Over this sermon series, we’ve talked a lot about Fighting Temptation. But…How confident do you feel that you can fight temptation and win?
Today we’re going to study God’s Word and my goal is to teach you why you have every reason in the world to Fight Temptation confidently. 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. Reasons for Lacking Confidence
The lesson for this morning comes from Isaiah. He was a prophet who lived around 640 B.C. Mainly he preached warnings about what would happen to the Israelites if they didn’t start fighting temptation.
But most people didn’t listen.
God, through Isaiah, even predicted that they wouldn’t listen.
It’s why he prophesied that they would be taken into captivity.
Which…is exactly what happened. In 597 B.C., the Babylonian army ransacked the country of Judah. They destroyed the infrastructure and took hundreds of thousands of Israelites captive as prisoners back to Babylon.
It was then, in captivity, that many of the people began to listen.
They looked back at the prophesies of Isaiah and discovered sections like this:
“Who handed Jacob over to become loot, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned? For they would not follow his ways;
they did not obey his law. So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart.” (v.24-25)
Can you imagine?
Being in captivity.
We didn’t follow his ways.
We did not obey his law.
We are in flames because of our sinful failures!
I can’t imagine that the Israelites had a lot of confidence.
Just a lot of “if onlys.”
If only I’d listened to God.
If only I had fought back against temptation.
If only I had told that merchant, “No. We don’t need your bejeweled god statues. We worship the one true, invisible God, the Lord.”
If only I had told my wife, “No, we aren’t going to teach our kids that worship isn’t important. We’ll tell them that worship is the most important thing to their eternal relationship with God.”
If only I had told my friends, “No, I’m not going to get drunk with you tonight…then I never would have done a lot of other things that I wish I had never done.”
If only I had told myself, “Get up. Fight these temptations. Stop being complacent and follow your God.”
Then, I wouldn’t be in captivity.
It feels too late.
I’ve failed too many times.
God has abandoned me.
Temptation will always win.
Can you relate?
Maybe your record against temptation isn’t good.
Maybe you keep losing in your personal battle against your personal demons.
Maybe you have a weakness that you’re so ashamed of – you question if you even belong in this church family.
Maybe you feel weighed down by guilt, alone in your battle, like you are in captivity to a particular sin!
Maybe you’ve tried psyching yourself up, waking up in prayer, saying, “Today is the day I beat that temptation,” only…to attempt your day…and…lose.
Maybe you feel alone like you are the only one who is fighting against a particular sin.
And, maybe, all of these thoughts convince you…
That you’ll never win.
That you’ll always fail against temptation.
That you have NO reason to be confident in ever winning again.
If that’s how you think…
II. Confidence from God Himself
Listen to Isaiah 43.
It’s written for God’s people.
It’s written for God’s people in captivity to Babylon.
It’s written for God’s people in captivity to their own sinful choices.
It’s written to God’s people – like you.
And it’s filled with confidence-boosting statements from God himself.
But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3)
Look at those words.
Do you hear God’s voice?
He’s speaking to you.
And giving you all kinds of confidence.
(1) “You are my Creation.”
Look at the first verse. It says, “This is what the LORD says, he who created you, O Jacob; he who formed you, O Israel.” (43:1) It’s not even an actual statement of God yet, but through it, God still communicates something to you.
“You are my creation.”
Over at Precious Lambs, the kids take their artwork very, very seriously. They are proud of their artwork. They love to show off their artwork. They love to show me their artwork. They love to bring artwork home for mom and dad.
And they get really, really upset if they lose their artwork.
There was a girl the other day whose conversation with mom went something like this:
“Calm down. Honey. What’s wrong!”
“You threw my artwork away!”
“Are you sure? I just threw some of the pictures with scribbles on them away.”
“It wasn’t scribbles. It was a picture of a unicorn!”
Kids love their artwork because it’s their artwork.
They created it.
They put it on paper.
Their imagination developed the piece.
The same is true with God and you.
You come from the annals of God’s divine mind.
He thought you up before you ever thought your first word.
He knit you together with his own powerful, yet gentle hands. (Psalm 139:13)
Do you think God will just leave you to suffer?
Do you think God won’t come to your rescue?
Do you think God won’t work tirelessly to get you back even after your own sins have left you feeling like garbage?
(2) “You are Redeemed.”
Verse 2 says this, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.” (Isaiah 43:2a)
Redeem means to “buy back.” To “pay for.” To “purchase again.”
And God has redeemed YOU.
Because yes! We fell to sin.
Yes, we were owned by our guilt.
We were owned by our shame.
We were owned by our addictions.
We were owned by our brokenness.
Jesus came to earth.
He offered the most precious currency of all:
His perfect blood.
Jesus bought you.
Jesus paid for you.
Jesus redeemed you.
You do not belong to your addiction.
You do not belong to your temptation.
You do not belong to your sins.
You belong to God!
It’s like at Sola café: They have this little card at Sola café that if you remember to have it stamped every time you order a drink, the 10th drink is free! Even if you do what I do and order a small coffee, the cheapest thing on the menu, for the other 9 drinks, you can get a large, 6-dollar Caramel Macchiato for FREE. Fully paid for.
You have been fully paid for.
No matter how much sin you have fallen to.
You belong to God – fully and completely.
(3) “I know you.”
God says, “I have called you by name.” (Isaiah 43:2b) That’ s an uplifting truth.
Because it’s easy to feel like you are just a number.
It’s easy to feel as if God’s redemptive power is big and great, but not that personal.
It’s like calling for tech support. And you say, “Hi! I’m Phil calling from Gethsemane Church” and they say, “What’s your equipment ID number?” And you say, “I don’t know that. But I’m from Gethsemane Church, we have an account with you.” And they say, “Equipment ID Number please.” And you say, “I spoke with you about 15 minutes ago? Don’t you remember me?” And they say, “I remember you. You haven’t given me the Equipment ID Number yet.”
God says you are more than an Equipment ID Number to him.
You are you.
He knows your name.
He knows your first name.
He knows your last name.
He knows your middle name.
He knows your nickname.
He knows your maiden name.
He knows your username.
He knows your pet name.
He knows your surname.
He even knows your Superhero name – that you found out from that one Facebook quiz you took way back in 2014.
God knows you.
Personally knows you.
He knows your struggles.
He knows your weaknesses.
He knows the things you’ve told your friends.
He knows the things you’ve told your counselor.
He knows the things you haven’t told your counselor.
He stands beside you.
And whispers: “You have a new name.”
I will call you, “Mine.”
This is why he also whispers:
(4) “I am With You.”
God has Isaiah write this, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:3)
This is a metaphor.
Because in the Old Testament, the Israelite people had once been surrounded by their enemies and a deep, vast sea. They had no where to go! They were as good as dead.
But God was with them.
He split the waters and they crossed through on dry ground – fish and sea weed and currents on each side.
And again in the Old Testament, some men were thrown into a fiery furnace because they didn’t bow down and worship a giant golden statue of the king.
But God was with them.
He kept them safe in the flames so that not a hair, not a thread, not even a little piece of beard was singed in the fire. Neither did they smell of smoke.
And you…when you are surrounded by temptation.
When you feel all alone.
When you think there’s no way out.
When you are terrified of what’s going on in your life.
God is with you.
He will keep you safe.
He will help you out.
He will lead you safely – undrowned.
Victorious over temptation!
And here’s how he does it:
(5) “I am your Savior.”
God has Isaiah write this, “I am the LORD, your God, the holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (v.3)
That same powerful God who defeated split the Red Sea.
That same powerful God who kept the men safe in the furnace.
That same powerful God who died on the cross and saved you from sin – is your Savior.
It isn’t like waiting in the doctor’s office to see your specific specialist about your specific special problem and then someone walks into the room.
You don’t recognize them. You look closely at their name badge and it says: “Intern.”
God is your Savior.
Not your “might be Savior.”
Not your “Try-the-hardest-to-save-but-failing Savior.”
Not even “Everyone else’s Savior.”
No. Your Savior.
Which leads to a very powerful passage. Friends – write this down. Memorize it. Bring it from God’s heart to your heart:
“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions. I will forget your sins and remember your wickedness no more.” (v.25)
God has destroyed your sins so completely that he can’t even remember a single sin.
He can’t even remember that you’ve failed.
He can’t even remember that you’re a failure.
Because of him.
You are a winner.
III. What Now?
Fight like a champion.
And let me tell you:
Champions don’t come on out and let the other punch first.
They come out swinging.
They come out dodging.
They come out with a plan.
Do you have a temptation that you struggle against?
Come out swinging.
Come out dodging.
Come out with a plan.
(1) Come out Swinging
Because too often we are reactive against temptation. We wait for it to strike and hope that we can react when it does.
It’s like coffee. I drink too much.
Maybe…some of you knew that.
But here’s the thing…I know I drink too much yet, I put myself in the same situation each day.
I stay up later than I should.
I don’t have anything to drink until I have my morning coffee.
I hang out for the first hour of every weekday – within about 50 steps of the coffee pot.
No wonder I keep failing.
Why not go on the offensive? Romans 8:13 says: “By the Spirit, put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Don’t just punch them in the mouth or put them in a headlock. The language is stronger. Put them to death!
Talking about my caffeine struggle:
Why not drink 2 glasses of water before the coffee pot gets put on?
Why not go to bed 30 minutes earlier so that I’m not so tired?
Why not tell an entire congregation about it so that they can hold you accountable and tell you to drink a bit less?
Whatever your temptation is, think about it: how can you attack it?
(2) Come out Dodging
But there will be times when temptation blindsides you.
When suddenly you find yourself in situations in which things don’t look good.
When Satan pulls some guerrilla warfare on you.
The Bible tells the story about a guy named Joseph. He worked as a servant in the house of a rich government official. He loved working there. He respected his master. He wanted to keep his job.
One day – the government official’s wife – she developed a crush on Joseph – he was young and handsome – one day when noticed him working in the house when no one else is around. She said to him, “Come to bed with me. Sleep with me. No one is around. No one will know. You’ll be all mine.”
And Joseph said?
“I’m out of here.”
Literally – the Bible says that he runs away.
He dodges the temptation.
Why not do that?
Too often I think we tried to play the hero. We try to put ourselves in situations that we know we fail at – and wait to see if we might beat temptation.
The Bible says differently. 2 Timothy 2:2 says, “Flee youthful passions.”
Don’t hover over the page with all the scantily clad women -- click the “x” and get out of there.
Don’t hang around the coffee pot or water cooler that’s bringing up your favorite gossip. Leave.
Don’t sit at the dinner table, getting angrier and angrier ready to blow your top on your spouse – say, “Honey. Give me a second.” Walk away. Cool down. Don’t sin.
(3) Come out with a Plan
I imagine that’s what the final two teams in the NCAA tournament are doing right now. They are planning how to defeat each other. They are coming up with plays, they are coming up with values, they are getting ready to explain to their teams: “When we are in this situation, do this. When we are in this other situation, do this.”
It would be ludicrous for a team to be in the finals of the NCAA tournament and have their plan be, “I don’t have a plan. Try to win.”
It’s ludicrous for us to attempt to fight temptation without a plan.
Proverbs 14:22 says this, “Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.”
Friends, champions make a plan.
In Jesus, you are a champion.
Make a plan to fight against temptation.
If you have a sin that you struggle with…repeatedly, why not come up with a plan?
Why not take a moment and write it up. Literally write it up in a notebook.
Pray about it. Seek God’s wisdom about it. Ask a trusted friend about it. Then, write up your plan.
If you need help in this – I will help you.
So will the others at church.
That’s what I hope you’ll do for others.
Because that’s what church is.
Our goal is to help out, swing, dodge, and plan for your fight against temptation.
Which leads to our final point.
(4) View Yourself as the Champ!
Because it’s so easy to view yourself as nothing more than a sinner.
And to a certain extent that’s important. It leads us to Jesus.
But once we have heard the promise of God’s forgiveness and we leave these walls to battle temptation, it is so important that we see ourselves as God sees us – as winners in Jesus.
It’s like what happens during a basketball game. If you go into the game thinking, “We’ll probably lose because we are losers,” you’ll probably lose.
But if the coach can get you to think you have a chance or even that you’ll win, you have an advantage because you are already in a winning frame of mind.
Friend, you are a winner in Jesus.
Think of yourself as a winner.
Envision yourself squashing the devil and all of his foolish attempts – even if it’s a temptation by which he has squashed you over and over again.
Because you are in Christ.
Christ is in you.
He stomped the devil.
He stomped sin.
He stomped guilt.
He stomped shame.
He stomped death itself when…three days later…
Three days later, he rose from the grave.
Friends, as Christ is the winner, you are a winner.
Fight temptation. Amen.
