VICTORIOUS over Loneliness
Social distancing isn’t my favorite.
Maybe it isn’t yours either.
But if you ever feel like you’re social distancing life isn’t very fun for you, google #SocialDistancingFails. You’ll quickly realize maybe you don’t have it so bad.
Like this guy who wanted some bananas, because he wanted to stay safe, he ordered 3 bananas for delivery –and received three bunches instead.
Or the guy whose phone stopped working, but because the repair shop was closed, he bought himself a brand-new phone – which he proceeded to drop as he opened the package.
Or this family, whose kid heard his mom talking about how she’d have to give him a haircut since the barber was closed, so - he tried it himself.
Social distancing is necessary for preventing the spread of the virus.
But it may also exacerbate another struggle:
Loneliness has been a problem in America before social distancing was ever a thing.
Today we’re going see how Jesus gives us VICTORY OVER LONELINESS. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. What Makes the Good Shepherd “Good”
The Scripture we’re going to start with today comes from John 10.
Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd.” (John 10:11)
Shepherding was very common at the time of Jesus. Shepherds would usually take their flocks outside the city. They’d watch over them as they grazed. They’d lead them to water. They’d protect the sheep from any dangerous predators.
If you were a good shepherd, the sheep would be generally well fed.
You’d be awake watching the flock, for as long as your shift lasted.
And when the owner showed up to ask how you were doing, you were amicable.
That’s the human definition of “good” shepherd.
But that’s not God’s definition of a GOOD shepherd:
The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired man, who is not a shepherd, does not own the sheep. He sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep, and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. Because he works for money, he does not care about the sheep. (John 10:11-13)
In the literal sense of what Jesus says, let’s not judge the hired hand too harshly.
We see the passage and we think – how awful that hired hand is – he runs away from those poor sheep.
How could he do that?
If you worked at Starbucks, would you be willing to mix up a Latte, if it meant dodging machine gun fire over your head?
If you were a dog walker, would you keep doing your job, even if there were reports of land mines planted up and down your street?
If you were an accountant, would you be willing to do people’s taxes, even if alligators kept attacking you every time you started a spreadsheet (because they love “crunching” numbers)?
Of course not.
These are just jobs.
They might not be worth your life.
This is happening right now.
People aren’t going to work, because it isn’t worth getting the Coronavirus and possibly dying.
It’s the same thing with shepherding.
Shepherding was a regular line of work.
You got paid to watch sheep.
Most shepherds would not lay down their lives for their sheep.
Because $10 bucks an hour is not worth becoming a deli sandwich for a wolf pack.
Most shepherds wouldn’t lay down their lives for the sheep.
Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
You are his sheep.
Jesus lays down his life for you.
Key TRUTH 1:
The Good Shepherd would rather lose HIS LIFE than lose YOU.
II. The Good Shepherd Rescues
And you ask, “How was God about to lose me?”
Do you want to know the honest truth about sin?
Sin is reprehensible to God.
Granted – some sins are repulsive to us too.
But not all sin is.
You probably don’t have a problem with a few lies.
A gossipy comment on Facebook.
A lustful look every now and then.
A brief headache from a night of overdrinking.
Even a short, three-minute complaint session about your spouse.
Here’s where God is different.
God won’t allow SIN in his PRESENCE.
It’s like that one friend on Facebook that gets a bit too political for your taste.
They post every hour on the hour.
Unfortunately, you’ve paused to get angry at his posts long enough that Facebook recognizes your interests and shows you more and more of his political commentary.
Until eventually, you can’t stand it anymore.
You click in the upper right-hand corner.
You SNOOZE him for 30 days.
You have successfully removed him from your presence.
That’s how God feels about sin.
He hates sin so much that he wants sin completely removed from his presence.
But it’s deeper than that.
The other day there was a stink coming from our house. I couldn’t exactly identify what the stink was, so I tried various things.
Open the windows? Didn’t get rid of it.
Grab some Febreeze and cover the couches? Nope.
Burn a Pumpkin Spiced Latte candle? Now it just smells like Pumpkin Spiced Latte stink.
Finally, I got a bit too close to my dog, Clay.
I gave him a sniff.
And immediately took him outside.
If you want to treat the stink, remove the source of the stink.
God truly wants to treat sin.
But he knows that he can’t just treat the symptoms of sin.
He must remove the source.
And what’s the source of a sin? A sinner.
What’s the source of your sin?
Look at what Isaiah 59:2,
Your sins have separated you from your God!
Read that again. Slowly.
Your sins have separated YOU from God.
It doesn’t say, “Your sins have separated themselves from God!”
It says, “Your sins have separated YOU from God. “
God won’t allow SINNERS in His PRESENCE.
