. He knows who you are. He could’ve spared himself that much more suffering by not including you in his sacrifice, but he didn’t. He wanted to do it. And as we close the tomb and walk away tonight we needn’t pretend we don’t know what Sunday will bring. If Sunday did not bring what it does, then tonight would be meaningless. We may leave tonight somber and reverent, but we still leave with hope and joy in our hearts. We know what this night means for us. Jesus made us complete. In him, we are what we are meant to be forever.
I cannot tell you what will happen in your life in the days between now and the time you are called eternal rest in him. I can tell you that in Jesus and his sacrifice, it doesn’t matter. In him, your end is set and will not be changed. Your life is complete. In Jesus, your sins are paid for, the gift of holiness is given to you, heaven is yours. There is nothing else to chase after. There is nothing else to fear. There is nothing else wrong with your life. The Lamb has made you complete. Amen.
It’s Holy Week. People everywhere are preparing for special services, religious traditions and special ceremonies. That’s why we’re gathered here tonight. To celebrate a special supper that connects us with Jesus our Savior.
But if you go down the street – to the left about 3 blocks. You’ll find another place of worship. Temple Beth Meyer. A synagogue. There’s another one on Falls of Neuse – Temple Beth El. These are places similar to this church. A place people gather for worship. A place for those of the Jewish faith.
And people who belong to that faith are having a ceremony tonight too. They’re gathering together around 6p. Decorations on the table – blue and white hanging from the ceiling. Everyone sits down and they sing some religious songs and read some religious readings – in Hebrew, not English – but still. They eat some bread. They drink some wine. They say, “Happy Passover” in Hebrew.
But as similar as it might sound.
It is not the same ceremony that we’re having.
It’s not the Lord’s Supper.
Is Passover something that is completely Jewish?
Does is have nothing to do with Christianity?
Is something of a different religion? Or does it help us connect with Jesus?
Tonight we’re looking at the institution of the Passover in Exodus 12. We’re going to see that a correct interpretation of the Passover not only is very Christian – but connects us to Jesus. Let’s say a prayer and ask God to help us: Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Jewish Celebration
This takes place in Exodus 12. A brief summary of what’s going on. The Jewish people have been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. God heard their cries for help and God decided to use his miraculous power to set them free. He does this through a man named Moses. God uses Moses to send messages to the king of Egypt – Pharaoh.
The conversation quickly becomes very repetitive. Moses tells Pharaoh to let the Jews go. Pharaoh refuses. Moses says that God will send a plague if he doesn’t. Pharaoh still refuses. God sends a plague (millions of locusts all over the land, frogs in your kitchen and bedrooms and bathrooms, a giant hailstorm to destroy all the crops, a week of nothing but darkness over all the land). Pharaoh summons for Moses. He pleads with Moses to pray to God to stop the plagues – then he’ll let the people go. Moses prays. God stops the plagues. And Pharaoh says, “Just kidding. You are still my slaves.”
Until we get to the tenth plague. God tells Moses. “Moses, Pharaoh will let you go this time. Because this plague is awful. This plague is terrifying. I will send the angel of death to kill the firstborn son of every family in Egypt—from the maidservant all the way to Pharaoh’s family. The son will die.”
But God didn’t want that terribly sad result to happen for the people of Israel. Not for his people – believers. He tells Moses the following:
“This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people here are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.” (Exodus 12:2-6)
The initial instructions are interesting. God tells the Israelites to get themselves a lamb. Not from the store. Not from the local Whole Foods. Not even from the local Gyro restaurant. (I don’t even know if Gyros were around back then). They are to go out back, grab one of the lambs that their family owns, one that’s almost been like a pet to them – providing wool, blankets, clothing.
And kill it. Clean it. Wash it. Prepare it.
Then, eat it.
But notice it isn’t just any lamb. It’s the lamb without defect. There weren’t any spots on it where the wool wasn’t coming in. There weren’t any sickly parts. There weren’t any malformed limbs or cross-eyed lambs being sacrificed.
The best lambs were killed.
The ones that were in great condition.
The ones that were perfect.
But they weren’t just using the lamb for food. They were also using it for exterior trim paint.
Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door frames of the houses where they eat the lambs.
Picture that – Blood drained into a bucket. A paint brush. Dipping it into the blood. Painting it carefully, gruesomely over the frame of the house.
On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you.
God’s wrath will pass over.
God’s wrath will pass over because of the blood.
God’s wrath will pass over because of the blood of the Lamb.
That’s what happens. The angel of wrath kills the first-born sons of the unbelieving, unrepentant, rebellious Egyptians. But He has mercy on all who trust God’s Word and trust in the blood of the lamb. The Israelites are set free.
That’s a big deal. A moment in history that the Jewish people want to remember. It’s why they celebrated Passover for years after that – to remember God’s mercy to the Jewish people.
II. With Worldwide Consequences
Fast forward thousands of years. That’s exactly the meal that Jesus was celebrating with his disciples. They were eating the unleavened bread so they could remember how quickly this happened. Eating the bitter herbs to remember the slavery of Egypt. Eating the lamb to remember the lamb and drinking the wine to remember its blood.
But in the middle of the meal Jesus does something different.
He took bread, gave thanks and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take and eat; this is my body; given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks and gave it to his disciples saying, “Drink from it all of you; this cup is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28)
Why? That’s not how the Passover meal goes.
1 Peter 1:19 says this, “Jesus is a lamb without blemish or defect.” That’s not a reference to his appearance. It doesn’t mean that every piece of beard hair was in perfect order. It means he was perfect. He had no moral flaws. He never rebelled against God. He always obeyed God. He had no sins.
1 Corinthians 5:7 says this, “Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed.” He was killed on a cross. He shed his blood. His body is broken. His blood is spilled – it’s painted on wooden frame. Whoever believes in him is covered by his blood. God’s wrath against his sin passes over him or her. His wrath passes over you.
In fact, that was the point of the original Passover – the whole time! Look at what Colossians 2:16-17 says, “Don’t let anyone judge you with regard to a religious festival…These are a shadow of things to come. The reality is found in Jesus.”
That means the Passover was like a shadow. Shadows aren’t real. If you see a shadow on the ground, try to step on it. It won’t feel it. You need to follow the shadow to the real thing. The real thing casts the shadow.
The Passover is the shadow. What is it casting the shadow?
He’s the real Passover Lamb. He’s the real perfect Lamb. He’s the one whose real blood covers our sins. He’s the one that gave the original Passover lambs their strength. He’s the one who really shows God’s mercy. He’s the one that the Passover lambs were pointing to for thousands of years.
The Lord’s Supper, then, make a wondrous connection with the Passover. As the Passover pointed forward to Jesus – the Lord’s Supper points backwards to Jesus.
More than that it points downward to His Word where he promises us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation in this supper. It even points upwards as it reminds us of God’s final plan for us – because of His mercy – because of the lamb – because of the blood of THE PASSOVER Lamb.
I look forward to celebrating the death of the Passover Lamb with you tonight. Amen.
Have you ever heard of Angie’s List? It’s an online service that lets you hook up with various contractors in all kinds of areas. From painters to dry wallers, from lawn care to carpet care, from lizard wranglers to sheep shearers -- you can find the professional you need on Angie’s List
But you might wanna shop around. The truth is there are usually more than one company you can go with. Take plumbing, for example. If you need a plumber, you might like Plumberee – with lots of experience and fine craftsmanship, but a fine way of breaking the bank. Then again, there’s Bargain Plumbers less expensive, but so is their work. There’s Plumber’s R. Us. A bit corporate in its structure – so you know they can get the job done, but bad customer service. Then, there’s Frank’s Plumbing. Not as well known, but you can almost always get him on the phone and he does a fine job -- just as long as you don’t mind the smell of cigarettes that he brings with him everywhere he goes.
Who do you choose? The wise person shops around first, before making his decision.
Is the same thing true about grace? The last couple of weeks we’ve talked about the blessing of grace that Jesus brings. It’s without cost. It covers even the worst of sinners. It lasts into eternal life. It brings forgiveness for all your sins.
But…the wise person shops around first so…
What about Buddha? What type of grace does he offer?
What about Mohammed? I hear he has a good plan.
What about doing your best, trying your hardest, and earning some grace with the human spirit? That’s the American ideal. Plus you can get away with a lot more sins.
After all, doesn’t it kind of depend on your geography?
Different gods? Different traditions? Different religions?
