We’re on the final lesson in our three-part PEACE series. Back on December 1st, Pastor Robin reminded us that, as believers, we have PEACE with God because of what Jesus did for us. Two weeks ago, we talked about how that PEACE with God leads us towards PEACE with our family and friends.
But if we stopped the series there, it wouldn’t be complete.
It’d be like an unfinished Dot-to-Dot puzzle. Ever you seen one of those in a coloring book? You connected dot 1 to dot 2, dot 2 to dot 3, —all the way to dot 57 until there is a completed picture.
But what if you leave 58 to 79 unfinished? The picture isn’t complete. What was supposed to be a cookie ends up looking like the letter “c”.
The same thing is true with our sermon series.
If we forget to connect the final dot in God’s plan for PEACE, the picture ends up being completely different.
Because God’s declaration of PEACE to us and guidance in PEACE with family and friends isn’t just so that YOU have a peaceful Christmas.
God brings us to PEACE with him and guides us to live in PEACE with others so that we can deliver HIS PEACE to them.
Our goal for today is to:
(1) identify the BEST gift you can give anyone this Christmas
(2) understand WHAT MAKES this gift the best gift ever
(3) make a game plan for bringing this gift to people in your life
Before we begin: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Best Gift
The lesson for today comes from the book of Isaiah. It was written 700 years before the very first Christmas, at a time when the people of Judah didn’t have a lot to feel peaceful about.
Recently, the Assyrian army had been conquering countries, devastating cities, and violently tearing apart armies. Now, the army had gotten very close to the country of Judah -- even completely destroying and devastating their sister country of Israel – where many of their relatives and friends resided.
It was a time of war.
People were anxious.
People were concerned.
People lived in fear.
Young men were afraid to walk outside by themselves at night.
Fathers were nervous that a letter may contain news of another relative killed in battle.
Mothers cuddled their children closely, afraid they might not have many days left.
It was to that kind of atmosphere that God brought this message:
Rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem.
Free yourself from the chains on your neck…
For this is what the Lord says;
“You were sold for nothing,
And without money you will be redeemed… (Isaiah 52:2-4)
Did you catch it?
God’s message to the people of Judah was that Assyrian would not defeat them.
God would free them from their oppression.
Soon, they would be redeemed.
But here’s what I want you to do.
Put yourself in Isaiah’s shoes.
He just heard from God’s mouth the very good news that the war would end soon and there would be PEACE.
This is where there’s a shift in chapter 52.
Because to this point, Isaiah has been recording what God has told him to tell others.
Now, Isaiah comments on the job that God just gave him:
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (v.7)
Feet aren’t normally that beautiful.
They can be stinky.
They can be smelly.
They can have ingrown toenails.
They can have thick pieces of black hair on the big toe.
If you want beautiful feet, you’ve usually got to work hard at it.
You need to scrub off the calluses.
You need to clip your toenails.
You need to rub essential oils on them to keep them smelling good.
Even at Christmas, if you’re opening up present on your living room floor, you might want to throw on a pair of elf slippers or maybe some socks with jingle bells on them.
Feet aren’t normally very beautiful.
How beautiful on the feet of those who bring good news.
They got to walk to tell the young men; they were safe.
They got to deliver the message to the dad; that their relatives would come home.
They got to tell the mother’s; it’s ok to send your children outside now.
There is no greater GIFT than the gift of GOOD NEWS.
Think about it:
How awesome when a friend text message you, “There’s a 50% off sale down at Kohl’s.”
How wonderful when you get the email: “Your Amazon Prime order has shipped.”
How excited do your kids get when you say: “There’s only 2 more days until Christmas!”
The message of Jesus is also good news.
In fact, the word commonly used to describe the message of Jesus is “the Gospel.”
Did you know that the word “Gospel” literally means, “Good news.”
It’s the “good news” that we have a Savior.
Friends, there’s no greater gift than good news.
And there’s is no greater GOOD NEWS than the GOSPEL.
II. The Beauty of the Gospel
If you believe the Gospel, then perhaps you understand the incredible effect the Gospel has had on you.
But for a moment, I don’t want you to apply the Gospel to yourself.
I want you to apply it to someone you know that doesn’t’ believe it.
Think about it:
What kind of an effect would the Gospel have on them?
A few things:
(1) It brings PEACE
Christmas is a time that a lack of peace becomes very evident.
Kids proclaim STRESS: “You didn’t get me what I wanted.”
Parents proclaim STRESS: “You didn’t get your child what you should.”
Friends proclaim STRESS: “I can’t believe you aren’t spending more time with me.”
Spouses proclaim STRESS: “Christmas reminds me of how terrible of a spouse you are.”
People proclaim stress to each other.
But with the message of Jesus you get to proclaim PEACE. That out of all their relationships that they have…spouse, friend, coworker, parent, child, sibling, 2nd cousin twice remove, there is ONE relationship that they are guaranteed to have peace with and it just so happens to be the one being that they have sinned against the most:
(2) It brings GLAD TIDINGS from God
One thing that has been popular in Christmases past is the Christmas letter. People used to write down all the good things that happened over the past year and update friends and relatives on it. I remember receiving a letter from a nice elderly couple up from North Minnesota that only included the latest updates to their garden: “The colerabi came in good this year.” Even the millennial version of it – no letter; just a picture from Shutterfly – announces some kind of good news; “We’re still a family.”
When you tell your neighbors about Jesus, it’s really like you’re delivering God’s Christmas letter to them. And it’s one of the only Christmas letters with good news for the recipients: “Dear friend, Things are going well in heaven. My Son Jesus is still the Savior. His death and resurrection 2000 some years ago still paid for all of your sins. You are still forgiven. You are still at peace with me. You are saved.”
(3) It brings SALVATION
Particularly verse 7 says that when you proclaim the message of Jesus, you proclaim salvation. (v.7)
It’s kind of like participating in a giving (or angel) tree. We’ve got one in our hallway. If you happen to be the one that delivers the presents, you’ll be deliving to some people who didn’t have enough money to buy gifts for their kids. You’ll be “saving” Christmas.
But how much greater when it comes to the message of Jesus.
They owe a debt that they could never pay.
But when you tell them the message of Jesus?
That big guilt that they feel? They’re saved from it.
That big sin that they did? They’re saved form it.
That terrible death that they’re facing? They’re saved from it.
(4) It says, “GOD REIGNS”
Which is another layer to the Gospel message.
Because if the God who saved them, has good tidings for them, and is at peace with them is also the KING of the universe…
Then, whatever they’re going through…
…estrangement from family.
…their loving God is in control.
…and all will work out for their good.
III. Game Plan
Friends, it is eternally important to share the message of Jesus this Christmas. So…here’s what we’re going to do next. We’re going to game plan.
Because if you are one of the College Football teams you are currently game-planning for their upcoming Bowl game.
If you’re UNC, you’re game planning for Temple.
If you’re Wake Forest, you’re game planning for Michigan State.
If you’re Duke or NC State, you’re game planning for whoever you play in the opening game next year.
If you’re a believer listening to this today, you’ve got to game plan for how you’re going to share the Peace of Jesus this Christmas.
(1) Share TOGETHER
Because look at what Isaiah writes next: “Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy.” (v.8)
Notice it’s a plural. You have more than one watchman so that you can get the message out to the entire city, quickly and efficiently.
It’s the same for us. We share the message of Jesus TOGETHER.
TOGETHER we pool our funds for social media ads inviting people to Christmas Eve.
TOGETHER we work together to put on the best Gospel proclamation service Tuesday night.
TOGETHER we sharpen our skills in sharing faith through Bible study.
TOGETHER we challenge each other to share our faith.
TOGETHER we pray for each others’ efforts.
TOGETHER we plan to follow up on those who join us and connect them with the message of peace.
And it has to be TOGETHER.
Because the effect is larger when it’s TOGETHER.
It’s like going in with your siblings on a gift for mom and dad. If you pool you’re money, you can get the next HD TV. But on your own? You never will.
It’s the same thing.