Friend, listen to God’s Word.
If this isn’t corrected, you’ll be socially distanced from God for all of eternity.
It’s the worse social isolation of all time.
Hell is eternal social distancing from God!
It’s a place where God isn’t there.
Sometimes on earth – things are bad.
But…at least we’ve got God.
There’s no GOD in hell.
There’s only LONELINESS.
But you see, this is where the Good Shepherd comes in.
Even though God, as Holy Judge, can’t stand your sin,
God, as Good Shepherd, can’t stand losing you.
He noticed that you were missing.
He noticed that you weren’t with the flock.
He noticed that you weren’t safely in God’s pastures.
The Good Shepherd picked up his staff.
The Good Shepherd put on his cloak.
The Good Shepherd walked out of his pasture.
The Good Shepherd came into Valley of the Shadow of Death. (We call it: Earth.)
And on earth, he found you.
Surrounded by wolves:
All led by that alpha dog, Satan.
But the Good Shepherd wasn’t afraid.
The Good Shepherd didn’t turn back.
The Good Shepherd made a deal with the wolves.
“Let my sheep go.”
“You can have me instead.”
And the wolves tore him to shreds.
They surrounded him!
They roughed him up.
They barked insults at him.
They tore his clothing.
They salivated as his blood.
And howled with delight as he died.
Why did the Shepherd allow this?
Why didn’t he run?
To save you.
The Good Shepherd allowed the wolves to HARM him that they wouldn’t harm YOU.
Allow me to give you a straightforward message from God’s word.
Because of what the Good Shepherd did, the wolf of sin no longer surrounds you.
Because of what the Good Shepherd, the wolf of guilt cannot lick its chops.
Because of what the Good Shepherd did, you will not be eternally isolated.
Because of what the Good Shepherd did, you are not separated from God.
Because of what the Good Shepherd did, you…have been brought…home.
KEY TRUTH 2:
The Good Shepherd saved you from ETERNAL ISOLATION.
III. The Good Shepherd Lives
Granted, that is great news!
You aren’t alone.
You are in God’s flock.
You are a part of God’s pasture.
You aren’t spiritually isolated from God.
It’s a bit dissatisfying.
We’re out of isolation.
But we had to lose the Good Shepherd in order to get here.
It’s too bad he couldn’t overpower the wolves.
Look at what Jesus says in verse 18:
No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it up again. (v.18)
Do you see that?
The wolves didn’t take the Good Shepherd’s life,
The Good Shepherd gave his life to them.
And why did he give it?
Because he knows he could take his life back again.
The Good Shepherd let the wolves OVERPOWER him because he knew he could overpower DEATH.
Talk about a skillset!
I don’t think any other shepherd had that skill.
Some were skilled at navigating to find water.
Others were skilled at identifying non-poisonous plants for the sheep to eat.
A few could probably sheer the wool into a killer mohawk.
But the Good Shepherd’s greatest skill?
Mastery over death.
And that’s exactly what happened!
Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead.
He came out of the grave.
He resurrected his own body.
And he lives!
KEY TRUTH 3:
The Good Shepherd LIVES!
Right now, he’s with you.
Right now, he’s watching over you.
Even if you’re at home alone.
Even if you’re in a hospital bed alone.
Even if you haven’t seen another person in 16 days!
Jesus is with you.
You aren’t alone.
IV. The Good Shepherd Knows You
Sometimes you’d rather be alone than with someone.
For instance, I have no desire to be left alone with any kind clown.
Not a creepy one.
Not a regular one.
Not Bozo the clown.
I’d rather be alone than with any of those clowns.
Maybe it’s similar for you.
Maybe you don’t want to be alone with your 7th grade math teacher.
Maybe you don’t want to be alone with your ex-spouse.
Maybe you don’t want to be alone with that former friend who dragged your name through the mud.
Maybe you don’t want to be alone with a stranger!
Picture that. Imagine you were isolated with someone who didn’t know you and you didn’t know them.
I see that you have hair.
So…what’s your favorite flavor of Dorito?
Jesus isn’t a stranger.
“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.” (V.15)
Granted, there are billions of people in the world. It would be downright impossible for any one human to know them all.
In fact, I doubt there’s anyone in Raleigh who knows everyone in Raleigh.
Honestly, I don’t think I know all the people on my Facebook feed.
But Jesus knows all of those people.
And Jesus knows YOU.
And he knows you WELL.
Jesus knows YOU as intricately as he knows his FATHER.
God is Triune.
That means he is three in one.
The Father is God.
Jesus is God.
The Holy Spirit is God.
Yet there aren’t three gods, but one God.
The Father is God.
Jesus is God.
The Holy Spirit is God.