Today we are finishing our series called Surprising Grace by looking at the exclusivity of grace. We’ll see why Grace must be from Jesus and how that’s true, no matter who you are or where you’re from. Before we do that, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Shopping Around for Other Options
Today’s account is taken from Revelation 5:1-12. Revelation is the final book in the Bible. It’s written by the Apostle John. It’s called Revelation because it’s a revelation that John received from God. A revelation of the future.
That’s why it has to be from God.
Remember: Time is like a jump rope. You and I are on the jump rope. Somewhere within this tiny ½ cm. It means we can only see behind us – as much as is preserved by history – and we can’t see too far in front of us – only making best guess predictions.
But God is of the timeline. He’s eternal. He sees everything from 6000 years ago to 15 years from now like it’s happening before his eyes.
That’s why God was able to tell John about the future in this revelation. He could see it happening. So, when we read Revelation, we find out about the future. We find out that sometimes – the future is comforting. Sometimes it’s scary. And sometimes…well…it’s strange.
John fell to his knees. The sight before him was too much.
For starters, there were these beasts. 4 incredible, terrifying beasts watching his every move. They were kind of like earthly beasts – and kind of not. One looked like an eagle. One like a lion. One like an ox. One like a man.
But they were only like these things. They were radiating. They were flying. They each had eyeballs all over them. Each eyeball blinking in tune with John’s every movement.
The beasts weren’t the only ones watching John. Surrounding him were 24 smaller thrones. Each throne had 24 elders – dressed in white and crowns of gold on their heads (v.4) Long, flowing, divine white hair gently flowing in the breeze – as if they were floating on water.
But the gentleness was interrupted. Flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder came from the center of the room. There stood a gigantic throne. There was a bright light radiating right in front of it. A white, bright light. The bright kind that makes you squint your eyes if you don’t have a pair of sunglasses.
But this light wasn’t coming from the sun. It wasn’t even coming from outside. It was coming from an ethereal rainbow that had fashioned itself at the top of the throne – marking and identifying the one who sat upon the throne.
Whose throne was it?
If John hadn’t figured it out yet – the melody of the elders made grew until it was at a thunderous level made him certain:
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (v.11)
John again looked to the ground in horror.
He was before God Almighty. He was before the Creator of heaven and earth.
He was before the one who makes volcanoes explode, tectonic plates shake, and flood water engulf the earth.
He, a sinner, was standing before the All holy, sin hating God.
But God wasn’t fixated on him. Not at the moment. At the moment, God was fixated on what he had in his hand.
It was a scroll. An ancient version of a eReader or book. Divine parchment tightly rolled up and sealed tightly with seven seals. (5:1)
What was in the scroll? Well there’s two books mentioned in the book of Revelation. One is called the Book of Life. That’s an important book. Because there is written the names of every person who has life – every person who is allowed to enter into heaven. Picture it like a divine guest list – only the bouncer isn’t some tough looking Italian guy named Guido.
It’s God himself.
Meaning this scroll was important. Without it, there was no way of knowing who it is that is allowed into heaven.
And…for whatever the reason, God wasn’t opening it.
In fact, one of the angels, a mighty angel, the king angel with bulging veins in his biceps and a heart tattoo on his left delt, started shouting in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” (v.2)
No one moved.
He repeated himself. Louder. “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”
John looked around. Why wasn’t anyone trying to do it? Sure, the seals looked intimidating, but they were in God’s throne room. Why wasn’t he burly angel giving it a try? Why didn’t the ox-like thing try smashing it with his hoofs? Why didn't the eagle like thing try dive bombing it from on high? Why didn’t the 24 elders work together to develop some kind of divinely inspired Rube Goldberg machine to open it up?
But none of them were making their way to the scroll.
None of them were lifting a hand to break the seals.
Mostly, they were just shaking their heads – their divinely, haloed, eye-filled heads.
John began weeping. If that scroll wasn’t opened, then he wasn’t getting into heaven. Then, his friends weren’t getting into heaven. Then, none of his loved ones and fellow believers were getting into heaven.
v. 3 No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside of it.
Pay attention here. Because this has everything to do with God’s grace. Because we need God’s grace to get into heaven. We need God’s grace to get our names onto the pages of the Book of Life.
And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could write our names in there. In fact, they couldn’t even open the scroll or look inside of it.
Not anyone in that throne room. Not the mighty angel. Not the eagle. Not the ox. Not anyone on below that throne room either. Not Zeus. Not Hades. Not Hercules. Not Buddha. Not Mohammed. Not Vishnu.
Not a president. Not a king. Not any member of congress. Not a brilliant scientist. Not a billionaire business man.
Not even a guy who tries really hard and does his best and hopes that it’s enough to get his name in the book of Life.
There is no one else. No one who can get your name on the Book of Life.
No one who can win your forgiveness.
No one who can offer you’re an eternity in heaven.
II. The Exclusive Answer
“Do not weep!” cried one of the elders. His mouth agape in excitement. “Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
John took a deep breath. Of course! A lion. Lions are the King of the Jungle for a reason. They have majestic manes and fierce teeth for sinking into their prey. They have powerful jaws and swift, fierce claws. Lions were some of the most muscular and magnificent creatures on earth. A divine, heavenly version of it would have no problem destroying those seals!
John looked up with excitement. He covered his ears anticipating this miraculous roar!
But what he saw wasn’t a Lion.
It wasn’t fierce.
It wasn’t intimidating.
It didn’t roar.
Then, I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne. (5:6)
John turned his head in shock! A Lamb? Lambs aren’t intimidating! They don’t have claws – they have unbalanced hoofs. They don’t have majestic manes, but soft, gentle wool. They don’t roar – they baaa!
How was this creature – a creature of nursery rhymes and preschools – supposed to be the one to open the seals?
And this one wasn’t even in good health? It was looking as if it had been slain. (5:6) It looked like it was limping along. It needed to be held. It needed to be nourished. It didn’t need to be trying to open up these incredible seals.
John looked around. Is anybody going to stop this?
But no one else shared his concern. In fact, the others in the room – the elders, the winged creatures, the mighty angel – God himself – smiled at the sight of the Lamb and erupted into a magnificent song….
…to the Lamb:
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain. (5:9)
Suddenly, it hit John.
The Lamb. The Lamb of God. He had heard that before.
He had read about it in the Old Testament – as the blood of innocent lambs foreshadowed this moment.
He had heard it from John the Baptist as he pointed at his leader “Look! The Lamb of God! Who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
He had seen it from his fellow disciple Peter who wrote, “-- a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:1
That’s who the Lamb was.
That’s why he was slain.
That’s why he alone could open the scroll.
Because that Lamb was Jesus!
Brothers and sisters, understand this! There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth who can open the scroll.
There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth who can get you into heaven.
There is no other being in heaven or under heaven or on earth whose grace is enough for your eternal life.
No other being than Jesus Christ.
The Bible is simple then.
The Bible is clear.
God’s eternal vision has been revealed to you.
Do you desire forgiveness for your sins? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire to lose your guilt? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire to escape hell? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire eternal life? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire peace with God? Trust Jesus.
Do you desire eternal joy? Trust Jesus.
There is no one else who can provide these things – because the only one on the spiritual Angie’s List for salvation is The Lamb – Your Savior, Jesus Christ!!!
III. What Now?
(1) Celebrate this Exclusivity
Because what do they say? The only thing you don’t want to talk with people about are politics and religion. But…as this past election showed us – we had no problem talking politics. I’m friends with most of you on Facebook. I know this.
So why not religion?
Better yet…why not your Savior?
Better, better yet…why not the only one who provides forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation?
The elders didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
The four living creatures didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
The mighty angel didn’t mind shouting. Worthy is the Lamb!
Even John – stopped being nervous and frightened and as he watched Jesus open up that scroll shouted: Worthy is the Lamb!
You do that too. In fact, why do you get on your Smartphone today and make that your status. #WorthyIsTheLamb
Don’t be afraid to let others know who it is that you trust. Don’t be afraid to let them know who it is they can trust.
(2) Celebrate Diversity
Because notice what it says about the Lamb in verse 9 You are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
I love that. It means Jesus is your exclusive king no matter who you are.
It doesn’t matter what tribe you’re from. Which may be the closest Bible words for “race.” This is key, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, Asian or Latino, middle Eastern, Native American, combination of the above.
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And it doesn’t matter what language you speak. He’s the answer if you speak English or Spanish. Italian or German. Nigerian or Malawian. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Sign Language…even if you speak in emoji!
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And it doesn’t matter where you live. It doesn’t matter if you live in America or Iraq. Whether you live in Russia or China. Whether you live in Mexica or Canada. It doesn’t matter if you live in Durham or Cary or Chapel Hill or Knightdale or Morrisville or South Raleigh or North Raleigh or anywhere else on this planet!