TOGETHER, we reach North Raleigh.
But only TOGETHER.
On our own, we NEVER will.
(2) Identify your End of the Earth
Verse 10 says, “All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” (v.10) It’s a promise of our God. He died for ALL and he wants ALL to know about their Savior.
It’s kind of hard to invite someone who lives in Australia to worship in Raleigh.
Remember though – Christianity is a team sport.
God isn’t calling you personally to go to the ends of the earth.
He’s just calling you to go to the ends of YOUR earth.
To the ends of your block.
To the end of your cubicle.
To the end of your couch.
Who are the people you know who don’t know Jesus? Look at the bottom of your note sheet. There’s a spot for writing some of those people down. Take a moment, write them down. Plan to share Jesus with them.
(3) Include ALL Nations
Because its’ really, really, really, really, really easy to say, “I can’t think of anyone who looks like me to share the Gospel of jesus with, so I don’t know if there is any one for me to share the message of Jesus with.”
Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
That includes the people who look like you.
And the people who don’t.
The people who have the same culture as you.
And who don’t.
The people who have the same religion as you.
And who don’t.
Do you know someone like that? Don’t be too nervous to write them down. God’s peace is for them too!
(4) Rejoice TOGETHER
The final thing that I want to include is found in verse 9:
“Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” (v.9)
And this is where I think we could do better.
Because, we all agree that many need to hear about Jesus.
And we agree that sharing Jesus is challenging to do.
Let’s celebrate when it happens.
Let’s rejoice when someone invites someone to Christmas via text message.
Let’s rejoice when someone shares a scripture on Facebook.
Let’s rejoice when someone brings someone along to worship.
Let’s rejoice together, because we share Jesus together.
Celebrating these accomplishments, pumps us up.
Gives glory to God.
And motivates us to keep sharing Jesus.
Friends, there is no better gift than the message of Jesus.
May God be with you as you share the message of Jesus.
This lesson picks up right after Stephen gets killed. If you remember from last week, Stephen was an ‘ordinary’ church member whose job was to deliver bread to widows and tell people about Jesus. And that’s what he did. And that’s what got him in trouble. In fact, that’s what got him killed – sharing about Jesus.
Unfortunately, the message of Stephen’s death empowered the enemies of the church. In fact, the Bible tells us – A great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. (v.2) They were afraid that what happened to Stephen might happen to them; so, they packed up and left. I suppose you might picture it kinda like a hurricane evacuation – they left to stay with relatives, friends and Motel 6’s in other cities and towns.
But…here’s what interesting. Look at verse 4: Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
Wouldn’t you expect them to be quiet about their faith? Stephen had just died because of his faith. I would have expected them to not mention they are Christians, remove it from their Facebook profiles, and peel the fish stickers off their bumpers.
But they don’t.
Here’s the truth that’s going to become very evident over the remaining lessons in Acts: The Gospel is unstoppable.
You can kill one person. You can shut off the Christian radio. You can burn some bibles. You can suspend Gethsemane’s YouTube page from the internet.
But you cannot stop the Gospel.
The Gospel is unstoppable.
God always has a way of bringing his Gospel to the people that he wants to bring the Gospel to.
Namely – the world.
Today we are going to be following the Unstoppable Gospel as it is proclaimed by a young man named Philip (nice name). He was also one of the bread delivery men like Stephen. Through Philip we are going to learn some wonderful lessons about the power of the Gospel. 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. Unstoppable Power
Take a look 8:5. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed, or lame were healed. So there was great joy in the city.
A couple of notes:
In Samaria. Samaria was just to the North of Judea and Jerusalem. It was formerly a part of the Old Testament Israelite kingdom, but was currently inhabited by the Samaritans…a group that claimed Israelite ancestry from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. The point is that they weren’t Jewish. This was a different city with a different culture. A city that would have been very intimidating for Philip to go and share the Gospel.
But he does anyways. Confident that the Gospel is unstoppable.
Signs performed. This probably gave Philip confidence that the Gospel was unstoppable. The Apostles – who had been given the ability to do miracles by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – had the ability to pass on the ability to do miracles to others by laying their hands on them. (It’s kinda like Galactus from the Marvel Universe. Google it.)
That’s exactly what they had done with the 7 bread delivery men. Stephen, Philip and their 5 other comrades had been given the power to do miracles by the 12 Apostles and God worked through all 19 of these men (12 + 7) to make all who heard the Gospel certain that God was behind this movement and this message.
It caused people to pay attention. Look at the result.
There was great joy in the city. Because that’s what the Gospel brings – joy.
It brings joy to know that your sins are forgiven.
It brings joy to know that you are at peace with God.
It brings joy to know that Jesus conquered death.
It brings joy to know that you will conquer death, too.
The Gospel brings joy – Sometimes we forget about that. Sometimes we get too concerned about financial difficulties, problems in our family life or things we don’t like at church that we miss the JOY of the Gospel! Could you listen in and hear it again: Jesus is your Savior!
That’s a message that will bring joy to anyone!
To me. To you.
To your mom. To your dad.
To your son. To your daughter.
To your mailman. To your next-door neighbor. To the swim team teacher.
In fact, the Gospel even brings joy to unexpected people.
Cue verse 9.
Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people…exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God. (v.9-10)
A few notes about Simon.
Simon, the Sorcerer. That words could refer to two things. (1) Simon was an illusionist. Something like David Copperfield of Bobo the Clown. He used trickery and misdirection in order to impress the crow or (2) He made use of the dark arts. He was somehow getting very real, very scary power from Satan or some other demon.
If that’s true, then Simon is the Voldemort of Ancient Samaria.
It’s not certain, but scholars (and I) tend to believe the second definition. Simon had very real power from some evil spirit. Why? Because earlier in the text, it mentions how Philip was repeatedly driving out demons. Could it be that these demons were so heavily present in that area because of Simon? – because of his dealings with the devil? More than likely. Dealing with the devil and devilish stuff – always has a price.
(Brief side note – because we don’t want to get too far off track. The same thing is true today. Stay away from psychics and palm readings, books about the occult and horror films. When you delve into that stuff, there is always a price to pay. Whether it is the actual appearance of evil spirits or just the heebie jeebies, there’s always a price to pay).
And if all you get is the heebie jeebies. If you get nervous and frightened and think, “God can’t protect me.” The devil wins when he gets you to think that.
Be careful. Back to the text.
Simon had ahold on the people’s imaginations. They viewed him as super important. They called him “The Great Power of God.” And Simon, WHO IS DEFINITELY NOT GETTING HIS POWER FROM GOD, allows the nickname! In fact, he embraces it. Like some Early NT Version of PT Barnum, he tells every one “I am the Greatest Showman!”
That’s a key difference between Simon and Philip isn’t it?
Philip did miracles to get people to praise Jesus.
Simon does miracles to get people to praise Himself.
And now that Philip has entered the area. Now that Philip is there too. Suddenly, there are two dueling attractions in Samaria!
Philip and the Gospel of Jesus.
Simon and the Gospel of Simon.
Who’s going to win?
Don’t be surprised:
The people believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ and they were baptized, both men and women. (v.12)
There it is.
In a head to head battle against a message that is pure evil – the Gospel is victorious!
The message of Jesus as the Savior wins a victory.
Because the Gospel is unstoppable.
People are baptized.
People become a part of God’s kingdom.
In fact, look at the next verse.
Simon himself believed and was baptized.
The dark arts magician.
The Greatest Show in Samaria.
The Guy who had given himself over to demonic power for fame…
Hears the Gospel
That’s Amazing. The Gospel is that powerful.
Which leads to the first application:
(1) Unleash the Gospel
That’s what Philip did. He wasn’t an Apostle. He wasn’t highly trained. He had simply heard the Gospel and yet through his faithful proclamation an entire town under the influence of a dark magician comes to faith!
You do the same thing.
You don’t have to own an Evangelism Degree.
You don’t have to have read Gospel Sharers 101.
You don’t have to have a fancy religious license for sharing the Gospel.