Yet there isn’t just one person, but three distinct persons.
This is impossible to fully grasp and understand.
But God gets it.
He understands how the three persons in the Godhead intersect.
He knows where one ends and the other begins.
He grasps how they are all three perfectly united as one Being.
And that’s how well God knows you.
He knows your fears.
He knows your sadness.
He knows your heartaches.
He knows what you’re going through right now.
And he is there with you.
Jesus knew your SECRET sin – and still DIED for you.
That’s what he repeats in verse 15. He says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”
But Jesus isn’t repeating it just to show off.
He wants you to know how well he knows you.
He knows that it was YOU who stole the cookie from the cookie jar way back when you were 6.
He knows that it was YOU who graffitied that bathroom stall in high school.
He knows that it was YOU who passed on that gossip about your best friend.
He knows what YOU did behind closed doors.
He knows what YOU did under cover of darkness.
He knows what YOU did and have never told anyone.
He knows it.
And he still died for you.
KEY TRUTH 4:
The Good Shepherd KNOWS you better than ANYONE.
He knows your strengths.
He knows your weaknesses.
He knows exactly how he’ll work through you to bring more sheep into his sheep pen.
This leads to the “What Now?” for the week.
V. What Now?
(1) Call Out to Sheep Outside the Pen!
Jesus says this, “I also have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. (v.16)
Jesus isn’t satisfied with the sheep that are in his sheep pen now.
There are others who don’t know about his love.
There are others who aren’t believers.
There are others who aren’t a part of his sheep pen...
If that’s you, listen to his voice right now.
He’s calling you.
Come into the sheep pen.
But for those of us already in the sheep pen, this is Jesus command to us.
Call out to those other sheep.
Tell them about Jesus.
Share with them the Gospel message.
If you know someone who doesn’t know about Jesus, write their name down.
Write it down and then, here’s what I want you to do.
Look for ways to share Jesus with them.
You could talk with them about Jesus.
You could send them a text message with a link to this video.
You could send them an inspirational scripture.
Do this today – and then – put the note on your fridge –
So that you can do it again later this week.
The truth is that sometimes you must keep calling and calling.
If you have a pet, you understand this.
As you keep calling and calling, the Good Shepherd’s voice will be heard through your voice…
Calling them home.
(2) Call Out to Sheep Inside the Pen
Right now, we can’t physically get together.
But we need to still stay connected.
Look at what verse 17 says:
Then there will be one flock and one shepherd.
We are one flock.
We have one shepherd.
Write down someone that you know from our church community.
You can use the same piece of scratch paper.
Write down someone that you know and haven’t talked to in a while.
Got it down?
Reach out to them today.
Text to see how they’re doing.
Call to see what’s been going on.
Facetime so that you can smile at them.
Not only will they be hearing your voice.
Not only will you be hearing theirs.
But together, you’ll be hearing the Good Shepherd’s.
Because sheep know their shepherd’s voice.
There’s this video on YouTube of a field trip to a farm.
They came to the pasture with the sheep and the shepherd asked them to each take a shot at calling the sheep over to the gate.
The first kid tried, “Here sheepy! Sheepy!”
The second kid tried, “C’mon! Sheep. This way!”
A chaperone tried, “Baa! Baa! Come over here!”
Finally, it was the shepherd’s turn.
Now, it’s in Norwegian, so I’ll give you my best guess, but…
The shepherd calls out: “Alright sheep. Time to go!”
As soon as they hear his voice, the sheep look up.
As soon as he finishes his sentence, the sheep start moving.
Within 15 seconds, the whole flock comes running to their shepherd’s voice.
The sheep know the voice of their shepherd.
We know the voice of our shepherd.
And our shepherd says, “We aren’t alone.” Amen.
The Light is Here!
Join us as we hear about the very special and important message: the arrival of The Light of the World? What does this mean for me? How does it apply to my life today? Listen and find out!
NEW: A NEW Kind of Identity
Animals have amazing instincts. It’s true.
Geese know to migrate cross country during the weather change.
Baby kangaroos instinctively climb into their mother’s pouches to suckle.
Honeybees dance to communicate the whereabouts of pollen to each other.
Animals have amazing instincts, usually.
Sometimes they get confused. Sometimes they get confused enough that they forget exactly who they are.
Like the lion who is playing around with his food – I mean – his friend – the deer…
Or this dog trying to get his fellow pups (and by that, I mean baby chickens) to throw the ball…
Or this turtle that thinks that turtle shaped sandbox is long lost Uncle Earl…
In the animal kingdom, mistaken identity is cute.
But what about in the spiritual kingdom?
What happens when you have a spiritual identity crisis?