FRESH: Staying FRESH
In the early 1990s, there was a SURE deodorant commercial that would start with a man at a sporting event next to a beautiful woman. His arms would be raised in excitement. He smiles at her. She looked impressed. Meanwhile in the background, a low-key beat accompanied a voice which sang: “Sure. Sure. Sure.” Then, the camera would pan past the woman to another guy – also looking to court the woman – raising his arms, but quickly catching a whiff of his underarms and immediately lowering them into a not-as-excited, half-touchdown pose…while the musical refrain changed from a deep “Sure. Sure. Sure.” to a wimpier sounding, “Unsure. Unsure. Unsure.”
The trend would continue for the duration of the 30 second ad.
From the classroom. (Sure hands raised; unsure hands not so much).
To adjusting the overhead light on an airplane (The person who’s sure is able to; the unsure person…just deals with it).
To (my personal favorite) the weather woman who is SURE and certain of a snowy forecast and the weather man who is as UNSURE about his pit stains as he is about the precipitation index.
The point? Using SURE deodorant will keep you SURE that you are STAYING FRESH.
Over the last weeks we have learned a lot about being FRESH in 2019. We talked about getting a FRESH start, out FRESH identity, the personalized FRESHness of baptism, how to have reFRESHing friendships, how to have FRESH speech, what our FRESH purpose is and how to be a part of that purpose and be a breath of FRESH air for the North Raleigh community. Today’s goal is to learn how to be sure that we’re staying FRESH for God’s purposes throughout the entire year. 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. Feeling Tired…?
The section from God’s Word that we’re going to focus in on today is an Old Testament Lesson from the book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a guy who lived around 740-700 B.C. He served as a prophet. That is – he spoke messages from God that God told him to speak. Usually it was through visions or dreams that God would give him these messages.
The main message of Isaiah had to do with the Assyrian army. For years, God had warned the people of Israel to stop sinning, to stop worshipping false Gods, to worship the True God, to stop abandoning Him and return to Him.
But the people didn’t listen. While Isaiah was still prophesying, God allowed the Assyrian army, a terrible, violent army, to ransack the countryside of Israel. They went along destroying villages, burning houses, and killing any stragglers, destroying everything in the North Kingdom of Israel, from there the army made its way south to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, eventually culminating in a siege of Jerusalem, the capital city.
Have you ever been under siege? The closet I can think is whenever it snows around here. The city shuts down. The streets shutdown. If you live on any kind of side road, the snow plows don’t come, and you are under siege. You can’t go outside. You can’t go to the store. You can’t grab a coffee at Starbucks…you have to (gasp)…make your own coffee!
But it was much worse for the people of Jerusalem.
They couldn’t get outside to the well waters, so they had to ration water that was located in their storage areas. Many were dehydrated.
They couldn’t get any food from the farms, so they had to ration the flour for making bread – maybe one slice once a day. They were lacking nutrients.
They needed to be on constant alert – watching from the watchtowers at the top of the wall – to ensure that the Assyrians weren’t making an attempt at scaling the wall and climbing in. And when they weren’t in charge of visually watching them, they were in the city trembling and worrying that any day the siege could break!
Israel was tired of being under siege.
Because being under siege is exhausting.
But…maybe you already know that.
Maybe you are under siege by bill collectors.
Or under siege by a pile of work.
Or under siege to the demands of raising a child.
Or under siege in a relationship that seems filled with anger and resentment.
Or under siege to depression and anxiety.
That’s not fun.
I’m sorry you’re dealing with that.
When you are under siege – it is easy to blame God.
That’s exactly what the Israelites did, they said: “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God!” (Isaiah 40:27)
Think about that. Their claim was that God couldn’t see them.
As if there was some type of obstruction in God’s sight - and that’s why he can’t see what’s going with me.
Or maybe God can see, but just doesn’t care! Like an old sticky note that He’s tired of looking at – God just crumples up my needs and disregards them into the waste basket.
But Israel wasn’t under siege because God didn’t care about them.
In fact, he had sent Isaiah and about 20 something prophets before Isaiah to delivers constant warnings to the people so that this besiegement would NEVER take place.
The issue wasn’t that God grew tired of caring about Israel.
It was that Israel grew tired of caring about God.
Truth: Spiritual tiredness exists when we tire of caring about God.
When we remove ourselves from his promises of grace…
When we remove ourselves from his love…
When we remove ourselves from doing the things that God says, “Won’t cause you grief and pain and stress!”
We will get spiritually tired.
It’s the most oddball thing. But I’ve seen it again and again…
A terrible thing happens.
Someone is struggling spiritually.
So, what do they do?
They remove themselves from God.
They remove themselves from their only source of strength.
If that’s you, today God says, “Repent.”
He says, “Return to me.”
He says, “Return to me because…”
I. Never. Tire.
II. The One who NEVER Tires
Check out what Isaiah writes next, he says, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary and his understanding no one can fathom.” (v.28)
I love that beginning.
Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?
Do I need to teach you a fundament thing about God?
The fundamental thing is that God NEVER gets tired.
And Isaiah gives us three reasons this is true:
1) God is Everlasting
Not to be stuck in 80’s commercials, but do you remember the Energizer bunny rabbit. He was a pink rabbit that had on a cool pair of shades as he drummed across cities, forests, deserts and Antarctic wastelands. The point? The energizer bunny keeps going and going and going and going and going and going and going and…You get the point.
But I remember one time I bought that Energizer battery and I was playing on my Gameboy. And guess what? That battery died!
It stopped going and going and going…
God isn’t like that.
God is everlasting and unending.
He doesn’t get sleepy.
He doesn’t get lethargic.
He doesn’t need to catch his breath.
God has been around from before the beginning of the world.
He will be around after the end of the world.
God is everlasting.
2) God is All-Powerful
Isaiah says, “The LORD…is the Creator of the ends of the earth.” (v.28)
Creating things usually takes energy. For me, I know that if I’m creating something, I get pretty tired. At the end of a long day of creating a birdhouse for our backyard – or even half the bird house – I get tired and want to quit.
He created lofty mountain ranges
He fashioned tens of thousands of tree types.
He crafted this gigantic, burning ball of gas known as the sun.
And then, when he was done creating, he immediately shifted to the work of sustaining the very universe that he just created:
Sending rain on the earth to water the new plants.
Holding earth in its rotation around the sun.
Revolving all the other the planets across our galaxy.
And all of universe sustaining? It’s like lifting up a cotton swab to God.
It’s not tiring.
Because God is all powerful.
That’s important to remember, because sometimes the most tiring kind of tired isn’t a physical kind of tired at all.
It’s a mental kind.
Spending mental energy to figure out the next step in fixing this relationship.
Contemplating the next step in trying to raise a kid.
Stressing over how to fix issues at work.
Mental exhaustion is a real thing for humans. But not for God.
Isaiah writes, “God will not grow tired or weary and his understanding no one can fathom.” (v.28c)
God knows all things.
He knows how to fix whatever issue you’re having.
He knows how to fix the issues that you don’t know you’re having.
He knows how to fix the issues that eventually one day you’ll be having.
He knows how to fix all of your issues.
And all of my issues.
And all of the issues of every person sitting here today.
And it does not stress Him out.
He doesn’t tire, because He’s all-knowing.
These three truths – everlasting, all-powerful and all-knowing are proof that nothing can tire God out.
But…maybe you need one more example?
Do you remember what happened to Jesus near the end of his time at earth?
He dealt with immense physical suffering: arrested, beaten, bruised, bloodied, and nailed hand and foot to a cross!
He dealt with intense emotional suffering, convicted by his own people, betrayed by one disciple, denied by another, abandoned by the rest.
And that was nothing compared to the massive spiritual suffering: of the world’s guilt, shame and sin.
Eventually, his body gave out.
Don’t think that God stopped working.
Because, while his body died, God, as God, was holding the entire world together.
And God, as human, was simply biding his time.
Three days later…
Jesus came back to life!
If death can’t stop Jesus, nothing will.
He’s not too tired to care for you.
He’s not too tired to keep you safe.
He’s not too tired to protect your family.
He’s not too tired to rebuild your relationship
He’s not too tired to strengthen your faith.
He’s not too tired to guide your kids.
He’s not too tired to defeat addiction.
He’s not too tired to remove guilt.
He’s not too tired to defeat death.
God doesn’t get tired.
III. The Source of your reFRESHment
And God doesn’t keep his strength to himself. Look at his promise in verse 29. “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”
Notice it doesn’t say that he makes us earn this gift of strength by doing some kind of spiritual heavy lifting.
Or gives until he can’t give anymore.
And gives some more.
This is different from the way it works with humans.
Because even the best of humans gets tired.
Even the best of humans runs out of energy.
Even the best of humans has to stop giving of themselves.
It’s like a 2 Liter Bottle of Coca-Cola. If I walk around and pour people a glass of Coca-Cola and all day long I pour people a glass of Coca-Cola with my 2 liter bottle, but I never stop to refill my bottle of Coca-Cola…eventually I run out.
But God’s different.
He’s got more than 2 liters of strength and grace and mercy.
He’s got a gushing water fall’s amount.
A never ending, ever flowing fountain of power, grace and mercy.
That’s really important.
Because take a look at something Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
Do you hear him?
Do you hear your Savior’s voice?
He’s calling. And he says:
“Take a break from ‘worrying that you won’t be able to do it.’”
“Because I got this.”
“Take a break from the anxiety of ‘I don’t have enough.’”
“Take a break from ‘the stress of guilt, sin, and shame.’”
“You are forgiven.”
IV. What Now?
1. Practice a Spiritual Sabbath
Do you know about the Sabbath?
In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to keep something called “the Sabbath.” In fact, that’s the third commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” What happened on that Sabbath day was that the Israelites rested. They didn’t go to work. They didn’t do a business trip. They stayed at home and rested.
Over time, the religious leaders developed some rules to ensure that people were really resting.
It was illegal to do work at work.
It was illegal to do work at home.
You couldn’t turn off the lamp because that would be work.
You couldn’t sweep up that piles of dirt, because that would be work.
In fact, you were only allowed to take a couple thousand steps before stepping would be work, too.
All these laws meant to bring rest led the whole Sabbath experience not being very restful.
I just husked the corn for supper…was that work?
Don’t tell the rabbi. I think I went over by about 76 steps.
I’m sorry God! On this day of rest, I lifted the salt shaker and have added more sin to my spirit!
When Jesus came along, he corrected the people.
He said that people weren’t made to keep the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for people.
The Sabbath was to be a spiritual rest.
A time for them to take a break from the stress of everyday life and focus in on God.
To hear his voice.
To be uplifted by his promises.
To find rest in God.
Friends, do the same.
That’s what we’re doing here today. We are here to take a break from the everyday and focus in on God.
But don’t let that be it.
Take a 5-minute Sabbath in the morning before you begin your day by listening to your Bible app.
Take a 5-minute Sabbath at noon as you read a devotion.
Take a 5-minute Sabbath at night as you say your prayers.
Spend time each week – each day with God. When you do so, he will renew your spiritual strength.
2. Practice a Physical Sabbath
Because even though the main point of the Sabbath wasn’t physical rest, it was an ancillary benefit.
The Bible is clear – physical rest is important.
Jesus, as a human, took rest breaks.
We probably don’t need anymore proof than that.
In fact, being physically well-rested helps you spiritually.
You don’t feel as much like being a jerk.
You don’t feel too tired to care for others.
You don’t feel too sleepy to say nice things to your coworkers in the morning.
As a result, you don’t have to deal with as much guilt and shame that zaps you of spiritual strength.
Here’s the point: Physical rest is a good thing.
And even though we live in a ‘go, go, go’ culture – today, God gives us encouragement to slow down.
Have you ever seen an eagle in flight? Compared to most birds, they are pretty majestic. Cause most birds, take a sparrow, flap their wings like crazy. They flap and flap and flap and use up all kinds of energy just to keep themselves up.
The eagle? Not so much.
He opens up his majestic wings, he pushes off of whatever ledge he is sitting on…and he soars.
He trusts the wind to hold himself up and as a result, he soars.
Isaiah writes this, “Those who hope in the Lord will soar on wings like eagles.” (v.31)
Too often we hope in ourselves.
And we’re like a tiny sparrow – flapping and flopping and panicking and trying to keep ourselves up.
Instead, our encouragement today is to be an eagle. To open our wings. To trust God. To soar.
God will keep you up. He doesn’t tire.
Friends, may God keep us refreshed and enable you to soar! Amen.
NEW: A New Kind of Hope
I'm excited to get the chance to talk to you all this morning. I know I'm not Pastor Phil, but I spent a lot of time getting today's message ready for you, and I really hope you find it just as beneficial as his.