You just tell what you know.
That Jesus is the Savior.
That Jesus died on the cross to save us.
That because Jesus died on the cross we have forgiveness.
That whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
That’s the Gospel.
That’s the powerful Gospel.
That’s the Gospel that brought an entire town under the influence of a dark magician to faith.
That’s the Gospel that brought said dark magician to faith!
(2) Don’t Overlook the Sorcerers
Because too often I think we just aim to share the Gospel with polite looking people.
With people in a nice pastel colored polo and a clean pair of Tommy Hilfiger khakis.
With people who already are Christians.
But Jesus wants his message to make it to the people that look a bit intimidating.
The high ranking, atheist college professor.
The tattooed biker.
The turbaned Muslim.
The gang member.
Even the Satanist!
Maybe you don’t know anyone like that.
But maybe you know someone who puts their hatred for Christianity all over their Social media profile.
Maybe you have a coworker who is always ridiculing Christians at work.
Maybe you have a family member who has told you that he thinks God is stupid.
Those are the people we need to tell about Jesus.
And we can tell confidently, because the Gospel is powerful.
The Gospel is Unstoppable!
II. Not for Sale
Word of what happened in Samaria reached its way back to Jerusalem. The few Christian that were left there – namely the Apostles – were thrilled at what God’s Word had done in Samaria. They sent Peter and John to Samaria to visit the new church in Samaria, to encourage and uplift them.
When they arrived, they prayed for the news believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (v.16-17)
A couple of notes that are really important to understand what is meant by “They didn’t have the Holy Spirit.”
(1) Believers. These people were believers. If they were believers, they already had the Holy Spirit in their heart. The Bible tells us that “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3) Since these people were believers and believers are only believers because the Holy Spirit is in their heart, they had the Holy Spirit in a certain sense. in their heart creating faith.
What is meant then by not receiving the Holy Spirit? It’s a reference to the special gifts of the Holy Spirit. The gifts to do miracles – like casting out demons, healing people, and speaking in tongues – which is a divine, angelic language that was very prominent in the Early Christian Church. Remember – the Apostles had been given these abilities at Pentecost. They passed on that ability to others in the church through the laying on of hands. Still they hadn’t passed it on to the people in Samaria yet, because they hadn’t been to Samaria yet.
But…when they get there?
Peter and John prayed for them, placed their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Suddenly, people in the congregation at Samaria were able to speak in tongues, a few had the ability to heal, maybe even one or two could cast out demons.
It was amazing.
And that’s how our friend Simon thought!
That’s amazing! They can pass out the Holy Spirit simply by laying on their hands!?!
That’s a new kind of trick.
That’s a new kind of magic.
I want it.
I want that power.
I want that ability.
I no longer want to be a magician.
I want to be an apostle.
So he took a deep breath.
He power-walked up to Peter.
He held out a bag of money and said.
“I’d like to buy God’s magic powers. Will a fifty do?”
Peter answered, “May your money perish with you. You thought you could buy the gift of God with money! Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord that he may forgive you…for I see that you are captive to sin.” (v.20-22)
Now…I haven’t had anyone recently ask me to give them miraculous powers in exchange for a $100 bill. The application of this section isn’t that obvious.
But this is in the Bible for us to read and to contemplate so…
What was Simon after? Power. Influence. He thought he could give some money and get the position of Apostleship.
Question. Think about this. Why do you give?
I’m not just talking about money. But why do you give your time, your talents, your service to this church?
Do you want to GET a spot on the leadership team?
Do you want people to GET accolades for your work on the new building?
Do you want GET the respect of your neighbors because “he’s a church man”?
Or maybe it happens at home. Why do you give your time, talents and treasures there?
Do you want to GET your friends approval as a good, Christian mom?
Do you want to GET your wife’s approval as a good, Christian dad?
Do you want to GET a warm fuzzy feeling because “I’m a pretty good Christian”?
If you are giving in order to get, then your heart is captive to sin.
And that’s wrong.
And…God’s Word says this to you: May your gift perish with you! Repent of this wickedness and pray for God to forgive you.
And as you hear that, I pray that you react as Simon did. Because after Simon hears that call to repentance, his request to the Apostles changes dramatically. He no longer asks for the abilities of an apostle. He simply asks for God’s mercy.
Simon realized what that he hadn’t earned any of that power or prestige from God.
In fact, with his sin, Simon realized that he had only earned God’s punishment.
He needed God’s mercy.
That’s what we need, too, God’s mercy. The only thing we have earned from God is punishment. Not power. Not influence. Not some kind of special title at the church.
So, we ask for God’s mercy.
And God grants it.
He doesn’t just place your name on a church bulletin, but in the annals of heaven.
He doesn’t give you the title of Apostle, but forgiven child of God.
He doesn’t give you a temporary position in his church leadership, but an eternal position in his kingdom.
That’s way better!
And it leads to the final WHAT NOW. Instead of GIVING in order to GET, God wants us to
(3) Give because You’ve already Got!
We’ve got forgiveness.
We’ve got a place in God’s kingdom.
We’ve got eternal life.
We’ve got the status of child of God. Princes and princesses of the King of the Universe!
(Is there any higher status? I’m sorry, but church president, pastor, elder – they aren’t higher than that!)
We don’t need to worry about having some kind of special position in the church or some type of recognition.
We’ve already got the title that lasts.
And to be fair – this keeps all of us on the same page. It keeps us focused on our mission to Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh, not 200 individual missions to Plant the Message that I’m Awesome in the Hearts of everyone else in the Church.
Instead, we focus together and singularly drive toward our goal of sharing God’s message in North Raleigh.
Giving money to plant the message of Jesus.
Giving time to plant the message of Jesus.
Giving talents to plant the message of Jesus,
And when that is our purpose…
And we’re simply focused on sharing the Gospel…
Think back to our first big truth:
The Gospel is UNSTOPPABLE!
It will be preached.
It will be proclaimed.
It will affect hearts.
It will be planted in the hearts of North Raleigh.
It will work.
Praise God for his powerful Gospel. Praise God for being a part of this kingdom work. Amen.
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.
Do you know anyone with a really strong faith?
The kind of person who always has a Scripture.
The kind of person who’s always praising God.
The kind of person who always trusts that God is in control…even when it looks like He isn’t.
I do. Her name is Aunt Marce. She’s has been an influential faith figure throughout my life. She’s given me cards to encourage my faith, Christmas ornaments and Easter decorations that do the same. When I got older she sent letters encouraging me and encouraging me to be a pastor. She always talked about Jesus with me – and her house had many reminders of her Savior.
But now that I’m older – I’m beginning to realize that she had this faith through some difficult circumstances.
One of her sons grew up and moved far away from her.
Another son committed suicide.
Now she’s older and she’s developed Alzheimer’s.
That’s hard stuff.
That’s faith questioning stuff.
Yet when I saw her at my Grandma’s funerals recently – she was still in love with God. She told me that it was nice to have everyone together. I mentioned that Grandma was in heaven. She didn’t miss a beat and responded, “Yes. Of course, she is. Jesus loved her!”
In amazing circumstances.
How do you get a faith like that?
How do you grow a strong faith?
Try as you might – running to the corner, clenching your fists together and muttering, “Believe,” over and over until you are blue in the face won’t work.
I. The Case of the Emmaus Disciples
Check out Luke 24. It’s the afternoon of the very first Easter. Two men are travelling on the road from Jerusalem to a surrounding village about 7 miles out called Emmaus. Granted – 7 miles doesn’t seem like a very long journey, but this is long before cars and these men don’t own a horse. They are walking. So, they’ve got about 4 hours’ worth of walking to do.
And as they walked, they talked. But their discussion wasn’t very uplifting. They talked about Jesus’ arrest. They talked about Jesus’ false trial. They talked about his conviction and his crucifixion. They talked about how they thought he had been the Messiah, but now…they were certain he wasn’t. And they also talked about what they had heard that morning – that some women went to the tomb and supposedly saw him.
But they weren’t uplifted by this.