Today we are going to talk about the very real identity crisis that Christian can suffer from – you might even be going through it right now. Our goal? To reexamine what our NEW identity is in Jesus and be confident of that NEW identity. Before we do, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Corinthian Identity
The lesson for this morning comes from a letter written by a pastor named Paul to church in a city called Corinth. A bit about Corinth – It was a harbor town located on the coast of Greece. It was a popular trade center which saw all kinds of goods and ideas pass through its marketplace.
Around 49 A.D. Pastor Paul went on a missionary journey. On this journey, he went from city to city in southern Europe sharing the message of Jesus with people who had never heard of Jesus. When he went, he had a method for how he brought the Gospel to a new city. (He would start by bringing the message to the Jewish synagogue located in town. He was Jewish. They were Jewish. He figured they had a connection). After that, Paul would go the non-Jewish part of town. He would enter the marketplace and the town square. He would encounter people who were completely unfamiliar with Jesus, completely unaware of God’s grace and completely unlearned in the Old Testament promises of the Savior.
That’s what Paul did in Corinth.
He spoke about Jesus to the Biblically learned Jews expecting the Messiah and the Biblically illiterate non-Jews not even knowing he exists…
Which group do you think would be Paul’s message?
The answer is surprising:
Many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:8)
That means the Corinthian church was filled with brand new believers in every sense of the world.
The believers were people who had previously NEVER heard the Good news of Jesus before and were in love with that good news of Jesus.
As a result, Paul stayed with this church for a while. He told them about Jesus. He told them about forgiveness. He told them about the peace they had with God.
But Paul was a missionary.
Eventually…he had to move on to the next city.
And after about a year, he did.
Fast forward a couple of years.
Things had changed in Corinth.
The church was not as joyful as it once was.
The church was filled with bitterness.
The church people were overwhelmed with guilt.
Without Paul around, their fellow Corinthians from the marketplace began to question their Christianity:
“You mean you don’t stay out late and get drunk on the weekends? What about the benders? The ragers? The good ol’ days? That’s not who I remember.”
“What do you mean marriage is important? You used to sleep with me and my sister on the same night? This Christian thing has changed who you are.”
“I thought you were a Corinthian. Corinthians worship Poseidon! Come on. Here’s some money. Let’s go have sex with the prostitutes in front of his temple to receive Poseidon’s blessing.”
And…it was working.
The Corinthians were listening to their friends, their coworkers, their neighbors.
They were falling into sin.
Worse yet – when they failed – on Sunday mornings as they made their way to church shaking off a hangover – the Jews -- the ones who hadn’t believed in Jesus – were waiting for them along the way:
“Oh look! If it isn’t Ned! He’s looking so religious this morning. He worshipped his god all last night by getting drunk.”
“Yep. He’s not a Christian. Unless there’s a denomination called “Christian drunkards.”
“And here’s the worst part. They’re going to get together and talk about forgiveness today. Ya’ll are fools!”
You aren’t loved; but hated.
You aren’t forgiven; but filled with sin.
You aren’t righteous; but absolute scum.
And the Corinthian congregation was in shambles.
And they argued with each other.
And they pointed out each other’s sins in order to make themselves feel better about their own.
And they fled back to their addictions.
And they were filled with shame.
And they were in the middle of a spiritual identity crisis.
Pastor Paul heard of this and he was compelled to respond. He wrote this to them: “Listen…we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” (2 Cor. 5:16) You aren’t just a bag of bones. You aren’t just stressed muscles that need to let off some steam. You aren’t just sex organs that need to be fulfilled. You aren’t just an object for someone else’s pleasure. No, we regard you as much more than that.
Why? Because we used to regard Christ in that way, though we do so no longer. (v. 16b)
We thought of Christ as a common Jewish man.
He wasn’t especially attractive.
He wasn’t especially powerful.
He was a former carpenter’s apprentice who had a few bruises on his knees from bending over to nail tables together.
And he sure didn’t look all that special on the cross.
He sweated like a common earthly man.
And bled like a common earthly man.
And died like a common earthly man.
But then…do you remember what I preached to you? Then…Jesus came back to life!
Unlike any man ever, Jesus came back to life.
Unlike any man ever, Jesus walked the earth again.
Unlike any man ever, Jesus rose from the grave.
Do you see Paul’s point?
Jesus proved there was more to him than the earthly man.
As believers in Jesus…
There’s more to you too!!!
II. a NEW identity
Has anyone here seen Remember the Titans? It’s a film that follows a high school football team in the segregated south. The coach works hard to integrate the team and help them work together at a time when people who looked different from one another – didn’t even attempt to.
At one point – things get heated. Players are being divisive. The team isn’t working out.