Did that sound believable?
Honestly, I'm not that concerned about it, moreso that I wanted to demonstrate just how hollow our use of the word “hope” can be. Have you noticed that? I mean, it's a word that's meant to elicit – well – hope! But when you think about how we use the word, about what our typical hope really is... hope is not much comfort.
Think about how you use the word. Most of the time we're actually using it to express the idea that we don't really think something will happen, or that we don't really believe what we've been told.
“The party is going to be a blast. Sure, hope my cousin remembered to reserve the venue.”
“Just got my hair done, sure hope it doesn't rain.” (I wouldn't know about that one.)
I mean, what are we really saying when we use that word "hope"? Seems to me it's just a way of expressing that this is the outcome I would prefer but I have no actual reason to believe that it's going to go my way. It's what I'd like – but my wishes aren't going to influence the outcome. It's basically an empty word of wishing. In fact, sometimes we even use the word to indicate we don't actually expect the outcome!
“Dad says we're finally getting together for dinner tonight!” “Really? Well, I sure hope so.”
This can get a little more bleak when we get to more serious examples of when we throw this word around and then start to realize exactly how hollow it rings.
“I hope I have enough money to pay the bills this month.”
“I hope this relationship works out.”
“I hope my health improves.”
How are those kinds of sentiments any better than just outright wishing and the horses they would conjure? Let's be honest, they're not. And yet we cling to these empty "hopes" so tightly, invest so much in them that what happens when they're crushed? When we don't get what we're hoping for (which, depending on how good you are at tempering expectations, can happen a lot)… when we don't get that outcome we're hoping for... what happens?
Fear? This was how I pictured my life. This was the only way I saw my life proceeding normally. Now, I can't pay these bills. Now, I won't have that someone I think I need in my life. Now, I won't be in this life much longer. I thought, wished, hoped life would be one way and now it's not going to be. What is going to happen? It's not alright the way it should have been so what is going to happen?? I can't handle the uncertainty of this road I did not plan for.
Disappointment? This was to be my life. That was the only way I thought I would live. And any alternative isn't worth bothering with. I might as well sit here and just pine after what should have been. I don't know how to deal with this.
Anger? I deserved this. This is what is owed me. It should have been this way! And now it's not. It's someone's fault. I don't know whose but I'll figure it out and I'll blame everyone I can along the way until I get what was coming to me.
And all that leads me to this extremely dangerous conversation that I am sure you have heard before and probably even spoken part of in your life. When trouble or difficulty hits, when bad stuff happens that we struggle to react to:
“It's going to be okay.”
“I hope so.”
If we're trying to offer hope in bleak circumstances, what could possibly ring more hollow than some kind of statement like that without anything behind it? “It's going to be okay.” By what authority, proof, or truth can you state that? And the response is just as hollow. “I hope so.” Sure would be nice but on what basis do you even hope that it will be? And when that is crushed too? Then what?
What if instead of all that muck and mire of empty hope that's no better than wishing, what if instead there was a different kind of hope that was guaranteed? What if I could say, “It's going to be okay,” and that were a fact not an empty platitude? We can, because of the NEW kind of hope that Jesus offers us through Easter.
And that's where this new kind of hope actually begins. In the grave. I mean, that's the real problem, isn't it? Looming out there beyond all the other things in life that could go wrong, and all the problems we might face here for a time is the one that we can't avoid and the one that can cause the most fear, anger or sadness: death.
What will happen when I die? What will happen to me after I die? Will it be good? Bad? We can hem and haw and fret about everything that happens in the meantime, about every wish or hope we have for this life but in the end they all add up to zero and conclude at this one question, same for you or me or anyone else.
In Jesus, this one all-consuming question is answered, and it is answered definitively. Though St. Paul speaks from the negative, this is his conclusion for us. Listen again to his words to the Corinthians:
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
I don't want to get too far into it, but the problem in Corinth was that some people had started saying we wouldn't actually be raised from the dead. But, Paul, says, you didn't think that through! If no one is raised from the dead, guess who else wasn't raised from the dead? Jesus! Jesus was a new kind of raised from the dead, you know. He wasn't just brought back to life like some of the miracles he did: Lazarus or Jairus' daughter or the like. Those people came back to life, lived a normal life and then... well they died again at the end of it.
Jesus was a new kind of being raised. He was raised forever. He lived a normal life, he died, and then he came back to life forever. And he did that not just because he is God, he did it to model for us what would happen to us now. He was the prototype, the first, the firstfruits as Paul calls him here. His journey is what we all follow.
So, Paul says here, if you're saying that no one is raised from the dead like that, well then neither was Jesus. And if Jesus was not raised from the dead...you're in serious trouble. Because Jesus being raised from the dead was like a promise to us. A promise that because he did what he did, that is what would happen to us too.
Jesus lived as a human. He never doubted the love of the Father, he never questioned the will of his Father, and he always obeyed his Father perfectly. Kind of exactly not like us. But for us. In your place. And then, as we watched just a little over a week ago, he walked willingly to death for you. He took your place in hell and handed you the perfect life he lived. And he died.
If he had stayed dead, all of this would have meant nothing. He would've been a liar. His sacrifice would've been rejected by God. And we would still be trapped in our debt to God. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. You are forgiven. Your debt is paid. Jesus was and did everything he said. His resurrection is proof.
And again, more than proof of what his death means, it's proof of where you're going. It's proof that you will rise. He is the firstfruits from the dead. He is the first one to die and be alive forever and ever but he is just the first. All who sleep in him will follow that path. Which includes you!
So you want a new kind of hope? Here it is. Everyone who dies will rise. Everyone who dies in Jesus will rise with Jesus, like Jesus, to eternal life in Jesus. Not a well-wish, not a daydream, not a “sure would be nice”. This is a fact. If you're ever troubled by doubt look to the cross and ask yourself, “Did Jesus die?” Look to the grave and ask, “Did Jesus rise?” The answers are yes. And so the answer to the biggest question of “how will this all end?” is: in the best possible way.
In the end, everything from this life will be left behind. Whatever hurts between now and then will be washed away and forgotten, it is temporary. You'll be alive forever in eternal glory and perfection. That is real hope. It's a fact of a better future that cannot fade or be taken away and will never end when you get there. It doesn't get better than that.
And the beauty of that hope is that combined with God's promises, this changes our perspective on all hope throughout the rest of this life. God promises you this end. And on top of that promise, he promises that everything he allows or causes in this life is designed to get you to that end safely.
I want you to think about that.
It is a promise that because Jesus died and rose, you are going to heaven. Your end is the best possible end that anyone could ever imagine. And it is a promise that everything in between is managed by God to get you there. That means everything's covered. That's a certain hope that lasts from now until forever.
Gone are the symptoms of false hope because we don't need them anymore.
Fear? Fear is a result of not knowing what's coming. You know what's coming and how it will end. Look to the promise of the empty tomb and fear evaporates.
Disappointment? That comes because what we have doesn't measure up to what we think or expect we should have. But the promise God makes to us – it literally cannot be better than that. Eternity in heaven with our Creator. You can't go higher and it won't fail you.
Anger? At what? You might feel like circumstances in your life are unjust and the things that happen to you, the things that people do to you or others demand an angry response... but God allowed them to happen to accomplish his promise – to see you safely home to heaven. Can you really get angry at that?
Brothers and sisters let's replace this meaningless and stale conversation with something far better, with something that means something. Something based on truth that cannot change. Something that reminds us of real hope.
“It's going to be okay.”
“I know it will. Because of Jesus.”
GIVE: A Message of Hope
Well, it’s been about a week since Christmas…and it’s New Year’s Eve today now. How’d that week go for you? It’s always a really weird week for me. I feel kind of stalled. Like, Christmas is over and it’s time to move on, but New Year’s is right around the corner, so I can’t really get any traction or momentum going on anything during that time. Maybe it’s a mental block from back when I was a kid and had Christmas vacation between those two holidays.
For whatever reason and wherever it comes from, for me there’s always a tricky mental shift moving between those two. Christmas is over for all intents and purposes. The gifts are mostly given, the parties are attended, and the sweets have been eaten. So much time was spent over the last month or two building up for that, now I have to remember what life was like before and shift back to that.
And at the same time, it’s the New Year, a time when many of us take the opportunity to try to refresh our lives symbolically with resolutions to do things differently once the calendar turns over. That does seem to make an amount of sense, it’s a nice logical flow. Christmastime is over, it’s time to leave that behind and move on to something new.
Maybe though, maybe let’s not do that this year. After all, the story of Jesus wasn’t over with Christmas. It wasn’t like there was this great build-up to the birth of Jesus and then everyone came by and saw how amazing he was and then …the lights went out and end scene. People didn’t turn away, go home and forget all about it after that. Christmas was the start of Jesus, not the end.
And it was the start of something amazing, something wonderful that we would do just as well to not leave behind once December 25th is passed. What began there is something that so many people want, and even more people need without knowing they want. It’s something we need ourselves just as much and the closer we hold it, the better our lives are going to be year-round, and that’s going to pour out and affect the lives of those around us.
Maybe that’s the thing we do differently this year. Maybe that can be the resolution. To not let Christmas be “over”, but to carry that beginning forward into the new year. Like I mentioned a moment ago, that’s really the way it was meant to be. The celebration of Christ didn’t stop after his birthday.
After all, we’re only a week out from celebrating the birth of Jesus. In our account for today, we see that even forty days later he was still being celebrated. (Next week when we celebrate Epiphany we’ll see that even up to two years later he was still being celebrated!)
But for today we turn our eyes to the Temple in Jerusalem. As I said it’s about forty days since Jesus’ was born. Forty days since those shepherds maybe came over from the neighboring town of Bethlehem and ran through the streets telling wild stories about angels and a Savior born. And living in Jerusalem was a man who was waiting: Simeon.
He was a devout Jewish man. And so he was waiting, like all the true Jewish believers, for God to send the one he promised. The one anointed to save his people. The Messiah in the Hebrew language. The Christ in Greek. God had literally been promising this since the beginning of the world and Simeon trusted that this Savior would happen.
Maybe Simeon heard the rumors from the shepherds and got excited, realizing this was really happening. But he was still waiting. See, he had a special insight from the Holy Spirit, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” That’s what he was waiting for.
And so on this particular day, he is moved by the Holy Spirit to visit the temple. And good thing, too. Mary and Joseph are there to present their firstborn, according to the law. Simeon sees them, sees the baby, and he knows. He knows who that is. He knows what it means for him. And just can’t help himself. He runs forward – at least, as fast as he can for his age – scoops up the baby, and bursts into one of the greatest songs of truth, joy, and praise that we have recorded. So great, in fact, that we hear it every month as part of our liturgy. Maybe you recognize it more like this.
There’s a reason this song is part of our regular liturgy. It so perfectly encapsulates what it means to be a Christian, to be someone who has seen and believes in Christ, though I’m not sure we think about it as often as we hear it. Do you understand what Simeon was saying here? He had been promised that he would live to see the Christ. Now he had. He was ready to depart in peace. And he didn’t mean leave the temple. He meant he was ready to die. To leave this life.
How could he say that? I mean, maybe at one point you’ve said something like, “Well, now I can die happy,” but I doubt you really meant you wanted to drop dead right there and leave this life. Simeon did though. Because he…really understood. Everything he needed from this life, everything he truly wanted, it was here in this infant in his arms. This boy meant he was saved. It meant the world was saved. He was forgiven and at peace with God. Heaven was open to him. What more could possibly happen here that could improve on that? What was left to do here? And so, his response: Take my life or leave it Lord, I don’t need it anymore. I can depart in peace.
That is the kind of peace you can just drink in. I love every chance I get to sing this song because of the peace it reminds me I have in Christ. The kind of peace I think we all wish we could have a little more often. And brothers and sisters, we absolutely can if we just cling to Christ after Christmas as tightly as Simeon did. If we make holding him our resolution this year.
After all, why do we make resolutions year after year? Well, think about them. Very few of us resolve to watch more TV in a week or eat more cookies each night after dinner. We pick things that we think are good for us, things we think will make us better. Either we resolve to do things that will improve our health or we resolve to do something we’ve always meant to or get rid of bad habits or start good habits. Whatever it is, we’re trying to do something to make our lives better, to accomplish something meaningful. Why? Because we don’t feel complete yet, we want to improve, we want to be good enough, we want something more out of life. We just want to be better.
I get the drive. It makes perfect sense. But the resolutions we usually chase to reach that goal are a fool’s errand. Even if we manage to hold on to the resolution (and how many do?), accomplishing those things won’t make the feeling go away. Saving more money, losing weight, quitting a nasty habit…I’m not saying don’t try to do those things – but they won’t make the feeling go away. You’ll still feel like there needs to be more before you’re done, before you’re good enough… before you’re really complete.