They were discouraged.
They were confused.
They were losing faith.
Until a stranger interrupted them. He happened to be going the same way and he wanted some company, too. He asked them what the news was around Jerusalem.
Have you been living under a rock? Don’t you know what’s been going on? Don’t you know what happened? With Jesus? With the crucifixion?
So, they told him:
“Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
That, good sir, is what’s been going on.
That, good sir, is what’s got us bummed.
The man looked at them. He shook his head. And called them FOOLS.
And for a moment, the disciples stopped looking sad. Now they looked a bit angry.
The man continued, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? Didn’t he?” (v.25-26)
The disciples looked at each other. They shrugged their shoulders. It didn’t look like they got it.
So, he explained.
Didn’t Adam and Eve sin? Didn’t their sin plunge our world into darkness? Weren’t things hopeless? Wasn’t the devil laughing at his victory? And didn’t God step in and make a promise? Genesis 3:15 “I will put enmity between you and he woman – her offspring will crush your head, though you will strike his heel.”
Wasn’t this offspring the promise of the Messiah?
Didn’t it promise that the Messiah would be suffer pain – a venomous bite to the heel?
Doesn’t it also promise that this bite to the heel would be nothing compared to the crushing of Satan’s head?
Doesn’t a death on the cross that ends in a resurrection 3 days later fit nicely?
Didn’t this promise continue through the centuries?
Didn’t this promise make its way to the Psalms?
Don’t the Psalms say that the Messiah would be mocked? That men would cast dice for his clothing? That he would be pierced? Even that his tongue would be dry and they would give him gall to drink?
Didn’t those exact things happen to Jesus?
Didn’t Isaiah prophecy about this too?
Didn’t it say he would be pierced?
Didn’t it say he would be crushed?
Didn’t it say he would suffer punishment?
Didn’t it say the Messiah would see the light of life?
Didn’t that happen to Jesus?
As the man talked, the disciples hung on his every word. They were so intrigued that they barely noticed they were passing the boulevard to their home.
Stay with us sir; for it is nearly evening. The day is almost over.
And we want to hear more.
I’m not even sad anymore.
I actually…feel pretty good.
So the fellow obliged.
He went in.
He washed up.
He sat down.
He gave thanks.
He broke bread.
He began to pass it out.
And then…something happened. Maybe it was the way that he broke the bread. Maybe it was this that seemed familiar. Maybe it was the certainty with which he spoke to God.
“Their eyes were opened and they recognized him as Jesus.”
And then he was gone.
He vanished from their home.
But in his place…?
In his place he left something behind.
II. How to Ignite Your Faith
This is pretty amazing. Because in the span of a few hours, the disciples go from sad and confused, to joyous and confident! Their faith goes from smoldering to a full-on bonfire. How do we know? Look at what they do next! They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. (v.33) They did the 7-mile journey all over again! Who cares if their feet were tired? Who cares if they had to work tomorrow? Who cares if it was getting dark? They grab some bread for the road, slap on some peanut butter and go right back to Jerusalem – They can’t wait to share their story.
How did that happen?
How do you duplicate it?
Take a few notes from the story?
Because you might say – The answer is obvious pastor. Their faith was burning because they saw Jesus – risen from the dead -- with their own two eyes. If I got to see Jesus, my faith would move mountains. If I could see one of those miracles, I’d be one of those Bible Bangers on late night TV.
But look closely at verse 32. It’s right after Jesus leaves them. They say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” They don’t say, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us after we saw him alive again!” Cause that’s pretty awesome! That’s what we’d expect to be the catalyst for their burning faith.
But it’s not. In fact, their hearts were burning before they realized they were in the presence of the risen Jesus. Their hearts were burning – on the road. On the road as they talked about: The Scriptures.
You know: This thing. The Bible.
It’s not like it’s any different. We have the same Old Testament that they have. In fact, dare I saw – we have it better. We’ve got the New Testament—a wonderful explanation of all Jesus did and how he fulfills all the Old Testament prophecy.
We have the exact tool necessary to ignite our faith.
2. Ignite Your Faith with God’s Word
You could picture God’s Word a lot like a lighter then. When our faith is smoldering, when it looks like it’s about to go out – even when it does, it is God’s Word that lights it back on fire again.
Actually, scratch that. God’s Word is more than a lighter. It’s like a blow torch or a big old Homecoming bonfire. (You know the type. The school letter burning out on the field as some really bad sketch comedy happens in the foreground presented by the Freshman class.) God’s Word is a bonfire because it’s powerful. It’s has incredible, glorious, faith relighting and igniting truths all throughout.
Truth like Jesus saves.
Truth like Jesus brings us peace with God.
Truth like Jesus removed all of your sins.
Truth like Jesus removed all of your guilt.
Truth like Jesus removed the sting of death.
Truth like Jesus brings forgiveness.
Truth like Jesus rose from the dead.
Truth like you too will rise from the dead.
Truth like you will live in heaven eternally.
Truth like it has been God’s plan to have you in heaven to eternity—from eternity!
Truth like “yes” God does love you.
A taking his last breath on the cross bunch.
If you want to have a burning faith, head to the bonfire of God’s Word. Reignite it on his awesome truth.
Don’t do that thing where you pray: “Dear Lord, please light my faith on fire for you. Amen.” Then, your phone buzzes. You open up your text messages and it’s a reminder of Bible study going on at church tomorrow night – so you swipe left. I don’t have time for Bible study. I’m waiting for God to answer my prayer and give me faith.
That’s not how God works.
That’s not how he worked with the Emmaus disciples.
It’s not how he will work with you.
He will work the same way he worked in the story – through God’s Word.
So…Study God’s Word. Simple as that.
3. Fan the Flame
That’s one of the first things your dad teaches you when you go camping. The campfire needs air. So, once you’ve constructed the perfect fire – scrapes of newspaper (aka kindling) on the bottom, teepee of sticks over the top, and bigger logs ready to catch fire once it’s going. Dad takes two sticks. He rubs them together. Until there’s a spark. And then? He blows on it. Singes a few whiskers, but he blows on it. That acts like fuel and causes the fire to grow into a blaze.
Do the same with your faith. 2 Timothy is a letter where Paul, the older pastor, writes to a young pastor. He says, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God!”
And faith is one of those gifts from God. Don’t let it go out. Don’t forget to feed that faith with God’s Word. Don’t think, “I have faith now. I’m sure that I’ll be able to go through all of the awful hardships, challenges, and adversities of this sinful, no good, everyone’s out to get you world without ever touching a Bible again.”
You need God.
You need God’s Word.
You need the fuel of God’s Word to fuel that flame in your heart.
If you want a strong faith, make this a priority.
If you want to keep faith, make this a priority.
In fact, make it THE priority.
God will do the rest.
God will set your hearts on fire.
That’s what my aunt did. In fact, that was her secret. It wasn’t some miracle she witnessed. It wasn’t a direct communication with God’s voice. It wasn’t a secret green elixir that she drank each morning.
It was a Bible study.
It was reading a chapter a day.
It was going to church.
Now that may sound simple. Maybe even unimpressive.
But it works. It ignites your heart again and again.
Sometimes it’s hard to wake up. At least for me.
Maybe you’re one of those “early birds” who likes to catch the “early worm” and you have no problem getting up at 5am, running a 5k, coming home, baking cookies, cleaning the whole house and alphabetizing your spice rack all in the amount of time it’d take me to put on a pair of socks.
But you get it. There are those mornings where it’s just hard to wake up. Especially if you don’t have a good reason! If you’re going to the same job you go to everyday to make the same amount of money that barely covers the same bills for the same people – it can feel kind of doldrum. Especially if it’s been stressful lately AND things haven’t been going your way AND you’re even a bit sick.
Just about the only thing that gets you going is an IV drip of Starbucks French Roast inserted into your arm.
But imagine you’re having one of those days. A day where the sun is shining through the window, but you’ve got a pillow covering your head – convincing you that it’s still nighttime. When suddenly, your spouse bursting into your bedroom and shoves the smartphone in your face:
Look! Look at this! Remember that loved one – that loved one that died? Look at this news article. It says that this loved one’s grave –- is empty.