So…coach makes them look at their jerseys.
He tells them to look at their helmets.
He tells them to notice that they are the same.
Because under that helmet and jersey, the players aren’t black and white, rich and poor, educated and uneducated.
They are Titans.
Paul says the same thing to the Corinthians – and to you. If you are in Christ, the old has gone; the new has come…God has reconciled us to himself.
You are no longer “addict.”
You are no longer “slut.”
You are no longer “failure.”
You are no longer “convict.”
You are no longer “homo.”
You are no longer “bitter old man.”
You are no longer “gossip.”
You are no longer “sinner.”
You are forgiven.
You are loved.
You are righteous.
You are pure.
You are God’s child.
You are reconciled.
That’s your identity!
And that’s the identity that Paul was trying to get the Corinthians to remember.
It’s the identity that Paul had taught them about.
It’s an identity that you and I have learned about.
It’s an identity that is as true for you as it was for a Corinthian.
You are reconciled.
III. Identity Origins?
Granted. You might say, “That sounds nice, but how do I know it’s true? How do I know it’s not just a bunch of psycho babbles?” Look at what Paul says next and there you’ll find a few answers:
1. It’s from God
Verse 18 literally says, “All of this is from God who was reconciling himself to you in Christ!” God’s the ultimate source. He’s the ultimate reason behind the new identity of “reconciled.” And that’s good news – because it means that no other identity really counts.
It’s like the name that your parents give you. That’s the name that’s on your birth certificate. That’s the name that’s on your social security card. That’s the name that’s on your taxes. Your friends might give you a nickname. They might call you something for short, but that’s not your real name. Your parents had the authority to name you and they did.
And there is not greater authority than your spiritual Father – God himself.
And God himself has named you “Reconciled.”
And there is no other name the world can give you that has the authority to conquer this.
2. It’s through God’s people
Because it’s true! God did not speak in some loud booming voice to the Corinthians.
But he spoke through the Apostle Paul. Paul wrote, “We are Christ’s ambassadors, as if God were making his appeal through us!”
And it’s true! God might not have spoken to you in some loud, booming, obviously God voice.
But he has spoken to you.
Through the stern yet loving voice of your Sunday School teacher.
Through the tearful voice of a concerned friend.
Through the tremoring words of your great grandfather.
Through the gentle lullaby of your mother singing: “Jesus loves you.”
Through words that sound a lot like mine right now.
God may speak through his people. But they are still his words.
“We are Christ’s ambassadors, making his appeal to you: Be reconciled to God!”
3. It’s paid for by Jesus
Up to the east of church is Falls of Neuse Rd. We used to live right across the street by the apartments complex there. Behind the apartments are million dollars homes situated on a beautiful golf course called the North Ridge Country Club. There’s 36 beautiful holes, a private swimming area, tennis courts and a private club for dining events.
How do you get in? You pay your membership dues. Those dues would include up to $30,000/year.
I could not afford to be a member there. I don’t have enough money.
And the cost to be a member of God’s kingdom? It’s a life of perfection.
I can’t afford that.
You can’t either.
But we are members.
Because Jesus paid the price for us.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says just that, “God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.”
In other words, your identity is paid for.
It can’t be taken away.
You are NEW in Jesus.
III. What Now?
Two major things that I want you to take away and put into practice this coming week. They both come from verse 16. Look at it again, “From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.”
(1) Regard Yourself from God’s Point of View
Because it won’t be long after this service that you hear those worldly thoughts again:
You’re only humans – have some fun.
You’re one of us – enjoy this sin a little.
(And then) You are the worst of sinners that God could never ever, ever love.
Stop regarding yourself from the worldly point of view.
Start regarding yourself from God’s point of view.
Start regarding yourself as your NEW identity.
The NEW YOU doesn’t do the things of your old sinful way of life.
The NEW YOU doesn’t live selfishly.
The NEW YOU doesn’t live for your bodily desires.
The NEW YOU doesn’t live frightened of God’s eternal wrath.
The NEW YOU lives for Jesus.
The NEW YOU lives for others.
The NEW YOU lives for the Spirit.
The NEW YOU lives confidently in God’s forgiveness.
The more you understand God's forgiveness, the more confidence you'll have in God's love.
(2) Regard Others from God’s Point of View
This is doubly important. Because as easy as it is to view yourself from a worldly perspective, it is even easier to view others that way:
“Oh her? That’s the adulteress. God does not forgive her.”
“That guy has a bunch of tattoos! He’s not one of us.”
“That guy? Over there? I think he’s Islamic. We need him to leave immediately!”
Stop regarding people from a worldly point of view.
That’s what worldly people do.
Rather, from God’s point of view.
Because that’s what God’s people do.