JESUS IS YOUR KING. JESUS IS YOUR SAVIOR!
And if Jesus is king of us all – that means we’ve got to celebrate that diversity just like Jesus does. We’ve got hug those from different backgrounds. Speak with excitement – show excitement – to those who speak different languages. Grab hands and go to work with those from different places.
Celebrate Diversity because that’s what Jesus celebrates!
(3) Celebrate Unity
Because diversity…sometimes leads to division. I fear it’s happened to America. There’s so many different people in America that we let our differences get the best of us and we fight.
The same is true in Raleigh. It’s a global, multicultural, multigenerational community. It’s started to get divided.
The same could be true for our church. More and more God has enabled us to reflect the global, multicultural, diverse community that He will have in heaven.
How do we stay united?
Look carefully at verse 9 again You are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom.
Did you hear that?
Not many kingdoms.
No a White kingdom and a Black kingdom and an Asian kingdom and a Hispanic kingdom.
Just a kingdom.
Jesus creates only one kingdom.
And we stand together as one kingdom, by remembering who it is that created that one kingdom.
And that’s kind of what happens at the end of the section. Everybody remembers that it’s all about Jesus and they started shouting – despite their differences – despite some being angels and some being lions and some being elders and some being many-eyed-flying-ox-like creatures.
Then, I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice, they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"
But that’s not it. Because then, John prophesies about us. And he says this:
Then, I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea and all that is in them saying – (and since you are one of those creatures – please, say it with me ) “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!”
And the elders said “Amen!”
And I say “Amen.”
It was Halloween about 25 years ago. I was dressed up as a fisherman. I had on my dad’s vest. I had my dad’s fisherman’s hat. I had my bright green, Oscar the Grouch fishing pole with a bright red and yellow bobber. I was carrying a mini-bucket in order to collect my candy.
It was going as expected. I went up to a house. I knocked on the door. I said, “Trick or treat.” I got a Tootsie Roll and moved on.
But then, we approached a house that was different. The candy was located outside. It was being held by a giant mannequin in a grey snowsuit with a hockey mask on. There was a sign attached to his suit that said, “Have one.”
I thought – “This is unexpected. It’s a little different. But it’s easier. I’ll be saving myself about 15 steps all the way to the front of the door and the awkward fifteen seconds waiting to see if anyone came. If more people did this, I could get more bang for my buck, save time and get more candy.” This is a nice surprise!
Then, I walked up to the mannequin. I reached out my hand. I grabbed a Butterfinger. And…
The mannequin reached out and grabbed my hand. I turned tailed, dropped the Butterfinger and ran as fast as my little Cabella boots could take me.
That was a scary surprise.
Today we are starting our sermon series it’s all about surprises. It’s called Surprising Grace. Our goal is to examine God’s grace through the lens of God’s Word and learn some surprising truths about His Grace. Some terrifying. Some wonderful. Before we take a look at some of the first surprises in God’s Word. Let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Scary Price
Today we want to start our series by talking cost. (I know that sounds like a political ad), but I think it’s real important to talk cost when you’re talking about buying anything.
If you’re buying a home, you want to talk cost. Sure, you look at the floorplan, the rooms, the updated hardwood, the open concept living room, the backyard, and the location. But you’ve also got to talk cost. What’s the down payment? What’s the homeowner’s insurance? What’s the tax value? How much will renovations cost? Can you get the NC State Wolfpack washer and dryer set for free or not?
It’s the same with God’s grace. It’s filled with value. In God’s grace, we get forgiveness of sins, peace with God, the promise of heaven, a joy filled heart, the assurance that we are God’s children and a beautiful connection with people of all races, ages, and social status.
Those are some pretty awesome things. Those pretty, divinely, awesome things.
As your grandpa would say, “Sounds expensive.”
But God doesn’t deal in dollars and cents. That’s physical.
He deals in righteousness and perfection. That’s divine. In fact, God puts this rather simple yet expensive cost on His eternal and divine gifts – his Grace. The price tag is found in Leviticus 4:2:
Be holy as I the Lord you God am holy.
Holy seems like a key word then. Holy is what you’re going to need to get to heaven. Holy is what your gonna need to have peace with God.
What’s holy mean then?
Does that mean you go to church a lot?
Does it mean that you wear nice clothes to church?
Does it mean that you have a nice, holy, smile on all the time?
Nope. Holy means “without sin.” It means “without defects.” It means “without sin.”
Jesus helps us out with this when he quotes this passage and uses a Greek word that means “perfect” to translate “holy.” He says, “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
So are you perfect? You’re going to need to be perfect to get to heaven.
Understand this. You can’t trick God. You can’t convince him that you're trying hard and doing your best and your good intentions are perfection. God knows a bogus holy payment when he sees it. That’d be like trying to take some Monopoly money to buy a house. It won’t work.
Let’s be real: What do you have lying around? What is in your spiritual piggy bank? I imagine it’s a lot like mine. I don’t have any perfection. I have imperfection.
I have a thing called Sin.
The Bible says this, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
The word for sin there is interesting. The Bible was written in Greek and the Greek word translated sin here is one of the most popular words for sin in the New Testament. It’s hamartia. Hamartia means to miss the mark or to be off target.
It’s like darts. Ever played darts? Your goal is to aim your dart and try to throw it onto the bullseye…or at least somewhere on the board. If you miss, you don’t score any points. If you miss the board entirely, you are a laughingstock to your friends.
That’s sin. God has given us a benchmark for our lives. He says, “Don’t lust. Don’t hate. Don’t be a jerk. Be king. Be loving. Help others.”
When we don’t do that, when we sin…it’s like we’re taking a dart, aiming carefully, and hitting the drywall about 3 feet to the left of the dartboard.
Now a bargaining man might ask – What’s my sin worth? I might not be able to get all of it, but how much of God’s grace can I get by offering him my sin?
Ever heard of Kelley’s Blue Book? It’s a place online where you type in your car make, model, and year. You let them know what condition it’s in. You tell them if has a Smartphone port, a CD play or a (gasp) tape deck. You let them know if you have made any upgrade and whether or not those stains from that time your kid spilled red Kool Aid on the back seat are permanent. You enter in all that information and the website provides you with the appropriate value of your car.
Sin doesn’t work like that. You can’t type in the amount of sin, type of sin, year of sin and expect a price that it’s worth to come back to you.
Kelley’s Blue book for sin is called the Bible.
And the Bible places the same value on sin regardless of size, shape, and variety.
Romans 6:23: The wages of sin is death.
Let’s break that passages apart. First, zero in on the word wages. That means the payment. It’s a word that’s used to described what you get paid for raking the leaves – what you get paid for crafting a cabinet – what you get paid for working 40 hours a week at your job. A wage is what you get paid for what you do. It’s what you earn.
What is sin worth? What do we get paid?
Pay careful attention to that. Because the wages of sin is NOT a $20 offering. The wages of sin is NOT saying the Lord’s Prayer 10 times. The wages of sin is not 15 good deeds. It’s not 10 hail Mary’s. It’s not trying, really, really, really, hard for the next couple of weeks.
The wages of sin is death.
And it doesn’t matter what kind of sin it is.
Stealing a pencil from work? Death.
Calling your husband a loser? Death.
Not holding the door for the guy behind you because you don’t feel like it? Death.
Taking a second glance at the secretary who is not your wife, but is looking real good today? Death.
Checking your phone at church to see if your Fantasy team is set for today, because that’s more exciting to you than singing God’s praises? Death.
It’s all the same and it’s all worth the same. Death.
And notice this – Each sin is worth one death. One sin costs one death. Two sins cost two deaths. Seventeen sins costs seventeen deaths. One hundred-forty seven sins costs one hundred forty seven deaths. If you’re like me (and you are) then you have so many sins that you can’t even count.
An infinite amount.
An eternal amount.
Payable with eternal death.
Can you imagine your bill? Can you imagine how impossible this is? Because sin is all we’ve got. A piggy bank filled with sin. A bank account bulging with imperfect. A fully funded H.S.A. of death. This means that the surprising and terrifying truth about God’s grace is this:
You can’t pay for God’s grace.
You haven’t in the past. You can’t right now. You will never be able to in the future.
You can’t pay for God’s grace.
II. An Incredible Gift
That’s a keyword in Romans 6:23. “But.” It means there is more to come. It means the thought is going to change. It means there is a solution. It means there is someone who can help us. It means keep reading…
The wages of sin is death, BUT the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
Do you know what a Shopkin is? It’s these little plastic appliance action figures that kids love.