It makes sense why we try. You don’t feel like you’re complete or good enough (and you’re not), so that’s where you focus your effort, on yourself. You work on making yourself better. But it doesn’t and it won’t work. We, ourselves are the problem. You can’t save a burning building by using the burning building. You can’t fix the problem with the problem. This internal need to want to do better, to be better, to feel complete, it comes from the fact that we’re not all those things. We’re not good. We’re not complete. We’re broken.
We’re born apart from God. Born in sin. And instinctively we know this. So our default reaction is, as we said, to try to chase whatever in this life we think will fix that, even as Christians who should know better. And maybe the worst part is that on our own, we never really learn. When was the last time in your life you didn’t have some goal in front of you that you thought, “When this is done, when I have this, when I accomplish this, I’ll be happy. I’ll be complete, I’ll be content.” How many of those have you gone through so far? I’ve lost count. I still fall for it.
It doesn’t work. But the Christ. He makes the difference. We cannot be better enough for God. He is. We should be punished for what we’ve done. He was instead. Christ fixes what’s wrong with us, Christ makes us complete, Christ gives us the only thing we truly need from this life: peace with God himself. Christ finishes the work of our life.
Do you get that? Jesus died and rose so that your crimes would be paid for and so that the Father would see you as perfect. You are going to heaven. That’s a done deal. You do not need anything else from this life. That thing you think you have to finish before you run out of time? Don’t need it. All the nagging things that need doing before you can feel rested? Not so much. Look back to the manger and let the peace of these words just wrap you up, “Lord you let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”
I’m not saying this is a license to sit idle, God has given us work to do here while we’re here. I’m saying see the Christ, embrace him in the joy of knowing what he means for you and realize you don’t need this life anymore. He completes your life by bringing you peace with God, and that’s all you needed. Work for God out of joy, not a driving desperation to accomplish. The real work is done.
And what is that work that God asks of us while we’re still here? There are a few things, but one of the greatest is to Give this message of hope to others. And this is not a chore. This is making Christmas our lives. Look again at Simeon. He saw the gift, he saw the hope, and he was complete. He did not smile, embrace Jesus and move on quietly. His heart overflowed with what was done for him and it poured out in song, it poured out in telling the people around him how amazing this gift was. He couldn’t help but share.
We see the same a little further on in our reading with Anna on that same day, who herself saw Jesus and couldn’t help but talk about it. She talked about it anyone who would listen, anyone who was also waiting for the Messiah to make them complete. She didn’t smile, think “that’s nice” and go on with her day. She had to see, and she had to tell.
This is the uncontrollable natural response to the real peace and completeness that the gift of Christmas brings us. Last week we talked about giving the manger another look. Keep doing that. Look in it again to see the fullness of your life. See the baby there that grew to a man, who died in your place and gave you everything you ever need. Feel the peace, the relief that comes from knowing your life is complete, and there’s nothing else you need to chase after or give up or do harder to make it better.
So, take all that time and effort and energy you would’ve used chasing those things you don’t need, and use it for God instead. Use it for something that matters. Give that same message of hope to others this year. Make that your resolution. To not leave Christmas behind but to take that truth out into our lives every day, to keep the peace with you and to let the joy and relief of that peace overflow to those around us.
Keep on giving, long after Christmas. Give the one thing that anyone needs. Give the gift that gives them the same peace and joy you know. Give a message of Hope. Amen.
Psalms for Lent: For the Dying
There probably aren’t many scarier sentences in the English language. Although: It’s fatal. You’re dying. Or you only have a few months left, may come in as close runner ups.
Maybe you’ve heard words like that.
Maybe you’ve haven’t.
But you’ve probably thought of death.
Today we’re taking a look at Psalm 16. It’s a Psalm for the Dying. It is a Psalm for those with terminal diagnoses and it is a Psalm for those of us in the latter years of our lives, but it is also a Psalm for all of us – because all of us are humans – and all of us are dying. That’s why we need to hear a psalm like this. A Psalm filled with hope. Before we begin, let’s say a prayer: 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. The Comfortlessness of “not gods”
Psalm 16 is written by King David. King David was someone that was constantly confronted with death. Whether at the hands of a lion, a bear, a 7 ½ foot warrior, the King of Israel and all of his angry men, or the Philistines, a neighboring country who place King David on their Most Wanted list – David knew what it was like to face death.
He knew where to put his hope and he knew where not to put his hope. Look at what he wrote:
1 Keep me safe, my God,
For in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
Apart from you I have no good thing.”
4 Those who run after other gods
Will suffer more and more.
Pay close attention to verse 2. Notice it sounds very similar, I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord.” But that’s where the English translation is missing something very important. The first LORD there (it should be in all capital letters in whatever Bible you are using) is the Hebrew word YAHWEH. It means simply, “I am.” It’s the name that God identifies himself as. “I am.”
The second “Lord,” is not in all capital letters. That’s because this Lord simply means “master.” A hint of C.E.O. with a large portion of leader. It’s a name synonymous with God.
Listen to verse 2 again then, “I said to I AM,” specifically, “the God revealed to Old Testament Jews, worshipped by the Old Testament Jews and written about in the Old Testament,” I said to that LORD, “you are my Lord… my God. My Master. My Leader. And apart from you, I have no good thing.”
Because what happens if your comfort is not in the Great I Am?
The Great I AM is not the only “god” mentioned in the Old Testament. Other nations worshipped other gods. There was a god named Baal. He was a statue made of bronze that looked like a half man/half cow. There was a god named Dagon. He was a statue that looked like a fish man that the Philistines worshipped. There was a god named Ashtoreth. People made poles and had sex in front of them in order to worship them.
How do these gods hold up in the comfort department?
“I just got diagnosed with cancer. But…I baked some bread and placed it in front of my Baal statue so…it’s still there, but. I’m sure Ball will help.”
“My wife found out that she has six weeks to live. It’s ok though. I was praying in the Dagon sanctuary all night long. I think it worked too. I think I saw him wink at me!" (That or I’m really, really tired)
“Hey buddy…I heard you’re nervous about what might happen to you when you die. Put your faith in my Asherah pole. It cut it to regulation length and sanded it so that it’s smooth to the touch. If anything can grant you eternal life, it’s this 8-foot piece of dead tree.”
How do these gods hold up in the comfort department? They don’t. And neither do the ‘not-gods’ of today.
There is no comfort in Buddha, that, “you may be going through excruciating pain, but it will be worth it when you come back as a butterfly! Or…maybe a slug.”
There is no comfort in Allah, that, “you go ahead and explode in a fiery way and if Allah is pleased with the fireworks show then, you’ll be eating grapes forever.”
There is no comfort in the Jewish religion version of the Old Testament God that “if you do Jewish things, you’ll get to heaven. But if you accidentally mixed up your milk cooking pot with your meat cooking pot that one time --- you’re eternally cooked.”
There is no comfort in science that “I’ll go into the ground and bugs will eat my body, but hey…at least I did some good…sometimes…when I remember.”
There is no comfort in the most popular “not God” of modern America.
There is no comfort in you.
Have you ever noticed that most funerals people like to mention all the good things that people did, but never mentioned the bad things? They mention the charities, the kindnesses, and the goodness. But have you ever noticed that no one ever mentions the bad things?
The real things?
· “He was a good husband…except for the times when he yelled at me and I feared for my bodily welfare.”
· “She was a great wife. Except for the times when she called me every swear word that she could think of.”
· “He was a great coworker – when he wasn’t drunk.”
· “She was a great neighbor -- too much so. She did sleep with about every guy on the block.”
You know why we don’t mention those things? Because they aren’t comforting. Because those are bad things. Because those bad things deserve death.
Romans 1:32 says, “People know God’s righteous decree that those who do wrong things deserve death.” That’s justice. True Justice. If we are turning to ourselves and our own deeds and our own accomplishments to comfort us in death -- you won’t find comfort. It’s like trying to take a nap on a bed of nails! It’s not comforting at all!
Because when you look at your own accomplishments and your own life for comfort in death, you’re actually looking at the very thing that causes your death in the first place.
II. The Comfort of the One God
There is no comfort apart from the true God.
That’s what the town of Nain was discovering. A beloved widow – the kind who knew everyone’s name – the kind who baked muffins for your birthday – the kind who always gave you a hug – had just lost her son.
Her only son.
The entire town was out for the funeral procession. There weren’t any rousing speeches. There weren’t any words of comfort. There weren’t any songs of joy.
It was a sad affair. Cries mixed with wailing mixed with murmurs of curses at God.
He was the affair from afar.
He told his disciples to wait.
He walked through the crowd;
He passed right by the widow.
He smiled, reached up and touched the young man’s hand.
“Young man – live.”
Suddenly, Jesus brought a comfort that no one could bring that widow.
Jesus literally brought her son back to life.
This is why David tells us to find comfort in the One True God:
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
My body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me o the realm of the dead,
Nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
Pay very close attention to the phrase in verse 10. You will not let your Holy One see decay. In a certain sense, David was talking about himself. He knew that he would not die. He knew that he would have eternal life because God had made him righteous by faith. For years, I’m sure that was the understanding of that passage.
But…fast forward a couple 800 some years.
Paul, a Christian teacher, is teaching about Jesus. He says, “Do ya’ll remember that passage from Psalm 16:10? Remember how confident David was that his body would not decay? Do you also remember that David’s body decayed? Literally – let’s go find his grave. Let’s dig it up. We won’t find anything but soil and worms.”
Because David wasn’t talking about himself. David was talking about Jesus.
Jesus who died on a cross.
Jesus who was buried.
Jesus who came back to life.
His body didn’t even decay! Two of his disciples prepared him for burial, wrapped him up and placed him in a tomb and before his body did not begin to rot before the white blood cells were detoxing his body yet again. His lungs didn’t begin to lose their shape, before they filled with air once more. His flesh did not begin to smell, before he was outdoors smelling the rose yet again!
Look at David’s confidence in this same Jesus: 11 You make known to me the path of life! You went through death. You came out alive. And you’ll lead me to do the same.
I remember once time in college I was short on cash and found an ad on the campus bulletin board for help needed raking leaves. $15 per bag! I was excited. So, my friend and I typed the address into MapQuest (this was before Smartphones – am I dating myself?) and started driving. We got into the countryside and farmland of small town MN, when the directions got very interesting.
Take HWY 17. Ok. Done.
Turn right onto County Road 18. Got it.
Turn left onto Unnamed Road.
God’s not like that. He doesn’t have some really difficult to follow directions. He won life for us and he made it so easy to attain. John 3:16 says simply this, “God so loved the world that he gave his One and Only Son, that’s Jesus, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.”
You know this is true because Jesus is the Great I AM.
Jesus is the God that David was talking about in Psalm 16.
Jesus is the author of Life.
Jesus is your life.
Jesus will not abandon you to the grave.
He won’t let you die in some hospital all alone.
He won’t shut you up in some Assisted Living Home and forget all about you.
He won’t put you on Hospice care and let others deal with you.
He will not abandon you on this side of the grave
Nor the other side.
III. What Now?
David said that’s what he was not going to do anymore: “I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods.”
Because back then one way you’d worship those “not gods” is by making a sacrifice, collecting the blood and pouring it out on the altar of a false god. That showed your allegiance to the false god. That showed trust in that false god. That showed you were a follower of that false god.
But if you trust in the true God, why do you need the false gods?
Now there aren’t any false gods that require blood sacrifices in 21st century America. But think about your actions – stop pouring out libations to them.
Do you give financial gifts to an organization that’s helps share the teaching of a false god? Stop it.
Do the Facebook posts you share support false teachings – which is a false view of God? Delete them.
Does your politically correct office talk give the impression that “It’s no big deal. God can be whoever you want him to be. If you want that coffee pot to be your god man, he’ll be your god. Cool. I’m sure you’re saved.” Stop talking in such a way.
Stop pouring out libations to “not gods.”
(2) Take Refuge in God
That’s what David started out with. In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge.
It’s like when a hurricane is coming. You want to find refuge in a good shelter. It’s not a great idea to go set up a tent and go camping. For a powerful hurricane, the more fortified the building the better. You want to be safe from rain, from wind and flying debris.
Finding refuge in ‘not gods’ is like preparing for a hurricane by covering up with a few newspapers.
Finding refuge in the God, Jesus Christ means that you will not die, but live.
And you’ll find hope as you face death. Hopes that lasts forever.
(3) Measure out Your Boundary Line
Of course, death can still be intimidating. Death can still be scary. If the doctor has had bad reports for you, then it can certainly leave you scared.
That’s when you need to measure out your boundary line.