Regard them as souls that Jesus died for.
Regard them as souls that need to hear that Jesus died for them.
Regard them as future – brothers and sisters.
That’s what Paul did! It’s why he wrote them this letter as brothers and sisters and not as “you no good, awful, dirty rotten sinners from Corinth!”
That’s because Paul understood one more thing about his identity. He wasn’t just a member of God’s kingdom, he was an ambassador.
And as believers in Jesus, you are ambassadors, too.
Think about what an ambassador does. He heads off to foreign countries. He represents his country. He speaks on behalf of his country.
You are God’s ambassadors. You are about of his country. You represent his country. You speak on behalf of your Lord.
That’s an important task. Who is up for such a task?
Can I tell you about Susie? Susie is 4 years old.
Susie attends Precious Lambs.
Susie loves Jesus.
She loves Bible Times.
She loves Jesus songs.
She loves going to chapel.
Susie’s mother told me the other day that Susie talks about Jesus even when she isn’t at school.
She talks about Jesus at home.
She talks about Jesus at her brother’s basketball practice.
She talks about Jesus at the grocery store.
She talks about Jesus before she goes to bed.
Susie has not forgotten her identity.
Susie knows she’s four years old (ask her; she’ll tell you).
But Susie also knows that she is an ambassador for Jesus.
Don’t you forget it either because you have a NEW identity in Jesus. Amen.
New: A New Kind of Miracle
People always talk about Easter being a magical time, a wonderful time, a special time, a time unlike any other.
Is it really?
You can color Easter eggs any day of the year. (They look the same in December as they do in mid-April)
You can buy chocolate bunnies any day of the year. (In fact, if you wait till the day after Easter, they cost a lot less.)
You can eat a big breakfast – any day that Waffle House is open.
You can dress up – any day of the year. (Trust me. Go to the mall. Somebody’s having a sale.)
You can even be reunited as a family – gasp - even on a non-holiday.
Here’s the truth:
A lot of the things that we think make Easter special – aren’t really that special.
They aren’t miracles so much as non-miracles.
Does that mean there’s nothing special about Easter?
Today we want to look at the one thing that makes Easter miraculous. A miracle unlike any miracle ever – a NEW kind of miracle. And we want to learn how that MIRACLE is still doing miraculous things in 2018. 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. He’s Dead…Really Dead.
Our Easter lesson starts at the house of a woman called Mary.
Not Mary Magdalene.
Not Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
Mary. Mother of James and Joses.
Ever heard of her?
She hadn’t slept much that night. Not much the last couple of nights. The scenes that played out whenever she closed her eyes were too horrifying, too awful, too grotesque:
The repetitive fists connecting to the prisoner’s face.
The visceral shouts of “CRUCIFY HIM!”
The tearing of flesh with the 7 stranded, metal tipped, leather whip. (Being Flogged)
The blood drops popping out of the thorns smashed through his forehead.
And then…the hanging.
The hanging...and the dying.
The mother of James the Less stood up. She walked over to the window. The sun would be up soon. And…she needed to move on. She needed to move on because it wasn’t going to change: Jesus. Was. Dead.
She had seen him die.
She had seen his head drop and his body go limp.
She had seen the soldiers take the limp body off the cross.
She had seen the burial preparations that the make shift morticians had done to his body.
She had even seen the place where the put his body.
She had seen the door to the grave shut – sealing him in death.
Jesus was dead and there’s nothing she could do about it.
Suddenly, she heard a frantic knocking at the door. It was Mary Magdalene. Her hair was ragged. Her eyes were tear stained. Mascara running. She looked a bit…rough.
“Hurry. We’ve gotta get going. We’ve gotta be there for him. We’ve gotta.”
“I know. I know. Just a second. I’m almost ready.”
The mother of James the Less went behind the door and strapped on her sandals.
They were going to Jesus’ tomb.
They going to honor him.
They were going to begin healing from this tragedy.
She shut the door behind her and joined Mary in the streets. At the corner they met up with their friend Salome. She had her arms full – a few bottles of anointment in one arm – spices like balsam, saffron, frankincense and myrrh. “Don’t’ just stand there; help me with a few of these bottles.”
They nodded, grab some of the spices and continued their journey to the early morning graveyard.
The walk there was odd. There wasn’t much to say. There was the occasional sobbing…a few sniffles, and strange attempts at small talk.
“I think I saw a bird.”
“Do you guys thing saffron will taste good on a fish sandwich?”
“My neck is still sore from staring up at that cross.”
But eventually, a good question:
“When we get there, who’s going to move the giant stone for us?”