Would that be enough to get you up?
Would that be enough to get you to RiseUp?
I. The Empty Tomb
That’s exactly what happened to John.
John had had a pretty terrible weekend. His confidant; his leader; his friend – had died. Not from a heart attack. He had been crucified. Nailed hand and foot on two giant wooden beams and left to die.
And John had seen it. He had been right there – at the foot of the cross as he gave up his last breath. It was why every time he closed his eyes he could see horrific images -- the whip tearing into his flesh; the fist connecting with his already swollen eye; the blood dripping from the thorns that pierced his forehead; the blood and water pouring out of his side after the soldier stabbed him with a spear.
It was all too much.
And he was physically exhausted. Besides the stress, he had been up all Thursday night – watching his friend’s conviction and all Friday night trying to comfort family and friends who had seen him die. He caught a wink of sleep early Saturday morning but then he was having to deal with a host of emotions from friends in the small apartment -- denial and anger; sadness and bitterness.
As he lay there early Sunday morning, he found himself in that weird place where he couldn’t get up but he wasn’t really sleeping either. Sure, Peter’s loud snoring from the bunk next to his didn’t help, but more than that he found himself battling his own thoughts:
What was all of that for?
Why did I spend three years of my life following that man?
Why did I think he was the Messiah?
Why did I believe in him?
Suddenly John’s thoughts were interrupted by a loud persistent, almost maniacal knocking at the door. “Let me in! Let me in!” Peter did one of the startled snores as he woke up. John shook his head and went to unlatch the door.
It was Mary Magdalene – a friend of theirs and a follower of Jesus. Her hair was wild and her eyes were tear stained as she spoke: “I can’t believe it! How could they do it! They killed him. They crucified him. They made a mockery of him. But they aren’t even done. They must want to flaunt it some more.”
“Mary, Mary, calm down. What’s the problem?”
“It’s his body! They’ve taken it away. We went to the tomb – Early this morning to pay our respects and put spices on his body, but when we got there, the grave stone was rolled away. His body was gone. Jesus is gone.”
John embraced her and tried comforting her as Peter rose up from his cot.
“Those jerks. I can’t believe. Listen – we’ll go check it out. John and I will check it out.”
John gently released his grip and nodded. “We’ll go see what happened.”
The two of them quickly laced up their sandals and threw on outer cloaks at the door. Then, they headed out the door. Walking at first – thinking – wondering – “Could it be? As he said?” And as the possibility of something much greater than a grave robbery occurred in their minds, their pace quickened. A jog and then a sprint.
Being the younger one – by quite a bit – John made it through the city streets and into the memorial gardens first. He ran through the trees, jumped the brook, and past older graves until he made his way to wear Jesus’ body had been laid.
As he reached the tomb, his feet came to a slow halt.
It was open. The stone had been rolled away. Yet, there wasn’t a sign of the guards that had been placed at the tomb. There wasn’t blood on the ground – no sign of a struggle. The stone was on its side like a bunch of grave robbers would have done as they broke in.
It was simply open.
John stooped down and looked inside the tomb. The morning light that made its way into the tomb revealed there was nobody and no body in the tomb. There was a pile of cloths. Folded. Nicely. In a square and resting on the bier where the body would have been.
Why would anyone take the time to do that? Wouldn’t they just take his body and all of the linen clothes that he had been wrapped in and just gotten out of here? As it was, the cloths were folded so evenly, so perfectly, it was as if his own mother had robbed the grave!
John’s thoughts were interrupted by some plodding steps and heavy panting. Peter had caught up. And he wasn’t slowing down. John moved out of the way just as Peter stumbled into the tomb. Pete looked around – his heavy breaths connecting with the chirping of the birds in the air. Peter bent down and picked something up.
“John! Check it out. It’s his face cloth.”
At this, John entered the tomb. He scanned every corner of the place. He ran his fingers alone he walls. He held the cloth in his hands.
Suddenly, John started to have other flashes. Other flashes of memories before Jesus’ death.
“Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it again in three days.”
“Just as Jonah was in the belly of the way three days and came out alive; so will I be in the belly of the earth and emerge alive.”
“I have the authority to lay my life down and the authority to take it up again.”
“I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
“I will die and three days later, I will rise.”
But how could that be? That never happens. That’s impossible. John had seen him die!
John shook his head.
John stopped reasoning.
John looked around once more.
John saw and believed. (John 20:9)
II. What It Means
What John saw he wrote down.
What John wrote down – we read.
What we read is what happened.
Which means a lot of really incredible things for you and for your life. Allow me to mention three:
1) This Faith is NOT Worthless
One of my favorite fast food promotions of all time is the Monopoly game at McDonald’s. I love trying to match up all the little board pieces and try to win a 10-speed bike OR a trip to Hawaii. Worst case scenario – you just get a large fry and that’s not a bad thing either.
But one time I thought our family had won a MILLION dollars. I remember we were on vacation and we stopped at McDonald’s. My mom peeled a Park Place off of her Coca Cola. And I got real excited:
Mom! We have Boardwalk at home! We are millionaires. At first, mom didn’t believe me. But I talked it up throughout the trip. We could spend extra money now, because we would be millionaires soon. We had even decided how we’d spend it – I’d get ½ since I ordered the cheeseburger –that mom bought – and she and dad could split the other ½ since it was her money.
It was really exciting. Till we got home. I ran to my sock drawer and pulled out my Monopoly piece collection to reveal – Park Place.
We didn’t win anything.
Check out 1 Corinthians 15:17. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” In other words – if Christ isn’t risen, you don’t get anything. You’re still sinners. You’re still expecting eternal hellfire wrath from God. You will not be in heaven.
But – what did John just tell us? The tomb was empty. Jesus was alive!
SPOILER ALERT: If you read on, Jesus actually appears in the flesh to John. Also to Peter, Andrew, James, Thomas, Matthew, Philip, Bartholomew, James, Jude, Simon and over 500 other people. Those who write it down: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, Jude, and James make it clear. Christ has been risen!
That means this faith is not worthless.
Which is key. Because it’s hard to believe in someone these days. Whether it’s politicians breaking promises, a boyfriend leaving you, a spouse breaking faithfulness, a coworker stabbing you in the back or even a parent disowning you. It’s hard to find someone to believe in.
But you can believe in Jesus. Because Jesus died and came back to life. He did the incredible! He did the supernatural! He did the impossible!
Faith in Jesus is not worthless; it’s the only thing worth it.
Because if he’s more powerful than death, then…
He’s more powerful than your sickness.
He’s more powerful than your mortgage payment.
He’s more powerful than your addiction.
He’s more powerful than your relationship struggles.
He’s more powerful than your disease.
He’s more powerful than your demons.
He’s more powerful than your stresses.
He’s more powerful than life.
He’s more powerful than death.
He’s more powerful than guilt.
And He’s more powerful than one of the worst things in this world…sin.
2) You are NOT in your Sins.
Which leads us to our second key point. Because the Tomb is Empty, you are NOT in your sins.
You can picture sin like a big old pile of dog hair. If you sit in the dog hair, you will be covered in it. Especially if you are wearing a sweater. (Dog owners you know what I’m talking about and you know what outfits you cannot wear on near your dogs).
But if a loved one buys one of those special vacuums and spends time deep cleaning the couch with all of the adjustments and then takes one of those lint rollers and rolls all over the couch disposing about 28 little sticky patches and then get one of those brushes that sucks up all the rest of the dog hair.
You can sit on your couch. You’re not in your dog hair.
That’s what Jesus did to us and for us! Because “If Christ has indeed been raised form the dead” you are not in your sins. Jesus has removed every last one of them. He picked them up from the crevices of your heart, swept them away from every part of your past, stuck them to himself and died!!!
Because “The wages of sin is death.” Since Jesus had your sins, he died!