I think that’s an interesting phrase in verse 6. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. You might think – that’s easy for David to say. He was King of Israel. He had a gorgeous palace. God expanded his empire while he was king.
Me? I’ve got a 1100 square foot ranch house. Plus, my neighbor and I have been arguing about whether or not that dogwood tree is mine or his for the past 3 years!
But this Psalm isn’t about David’s earthly inheritance.
This Psalm is about David’s eternal inheritance.
His eternal inheritance is the same is yours.
Do what David suggest. Take a moment – today, tomorrow – anytime you’re feeling intimidated by death – and gaze at your inheritance.
It’s a nice little bungalow.
There’s no sin there.
The flowers bloom eternally – they never die.
No need for an AC or a furnace because the weather is always perfect.
The area is pretty neat – there are eternal pleasures on every street corner.
Your next-door neighbor? He’s pretty cool.
It’s God himself.
One day – you will live by him. Amen.
Psalms for Lent: For the Lonely
18 years the woman had been disfigured.
18 years the woman had been crumpled over.
18 years the woman had heard the comments.
“Do you see the hump? What happened to her?”
“She looks just like Quasimodo. She’s a hunchback.”
“Oh, child – don’t go near her. You don’t know where she’s been.”
Her daughters used to come around – sure. But lately they had not wanted to be seen by her.
The same with her friends – their friendships stopped as the ridicule started. They didn’t want to be a part of it.
Every once in a while, a passerby would stop over her – drop a penny in her jar, tell her that “it’d be ok,” and they were “glad to meet her” but that was the end of it.
No new friendships blossomed.
None of these people returned.
Nobody seemed to care.
She was all alone.
That loneliness? It was powerful. It sunk to the bottom depths of our soul. It filled her with sadness – a deep and dark depression – an expectation that nobody cared about it. Not even God.
In the midst of another day alone with her darkest thoughts, a voice called out to her. This voice was different. It wasn’t mocking. It wasn’t pitying. It wasn’t talking about her or above her or down at her.
It was talking to her.
The owner of the voice was surrounded by a group of people. They all seemed to be very invested in what he had to say. But he seemed to only be invested in her. He called her over to him, “Dear woman – come here.”
This was different.
This was caring.
This felt wonderful.
And when she did hobble over – his gentleness not changing after he saw her disfiguration – she felt a peace overcome her.
He spoke to her, “Dear woman…”
The implication – I see you. I care about you. I am here for you.
Then he said this, “Be set free from your infirmity.” (Luke 13:12)
The woman felt a release. She looked at him. He smiled. She slowly straightened. She was healed.
18 years. 18 years – and now she knew – She wasn’t alone. Now she knew – Jesus cared.
Jesus cares about you too. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t times that we feel lonely – I even feel it as a pastor. Today’s Psalm helps to remind us that we are not alone – no matter how much we feel like it. Before we begin, let’s say a prayer: 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. How Long…Will I Feel Lonely?
Psalm 13 comes from King David again. So - similar to last week – there were lots of ups and downs in David’s career. Lots of good times, but also a lot of bad times. Times he even felt alone.
Like when he marched out to battle a giant of a man named Goliath – while all the other Israelite soldiers cowered.
Or the time when he ran away from the King of Israel – King Saul – who wanted to kill David before he took his throne.
Or he time when his own son, Absalom – tried to take the crown away from David, his dad – ousting him from the palace and turning the half the nation against him.
Pick one of those times – any of those times – and you get a sense of the loneliness that King David was feeling. Listen to what he writes,
How long LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Do you see the repeated question? How long... The implication is that David has been feeling very sad and lonely for what seems like – at least to David – a very long time.
Look at his accusations?
How long will you forget me? As if the Lord of heaven above – the very one formed him, created him, and Scripture says, “Anointed him specially to be king over Israel,” had forgotten all about him!
How long will you hide your face from me? As if David and God were playing a game of hide and seek, but God was refusing to come out – even after David had shouted, “Olly olly oxen free!”
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts? There’s this picture of a spiritual WrestleMania that was going on with David. The voice saying, “God loves you,” going one on one with the voice that says, “God hates you.” The thought of “I’m alone,” facing off in an iron man match against the thought, “God is with me.” The comfort of “God is with me,” being put into submission by the terror that “you are all alone.”
How long will my enemy triumph over me? Again – we don’t know exactly which enemy is referring to. Saul? David considered him God’s representative. Absalom? That was David’s son. One of the Philistines? Maybe.
But there could be another option.
Another enemy at work.
Another enemy that’s always at work.
An enemy that achieves that was achieving a great victory when he convinced David – God’s chosen instrument – that God wasn’t with him.
I’m talking about The Enemy - the devil.
What about you?
Do you feel like God has forgotten you?
Do you think he is hiding his face from you?
Do you find yourself wrestling with your thoughts against God’s promises?
Do you find yourself feeling – alone?
There’s a television show that took place around 2004. It was called Solitary. The premise of the show was that people would volunteer to be locked in a room without anyone else. The only one to talk to them was a giant robot named VAL. (Great name for a heartless, evil robot by the way) The show then served 2 purposes -- #1 it gave away $500,000 to the one who lasted in the room the longest, but #2 – more interesting – it showed how the human being reacts to being alone – to feeling alone.
It wasn’t good. Usually contestants left in tears, broke down or shouted at the top of their lungs until they were removed.
That’s because we are creatures that are meant to be together. Even back in the garden of Eden – “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two become one flesh.” (Genesis 2) Granted – that’s talking about the special relationship between a husband and a wife, but it’s also true that God wanted humans to exist in community. To communicate with each other. To be with each other. To be together.
That’s why being alone…is so hard. That’s why it leads to such depression. That’s why it leads to very dark feelings.
And that’s why when you feel that way – cry out to God! Look at how David’s heart cried out. Hear his cry for help:
3 Look on me and answer; Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my foes will rejoice when I fall.
Maybe that’s your cry.
Maybe you want God to answer.
Maybe, you want him to show you, to prove to you that you aren’t alone.
Listen to what comes next
II. How Long will God be with You?
5 But I trust in your unfailing love.
There’s that key word again – one of the most key words in all of Scripture: But. But means “There’s more.” But means, “There’s a contrasting truth.” But means, “Listen and hear how God fixes things.”
Look at the phrase that follows. I trust in your unfailing love.
Here is the difference between humans and God. Human friendships last for a time. Eventually – they end. Whether it’s from distance, busyness, arguments or death.
Human friendships last for a time, but eventually fail.
If you trust in human friendships to give you community, these friendship will fail you. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But one day. They will.
But if you trust in God? If God is the source of your community?
Listen again – His love is unfailing.
There is no mountain high enough.
There is no valley low enough.
There is no river wide enough.
To keep Him from you.
He’s never too busy.
He does not die – he’s eternal.
And when we’ve been argumentative? When we’ve been sinful? When our refusal to commune with him has set up this barrier of sin?
He knocks it down!
Like my dog, Clay. He’s fairly loyal. He loves to be by his owners whenever he can. If he’s ever separated from his owners, he starts to whine. It’s kind of obnoxious – definitely high pitched. But comforting to know how much he wants to be with us.
With our new house – there’s a patio in back. The back patio has a screen door. One of the reasons that we got a new house was so that we could let them in the back yard to play. We specifically thought the dogs would like the yard.
And they do. But the first time we left Clay in the back yard? He whined. He barked. He scratched. He –literally – broke through the screen door and made his way into the living room just to be with us.
God’s love is similar.
God’s love is better.
When our sins separated us from God – he came down to earth. He busted through the barrier of sin. He died gruesomely on the cross; he went into the grave; he rose triumphantly from death – and broke down the barrier between you and him.
Do you hear that? Listen again – When you had separated yourself from God – God did the unthinkable – He gave up his life to bring you back to Him!
Still think that no one cares about you? God’s love is unfailing. It hasn’t changed. It hasn’t lessened. It hasn’t grown weaker. He still loves you and cares for you with the same incredible desire.
You are not alone.
God is with you.
III. What Now?
(1) Look Where You’re At!
Did you notice what it says in verse 6. My heart rejoices in your salvation. That’s the same heart that earlier was filled with hurt. Earlier was filled with sadness. Earlier was filled with loneliness.
Now? It’s filled with joy. Why?
Because it is In God’s salvation.
Pastor, am I in God’s salvation?
Do you believe in Jesus?
Then, look where you’re at. You’re in God’s salvation. That means you’re with God. Because God is in God’s salvation. He’s there. You’re there. You’re together.
You aren’t alone.
No matter what you’re going through.
Financial hardships? Not alone.
Relational struggles? Not alone.
Disconnected from people? Not alone.
God is with you. You are in his salvation.
Because what other way can you react when you realize that your incredible God is right beside you!?!
It’s like a musical! People break out into song all the time. They break out into song when they find someone they have a crush on. They break into song when it’s a “beautiful morning.” They break out into song when they are seeing the “Wells Fargo wagon coming down the street.”
How awesome to know that your loving, incredible, forgiving, all powerful, all loving God is with you and will never leave you!
(3) Look Who Else is With You
Finally, look at who else is with you. Because if you’re in God’s salvation and your neighbor is in God’s salvation and I’m in God’s salvation – many of us are in God’s salvation – It’s not a very lonely room. It’s a packed house.
Lean on our brothers and sisters. Feeling lonely? Tell them. Talk to them. Work on building relationships here so that you have someone to uplift you and remind you that you are not alone.
And if someone comes to you for that encouragement? Give it to them. Don’t ignore them. In fact, if you see someone who looks lonely, could you go out of your way to show love to them? Just like God went out of his way to show love to you.
God is with you.
And if God is with you – then you know that even the dark time you are experiencing now – will go away.
Because look how David finishes the Psalm – The Lord has done good things for me.
David remembered how he felt alone with Goliath – but God helped him defeat the giant.
David remembered how he felt alone with Saul was attacking him – but God kept him safe.
David remembered how he felt alone when Absalom rebelled – but God defended him.
When God’s there’s, there’s no need to worry.
So why worry? Amen.
BREATHE: A Sigh of Relief
When my parents came down a couple of weeks ago, they brought down a few items that were still stored at their house from the two weeks Julianna and I lived there before moving to our own apartment in Raleigh. One of the items they brought down was Julianna’s wedding dress. And…she tried it on. She fit into it perfectly and looked as beautiful as ever.
So…I got to thinking…I wonder if my suitcoat still fits. The other day I went into my closet. I found what I think was my suitcoat and I tried it on.
It was a little tighter than I remember it. I had to “suck it in” in order to get the pants on. In fact, the suit was tight enough that it was a little more difficult to breathe.
The same thing can happen spiritually. Grief, sadness, and gloom can get to be too much. They can tighten themselves around you like a two sizes too small suit. Grief can metaphorically make life so stressful that it literally makes it more difficult to breath.
Perhaps there is no one who understood the suffocation effect that grief has more than Mary Magdalene. Open up your Bibles and find her story in John 20 beginning at verse 1.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. This is what Matthew 28 talked about last week as Mary was a part of that group of women who were heading toward the tomb. But John indicates that Mary was not a part of the women that made their way to the angels. Rather, she ran away from the tomb. She ran to Peter and John and told them that the tomb was open. While she was telling them this, the other women were talking to the angel and hearing the glorious message that Jesus had risen.
But Mary missed that. Instead, she must have followed behind Peter and John. Crying. Stumbling. Sobbing.
Jesus had been the one man who had ever shown her unconditional love. He had gone near her when no one else would. He had talked to her when everyone else ignored her. He had healed her…when she thought all was lost.
Scripture says, Mary had been possessed by seven demons. Jesus had driven them out.
And when Jesus had driven those demons out – he had driven out other demons. No longer did she feel unlovable. No longer did she feel unloved by God. No longer did she feel completely worthless. Jesus’ actions had shown she had value and that she had purpose.
But…they had taken that away from her. The had taken her Lord away from her.
They had killed him.
Now to make things worse, someone had added insult to injury and stolen his body. She couldn’t even give him a proper burial. She couldn’t even search from some kind of closure at his gravesite.
Eventually, she made her way to the entrance of the tomb. The guards were gone. The other women were guard. Peter and John were gone. Only Mary – Mary and an empty tomb – Mary, her broken heart and her empty tomb.
She sobbed – grief was pressing on all sides of her. It was hard to catch her breath as she collapsed in front of the door. Slowly she lifted her head. Slowly she looked inside – hoping to see a piece of his garment…a left behind hair. A sandalmark. Something to remind her of the good times. Something to remind her of her Lord.
Something to give her hope.
What she found was so much more incredible. 12 Mary bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head of the stone gurney and the other at the foot.