But here’s the deal – They cost a bit of money. And if, like any good Shopkins collector, your kid wants them all – they are going to have to turn to you for help. Mommy, can you buy this? Daddy, I don’t have the money?
Of course, the same thing is true when you’re an adult. You ask someone with the money to help you pay for something you don’t have the payment for.
Mom, help me with this car payment?
Dad, can you give me money for the new TV?
Credit card company, can you help me get these things that I don’t need?
It’s the same thing with all of God’s heavenly blessings.
We can’t pay for it for us.
We need someone to pay hundreds of thousands of deaths for us.
Someone who doesn’t have his own sins to pay for.
Someone who has an infinite life funding his death.
Someone like Jesus.
The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
That’s why he died! Jesus didn’t die because he owed God a death for his own sins. The Bible calls him perfect. The Bible calls him without sin.
Jesus didn’t die for his sins, but for your sins. Jesus died because you owed God a death for your sins.
That’s why he went through a horrific and terrifying, Halloween-esque death on the cross. It’s why he bled and hung with nails in his hands and through his feet. It’s why a crown of thorns was pressed into his skull. It’s why his lungs slowly stopped breathing.
Jesus was paying for sin. He was earning God’s grace. Jesus was buying your way to heaven. And his death was more than your average human death. It isn’t like he just died for one of your sins. He was the Son of God. He was the Divine Lord of heaven and earth himself. His death is worth a lot more than a normal human death. He’s got God blood. It paid for your first sin, your last sin, and the hundreds of thousands of sins in between. His death paid for your sin and your sin and your sin and your sin and your sin.
Want proof? Jesus came back to life! If he hadn’t paid for your sins, then, he would still be dead – still dying – still paying….like a Credit Card debt with interest that just keeps multiplying, he would have stayed dead.
But he didn’t stay dead. Three days later, he rose. That cross is empty!
This means that Jesus did paid for your sins.
He paid for all your sins.
He paid for every, last one of your sins.
Jesus paid the steep price for God’s grace.
Our first truth was terrifying. You cannot pay for God’s grace. But here’s something amazing. God’s grace is already paid for which means -
God’s grace is free. That’s what our passages says, “The gift of God is eternal life.” If it’s a gift, that means it doesn’t cost anything.
Think about your grandma. Maybe she has made you a nice sweater before or crocheted you a blanket or a pair of socks. If you open up your gift and look at the socks, and say “Thank You” and her response is, “That’ll be $42.50.” IT’S NOT A GIFT! It’s a wage.
God doesn’t do that. God paid for it all. The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
The gift of God.
That’s exactly what God gives you in Jesus.
He gives you forgiveness.
He gives you peace.
He gives you heaven.
III. What Now?
1) Stop Trying to Pay for the Gift!
Because it’s really quite rude. God bought you the gift. God paid for it all. God brings it to you in His Word.
And we say, “Nah, God. I think I’d rather try to pay for it by myself. I don’t trust your money. I don’t trust it’ll be enough.”
We’re the ones who don’t have enough. God is the only one who does. Stop trying to pay for God’s grace and simply rejoice in it!
There’s a change in the way you live your life. The burden is gone. There is no eternal debt over your head. You don’t have to sit there each day thinking, “I gotta be good. I gotta be good. I gotta be good. I gotta be…ahhh! I missed a chance to be good because I was too busy trying to remember to be good! That’s selfish. It’s another sin. Now I’ve got even more good to be doing!”
That’s foolish. It’s impossible.
It’d be like throwing away an all-expense paid gift card to Applebee’s. Racking up a $780-dollar bill on ½ price apps. But then, doubting that the gift card will work. Throwing it into the garbage and trying to pay with what’s in your wallet.
If you do that, you’re in trouble.
And if don’t trust Jesus, you will be in trouble.
2) Have Faith in Jesus.
But God is God.
God doesn’t lie.
He doesn’t change his mind on payment.
He doesn’t offer incomplete gifts.
He says, For God so loved the world that he gave His One and Only Son – that’s Jesus – that whoever believes in Him – and what he did! That he lived perfectly, died innocently, and rose triumphantly to pay every last bit of God’s grace for you – shall not perish, but have eternal life.
If you trust him, God’s grace is yours. As expensive as it is, as impossible as it is for you to earn – it is yours.
That’s life changing.
A while back I met a woman at the hospital. Maria. I stumbled into her on an elevator and we exchanged pleasantries.
How are you?
I’m fine; how are you?
How was the person that you came to see?
What treatment did the doctor’s recommend?
And so on…
I said to her before I left, “May God bless you and your family with healing.” I meant it to be nice – but she began to frown.
“God couldn’t be nice to me. I don’t deserve it.”
I stopped her. I asked her to explain. We sat down and I listened.
About how God couldn’t love her.
About how God had seen her do awful sins.
About how God had seen her do drugs and sleep around and cheat on her husband and even…try to take her own life.
She knew it was wrong. Oh, she knew it was wrong. She understood sin.
Because of it, she couldn’t ever earn God’s blessing.
She couldn’t earn his grace.
And I looked into her eyes. I looked past the tears. I smiled and said,
“You’re right. You can’t….But Jesus can.”
The wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. Amen.
“You’re the Christ! The Son of the Living God!” (Mt. 16:16)
The others stood around in shock. Yes. They had been thinking the same thing. The voice at his Baptism. The urgency in his preaching. The casting out of the demons. The healing of the sick. Jesus. was not an ordinary teacher, but none of them were bold like Peter to make that statement.
Jesus stood up. They looked on with anticipation and tension. Had Peter just spoken blasphemy?
But Jesus warmly smiled. “Blessed are you…this has been revealed to you by God!” (Mt. 16:17)
Then, Jesus sat down. He began to explain to all of this what this meant. He explained that he needed to head to go Jerusalem. While he was there, he would be arrested, he would suffer at the hands of the chief priests and teachers of the law, and then he would be crucified. He, the Son of God, would die.
Peter spoke again: “Never! You won’t die. You’re God’s Son. I won’t let it happen.” Surely, the other disciples nodded in approval. They just discovered and understood this awesome truth. They didn’t want to forfeit it away. Surely, Jesus would understand.
But Jesus got angry.
“Away from me Satan,” he said to Peter, “You don’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (16:14)
Interesting isn’t it? The disciples had just identified Jesus as God. Then, they question his judgment. Had they already forgotten?
8 days later Jesus give them proof that he is God. Proof they wouldn’t forget.
I. On the Mountain
Mark 9 say this: Jesus led them up a high mountain. There he was transfigured before them
Back when I was shopping for an engagement ring for Julianna – it turns out -- there are many things about diamonds that I just did not know. They come in 8 different shapes, clarity can have many imperfections or even be FLAWLESS with ZERO imperfections. I learned that a carat is a weight, not simply a vegetable, and that each diamond has a different color. (They aren’t just diamond colored.)
There are lots of things to look for in a diamond! But perhaps the best thing to look for in a diamond is the “WOW” factor. Look for something that will take the breath of away of the one who takes your breath away.
When Jesus was transfigured, He took away his disciple’s breath – he did it in an otherworldly way. He declard himself as God.
It started with his clothes. Verse six says that, “his clothes became dazzling white.” That’s a pretty awesome Greek word. It means “shimmering’ and “shiny.” Elsa and Anna would be jealous!
But his clothes weren’t just white. They were “whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” Whiter than White out white. Whiter than Clorox white. Whiter than OxiClean white. Whiter than Sherwin Williams’ Absolute White or Pure White.
Ask yourself: Who alone can invent a new color? One long before the 64 pack of Crayola crayons? And never duplicated in today’s modern art? Why not the one who created color and the eyes that see color?
Jesus is God.
Matthew’s account tells us that Jesus’ face shone like he sun. Have you ever had that problem? Woke up in the morning only to be blinded by the radiance of your own face? I’ve had a zit here or there, but a blinding, otherworldly radiance of light?
Try as I might I can’t get it to happen. The only ones who can do so with CGI animation on IMAX theater movie screens – not on skin and bones.
Ask yourself: Who alone can cause skin to light up like the sun? Perhaps it is the one who created skin and sun?
Jesus is God.
Next a few friends join Jesus. Verse 4 says, “And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.” Which, at first glance, seems amazing in the fact that these two weren’t there before and now they suddenly appeared. A vaporation!?!