But remember what John wrote – the Tomb was empty! Jesus wasn’t there anymore. Which means there weren’t any sins left for him to pay for (because if there were he would have stayed dead).
That means that your sins – yes, even your sins – even the big ones – even the memorable ones – even the ones that make you feel really guilty – are gone!
3) In Jesus, You will Live
And if the wages of sin is death,
And Jesus paid the wages of your sins,
Then, what’s left for you to pay?
This all leads to the final truth: In Jesus, you will Live! In fact, that’s why John wrote what he did. Listen to what he says, “These words are written (the words of the account of John’s interaction with Jesus) those words – are written that you may believe Jesus is the Christ and by believing have life in his name.” (John 20:31)
Because that’s the message that saves. Jesus is your Savior; Jesus is your resurrected Savior – is the message that saves you from death to life!
We live in a dangerous world. Nerve gas; gigantic bombs; nuclear war head parades; school shootings; terrorism; racism; even cancer, car accidents and old age. They are all scary!
But not with Jesus. You can trust him.
He rose from the dead while he was dead.
What do you think he’ll do while He’s alive?
What do you think he’ll do for you?
By believing – you will have life in his name.
III. What Now?
Don’t think you can do it without him.
Don’t try to put trust in yourself in your own abilities and your own goodness. God says the wages of sin is death. If you have sin, you are owed death – and that’s all there is too it. No amount of money; no amount of religious looking Easter egg decorations; no amount of impressive looking Easter ties will save you from death.
But Jesus can.
And Jesus will.
“Whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Still you may need some convincing.
Still you may be doubting.
You may be in need of faith!
Run to the Tomb!
That’s what John did. He saw the empty tomb. HE saw the folded grave clothes. He saw the lack of tampering AND HE BELIEVED!
Granted – You may not have money for a plane trip to the Holy Land – to Israel. Even if you did, no one knows with any certainty which grave his might have been.
…You can still see the empty tomb.
…You can still hear the words of the eyewitnesses.
…You can still hear Jesus’ own voice saying, “Behold; I am alive!”
It’s in his word. When you doubt, when you’re nervous, when you’re frightened, -- run to God’s Word.
Read the story in the Bible (Start with John. If you’ve never read John, won’t you do so?)
Join a Bible study. Make church a priority. Come back and see me next week -- because we’re going to run to the empty tomb again – and then the week after that---and the week after that—and the week after that.
And yes. I get it sometimes you don’t want to get up. Sometimes you don’t want to face the day. Sometimes you don’t want to get here.
But today, just like every day, there’s awesome news for you to here. Jesus is alive! Your faith isn’t worthless. You are NOT in your sins. You will NOT die, but live!
That’s a message worth getting up for. Amen.
Over the course of Lent, we’re going to get a crash course on prayer from Jesus himself. We’ll be breaking part some of the most well-known words in the Bible – the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Tonight, we’ll be looking at the words of the 2nd Request in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom Come.” Our goal is to better understand exactly what we’re praying for with that phrase.
I. What’s the Kingdom of God?
A good place to start is to identify what the kingdom of God is. Because if you don’t know what it is, you don’t know what you’re asking for and why would you ask for it?
And that’s what was driving the Pharisees nuts! Beside talking about it in the Lord’s Prayer, they had heard Jesus repeatedly shout: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
But what did it mean?
The number one idea of what this meant was a political kingdom. Follow the logic:
(1) Jesus claimed to be the Messiah
(2) The Jews understood the Messiah to set up a Jewish political power
(3) Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God.
(4) The Kingdom of God must mean a Jewish return to being a world power.
There’s a similar hope among Christians in America. The hope is that the Kingdom of God will be the time that Jesus ushers in a Christian utopia as the most powerful country on the planet. A Christian President, Christian Congress, and Christians on the Supreme Court.
But if that’s what Jesus meant, his words seem foolish…
Are we getting more Christian in America?
The words seemed foolish to the Pharisees too. They didn’t see Jesus gathering an army. His rag tag bunch of fishermen, accountants and political zealots weren’t exactly secret service. He hadn’t set a date nor handed out propaganda with a picture of Jesus pointing that said, “We want you!” There wasn’t any indication of a coup that would overthrow the Romans.
So they asked Jesus, “When is this kingdom going to come?”
Listen to Jesus’ response, “The Kingdom of God does not come visibly, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the Kingdom of God is within you.”
It’s not political.
It’s not social.
It’s not physical.
It’s not found anywhere on Google maps!
The Kingdom of God is in your heart.
II. How Does it Come?
If the kingdom of God is spiritual and invisible, that doesn’t mean it’s not true. God does all kinds of things that are spiritual and invisible. But it does cause us to ask the next question: How does it come? Or how will God build this kingdom?
Again – the Pharisees were convinced that they were already a part of the spiritual kingdom of God.
Because they did awesome thing.
They fasted more than any of the other Jewish people in their towns.
They put oil on their face so people would pay attention to the fact they were fasting.
They didn’t eat oysters or bacon -- things that were outlawed in the Kingdom of God.
They thought they were a part of God’s Kingdom because of the outward things that they did.
But Romans 14:17 says this, "The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy...”
The kingdom of God comes with righteousness.
The kingdom of God comes with “Without-sin-ness.”
The kingdom of God comes when you have complete peace with God.
The kingdom of God comes with joy that you and God are allies.
So…Are you in the kingdom of God?
Are you righteous?
Are you at complete peace with God?
Are you filled with joy because you are that connected to him?
Or do you struggle to separate yourself from sin?
Do you fail day after day to stop doing that one sin that you struggle with?
Do you feel the hostility of not doing what God says?
Do you find yourself attached to guilt from something that you did years ago?
Those are not things of the kingdom of God.
But take heart. Look at Romans 14 again:
The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
That’s an important phrase. It reminds us of the truth – that if we try to enter the kingdom of God by eating or drinking or fasting or praying or tithing or giving or serving at church or soup suppering or doing any kind of "Christian" thing to impress God, it will not work.
It will be tainted by sin.
We will never have the money required for down payment in his kingdom.
Our eternal visa will. Be. Denied.
We’re really bad at building ourselves into God’s kingdom.
But the Holy Spirit?
He’s the best eternal contractor that there is.
The Holy Spirit introduces us to the perfect housing program – Jesus Christ who gives us his righteousness -- the going rate for a house in God’s kingdom.
The Holy Spirit gives us peace -- the peace of knowing that our property deed has been signed on the dotted line with the eternal, unalterable blood of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit brings us joy – joy that looks out the windows of God’s Kingdom and sees the streets of forgiveness, lined with trees of life, and budding with the fruits of the Spirit.
God’s kingdom comes because of the work of the Holy Spirit. But He doesn’t work with bulldozers and 40 foot cranes. He works with God’s Word. He uses it to break ground on unsettled land. He set the foundation of Jesus Christ on our hearts. He carefully builds and effectively constructs with the Word of God.
Are you a part of his kingdom?
Is Jesus in your heart?
Do you believe that Jesus is your Savior?
You are in his Kingdom.
III. Why Keep Praying This?
If I’m already a part of the kingdom of God, why did I keep praying for God’s kingdom to come? Let’s go to God’s Word for two reasons:
(1) So You Aren’t Evicted
Look at what Peter writes, “Be on your guard so that you may not fall from your secure position.” (2 Pt. 3:17) The implication? You can certainly ruin your part in the Kingdom of God. You can certainly forfeit the righteousness that you need to remain in his Kingdom. This is greater than sin. This is great than making a mistake.
This is throwing away the payment Jesus made.
It’s destroying the foundation that you have in Jesus.
It’s refusing to do any building or maintenance on your faith until it gets old and dusty like that house on your street with the long lawn and the broken shutters.
Eviction comes from falling from faith.
Falling from faith comes from not doing any maintenance.
Maintenance is done in God’s word.
Don’t get deported.
Get into God’s Word.
Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
In God’s Word, the Holy Spirit will reinforce the walls of your house in his kingdom.
He installs security systems to keep the devil out.