They hadn’t considered it yet. That stone was a good 500 some pounds. It was large enough to cover the entrance to the tomb. And it had been sealed – with the seal of Pontius Pilate – an extra precaution to ensure that grave robbers didn’t do anything to his body. They could ask the Roman soldiers on guard – another part of that security – but they were rather lazy oafs who didn’t care much about Jewish culture – let alone Jewish burial practices. Unless they had money, they might have to move that stone on their own.
But as they tried to figure out whether or not a bottle of myrrh was a good bargaining chip, they entered the grave yard. Th early morning light shone on something they weren’t expecting:
The stone was gone.
It was no longer at the front of the entrance at least.
It had been rolled away.
Set to the side.
Mary Magdalene panicked.
“What in the world? That’s too much. They torture him. They kill him and now this? Did they take his body and hang it on a pole. I can’t. I can’t…handle.”
Mary Magdalene dropped her bottles to the ground, turned around and ran out of there.
After a moment, Salome looked at the mother of James the Less, “Let’s go,” she said solemnly.
They both walked forward toward the tomb. As they got closer, they noticed a subtle glow coming from inside the tomb – as if the morning light was trapped inside.
They peeked in.
There was no body.
He didn’t look like a criminal.
He wasn’t wearing Roman soldier gear.
He was dressed in white – glowing white.
And he was smiling.
“Do not be afraid. You are looking for Jesus who was dead. He is not here. He has risen—just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
The women stood still for a moment.
Was this an angel? Did they dare go in?
Their curiosity was too much. They entered the tomb and began a frantic search of the area.
The body wasn’t in the grave clothes – they were folded nicely at the top of the stone bed.
And it wasn’t behind the stone.
And it wasn’t under that leaf in the corner.
And there wasn’t any sign of digging anywhere.
In fact, there wasn’t any sign of a struggle.
There wasn’t any blood.
There weren’t any footprints.
The body was gone.
Utterly amazed and slightly stupefied, the women turned to the angel. “Go and tell his disciples. They will see him again.” The angel said.
The mother of James the Less nodded.
Salome did too.
They were trembling.
They began to walk away from the tomb.
The walk turned into a trot.
The trot into a jog.
The jog into a run.
They didn’t stop and tell anyone on the way. No one would believe them anyway. They’d just call them a bunch of crazy women – off their rockers – insane.
They were almost in the clear.
Almost back without talking to anyone until…
A man…from behind a nearby bush.
The women stumbled.
And said, “Greetings.”
It was a voice they heard before.
They looked up to see who it was.
It was Jesus.
II. A Miracle Unlike Any Other.
That my friend is the true story of the resurrection.
That my friends is what makes Easter unlike any other holiday in history.
That is what makes today’s celebration miraculous.
Because – the miracle that occurred on that Sunday morning was unlike any miracle ever…
1. Jesus Did the Impossible…
To be fair – Jesus had done the impossible before. He had made blind people see. He had caused the deaf to hear and the lame to walk.
But death is much more than that.
Your eyes don’t work.
Your ears don’t work.
Your legs don’t work.
Your heart doesn’t work.
Your lungs don’t work.
Your body doesn’t work.
And…nowadays…we have some incredible advances in science.
We can use defibrillators to shock a heartbeat that has stopped back to beating again – as long as it’s only a been 2 minutes or less.
We can hook people up to breathing machines that pump air in the lungs electronically.
We can have people’s blood come out of the body and back into the body through a machine that is doing the job of a nonfunctioning liver.
We can keep organs moving and working – when there isn’t any brain activity – and we aren’t exactly sure if someone is dead or not.
He had been dead for over 36 hours.
His body would already have been decaying.
No amount of chest compressions.
No amount of defibrillator shocks.
No amount of forced air from an iron lung could do anything to help him.
He came back to life.
He did the impossible.
2. …In a State in which It is Impossible to do Anything…
A few weeks ago, someone hit a racoon near my house. It was out on the street squished to the ground. Kinda gross. And over the next couples of days I saw it on the road as I drive to and from work.
Do you know what I saw happen?
The racoon did absolutely nothing. Because it was dead.
And dead things do nothing.
He was dead.
And he did the one thing impossible for any human to do while they were living.
Combine those two facts.
It isn’t like he lifted his finger.
He didn’t wiggle a toe.
He didn’t start whistling.
While he was a in a state in which it was impossible to do anything, he did the impossible!
The dead guy brought himself back to life!
But that’s just the beginning…
3. …As a Visual Proof of the Impossible Invisible Truth
1 Corinthians 15:22 says this, “As in Adam all die.” That’s a refence to the very first human being. A guy named “Adam” which literally means, “Man.” Adam was made perfect. Adam was made without sin. Adam was made not to die.
But then…he chose to sin.
He was no longer holy.