It wasn’t just any vaporation. These two men were very famous -- It would be like having dinner with President Obama and Michael Jordan. These were two very famous men. Moses had delivered the law that they read in their synagogues and posted on their doorways. He had given the Ten Commandments. Elijah was a very fiery prophets. He had defeated hundreds of prophets of Baal with the help of the Lord.
Moses stood for the Law and Elijah for Prophecy. What kind of money would it have taken to get these two there?
But the miracle is greater than just surprising the disciples with the appearance of two very famous men. Because Moses and Elijah were both hundreds of years old. Neither had been alive for hundreds of years. They had been in heaven.
Ask yourself: Who can have conversations with those in heaven? Who can take people out of heaven? Isn’t it the one who owns the gates of heaven Himself?
Jesus is God!
7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud – not from a loudspeaker, not from a microphone, not from a megaphone. It wasn’t even their friend Thomas hiding in the bushes, cupping his hands, and doing his best God voice.
This was the voice of the Father. Listen to what he says: “This is my Son, whom I love.” Which if you have been carefully following this sermon series is the exact same thing the Father’s voice from heaven spoke at Jesus’ Baptism. Jesus was his Son. He loved Jesus.
This is a big deal. It means Jesus was still succeeding in his mission. He still pleased the Father in every aspect of his life. He was still holy in his living. He still didn’t have any sin. He still had never done anything – not even a smidgens of something – that would make his Father say, “I am no longer proud of you.”
Remember God is Holy! If Jesus would have sinned, he would not have been proud. He would have condemned Jesus.
The fact that He still speaks so glowingly means that Jesus had lived up to God the Father’s standards. He had lived perfectly.
Ask yourself: How could Jesus do that if he was born a sinful human being like the rest of us? How could He live a holy life, if He wasn’t in fact holy himself? And how could He be Holy unless Jesus was…
Jesus is GOD HIMSELF!!!
We’re halfway through the sermon. What’s the application for you? What are you to learn? Jesus is God himself. He is not just a good teacher. He’s not just a shifty salesman. He’s not a good magician. He’s no myth. He’s no bedtime story. He’s no comic book hero. He’s no politician, money maker, or rebel rouser.
He is the Divine Lord of Heaven and earth and…he should…be listened to. He should be listened to where his words have been recorded for him to speak to our hearts:
II. …In His Word
Pay careful attention to what the voice of the Father from the cloud says next. He says, “This is my Son; whom I love. Listen to him!”
Do you think it made Peter tremble just a tad? A week earlier he had rebuked Jesus. “No, what you are saying is wrong. You will not be arrested. You will not die. You will not be a sacrifice.” At the time – that seemed like a good idea. Like he was stopping his friend from having a very bad idea.
Now in the presence of the blinding heavenly light, surrounded by men from heaven, and listening to the booming voice of the Divine Father – maybe – Peter was wishing he had been quiet.
He should have listened.
What about you? Do you listen to God? Or do you like to have knee jerk, Peter like reactions?
· Jesus, I hear you, but I think I know more about my life than you do.
· Jesus, you think that’s a sin? Haven’t you been on Twitter recently? Our society thinks it’s ok now.
· Jesus, I understand you’re point –as Lord of heaven and all, but I gotta make my own decisions.
· Jesus, thanks for the advice. I’ll take it into consideration.
Careful. If you ignore Jesus’ words, then you ignore his authority. If you ignore Jesus’ authority, then you ignore God’s authority. If you ignore God’s authority, then…well…BAD IDEA.
And if you ignore God’s Words in favor of doing what you want, then who are you really listening to? Who are you giving authority? Who are you setting up as God? Whether it’s subconscious or consciously aren’t you making yourself and your ideas into the ideas of God himself?!?
GUEST WHAT: The Transfiguration is not about the revelation that you are God. But it is about the revelation that JESUS IS GOD. Heed the Father’s advice. Listen to Him!
If you have ever ignored God, if you have ever rejected the Bible, if you have ever refused to listen to what Jesus says in Scripture, then maybe you feel like Peter, James, and John. Perhaps you feel like falling to your knees, face first, and pleading with God -- HAVE MERCY!
You need to listen to what Jesus would do shortly after this Mt. of Transfiguration. It’s what he had told his disciples he would do and what Peter had rejected: Mark 8: 32 -- Then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed…
Don’t look at this from the perspective of the suffering human being that the world saw in those first Lenten days. Instead, look deeper. Look at Him from the Mount! See that this is the Holy One – God Himself suffering for you. It his plan. It is his good plan. It is His Divine God plan for saving you. He would suffer for all of the times you have not listened to God.
Amazing isn’t it? God, whom you needed to listen to (and haven’t listened to), listened to you. He heard you cry for mercy from eternity. He heard your cry for help. He stepped out of his Heavenly throne to answer your call to save you.
But it was more than just a death. Take a look at the tagline at the end of verse 32 after three days Jesus would rise again.
Impossible, right? How could Jesus do that?
How about the same reason that he could turn his clothes heavenly white, shine his face like the sun, talk with two heavenly souls, and have the Father speak pleasure with his holy living?
JESUS IS GOD!
This is exactly what happened. Death couldn’t hold Jesus, because it couldn’t hold God. Death couldn’t hold Jesus, because Jesus was God and nothing is impossible with God! (Luke 1:37)
So…Listen to Jesus! Even when it seems impossible.
When he says, “Take heart. You’re forgiven.” Listen to him, He’s God.
When he says, “Peace be with you.” Listen to Him, He’s God.
When He says, “I know theplans I have for you.” Listen to him. He’s God. (Jr. 29:11)
When He says, “I’m always with you.” Listen to Him. He’s God. (Mt. 28:21)
When he says, “Whoever believes in me, will not perish, but have eternal life.” Listen to him. He’s God.
When he says, “I have a room in heaven for you.” Listen to him. He’s God.
Once you hear him speaking on the impossible, listen to him in the more mundane things of day to day life.
Listen to him when he tells you to abandon your sin. He’s God.
Listen to him when he tells you to hear his Word. He’s God.
Listen to him when he tells you to be baptized. He’s God.
Listen to him when he tells you to sing his praise. He’s God.
Listen to him when he tells you to pray. He’s God.
Listen to him when he tells you to gather at church. He’s God.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
This may have been the most difficult thing for the disciples to listen to. Think about what they had just seen. Think of the glory they had just seen.
But nowhere is it recorded that they told anyone about this until after he had risen from the dead. As hard as it was to do, they remembered who it was that was speaking to them. God himself.
Whatever God is asking you to do. Whatever God is asking you to believe. May you be like the disciples. Remember who it is that is asking you. See that Jesus is God.
Ever notice how children’s books always paint Jesus with a smile?
He holds the kids. He smiles at the kids. He feeds them Gogurts. He’s always happy.
Jesus certainly is kind like that. There are plenty of occasions that is true. But is Jesus always like that? Is he just an ancient Mr. Rogers?
I don't know. You tell me:
No? Not even if Trolley the Train called him a bad name?
These are things that Jesus did. He isn't always so warm and fuzzy. He isn't a pushover.
Jesus is COMBATIVE.
I. Whose Side Does He Fight On?
Take our text for this morning from Mark 1 to see Jesus show his combative side:
Jesus went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are-- the Holy One of God!"
Notice what it says in our text. Jesus was in the temple preaching. Things were going well. People were impressed by the authority with which he preached. When along comes a man who was possessed by an evil spirit!
What do we know about evil spirits? To put it simply: Evil spirits are evil. This isn’t just because they have the word “evil” in their name either. A few Scripture sections describe to us how evil spirits came to be:
Now look at the words of the evil spirit when he sees Jesus. He doesn’t give Jesus a high five. He doesn’t say, “Long time no see bud.” He doesn’t offer to buy Jesus a drink.
He’s terrified. He knows what it means to see Jesus – and Jesus is not one of his buds. Look at verse 24. “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” The evil spirit sees Jesus and assumes – a fight is coming. They are not on the same side.
So what does all of this mean when it comes to determining whose side Jesus is on? Think about it: If evil spirits are evil and Jesus is against evil spirit, then Jesus is good.
That’s exactly what the evil spirit calls him, “the Holy One of God!”
Now don’t misinterpret that phrase. I fear that the definition has been lost and changed in Modern Society. Kinda like how the Word “organic.” It used to mean “absolutely zero chemicals or pesticides of any kind in use.” Now it means “we paid a fee to tell people that we don’t’ use a lot of pesticides.” Holy, in God’s Word” means “zero bad.” It doesn’t mean “relatively good in comparison to others.” It doesn’t mean “a smidgens of evil.” It doesn’t mean “99.9% good.”