He paints over all the inefficiencies and gives us a beautiful makeover as we live our lives for Jesus.
(2) A Second Answer
But this prayer isn’t just for us alone. Look at what Jesus says in John 10:16, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice.”
Jesus wasn’t a shepherd – he was a carpenter.
He didn’t have any pets. Not a goldfish, not a dog, not even a sheep.
But he did call himself the Good Shepherd.
He did call his followers his sheep.
Here is saying that there are others sheep that aren’t his sheep yet that he needs to bring into his Kingdom.
In other words – Jesus wants unbelievers to become believers and join him in His Kingdom.
That’s what we’re praying in this petition. That God keeps building condos, apartments, and four story houses for people to dwell in his Kingdom.
It means this prayer is very important.
This prayer is for the people that you love.
This prayer is for your atheist neighbor.
This prayer is for your transgendered coworker.
This prayer is for your Buddhist cousin.
This prayer is for your complacent spouse.
This prayer is for me.
This prayer is for each other.
This prayer is for you.
That God would construct a house in our hearts and maintains that dwelling that we may live permanently in the Kingdom of God.
One of the first Scriptural principles that we learn about in Bible Basics OR Catechism is that suffering comes as a result of sin. If Adam and Eve hadn’t brought sin into the world, there wouldn’t be sin today AND there wouldn’t be suffering as a result of sin.
There wouldn’t be hangovers as a result of drinking too much because no one would drink too much.
There wouldn’t be heartache at the loss of a lover because people would get married and stay faithful to their spouse.
It’s easy to see why suffering happens when it's a direct result or natural consequence of sin.
…what about when the one who’s suffering is the one who’s following God?
I. The Godly Reaction to Suffering
Take a look at James 1:2. It says this, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Did you see that word? Pure joy! In the Greek, it says todo xara or all joy. As in, “The only feeling that I have about this situation is joy!” No sadness. No anger. No frustration. Complete joy. This is the kind of feeling you have when you win the new car on the Price is Right or when you get a hefty tax return or when your crush says, “Yes” to the dance.
That’s not uncommon for the Bible to tell us to be joyful. At Christmas “Joy to the world!” At Easter it’s a “Joyful Eastertide.”
But notice when James tells us to have that feeling. It isn’t during a festival. It’s “whenever you face trials of many kinds.”
Here’s what that meant for 1st century Christians. They were facing all kinds of trials. Some of them were thrown in prison. Others had stones thrown at them. Some were attacked by the vicious words of their families. Others were attacked by the vicious claws of the lions. Some were scolded by the teachers of the law. Others were ridiculed by the Roman soldiers. But no matter the trial, James gives them the same guiding principle for how to react to these trials.
Notice it says, “Of many kinds.” Not just 1st century Jewish Christian kinds. That means God wants Christians of all centuries to consider it joy. He wants Christians of the 21st century to consider their trials pure joy.
He wants you to consider your trials of all kinds joy.
Consider it joy…when your phone breaks.
Consider it joy…when you don’ t make the baseball team.
Consider it joy…when you lose your job.
Do a dance…when you can’t pay the rent.
Jump up and down…when you get diagnosed with cancer.
Praise God…when someone calls you an idiot on Facebook.
Is that how you usually react to suffering? Not so much. (I’m not even that nice if I have to suffer through a lukewarm coffee.)
Truth is that if you aren’t responding to suffering with joy, then you’re not responding the way God wants you to.
II. The Reason for Joy
OK, so I have been reacting to my suffering in a sinful manner, pastor! Fine. That’s wrong. But how am I supposed to be joyful? What is there to be joyful about?
Ever gone running before? I don’t think anyone likes to go running. At least not based on the way it makes you feel while you are running. Your lungs starts to burn. Your calves get tired. You get a side ache. It’s hard to breathe. Sweat gets into your eyes and stings your pupils.
Yet there are thousands of people who go running every morning within a one mile radius of this church. It doesn’t fail. Whether it’s early in the morning or later in the evening, I see plenty of people out on the sidewalks running, struggling to get in a workout.
But it isn’t the suffering that causes them to run.
It’s the results.
It’s the same thing with suffering through whatever trial God has given you. Take a look at what the next verse says about it: Consider it pure joy, because…the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
If you quit running, you’ll never be able to run the 5k.
If you quit lifting weights, you’ll never be able to bench press 200 lbs.
If you quit dieting, you’ll never lose the 20 lbs you were hoping for.
If you quit going through the God directed trials that you’re going through, you’ll never learn to persevere.
Read that again.
If you quit going through the God directed trials that you’re going through, you’ll never learn to persevere.
What that means is: If you decide you’d prefer to curse God and do whatever you want… You will not have learned perseverance.
There are other options:
I’ll steal some money so that I don’t have to be poor.
I’ll disown God so my atheist friends won’t make fun of me.
I’ll quit this Christian thing because it hasn’t gotten me any of the earthly blessings I was looking for.
There are other options; but none of them are godly. None of them teach perseverance.
Therefore, 4 “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
If you looked into Ms. Julianna’s office, you’ll see some baby chicks. We’ve had those chicks for three weeks. Hatched them from eggs. Flipping them three times a day. Keeping the make shift ice box incubator at a balmy 100 degrees. Putting in fresh soaked sponges so that the humidity was just right.
As it got closer to a due date, it gets tougher. You want to help the chicks out. You want to help crack the eggs. You want to help them so that they don’t have to go through the pain of being cramped up, surrounded by a heavy membrane and using all of their newborn energy just to break free.
But you can’t. You can’t help them, because your help condemns them. If you help them, they’ll be too weak! They won’t survive in the world. They won’t persevere.
When you are suffering from God’s induced trials, understand – God is teaching you to persevere. That’s what he wants for you! He wants your faith to continue to grow. To come to maturity. To become so strong that it will remain in Him through the next faith threatening trial.
Think of it this way:
If you’ve lost your job before and God kept you safe, why wouldn’t you trust that God would provide for the rent money this month?
If you’ve lost a boyfriend before and God still provided you with fulfillment, isn’t it easier to trust that God will get you through the next break up?
If you’ve gone through a life threatening illness and God pulled you out just fine, then what’s another life threatening illness to you?
And here is God’s ultimate goal: It isn’t to just get you through the weeks without a paycheck. It isn’t just to get you through the pain of a breakup. It isn’t just to get you through a couple more months on this earth.
It’s to get you through life – this sin filled, struggle filled, unfair life -- with faith in Him. It’s this:
12 “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
Immediately, our thoughts go to our Lord. Our Savior Jesus who lost everything! Our Savior who lost his heavenly home. Who lost his earthly family. Who lost all of his friends, all of his supporters, all of his freedom. He was handcuffed, falsely accused, and spat on until he lost all his dignity. He was beaten, punched, and whipped until he lost most of his blood. He was nailed hand and foot to a cross until he lost his life.
But Jesus never stopped the suffering. He never gave up. Why? Because of the crown of Life. Because He wanted to get the crown of life. Only – it wasn’t his crown of life.
It was yours. A crown of life that he won for you. A crown of life that he has given to you.
A crown of life that he doesn’t want you to lose…so badly that …He’s willing to do whatever it takes to help you keep it.
Ever heard the story of Job? Job was a godly man. He worshipped the Lord when others didn’t. He gave God thanks when no one else remembered to. He offered sacrifices to God for his sons and daughters in hopes that God might have mercy on them for their sins!
But the devil couldn’t believe it. He came to God and said, “The only reason Job likes you is because you give him stuff. If you give him any kind of suffering, his faith will fail. He will not follow you.”
So…God took everything away from Job.
Sabeans attacked and stole all of his donkeys.
The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up his sheep and their shepherds.
A group of raiders surrounded his camels and made off with every last one of them.
A tornado-like wind collapsed the house that his children were eating in and all of his children – every last one of them – died.
To top it all off, his body was filled with sickly boils that caused him to spend his weeks in the dust, in the sun, slowly waiting for God to bring relief.