Now – if ever there was something that might jar Mary out of her sadness, it might be an angel. Bright, shining, gleaming. You don’t see them every day. Imagine if one appeared on Falls of Neuse as you were fighting traffic to work in the morning. Suddenly, you’re wide awake. The doldrums of the morning drive are quickly shaken off.
Mary should have noticed. She should have been filled with hope. She should have been excited. She should have at least been a bit frightened. She had divine, holy angels in front of her. Angels who would have answered her questions. Angels who could have given her good news. Angels that maybe she should have investigated.
Instead, she simply answers their question: They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have put him. And fixated on that terrible thought, filled with grief that her Savior was dead, she turned around and left.
Does that ever happened to you? Does grief ever become so great that it’s hard to focus on anything positive – even if it’s staring you in the face?
Essentially that’s what clinical depression does. It becomes a dark cloud over your life. It overshadows everything that you do.
A young woman named Erin wrote about what depression was doing to her on her blog. She said, “I feel stifled and so alone. I can’t focus and all I can write about is how much pain I’m in physically and emotionally, how tired I am, and how lost I feel. And just thinking about those things makes them worse. I am really really struggling.”
For some of you that might happen a lot. For others not as often. But hopefully you can relate.
Is it a chemical imbalance that leads to depression? Sure. Science has documented that. But –somewhere along the line – we have to admit that there’s a much greater cause for depression. One that can’t be counteracted with medicine and psychotherapy.
It’s called sin.
Sin that someone did to you.
Sin that you did to someone else.
Sin that you did to you.
Sin doesn’t like to be ignored.
Do you remember the story of a tell tale heart? In it, the killer takes the body and stuffs it into the floor. At first, he’s ok. But soon every time he passes that body he hears its heart beating. As if it were a loud drum, he hears it beating and reminding him day after day, moment after moment of what he’s done.
Sin is a lot like that. It beats loudly. It beats steadily. It loves to remind us over the awful, grievous things we have done –
Sinner – sinner –sinner.
Scum – worthless – unloved – sinner.
Know what? If the world is as Mary Magdalene thought it was, then Jesus is dead. There is no reason for hope. “If Christ has not been raised…you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor. 15)
There is only sin.
There is only hatred.
There is only death.
There is only eternal damnation in hell.
If Christ hasn't been raised...
II. Grief Relief
Mary staggered out of the tomb. It was all too much. She fell to the ground. Her tears hit the dirt and changed it into little salty mud droplets.
Then, a twig snapped. The quiet swish of grass blades being displaced caught her ears.
Footsteps. They spoke, “Dear woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
She looked up. Her tears were so great – she didn’t recognize the person in front of her. He must have been the gardener. Maybe he had some answers. Maybe he could help her.
She choked out the words between sobs. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
What she heard next was something she had before. Something that had accompanied her freedom from the demons. Something that had been accompanied by kind words of God’s love. Something that had been spoken by her dearest friend – in that exact same way.
She turned toward him. She cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” Which means “Teacher.” Suddenly a smile adorned her face. The tears of sadness turned to tears of joy. The grief was replaced with incredible exuberation!
It was Jesus. He was alive!
We looked at this scripture earlier. Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…That means it isn’t hopeless. It means it isn’t worthless. It means that you are not in your sins. It means the devil doesn’t win. It means death is not the end. It means you are not destined for hell. It means that by faith in Jesus you are headed to heaven!
This is incredible news.
It’s kind like driving a car out to the country in the middle of the night. Turning the headlights off for a few moments. Looking at all that’s around you. Allowing your eyes to adjust. Seeing nothing but darkness. Then, immediately switching the headlight to high beams! Man is it bright!
Jesus’ resurrection is like that. It plows through the darkness. It shines a lot on the dismal things in our lives. He will brighten every aspect of your day from now until eternity.
But pastor I’m a Christian. I still struggle. I still feel filled with grief sometimes. How do I breathe a sigh of relief? How do I stay positive when depressing things are going on all around me?
For Mary, that was what did it. She saw her Savior. She saw him living. She saw him breathing. She saw his eyes tracking her movements. She saw his chest moving as oxygen flowed in and out of him. Seeing her resurrected Savior was key.
But we don’t get that opportunity. We weren’t there at the tomb. We aren’t anywhere near Israel or 36ish AD. How do we see Jesus?
John 1:14 says, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only."
That’s Jesus. He’s the One and Only. He’s the Word.
Understand then that we see Jesus when we open up this Bible. Every time you’re in church. Every time we read a lesson. Every time we sing a Bible based hymn. Every time you turn on your Bible app at lunch. Every time you go old school and open your Grandma’s KJV at her house. Every time you are in God’s Word – you see Jesus.
You see his heart. You see his love. You see his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of his sins.
Trust God on this! It will affect your mood. It might not be a total immediate transformation. But it will work, because that’s what God’s Word does.
Listen, you wouldn’t give up taking an antibiotic after one try would you? Especially if the doctor told you to take two, 3x a day for a whole week. Don’t stop reading God’s Word ever. It produces joy!
2) Make Sure your Joy is in the Lord!
Philippians says, “Rejoice in the Lord, always!” Do you know who wrote that? The Apostle Paul. Do you know when he wrote that? He wrote it while he was in prison for telling people about the Lord.
That’s not the most compelling circumstances for joy.
Yet notice he doesn’t say, “Rejoice in the fact that today’s food is better than yesterday’s.”
He doesn’t say “Rejoice in the fact that the shackles are more comfy in this cell than the guy next door’s.”
It doesn’t even say “Rejoice in the fact that I’m smarter than my captors.”
He says, “Rejoice in the Lord!” The Lord who called me. The Lord who found me. The Lord who made me his own. The LORD who lives and breathes and is alive forever. The Lord who promises me a home with him.
Keep this in mind. It’s easy for us to want to find joy in earthly things. I got a new job. I got a raise. I got a new friend. But those things might not last. And when they do fail, you will fall back into the doldrums of sadness.
Rejoice in the LORD! He lasts forever.
This interesting. Because Mary had been sad for a few days. Yet as soon as she felt the joy of seeing her risen Savior, Jesus had work for her. He told her to get up, not to hold on to him, and instead to go and tell his disciples that he would see them soon.
Really….it makes a lot of sense. Mary had just been lifted out of sadness. She had breathed a sigh of relief. There were others who needed that news too. Others who needed their guilt lifted away.
Others who needed to know that Jesus lived.
Do you know people like that? Let me change that…You do know people like that. The only way you don’t is if you are a hermit.
Why wouldn’t you share the Gospel with them?
You might be thinking Pastor...Easter is over. You don’t have anymore of those invite cards. There isn’t a breakfast to invite people to anymore. Call me again next year!
What if you were doing some spring cleaning with your spouse and you were moving some boxes from the garage to the attic and suddenly the box filled with all of your paper weights – and in this illustration you have a lot of paper weights – a paper weight collection – what if it got to be too much and your spouse lost his balance and lay on the ground caught underneath the weight of the box?
How long would you let him wait?
Why would you let your friends wait under the weight of their sins and guilt?
Help them breathe. Share the Gospel. Tell them of how Jesus died, but also of how he came back alive. Tell how his breath allows us to breathe a sigh of relief. Amen.
Breathing is kind of important. Agreed?
(Who knew we’d all be on the same page within 10 seconds of the start to a sermon?)
Breathing is important, but …some breaths are more meaningful than others:
The deep breath as you ask your first crush on a date.
A gasp when your significant other gets down on one knee.
The final Lamaze breath as your child enters the world.
Your first breath as you enter the world.
But…what if I told you the most important breath of your lifetime didn’t even take place in your lifetime?
MAIN BIBLE PASSAGES:
Matthew 27:45, 50-55
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[e] went into the holy city and appeared to many people. 54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” 55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph,[f] and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
I. The Most Important Exhale
It was Friday afternoon. Almost 2000 years ago. The people were doing one of the things they did for fun back then. No, they weren’t checking Instagram. No, they weren’t sampling their favorite sushi. No, they weren’t leaving work early to get on I—440 before it got hectic.
They were watching a crucifixion.
It was a larger commotion than normal. Three men were being executed. Two of them were fairly routine culprits — everyday thieves. But the third was of intrigue:
His name was Jesus. He was famous in the land of Israel. He had had quite a following and it was reported that he had done many miracles. And he wasn’t being killed for any of those. He was being crucified because he claimed to be the Son of God.
Now that is a strange claim, agreed? We’re getting used to strange claims though. Politicians make them all the time. “I’ll save you billions.” “You’ll never have to pay taxes again.” “I’ll fix America in a few months.”
But as outlandish as some of their claims are, I don’t think any of them have claimed to be the Son of God. If they did, we could go on Factchecker.com just to confirm, it ain’t true.
Here’s what’s interesting though – the fact surrounding Jesus seemed to point to the fact that it was true! He was reported as making the blind to see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear. He walked on water, stopped storms and changed water into wine. He healed the sick, drove out demons, and raised the dead.
Even his death had some strange, significant events surrounding it.
Around the 6th hour (which in Jewish time was about noon. 6 am was the first light and was therefore the first hour…making the 6th hour, 6 + 6 = 12 noon)…around the 6th hour darkness covered the earth. (Matthew 27:45) That word “darkness” there doesn’t refer to slightly overcast day. It’s a word used to describe the much thicker darkness of nighttime.
Nighttime darkness at noon? Strange.
Still the crucifixion continued as planned. In the darkness each one of the condemned slowly crept closer to death. Until in a loud voice, Jesus cried out “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Then, he exhaled.
And His followers watched.
They held their breath.
Nothing. His chest didn’t move. His mouth made no sound. His breath didn’t return.
But then, something.
Matthew 27:51 says, “The Curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” Notes on that curtain. (Cause if we don’t talk about it, it isn’t that impressive.) It wasn’t made from silk. It wasn’t made from Kleenex. It wasn’t made from those hippie beads that you can hang from the ceiling and tear in half with a wave of your hand. It was a long, woven veil. 60 feet long, 30 feet wide and 1 inch thick. It was heavy. In fact, it was so massive that it the Israelites used hundreds of priests to manipulate it. That’s not something that’s torn easily. Probably not torn without heavy machinery.
The fact that it was torn, completely half at the time of Jesus’ death? Strange.
But that’s not it. Matthew continues, “At that moment…the earth shook and the rocks split and the tombs broke open.” This wasn’t just a tremor. It was large enough on the Richter scale to split through large rocks that were used to mark the graves of the people. Also strange.
Now maybe if one of those three things happened the day Jesus died – the darkness at noon, the earthquake, or the curtain ripped in half, I’d say: It’s a coincidence. Even two? I can understand. Three…that might be pushing it, but not impossible.
But then a fourth thing happened that would be impossible if it happened all alone. Let alone in conjunction with the other things we have already mentioned. “The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the city and appeared to many people.”
Pastor, you don’t believe that! That’s impossible! It could never happen. Dead people don’t come back to life. That would be a miracle!
Um…isn’t that the point?
And notice that these resurrected people appeared to many people. It wasn’t just one guy saying, “I think I saw Aunt Edna last night.” It was a whole city that awoke to unexplained sightings. It wasn’t just the crazy guy down on the corner of Fayetteville St. It was real, everyday, respectable people. They all had seen these incredible thing!
Understand what the Bible is. It’s a record of some fairly incredible things. True. But it was written down at the same time that the people who saw these things had lived. It was written down, shared, made public, and approved by hundreds of people who saw the very things that Matthew wrote down happened.
That means that these incredible things aren’t a myth.
They weren’t an accident.
They weren’t a coincidence.
They were signs.
And just like you can head to the mall after church and find signs everywhere that say, “Meet Easter Bunny Here!” “1/2 OFF Easter dresses there” “Egg Hunt POSTPONED." These incredible signs were telling the people that something incredible just happened. Today these incredible signs are telling you – when Jesus breathed his last – something incredible happened.
What incredible thing happened? Take a look at Romans 4:25, “He was delivered over to death for our sins,” “on behalf of our sins,” or "because of our sins.”
Why? Because...God hates sin.
Like drunk driving. Does drunk driving make you angry? If you’ve ever been affected by it or lost a loved one, I bet it does. In fact, that message has gotten out there enough that – I imagine almost all of us – Republicans and Democrats are Independents – are against drunk driving. Mothers can belong to a group dedicated to prosecuting offenders (MADD). Even Budweiser ran a Super Bowl ad against it. So…when someone is caught drunk driving – there is punishment. We get it. We are ok with punishing that sin because that sin makes us angry.
Get this: That sin makes God angry, too. Actually, all sin makes God angry. Not just big sins like murder, theft, and adultery, but smallers sins: like a grabbing a few dollars from your co-worker's wallet, taking a quick peek down the secretary’s shirt, or making a tiny racist remark about your friend from another culture.