Holy means completely, utterly, 100%, certified, grade A good! That’s Jesus. Completely, utterly, 100%, certified, grade A good!
II. Which Side is More Powerful?
Jesus and this demon are on opposite sides then. It sounds kind of scary too. There’s bound to be a fight. Because this demon was powerful. Look at what it says about the man, “the man was possessed by an evil spirit.” Possession means that the spirit had taken over. He took over his body. He took over his intellect. This evil spirit was in complete control of this man.
Think of how scary that is. The man had no control over what he said. The man couldn’t feed himself when he wanted. In extreme Biblical cases, the demon would cause the man to harm himself without any provocation or convincing. If you’ve ever seen a demon possession movie, know this: the real thing is REAL and twice as scary. If you haven’t seen those movies, don’t go watching them. There’s no reason for you to be influenced by such powerfully evil stuff.
Demons are obviously more powerful than humans. Even in today’s society – when possession is thankfully less common – demons work to tempt us into sin after sin.
Jesus is more powerful than your average human. But as this demon possessed man approaches, one might expect a UFC like showdown. Punches. Swords. Divine headlocks!
Not so much.
“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” (v.25)
The demon? He doesn’t have a snappy comeback. The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. (v.26)
Did you see how amazing that was? Jesus didn’t pull out a sword. He didn’t shoot fireballs at the demon. He didn’t evil call on any of his disciples for help. He simply spoke and the demon was defeated. The crowd is impressed too. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” (v.27)
This whole approach of mere words winning a fight probably won’t work later today at the Super Bowl. As impressive as Tom Brady can be, if all he did was step out on the field and say, “Leave you Seahawks,” I’m thinking it doesn’t’ have the same effect. Same thing in boxing. Imagine the great Muhammad Ali, who had a lot to say, stepping into a boxing ring, taking off his gloves, not throwing a punch, and simply saying, “KNOCKOUT!” It probably wouldn’t be long before he was on the floor.
This is the awesome power of Jesus. Jesus is all powerful. He is more powerful than any evil spirit. He defeats them with mere words.
What Does this Mean for you?
You might be thinking. This is nice. It sounds kinda like my son’s Spiderman comic book. Good beats evil. Great. But what does this have to do with my everyday life.
More than you think.
Here are three take home points to remember from this lesson:
1. What Jesus says is GOOD.
It is so very common in our American society to call Jesus out and label him evil because some of Jesus’ ideas don’t fit into today’s society. I was reading an article on the Huffington Post the other day. It was all about how to spot subliminal hate speech. The claim was that saying “homosexuality is sinful” is downright evil. But even using phrases such as “traditional marriage” is hateful. It implies that homosexual marriage isn’t real marriage. The article was purporting that such kind of speech not be tolerated and stopped because it was so evil.
Hmmm. Churches didn’t get this from themselves. Jesus himself was a proponent of marriage. He said, “For this reason a man leaves his father and mothers and is united to his wife, and the two become one flesh.” (Mt. 19:5-6)
IS that hate speech? IS that evil?
This isn’t the only accusation against Jesus. The world will claim:
Do you see why this lesson is important? There’s no doubt that Jesus and modern society clash. That’s not in question. The big question is who is right? Who is on the side of good and who is on the side of evil?
Let’s talk elementary for a moment:
What sound does a cow make? A cow moos. It makes cow sounds. How about a dog? A dog barks. Simple enough. Dogs say dog things and cows say cow things. A cat cannot not cluck and a chicken cannot meow. That’s not who they are.
Jesus is Good. Holy. 100% all the time good. What he says is good. 100% all the time good.
Therefore, when it comes to the case of Jesus versus modern society who’s right? Who’s good and who’s evil? Scripture says this in 2 Corinthians 11:14 “Satan masquerades as an angel of light,” which means that sometimes things that look good, nice, and not very harmful – are terrible wrong and harmful.
Who do you trust? The ones who follow demons or the one who drives them out?
This leads to an important question. Why is there such a disconnect? Why do Jesus and society not mesh? Why are there passages in the Bible that you read and disagree with? Whose fault is it?
Remember: It can’t be Jesus. He is always good. Therefore, if you disagree…if you think differently…if you do differently,…if you say differently than Jesus, who’s wrong? (CLUE: It’s not Jesus.)
BOTTOM LINE: If You are Doing, Saying or Thinking Something that’s against what Jesus says – You’re Wrong! It can’t be Jesus. It must be you!
Do you realize the plight of our situation? Do you realize the sad state that our sin filled souls are in? Join me in pleading with the apostle Paul: “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ Our Lord.”
Hear Jesus’ call in these words: “Repent. Turn from evil. Turn back to God.”
3. Jesus is Your Help against Evil.
Evil is the very reason Jesus came to earth in the first place. He came down to earth to eradicate the world of the evil that the devil had brought into it back at the garden of Eden. There wasn’t a day of Jesus’ life that there wasn’t a battle. Demons, temptations, and the devil were surrounding him. But Jesus never fell. He never lost. He was undefeated in every temptation battle he entered. He’s the undisputed champion of eternity.
Even when it looked like he lost as he hung on the cross, things weren’t as they seemed. On that cross, Jesus won the final victory. He defeated the devil. He crushed evil. Three days later, he demolished death.
Then, with the same powerful voice that he used to run the demon out of the temple, Jesus speaks: “You are forgiven. You are my brother. You are a soldier in the army of the LORD! Come and fight with me.”
So…fight! Fight evil. Fight temptation. Fight your demons.
Thankfully demons aren’t manifesting like they did back at Jesus’ time, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t demons you have to face. Alcohol. Drug addiction. Pornography. Sexual temptation with your girlfriend. Going too far with your boyfriend. Hatred and anger all over social media. The temptation to be cool and abandon God.
There’s so many temptation demons around it’s scary!
But you aren’t alone. Jesus – the One who hates evil and who is vehemently stronger than it – is with you. Call on him. Pray for his blessing. Use his Word to banish temptation. Call on a Christian friend for support. Head to church to strengthen your spiritual fighting muscles.
And look forward to The Day—the day when all this fighting is over, the day when weary spiritual soldiers rest their feet, the day where you stop fighting, the day when God takes you home to be with Him and celebrate his Gospel victory party. Amen.
There are a few traits that identify those in the Kiecker family. For starters, we tend to have slightly darker sun soaked skin. There's a certain chin style that we share. Many Kieckers have knee problems. And the men, well, they have a problem with thinning hair -- something I haven't escaped.
These past weeks we've been talking about what it means to be people of God. We've said it means we're strangers on this earth and heirs of heaven. Today we're going to talk about an amazing trait that all the members of God's family have.
I. All of God’s Children are Holy…
Take a look 1 Peter 1:13-16. Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."
Notice that the trait God’s children have in common is not physical. It’s not the color of their eyes, the color of their skin, or the color of their hair. It’s not cultural. It’s not social status. It’s not favorite musical style. It’s not even their favorite football team.
It has to do with morality. God’s people are holy.
Check out verse 16. This is a quotation from Leviticus 19:2 or possibly Leviticus 11:44, vs. 45, or 20:7. Could be any of those, because they all have this same quote. This then is an important truth for us to digest: "Be holy because God is holy!" It's who God is and it’s what God expect his children, you, to be.
What does holy mean?
That's a good question. I’m asking it too. Because we need to see if we have that trait in order to confidently identify ourselves as God's children.
In America today, we have a lot of different definitions for holy. We think it means, “Try really hard.” “Do your best,” “Be better than those awful people,” or “Do more good than bad.” This is why we picture people, who haven’t led lives with very great morals, to be holy simply because they have thousands of dollars to a charity.
Are our depictions of holiness accurate?
Here’s a test. We know that God is holy. Therefore, let’s stack these definitions of “holy” up against God and see if they hold up.
Instead, God’s definition of holiness runs right alongside his definitions of good and righteous. When God is holy, that means he is completely apart from sin. He has no sin in his thoughts, words, or actions. He never does evil…ever…not even once.
This then is the definition of holy that we’re working with. It’s the definition of God’s holiness and it’s the definition of holiness that God requires of his children.
So… Are you holy?
If you are vegan, you don't eat meat or anything that comes from animals. No cheese. No eggs. No milk. Nothing.
So, if you (as a vegan) are wearing a "I'm vegan" t-shirt and head into Wendy's for the delicious Triple Baconator: three all beef patties, slices of cheese, and strips of bacon, then you finish it with a tall glass of chocolate milk shake, you’re not vegan.