His friends couldn’t handle it: “Curse God and die! You idiot! He doesn’t care for you. Take your life. Give up! Stop acting like God is going to save you. Stop suffering and leave this world.”
But…Job didn’t. Job held on. Job spoke: I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me.
His heart. It yearns?
That’s joy. That’s the crown of life.
God kept Job safe. God used that calamity to strengthen his faith. By the end of the book, Job’s faith is remaining strong and God grants relief.
Question: Do you think there was anything that would ever be able separate him from faith in God? Not so much. He persevered.
Capture the mindset that the Apostle James uses to summarize this section. 17 “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
Notice it says every gift. Not just the ones that look like good gifts. Not just a new job, a healthy diagnoses, or a new friendship. Give thanks for the lost job, the unhealthy diagnoses, and the broken friendship.
Every gift is good – even the ones that look bad -- because our Heavenly Father is in control. He won’t let anything happen to us that isn’t for our eternal good.
When that becomes your mindset, then suddenly even the trials become pure joy.
Pure joy because God cares.
Pure joy because God loves.
Pure joy because God is strengthening you to persevere.
Pure joy because God has a crown of life in store for you.
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.
I remember my first Christmas Program.
I was super excited. I had on a nice little black suit with a shiny, red bow tie – (It matched my sister’s red dress perfectly.) I had my hair slicked to the side. I was missing a few front teeth.
But boy was I excited! I got up front and we started singing our Christmas carols. “Joy to the world.” I was timid. There were a lot of people. I sang kind of quietly.
Then, the Sunday School teacher did something that perhaps she regretted. (She put her hand to her ear.) And I let her have it with every ounce of joy that my 45 pound body could muster. Off key. Sure. But joyful!
Has your Christmas been like that? Have you knocked your socks off, dropped your head back, opened your mouth wide, and belted it out joyfully?
Or has it been more like me as a preteen. You know…when I was way too cool to sing & way too cool to sing in church. When "Joy to the World" sounded more like “Meh to the World.”
Today we’re continuing our sermon series called A Simple Christmas and no matter where your Christmas joy level is at, God wants you to discover from his Word how to have simple joy this year.
To do that, let’s take a look at Mary. Because, Mary – she didn’t have a simple Christmas. Mary’s Christmas was complicated.
Mary was a young lady. 16-17 years old. She was pledged to be married to a man named Joseph. For Mary, life was simple. Plan the wedding. Plan the wedding cake. Plan the wedding roast – duck or chicken cordon blue. Her life was simple. She needed only wait for the appointed day to marry her husband and begin her life.
Then. One day – as she’s hanging her laundry out to dry, while envisioning herself with flowers in her hair and a beautiful dress highlighting her features. She was interrupted.
A light. A bright light. A brilliant, heavenly light.
And an angel appeared to her. The angel said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
Mary was greatly troubled. First of all, because he was an angel. This wasn’t an ornament on a Christmas tree. (Christmas didn’t exist yet). Nor was it an eggnog induced vision. This was a real deal, a divine, heavenly angel.
Secondly, the angel had a message from God. God! What could he want? Did God know about the lustful thoughts she had been having about Joseph before they were married? Did God know about the lustful thoughts she had been having about Joseph’s groomsmen? Did God know that she hadn’t exactly been paying good attention at the Synagogue? Was God here to confront her about that time she ate all of her mom’s cookies and then blamed it on her brother?
She was a sinner. God was holy.
But the message was more frightening than that. “You will conceive and give birth to a Son, you are to call his Name Jesus.”
But how? I’m a virgin!
“The holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. The Holy One to be Born will be called the Son of God!”
Then, the angel left her. Alone. With her thoughts. Complicated thoughts.
Alone. Guilty. Sad.
In spite of all the grinning emoji on our last Christmas text message – really – we aren’t joyful.
Psychologists say that when you are stressed, you should take a walk. So Mary walked. She walked to the house of her cousin. Along the way, I’m sure her thoughts tormented her. She could get to her cousin and complained. That's what I would expect her to do!
But she didn't.
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”
Did you see that word? Rejoice. That means “To be joyful.”
How could Mary be joyful? The time was so confusing. It was frightening. Things weren’t not as she pictured them.
It wasn’t the presents. It wasn’t the Gingerbread houses. It wasn’t a new iPhone. It wasn’t Christmas caroling. It wasn’t a Christmas Special. It wasn’t even a beautiful Poinsettia from her cousin’s garden.
“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
And you know what? I used to always think of Mary looking up as she sang this song. “Praise be to you, heavenly Father.” And she could have. But....
…what’s to stop her from looking down?
“My Spirit rejoices in you, my child. My spirit rejoices in you my Savior.”
Are you looking for joy this Christmas? Look no farther than Mary’s baby boy. That boy is born in a manger – the kid’s will tell you that soon. But then, he grows up. He lives perfectly when you can not. Then, he dies an innocent death in your place. Then, he rises triumphantly that you might join God in heaven.
He says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only and only Son (Mary’s son – Jesus) that whoever believes in Him, has eternal life!”
If you are looking for joy in presents this year, it won’t last. The presents will fade.
If you are looking for joy in music, the music will stop. Eventually.
If you are looking for joy in family, it may happen. But even then, there will come a time when family ends.
But if you look for joy in Jesus, it will be there. Jesus means forgiveness. Jesus means peace with God. Jesus means you are loved with a compassionate love.
Jesus means life.
Ethyl knew that. Ethyl was my friend when I was a junior pastor in Milwaukee, WI. Ethyl loved ceramic figurines. She had a lot of them. I would sit and listen to the histories of those ceramic figurines for a few hours. All while munching on a few sugar cookies.
One time I went to visit Ethyl. But not at her house. In a hospital.
Ethyl was breathing very heavy. Her eyes were blank. Ethyl couldn’t move much. She was in pain and grimacing.
I sent down by Ethyl. I grabbed her hand. “What am I supposed to do?”
Her nephew was there. “It’s too bad. She loves Christmastime. She always loved the decorations. She loved the songs. She loved the Christmas service, too.”
Joy to the World. The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King!
And Ethyl? A tear formed in her eyes. The curves of her lips smiled. She had her joy.
That was Ethyl’s last Christmas. At least on earth. Now – Ethyl sings that song, totally on key, with thousands of angels in heaven.
Joy to the World. May Jesus be that joy for you. Amen.
Ash Wednesday doesn't feel very happy.
Last night, at our Ash Wednesday service, the mood was somber. The church was quiet. The organ was subdued. The Bible readings were tough to swallow. The liturgy forced us to think about our failures. Our voices joined together to say, "Lord, we are sinners."
The whole setting forced my soul to be faced with the many failures I have had over the past months. To top it off, there was a technical difficulty in the middle of the service that only attacked my conscience all the more. It was really a quite uncomfortable feeling.
Contrast that with this morning. I just finished the First Lesson in the Lenten Bible reading plan. It was Matthew 21:1-11 and...well...the mood of this reading is a little different.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”' 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the
5 “Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the
trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
At first glance, the mood of Palm Sunday seems diametrically opposed to the mood of Ash Wednesday. Shouts of hosanna. Singing. Palm branches of praise. Excitement and joy that the king is here. How could I feel that excitement and joy after a night of confession and internal repentance?
Because Ash Wednesday finds its joy in Palm Sunday. Yes, we are sinners. Yes, we can't get ourselves out of this sin. Yes, we are in danger of sin ruling over us forever.
But then, our King. He is gentle. He is loving. He has come to rescue us from sin and bring us to eternal life.
And that's exactly why Ash Wednesday is really happy.
The confession ended with the promise of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. The devotional message pointed us to God's complete work of redemption. The last hymn spoke the truth of faith: "I Lay My Sins on Jesus, the Spotless Lamb of God." The final words came from our King (and they were words of blessing NOT condemnation.)
As you start your Lenten journey, remember who your King is and where he is heading. Remember that he came to save you. Remember that, though you will learn about your own sins, you will also learn about your own Savior.
There's nothing happier.