God hates those things. He hates it because they hurt others. These things hurt his children.
So he prosecutes sin.
He threatens to punish all sinners.
If you’re a sinner, he threatens to punish you. If you don’t like to hear that, tough. God will not be stopped.
But if you’re hearing me, if you’re convicted, if you know your sin and you know you deserve punishment, hear this: God doesn’t want to punish you. He never did. That’s why he died.
He was delivered over to death for your sins. To save you from sin’s consequence!
Which is a nice thought. But, how do you we know this worked? He died. How do we know this whole thing isn’t just one big made up, pretend thing that we celebrate at Easter to make the day a little sweeter?
II. The Most Important Inhale
Enter the inhale.
Same week. Three days later. Early in the morning a group of women were on their way to the graveyard. They brought with them some spices and special herbs. Traditionally these were things they would use to honor their dead – kinda like grabbing a bouquet of flowers to take and place on Grandpa’s tomb.
And as the crisp morning air awakened their senses, the tears started flowing. They missed him. He was their dear friend. He had shown them love when no other man had. He had rescued them from dark places. He had given them hope…and a future.
When he died, that hope had been ripped away. It felt like her heart was gone. They had killed him. They had killed her hope.
But their sadness was interrupted.
2 There was a violent earthquake. And an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.
Have you seen pictures of these stones? Jesus had been buried in a standing tomb. It was a rich person's tomb. And rich people won’t be buried in the ground with a tiny little grave marker. No. They had these big, cut out of a cliff walk-in tombs – with enough space for a small dinner party – if you wanted to have a small dinner party in a tomb.
For a door? They would use giant rocks to withstand grave robbers. I don’t know the exact size and weight of these rocks. But…I think it’s safe to say that rocks the size of a door are pretty heavy. I could probably do about a dozen bicep curls with these. And it isn’t even close to door sized.
Tomb door rocks were so big that they needed to be moved in place by a soiree of heavy duty Roman soldiers. In fact, this was such a problem that the women were even discussing amongst themselves whether they had made a mistake in coming out there in the first place. Who was gonna move the stone? There were guards in front of the tomb, but were there enough?
Turns out…they didn’t need to worry. An angel moved it out of place like Arnold Schwarzenegger moving a pair of 2&1/2 pound ankle weights.
If the earthquake and opened tomb wasn’t enough to stir up some excitement, the angel did! 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. In other words – he was glowing. Long before the days of face paint and special effects. There isn’t a pyro guy off in the corner trying to trick the women. It isn’t David Copperfield using the illusion of the camera to throw the ladies off guard.
In fact, the women weren’t the only ones to see the angels. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The big, tough, I’ll get killed if I screw up my job, Roman guards – fainted!
5 The angel held up a hand. He calmed them. He spoke gently to them. “Don’t be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
Process that for a moment. Jesus – the guy who died in front of hundreds – whose death was confirmed by the Roman soldiers at the cross, the Roman soldiers who took him down, his followers who left with tears, his buriers who took his body, the Roman governor who allowed them to take his body, and the Roman soldiers who had closed the rock door over Jesus’ dead body – that Jesus – who had really died….
…was alive again.
And just in case the women didn’t believe the angel, he let them see it for themselves. Go ahead. Look! He’s gone. He should be here; he died. But he’s not here. Miraculous? Yes! Impossible? Not with God.
This brings us back to Romans 4. He was delivered over to death for our sins, but raised to life for our justification. Justification is a courtroom term. It’s the opposite of condemnation. If we are guilty we are condemned; if we are innocent, we are justified. Condemnation bad. Justification good.
Jesus’ resurrection is proof that we are justified! It was God’s almighty, Divine declaration about you and your life. Listen to it: Hear the rumbling of the earthquake, listen to the cracking of the rocks, and the shrieks of the guards and the voice of your LORD:
You are justified.
You have been declared innocent.
By faith in Jesus Christ, you are saved.
This is why the inhale is so important. If Jesus doesn’t take that breath in the grave on Easter Sunday morning, then you and I are still in our sins. Jesus’ death didn’t work. His promise of forgiveness didn’t mean a thing. You and I have to face God standing in the filthy, disgusting cesspool of all our awful sins.
In fact, 1 Corinthians 15:14 takes it a step farther. “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” In other words, if Jesus doesn’t take that breath in that tomb, then the Christian faith, is one big useless, irrelevant, irreverent, cruel joke! And I’m a big old fool for teaching it to you.
But…if Christ does take that breath, if his lungs do move again, if blood starts to circulate in his veins and brain activity returns to his nervous system. Then…there is no moment more important.
That breath means you are forgiven.
That breath means you are at peace.
That breath means that all will be well.
That breath means that God did what he said he’d do.
That breath means that God was victorious.
That breath means that you are victorious.
That breath means that God rose from the dead.
That breath means that you will rise from the dead.
Treasure it. Celebrate it. Take a breath…breathe out with joy! Jesus has inhaled. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!
Reformation Sunday: Hold On!
15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
2 Thessalonians 2:15-17
Daniel held it in his hands.
An edict. Signed by the King. “No man was to pray to any god or man, other than the king. The penalty for breaking this law? A night in a den filled with hungry lions.”
It was scary. What was Daniel to do? Would he abandon his God? Would he change his traditions? Would he break the very first commandment that his mother had taught him, “You shall have no other gods,” and worship the king? If he didn’t, he would certainly die. The deal had been sealed with the king’s ring. It was irrepealable.
What should he hold on to: His life or God’s Word?
Luther held it in his hands.
A demand had been made by the Holy Roman Emperor. “Recant your writings or you will be excommunicated. You will not be in the church. You will be rejected. Your writings burned, and with the power of the state in our corner, you will be an outlaw. Arrested. Convicted."
What should he do? Should he go against his conscience? Should he go against God’s Word? If he didn’t, he would face imprisonment…or worse…death! It wasn’t unlike the Emperor to have heretics burned at the stake. Should he suffer the same fate?
What should he hold on to: His life or God’s Word?
Have you held it in your hands too?
Maybe it’s on an iPhone. Maybe it’s the headline of a newspaper: The definition of marriage has been changed. Evolution is preached as fact. Mentioning Jesus in a grade school can get you into more trouble than dropping an F bomb. Your friends storm any Facebook message mentioning Jesus, call you an ‘idiot’, and threaten to UNFRIEND you.
What should you do? You know the Bible. You know what it says. You know what this cross up here means. But if you hold on to it, you could be ridiculed, mocked, unfriended, even despised! The more transparent you are about your faith in today’s society, the more it will change your life – and not for the better!
What should you hold on to: Your life or God’s Word?
Before you make a decision, because I’m sure you’ve heard the world’s opinion on what you should do already. Could you take 10 minutes and consider what God’s would have you do? He created you. He died for you. It may be worth a look to see what the One who loves you more than anything would have you do.
Take a look at 2 Thessalonians 2 and hear God out as to why you should hold on to His Word. It says, “Brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”
Now you might say, “God wants me to do that? That’s a little strong. Isn’t the author Paul? Wasn’t Paul a man? Isn’t he just recommending that we hold on to his teachings? How is that teaching special? Why should I hold on to it? Why is it any more special than Gandhi's or Buddha's?”
It’s like trying to figure out whose word to trust more: Kay Hagan or Thom Tillis. My mail tells me that Thom Tillis hates kids. And I believe it. Until I read the next piece of mail that tells me Kay Hagan hates kids.
How are you supposed to know?
In the same vein, what makes Paul’s teachings and the teachings of the Bible so important that I should hold on to them?
Do you know who the main figure in the Bible is? It’s Jesus. Remember last week, many struggled with why they should trust Jesus. But Jesus was not short of reasons to do so:
Give me some reasons not to trust Jesus and I’ll give you hundreds more to trust him. (Or just one really good one!) Jesus was God! No one else ever did the things he did. No one else ever taught the things he did. And what he taught is recorded in this book. It is God’s Word.
God’s Word backs up it’s claims for truth with divine miracles of incredible proportions and thousands of witnesses to the works of the central figure of it’s story: Jesus Christ. Why would you doubt it? Why not believe? Hold on to His Word!
Of course, it’s very easy for us to misread this passage. It’s easy for our sinful mind to warp God’s command here and make us think we are holding onto God’s Word, when we are really holding onto something else entirely. Here are just a few of the pitfalls:
1) Your Desires. This is a common sentiment into the world today. “God loves you. He couldn’t possibly ask you to do anything that would make you feel bad. So anytime you see the Bible telling you to do something different than what makes you feel good, just ignore it."
But defining truth by your desires is a terrible way to define truth:
Think of your kids. On Halloween, did they stay up late on Halloween night? Maybe you were on a candy rush and watching It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown on the TV. When you looked at them and the clock that said “two hours past normal bedtime,” plus the whiny voice that they had, did you say, “They can’t be tired, because they told me they didn’t feel tired.”
Or try this. Take a look at the color shirt you are wearing. Say you think that it’s white. Now ask your coworker what color he thinks it is. If he says, “hot pink” is he wrong? What if he says, “green with yellow polka dots.” If he feels that’s the color, does that mean that is the color it is?
Of course not.
Feelings and desires are not truth. Not in mundane things like colors of clothing. Certainly they aren’t Divine Truth either. So stop holding to your own desires instead of God’s Word.
This is a second things we substitute into 2 Thessalonians 2. We love to “hold on to tradition.” This was a huge problem in the Catholic church at Luther’s time. They valued tradition over God’s Word. Tradition was that whatever the Pope said was truth. What the pope said was that you could literally buy your way out of purgatory and into forgiveness, even while you provided the church with a good way to make some money and build a brand new facility.
But tradition is not always God’s Word.
Of course, this isn’t just a 16th century problem. It has modern applications. We need to be careful that we don’t say,
§ “I go to church, because I always have; not because I think it’s true.”
§ “I’m Catholic because my family is, I know they don’t teach God’s Word, but I don’t want to abandon tradition.
§ “I can’t go to church to learn God’s Word, because traditionally I sleep or I work on Sundays.”
Tradition is not truth. It’s not even divine truth. So don’t hold onto it like it is!
3) Your Desires Disguised as Tradition.
Sometimes the last two combine in our minds to produce a brand new thing to hold on to. This happens especially among long time church goers. We like to hold onto desires disguised as tradition. For example,
“That’s not the right size of cookie to serve after church. I don’t like it. I’ll tell that person: You can’t serve that.”
“That’s not my favorite kind of music to hear in church. It must be from the devil.”
“That’s not the normal way of filling out a council report. I need to give that newbie a piece of my mind so they never do it again.”
Isn’t it interesting? We get angry and upset with a fellow, active church member for serving in the church in a slightly different way than we’re used to, but when a relative or friend is openly living in sin against God’s Word, we think, “No big deal. That’s just the way this world is.”
How sad. Again: your desires disguised as tradition are not God’s Word!
4) Your Pride.
This leads to the most dangerous substitution. In fact, this one is related to the other three. It is the foundation of the other three. Pride.
Humans love to hold on to pride. It was the problem for the king who told everyone to bow down to him. It was the problem for the church at the time of the Reformation. They didn’t want to hear what God’s Word said about them. They didn’t want to hear that they were sinners. They didn’t want to hear that their good works were nothing before God. They didn’t want to hear that God demanded perfection and couldn’t be bought back with a few dollars to the visible church leaders.
This is the same dangerous thinking that can attack you today:
“I don’t need Jesus. I’m a pretty good person on my own and I’m sure God’s cool with me.”
“I don’t need to repent, this sin isn’t that bad and even if it is, I’ve done plenty of other things good in my life to make up for it.”
“I can’t turn to the Bible for salvation. I never have before and I don’t want to admit that I’m wrong. Mostly because I’m never wrong.”
But your pride isn’t God’s Word. In fact, it is only in the way of God’s Word. It’s the very thing that God’s Word doesn’t want you to hold on to at all. Because pride says you can save yourself. Pride says that’s traditionally how I’ve thought. Pride says I desire to be able to save myself, so it must be truth.
But God says differently. If you hold to your desires, tradition or pride over against God’s Word, that doesn’t make it truth!
It just makes God angry.
Imagine for a moment facing God at the end of your life. What will you say to him for all of those times that you totally and completely disobeyed him and went against him because you didn’t feel like it or you didn’t think you needed to listen?
I don’t want to find out either.
So listen again to 2 Thessalonians 2: Hold on to God’s Word.
II. Why Hold on to the Word?
At my home up in my top dresser drawer is a little chest. Inside this chest, is a little tie tack. It is a tad tarnished. There’s a picture of a Ford truck on it. It isn’t worth all that much money on eBay. I have shinier looking tie tacks and more modern looking ways to wear my tie. Why do I hold on to it?