Similarly, if you claim to be holy, and then gather with your coworkers to badmouth your boss, say a few swears, laugh at some dirty jokes, look the waitress up and down, and down four shots of Jack Daniels in less than an hour, only to end the night in front of the TV saying, “Well, at least I wasn’t as bad as my friend. He’s such a drunk and a jerk.”
You are NOT being holy. You are not living like God’s child.
In fact, if you are having a pretty good day at avoiding sin, you stub your toe, but don’t say a bad word; you get stuck in traffic, but don’t hold up any fingers; you miss the hot coffee at work and don’t hold a grudge against your coworkers; but when your boss tells you that they are downsizing and you are having your pay docked, and you think just for a second, “I hate him…”
You are not living holy.
This is why Scripture tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Sin makes you unholy. It’s why you don’t get God’s glory.
This is true for all of us!
But is this a big deal? What will God really do to the unholy?
I think we sometimes get this idea that God is a kind old grandfather. We picture him sitting up in heaven with a long white beard and jolly cheeks. When one of us does wrong, he simply lifts us up on his lap, smiles firmly, chuckles and says, “Oh, what a kid.” Then, he hands out some Werther's, sends us on our way, and goes back to napping while watching M.A.S.H.
Is that how God reacts to sin?
Look at verse 17. “…You call on a father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear!" Notice that word “impartially.” There is no grandpa favoritism here. Whether you are new to the church or a longtime churchgoer, God will judge your unholy deeds as unholy! God won't say, "Well, this person has a huge problem with lust, but he was confirmed, so I'll give him a pass." God won't say, "Well, this person hated his neighbor simply because of the color of his skin, but at least he didn't punch him so he's good." God won't say, "Well, this young woman is leading an immoral lifestyle. She isn’t giving any glory to me and in fact bad mouths me on Facebook, but her friends think she’s cool. I want to be cool, too. So…she’s cool."
Our holy God isn’t interested in being cool. Grandfather God is a myth. God judges impartially and he judges to hell any and all unholiness.
If you think differently, then someone has robbed you of God’s holiness. A holiness that cannot tolerate even for a second a smidgens of unholiness.
II. …Declared Holy by the Holy One
What can we do then?
How can we make it up to God?
How can we avoid his punishment?
Read on in what Peter says next, 'You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty, unholy, way of life handed down to you from your forefathers...”
The point is simple. You can't pay for one unholy life with another unholy life. That’d be like trying to make up for the fact that you knocked over your mom’s priceless vase into a thousand pieces, by handing her the broken pieces of Grandma’s vase that you had bumped into last weekend.
One broken thing doesn’t make up for another.
Neither can an unholy life suddenly start doing more good and change into being holy. A zebra can’t changes its stripes into spots nor can a cheetah change its spots into stripes. In the same way, unholy people cannot change their ways into holy ways.
Holiness can only come from one who is holy.
And that’s God…
What did God do about it?
Scripture says, “You were redeemed... with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (v.17)
The Old Testament regulations teach us quite a bit about sin. In those times, the Israelites were to sacrifice a lamb for the forgiveness sins. But not just any old lamb. They couldn’t take the lamb with the deformed leg. They couldn’t take the lamb whose wool was coarse and speckled. They couldn’t even take the lamb who had a cavity in it’s back molar.
They needed a perfect lamb. A holy lamb. A holy lamb had to be sacrificed for sin to be paid for.
Fast forward to the words of the Apostle Peter who had heard John the Baptist say about Jesus, “Look the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Now read what Peter writes in verse 18 again, “You were bought with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
Do you get what Peter is saying? The payment for our sins is Jesus' holy life. His perfect life. His life “without the blemish of sin nor the defect of unholiness.” This is who Jesus holy. Holy in every last way.
But you might be thinking how is that possible? How can Jesus, a human, be without sin? No human can do that. Only God can.
You’re right...and that’s exactly who Jesus was: God himself.
Look at verse 20. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. He was the Holy One. Chosen because he was holy. Chosen because he would live a holy life. Chosen because his holy sacrifice would pay for our unholy lives. Chosen because he was holy as God as only God as holy can be.
The Holy One lived a Holy Life and gave that Holy life for us Unholy people that we might be declared Holy through faith!
How do you know this is all true?
Read verse 21: Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and your hope are in God. (v.21)
Proof #1 is glorious. It’s the resurrection of Jesus.
Unholy people don't rise from the dead. Even holy people who have taken on the sins of others shouldn’t rise from the dead, they have sin on them!
Unless the One who died is God himself. Because with God all things are possible. With God, our sacrifice makes a complete sacrifice to save us and still returns from the grave. Therefore, the resurrection is proof that Jesus was, is, and always will be God!
Consequently, this leads us to our second proof. Look at what the end of that section says. It says that you're faith is in God. (v.21) God, then, is to be trusted.
If you are having a party and give people directions on how to get to your house, people should trust you. They know that you need to take a left at the McDonald's, drive three blocks, and then look for the cream colored house with the red paneling and the Dodge Ram truck in the driveway.
Shouldn't you trust God then in how to get to heaven? It's his home. When he tells you that you can't get there by what you do and only through faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior (and he is holy so it is impossible for him to tell a lie)...trust him! Don’t trust your own unholy (and impure) thoughts on how to get to heaven. Trust his Holy promises.
What should we do now?
Exactly what God's Word in this section tells us to do. Live holy lives in all that you do.
Be holy in your thoughts. Be holy in your words. Be holy in your actions. Be holy in your typing, your texting, your swiping.
Be holy , not just at church once every other week, but…at home, at school, a work. Be holy in line at the checkout counter, alone at home in front of the computer, stuck in traffic, hanging out with your coworkers on a Friday night, when your kids are testing your patience…in any and every situation, do not sin. Remember who you are. Remember your family trait. Remember that God has made you holy!
Do this not in order to earn the title of holiness, but because God has already declared you holy in Jesus.
What might happen? Someone might notice. Then, they’ll look at your funny, approach and say, “Look at you. You have your Father’s holiness.”
Praise God when that happens.
Praise God for the holy declaration he has made about you.
Praise God for the holy actions in your life.
Praise God for the strength to live in holiness till we see his holy kingdom. Amen.
A Message from Deuteronomy 4.
1 Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.
6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?
9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
"What in the World does Hallowed Mean?"
I think that's a good question. In today's world, it's just not an adjective we use all that much. We might call someone cool, awesome, or neato.(Or maybe we don’t and I need to update my hip vocabulary.) Hallowed is just not a word that you hear all that much.
Hallowed means "honor as holy." You might do this at your high school football field. You call it “hallowed grounds” or maybe the University library at night. You are quiet because it is “hallowed.”
Holy holds the idea of clean, pure, apart from sin. In other words, hallowed means to make something, "completely unlike anything you've ever seen or heard."
No wonder we don't use it with each other. We are all like one another. We're sinful. We've heard that before.
So whose name are we praying to be hallowed? It isn't yours. It isn't mine.
It's our Heavenly Father's.
1. What Do I Need to Do to Honor God’s Name as Holy?
In the first five books of the Bible, there's a lot of time spent on the concept of "holiness." The holy LORD wants his Israelite people to be holy. Leviticus 19:2 sums it up. It says, "Be holy because I the LORD your God am holy." This command is in the midst of chapter after chapter of ceremonies, practices, and moral laws that, when kept, would have them treat God’s name as holy.
We could, then, spend time reading those 40 some chapters in order to get a better sense of holiness. But, you probably want to get back to your tasks at hand toady. Thankfully God gave his people (and us) a great summary of these chapters in Deuteronomy 4. He says, "Do not add to what I have commanded you and do not subtract from it. But keep the commands of the LORD, your God, that I have given you."
In other words, keeping God’s name holy involves listening to and doing all that God has to say.
This makes sense.
If you wanted to become a firefighter, you would learn from a firefighter. If you wanted to learn to be a dentist, you would be an intern to a dentist. If you wanted to learn to crochet, you’d learn from your grandma. You’d go to the expert to learn how to do something.
If we want to learn how to be holy and do holy things, we have to go to the expert—God himself.
Then, listening to God and doing what he says is holy. But we need to be careful. There are certain pitfalls to watch out for.
The first is this: Don't add to God's Word.
Teenagers are good at embellishing. They use this special skill especially when it comes to proving that their parents are "awful." One might say, "My dad is so mean that I'm pretty much grounded for life." What dad actually said maybe have been quite different. It may have been more along the lines of, "You can't go to the Justin Bieber concert this weekend."
Why does the teenager change her dad's words in the first place? Because she wants people to think about her dad as this totally unreasonable, wrath filled, tyrant. If she told the facts, she's not sure it would happen. So, she "adds to" her Father's comments in order to make him look much worse than he really is.
This is what God is warning us of first of all. Don't add to my commands. Yet, we do it, because we think that somehow we'll be making God more holy.
This is what the Jewish rabbis had done by the time of Jesus. They followed and preached Old Testament laws to be sure, but they had also developed an entire book of extra laws and practices that “improved upon” those Old Testament laws of God. This book—called the Talmud is still in use to this day.
Of course, Christians aren’t immune to this. A certain church body is great at adding to God’s Word. They tell their pastors not to get married, because they think that this makes them holier. They have their parishioners say prayers a certain number of time after each sin they commit. They encourage people to have religious statues around them while they pray, because these statues will somehow make their prayers holier.
The truth is: God never commands any of that stuff.
Do you ever catch yourself doing that? Do you find yourself thinking that by saying a prayer with your hands folded around a cross with beads on it that you are suddenly making that prayer holier? Do you tell people with pride, “I never ever have an alcoholic beverage!” as if that was a commandment? Do you ever have people look at your office cubicle at work in hopes that they will realize how holy you are because you have a cross as your screen saver, your mouse pad, and in five or six picture frames around your desk? Feeling extra holy from your own added laws?
It is really a crazy concept: Unholy human beings attempting to make God holier. That's like me trying to tell Lebron James how to dribble the basketball between his legs. He's the expert, why does he need my help?
God's the expert on holiness, why does he need our help?
The second thing God warns us of probably a lot more common among us. Back in verse 4 God says, "Do not subtract from my Law."
If you saw a speed limit sign that said, “55 MPH.” What does it mean to you? Make sure you drive 65? Don’t go faster than 70? Go 55 if police are present?
Americans have collectively changed the meaning of speed limit signs. There might be certain areas this isn't true like school zones and whenever Raleigh's finest is present, but in general we've subtracted from these signs. We make them mean less than they do because driving the speed limit can be hard. It requires attention, patience, and focus. Something we don't always have. So, we subtract from this law and make it easier to attain to.
Don't we do the same thing with God's Law? "It says, 'don't lust', but we say, “When I'm looking at those lingerie models, they aren't without any clothing. So it's not really lust. At least, if I keep it under 15 minutes." God says, “Don’t gossip,” but we say, “That's hard. He must have meant 'don't gossip, unless its really juicy, then go ahead.'" God says, “'respect the government,” but we says, “God probably meant that only if I like the government." "God says, "don't hate,” but we say, “that means don't hate people who don't deserve it. Unfortunately, I only know people who deserve it, so I'll go right on hating." And talk about a popular one, God says, “homosexuality is a sin,” we say, “I don’t want to be a bigot, so I’ll just cover it in white out. (All ten plus times it says so.)”
It's like we make God's Word into the Golden Corral. "I'll have some of the "don't murder", sure, but "divorce being a sin," has always left a bad taste in my mouth. I won't get any of that. I think I'll put a smidgen of "love your neighbor" on the corner of my plate, but not too much-- too much makes me sick. I'll wash it down with a glass of "only believers in Jesus go to heaven," but that's too bitter to share with my friends, so I'll make sure and water it down first."
Listen to the LORD again, he says, " Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you."
That means in order to keep God's name holy, we need to listen to everything that he says… all the time.
It’s because you are. And in the present of the All Holy God, how else could we feel?
Yet listen to what our Holy God did to make us holy. He tells us in Ephesians 5:25, “Christ loved the church,” and here church doesn’t refer to a building, but to people. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Think about that. Christ is God. God is holy. Christ was holy. Yet He gave himself up for us!
“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy.”
This is why Jesus died. Because you and I are unholy. Because all of us have added to and subtracted from God’s Word in our thoughts, words, and actions. God, who was holy, died to make us holy, because we could not do this by ourselves!
“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy washing her with water and the Word.”
This is what Baptism is. It’s God’s eternal promises that in the waters of baptism the Holy Spirit seals us as holy thanks to the work of Jesus Christ our Lord. He washes us of our impurities. He makes us clean. He forgives you all of your sins!
2. Why Honor God’s Name Holy?
If we can’t do it on our own, if we don’t need to do it to earn heaven, why then do we make God’s name holy by our words and actions?
Take a look at the next part of Deuteronomy. Beginning at verse 5, "See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”
In other words, Moses is telling the people to "Live by God's Word so that they you will get noticed by the rest of the world."
This was so true at the time of Israel. The other nations worshipped images of stone. The Israelites worshipped a God they couldn't see. The other nations encouraged sexual immorality as a way to get closer to their gods. The Israelite nation reserved this special act for marriage. The other nations yearned for greed and power. The Israelites offered the first fruits of their harvest to the LORD.
But why did they do this? Was it to draw attention to themselves? Why do we listen to God's Word? Is it to draw attention to ourselves?
That's not the case. Listen to what they have to say about the Israelites, 7 "What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?"
Did you catch that? The Israelites lived the way they did so people would pay attention to them and in turn they would see God!
It's like Coach K. Duke's basketball teams usually play very well. That's a reflection on the players, to a certain extent, but when year after year, player after player, team after team plays as well as Duke does, it reflects on the coach.
When believer after believer, church after church, Christian after Christian follows God's Word, it reflects, not on us, but on God!
This is why we do it. To show people God.
Don't think this is to make ourselves appear better than others. It's not "I'm a great Christian" so much as it is "Christ is great!"
First, we show them God's holiness. As Moses says it, "Is there any nation so great to have such righteous decrees?" When we teach God's holiness as it is taught in the Bible, that becomes clear to people.
Because no one else considers holiness as cut and dry as God. No lust ever. No hate ever. No coveting ever. Don't ever think anything else is more important than God ...ever. Not once. Never.
When people see God's holiness, they learn what we were reminded of early in this message. “We are not holy! Not at all. We need a Savior!”
That’s the second thing we want to show people, that God is merciful.
Moses said, "What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” Think about that. The Israelites were a sinful people. God told them to be holy, but if you open up a page in the Old Testament, chances are you'll come across some sinful things that people did.
Yet, God was with them. He led them across the Red Sea. He protected them in the desert. He heard their every plea. He did it because of his mercy.
God has done it for us as well and the message we have for others is that God did it for them too! In Jesus, with his death on the cross, God was merciful to us. He punished his Son for the sins that they committed. Through faith in him, they too will be saved!
*This is what we mean by "hallowing God's name." We want to teach and act upon all of God’s Word in order to show people God’s holiness and his mercy.
III. How Can We Pull this Off?
Moses told the Israelites, "9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live."
How do you stop yourself from forgetting?
Do you remember the order of the presidents of the United States of America?
I did at one point. Got an A+. Now...I just remember that Millard Polks Fillmore. Otherwise, I draw a lot of blanks.
Why? I didn't keep studying it. The same is true with God's Word. If you don't study it, you will forget it. It will leave your heart. Consequently, if you don't forget God's Word, then there is no way you will live it.
This is why God encourages us to read his Bible! Make a plan and get this done immediately. It’s why Bible study exists. Join one! It’s why church happens each week. See you there!
Secondly, we want to teach this to our kids. Moses said just that to the Israelites, "Teach them to your children and to their children after them."
Because, guess what? They need you to tell it to them.
Don't come up with this idea that someday, somehow they'll learn on their own. That's foolish.
Instead, teach them God's Word. Bring them to Sunday School. Review the Sunday School lesson with them during the week. Pick up a devotional. If you need help finding the right one, ask me...I'll be glad to do it!
Finally, you might be realizing that this is all extremely difficult. You'd be right. How can an unholy people begin to understand the holiness of God and then put that into practice in day to day life?
You're going to need help. May I suggest that you call on the expert?
It's what we pray in the Lord's Prayer: "Hallowed be Thy Name." It’s really quite cyclical. We are asking God for help.
Here’s the progression of thought: “O Holy God! We are not holy. We see that when we compare ourselves to you. Yet, in our baptism and because of Jesus, you have made us holy in your sight. Now we ask you to help us make your name holy in the world. Again, we can’t do that on our own. We need you to send your Holy Spirit to work in our hearts a holy understanding, teaching, and acting upon of your Word.”
In other words, “God make your Name Holy!”
May this holy God strengthen you to make his name holy that more might be brought into your holiness. Hallowed be Thy Name O Lord. Hallowed be Thy Name. Amen.