It came from someone special. My grandpa. Maybe you have something similar. Something special because it was given by someone special.
This is the first reason to hold on to God’s Word. Because it comes from God! Verse 16 says, “Our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our father…gave this.” They gave you his Word. It is a gift from the divine, incredible, world making, universe shaking, Creator of the universe to you, came down to do die on the cross, so you wouldn’t have to spend eternity in hell, God given to you!
Why would you throw it away as a tarnished relic that holds no value in modern society? Instead hold on to it as it actually is: A divine book of love written to you by your Father above! In this book he gives you the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. He gives you his life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of peace with God.
Verse 16 adds to the benefits: “God… gave us eternal encouragement.” Eternal means unending. It means that it always lasts.
Now your desires may change. Punk Rock may no longer be your favorite type of music to listen to and your favorite kind of Dorito might change from Nacho Cheese to Cool Ranch.
Same thing with traditions. It probably takes only one year of not finding the Pickle on the Christmas tree for you to forget all about it.
And pride only lasts as long as you are foolish enough to believe it. You can be proud that you are so good at basketball until you try out for the high school team and get cut. Then, your pride is gone.
But God’s Word? That lasts forever.
Think about it. If you open Colossians 2:13 in your Bibles, it will still say, “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins."
Ok close it. If you open up today after you read an article online about how the Bible isn’t true, God’s Word will still say, "Christ died for sin." If you get addicted to a sin, but then stumble upon it months from now it still says, “Christ died for sin.” If you ignore God’s Word for years, but after lots of goading and ‘pestering’ you join us at church and the pastor just happens to be preaching on this passage, it will still say, “Christ died for sin.” If all the Bibles in America were destroyed, but a friend came to you in a conversation at night and said, “Christ died for your sin,” it’d still be true!
Because God’s Word is forever. Put your hope in it. Hold on to it!
It will provide you with “Good hope.” Because without the Word of God, what would your hope be?
“I hope to have a family and get a good job…until I die then maybe I’ll impress God with my life. I don’t know. I hope. I think. I’m not sure. I hope God isn’t real because then I’m in trouble and I hope hell doesn’t hurt all that bad.”
That’s hope? Not so much. Not when compared to the true and real hope that God’s Word gives us. It’s nothing compared to the good hope of forgiveness that the prophets promise you when it says, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds you are healed” (Isaiah 53:5-6). It’s hope of eternal salvation from your sins when God’s Word says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life!” (Jn. 3:16) It’s the hope that comes from Jesus’ promise, “In my Father’s house are many rooms, if it weren’t so I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And then I will come back to take you there with me.”
Finally, this eternal encouragement and good hope strengthens our hearts – which in turn – strengthens you in every good deeds and word.
Let’s go back to Daniel. Know what happened to him? He went to his room and prayed like always. He didn’t care if he was thrown into the Lion’s Den. He held on to God’s Word. God kept him safe through the night and he brought the good news of our saving God to the King! He’s in heaven now.
Know what happened to Martin Luther? He came back the next day and confessed, “It is not wise to go against God. So…here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.” God kept him safe for a long period of time and Luther brought the saving news of God’s grace to many people! He’s in heaven now.
Know what will happen to you? If you hold on to God’s Word, you will find comfort. You will hear of the awesome power of God. You will hear of your Savior's dying love for you. You will be reminded of your God who died but then rose from the dead for you!
Besides. All this talk about having to give up your life to hold on to God's Word is a misnomer.
Jesus said, "I am the Life. Whoever believes in me, will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me, will never die." (Jn. 11:25-26)
Because, when you hold on to God’s Word, the truth is, God is holding on to you. Amen.
Sermon: God's Not Dead
Is God dead?
It certainly looks like it, doesn’t it?
Immorality is increasing at an incredible rate. New science studies “prove” that it was a Big Bang and not God. “And the article had 10,000 likes on Facebook so the conclusions must be true!” Random acts of nature – mudslides, disappearing planes, capsized boats. “If God were here, he wouldn’t let that happen.”
Then, there are our personal struggles – barely able to pay rent, job on the chopping block, strained marriages, struggles in school, life threatening illnesses. They all tempt us to one sad conclusion --
God is dead.
That’s a pretty scary conclusion isn’t it? It’s the exact same scary situation that a few women followers of Jesus found themselves in early the first Easter morning.
Their leader. Their God. Was certainly dead. And there’s plenty of reason to believe this to be truth nearly 2000 years later. Just look at the witnesses:
1) The crowd at the crucifixion. They had seen Jesus’ body go through a brutal beating. Punches, slaps, and kicks on Thursday evening. A barbaric scourging at the hands of professional Roman torturers Friday morning. A crown of thorns to rest his head, then, stakes through the hands and the feet all by lunchtime! Then, they watched for three hours until his body wore out, unable to push up at the bottom of the cross, Jesus took his last breath. Then knew he was dead.
2) But so did the soldiers. They were professionals at torture AND killing. If they didn’t get it right, they might die! So they were extra careful. Even though they were positive Jesus was dead, one soldier took a spear and stuck it into his side -- aiming for the heart. Now they knew he was dead.
3) The two men who had prepared Jesus’ body for burial knew he was dead, too. So they began traditional preparations for the dead. They covered Jesus’ hands, his feet, and his wrists with linens. They never saw his chest move. They felt no pulse. They didn't see his eyelids flicker. They knew he was dead.
4) His enemies even knew it! As the body was prepared, they came to Pilate and asked that armed guards watch over the tomb. Jesus had promised that he would rise again, but since they knew him to be dead, they were nervous that the disciples would steal his body. They asked for the guards to prevent a hoax.
5) The man in charge of the crucifixion allowed it. Because he knew Jesus was dead too. Likely, he had ordered plenty of crucifixions. No one came through them! Jesus was no different. His guards said he was dead. He was dead. They could have a guard if it made them feel better.
6) The grave workers then took their places. They helped ensure the body made its way into the tomb. They pushed a boulder in front of it. They sealed it with wax. They probably worked in shifts. One group Friday night. Another Saturday morning, Another Saturday evening. A final set early Sunday morning. None of these soldiers heard movement in the tomb. Because Jesus was dead.
7) Which is why the women early that Easter morning were so certain. They carried spices towards his tomb – not to repair him to health, but because that's how you honored the dead.
And Jesus was dead.
Even modern medicine agrees. Some people have this idea that Jesus went into a coma. "Maybe, he didn't really die. Maybe, the blood thirsty beatings, the extreme blood loss and the slow death on a cross didn't kill him. Just put him a coma." Modern medicine scoffs at such an idea. Dr. Robert Stein, one of the world's foremost pathologists wrote, "Jesus couldn't possibly have faked his death, because you can't fake the inability to breathe for all that long. Besides the spear thrust into his heart would have settled the issue once and for all...And EVEN if in some kind of miracle, he had only been in a coma, what would he have done? When he awoke in the tomb, he would have been so pathetically weak that he would have simply lay there unable to move the giant boulder that sealed him in!"
This is key then to understanding the Easter story. Jesus was certainly dead.
II. Certainly Alive.
As the women came to the tomb any fear they had from their leader having been killed must have intensified. There was an earthquake. The stone had been rolled away!!! The soldiers were passed out with shock! They appeared into the tomb.
IT WAS EMPTY! What had happened!?!
Then, they met their first witness.
His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. An angel. “He’s not here; he has risen…come and see the place where he lay! Then, go quickly and tell his disciples.”
So they hurried away from the tomb! Excited, but nervous. Who would believe them? Is an angel to be trusted?
Then, they saw someone they knew could be trusted. The women saw Jesus! “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet. At that time, I'm sure they saw the wounds on both his feet -- right where the nails had been. As he clasped their shoulders to comfort them, they saw the holes in his hands. This was no imposter. This wasn't some groggy, just out of a coma Jesus...and since they all saw Him...it wasn't a hallucination.
Who was not dead, but alive!
But those women weren’t the only witnesses.
Jesus showed himself to Mary Magdalene. A woman who could have no doubts it was him. She would never forget the face of the man who would heal her and changed her life.
Jesus showed himself to two disciples walking to Emmaus. His knowledge of scripture was unmistakable. It was him!
He showed himself to the Eleven. Well, actually, ten of them first. Thomas was missing. But when Thomas complaind that he wouldn’t believe in the resurrection until he saw it, Jesus reappeared. He showed him his hands. His feet. He ate food in front of him. He allowed Thomas to stick his hand in his side! And even doubting Thomas was convinced – this isn’t Peter trying to play a trick on me. This is "My Lord and God!"
In fact, there is no shortage of witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. over 500 people in many different places, in different times and different places. Different people. All of them were convinced it was him!
Even one of Jesus' greatest enemies – Saul -- who was convinced that Jesus was dead and that this was all a lie...so much so that he imprisoned, beat, and killed anyone who confessed to following Jesus...Saul saw Jesus. He believed he was alive. He became a follower. He went on four missionary journeys, started over 20 churches, and wrote 13 books in the Bible! Why did he make such a change? Why did it happen over night?
Because he saw that Jesus was alive!
But Paul isn't even the greatest witness. The greatest witness lie in that empty tomb.
I like Chocolate Easter bunnies. But, at our house, you aren’t supposed to eat them until Easter Sunday. So, if Julianna finds a little bit of chocolate on the corner of my mouth and accuses me of eating the bunny, all I have to do is produce the chocolate bunny—whole, in package, and untouched.
If Jesus was still dead, all the Pharisees would have to do would be to produce the dead body.
"But the disciples probably stole it!" Right! An accountant and a few fisherman overpowered the first century equivalent of heavily, armored Navy seals, and threw open the sealed rock all before the soldiers knew what hit ‘em.
There’s another problem. Why would the disciples have perpetuated the lie even to their own deaths?
What happens on crime dramas when the perpetrator is confronted with absolute evidence that he is guilty? He stops lying. He gives the truth – no matter what it convict him of.
The disciples NEVER did this. Why? Because it was the truth! They had seen Jesus die and they had seen him alive! He was their God and God was not dead!
Brothers and sisters, no explanation fits the empty tomb except for the fact that he only thing that does fit and explain the empty tomb is a historical. Very real. Resurrection.
III. What it means for Us
What interesting is that there isn’t an Empire Strikes Back to the Easter Story. The Pharisees never find Jesus and try to kill him all over again.
The truth is this: God couldn't be killed then and listen to this God can't be killed now!
Now what we normally don’t try to do is kill God with a nuclear bomb or biological warfare. No, we use reason! "I don't think God could exist and it's not reasonable that Jesus could rise from the dead, so this is nothing more than a fairy tale." We use science. "I read an article that said science still can't find scientific proof for a God that created the universe. We use emotions, "I hate that God tells us that the way I want to live my life is a sin! Therefore, he must not exist."
But God didn’t stay dead at the hands of one of the most violent deaths in the history of the world. No amount of unbelief, no amount of scientific evidence, no amount of immorality, no amount of bad circumstances, no amount of hatred can kill God!
In fact, if you still insist that Jesus is not God and definitely not alive or even real, - especially in the face of today’s testimony - I’m very nervous for you. It’s not God's who's dead…it's you.
And it happens so easily. Guilt over past sins smothers any hope in a God who forgives. Pride stamps out any obedience to a divine authority. Reason. Sinful, human reason loves to attack and destroy faith. And fear of what it might mean that God is real and Easter is true...kills your desire to find out.
But even if we are spiritually dead, there’s still hope. Because God’s not dead! In fact, he can’t be held down by death. That’s mortal stuff.
Why then did God die in the first place?
Scripture says, "He was put to death for our sins"-- the very Jesus who proved his authority to say things with his unmistakable death and resurrection – He taught all human beings are morally corrupt individuals who have done wrong against God and, as a result, die – and, when they die apart from God – die eternally!
Scripture says, "He was raised to life for our justification!" In other words, his death was the punishment for your sins. God’s wrath has been wiped away! Now, through faith in Jesus, you are forgiven and God declares you innocent of wrongdoing. In fact, he no longer threatens hell, but promises the eternal life of heaven.
3) This leads to the final truth: With faith in the God-Who’s-Not-Dead, you’re not dead! A more eloquent way of saying it this: With faith the God who Lives, you will Live! On high. With the Lord. In heaven.
This is huge!
I wish you could have met my Grandpa Dave. He was a wonderful man. I used to sit on his lap and eat Easter candy with him. I’d also try to keep the Easter candy away from the tattooed panther he had on his bicep. It didn’t like bunnies – he told me.
I haven’t celebrated an Easter with Grandpa Dave in years.
But I will. Because God lives. Through faith in him, you will too.
Dear friends. May this same ever living God be your hope this Easter and always. Amen.