He was the opposite of good --
He was evil.
And as a result – people were going to die.
If you think it’s harsh that God would punish them with death, then you don’t understand holiness.
Imagine if a judge fined you for going 10 mph over the speed limit, but then didn’t fine the guy after you for going 15mph over. That’d be unjust. That’d be unfair. That’d be an unjust in support of wrong.
If a good God is like, “That bad isn’t so bad. I’ll let it be.”
Suddenly, he’s not a good God.
He’s tolerating evil.
He’s an evil God.
God can’t be in support of wrong.
He can only be against it.
That’s why Adam had to be doomed to death.
But here’s where it gets really sad. Because Adam and his wife passed the bad down to their children. It’s kind of like genetics. In genetics, you pass on your hair color to your children. You pass on freckles. My dad passed on my receding hairline and I look forward to one day passing it on to my son.
Adam? He passed on his sinfulness.
He and his wife were sinful humans who gave birth to sinful humans.
Those sinful humans grew up and gave birth to more sinful humans.
Until…eventually…you and me.
Sinful humans doomed to death.
Maybe you know that.
Whether it’s cancer.
Whether it’s old age.
Whether it’s losing a child.
Whether it’s a freak car accident.
Whether it’s terrorism or mass shootings.
You know our world is filled with death.
And eventually…it will come to you and me.
It’s impossible to get away from!
But “As in Adam all die, in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22b)
Jesus is different than Adam.
He was born of God who is holy, not Adam who is unholy.
He lived perfectly.
He was good.
He did not deserve death.
Allow me to explain with a simple kitchen sponge. Do you all own one of these? (Most are nodding heads – a few single guys are like – What’s a sponge and what is it for?) A sponge soaks up dirt. It soaks up grime. If you spill orange juice, a sponge soaks up the orange juice off of the counter and removes it from the counter. It soaks up the coffee from the coffee table and removes it from the coffee table. It soaks up the failed science experiment of red food dye, baking soda and lemon juice and removes from the science table.
Before use – the table is dirty; the sponge is clean.
After us – the sponge is dirty; the table is clean.
And that’s what Jesus did for us.
He soaked up our sins on his body.
He took them on himself.
He soaked up our greed, our lusts, our selfishness, our gossip, our gross sinful failures – even the ones that stain our hearts deeply.
He became dirty and left us clean.
And since he was dirty – that’s why he died.
It’s what happens to any dirty, disgusting sponge, it gets thrown away.
God the Father threw Jesus onto across and into a tomb.
You are now without a stain.
You are clean because of Him.
In other words – God forgave you.
Which sounds awesome. But hard to believe.
Because you can’t see sins evaporating into thin air.
Nobody has a halo around their head this morning.
The fact is we still sin.
How do we know Jesus cleaned us?
Because the very thing that caused Jesus to die – our sins – no longer kept him dead.
Jesus rose; he left your sins in the tomb.
Jesus annihilated your sins.
Jesus destroyed your guilt.
Jesus killed death.
And that’s what this passage is saying, “In Christ all are made alive.”
Now we are no longer born of sinful Adam, but of sinless Christ.
We are no longer born of unholy Adam, but of holy God.
We are no longer born of destined to die, but destined to live Jesus Christ.
THIS IS WHAT MAKES EASTER SPECIAL:
Jesus did the impossible while in a state by which it is impossible to do anything as proof that the invisibly impossible had been done.
This is a message for you. Believe.
Believe that Jesus died.
Believe that Jesus rose.
Believe that Jesus has done the invisibly impossible and cleaned you from all of your sins.
That’s what In Christ means. It means believers in Christ. Unbelief means rejecting his work, running into the empty tomb, grabbing those dirty sponges of yucky sins and saying, “I prefer to live in filth.”
Yuck. Condemnation is deserved.
But belief in Jesus means trusting that he has cleansed us from our sins.
It means trusting in his forgiveness.
It means trusting that because of Him, you will live.
No matter who you are.
Because the women in the story today are the first two to see Jesus’ empty tomb. Did you remember their names? It’s Salome – a woman that’s only mentioned during this resurrection time period and Mary the mother of James the Less. A woman known simply for being a mother.
It’s not Peter.
It’s not John.
It’s not Pontius Pilate or one of the Pharisees.
It’s not even Mary Magdalene.
It’s two seemingly insignificant players in the story of Jesus’ life whose only appearance is on that weekend.
You might feel like a Mary, the mother of James the Less.
You might feel like a Salome.
You might feel not all that important, not all that godly, and not all that much like God could care about you.
But he does.
He lived for you.
He died for you.
He cleaned you.
He rose for you to prove it.
That’s the miracle of Easter.
A miracle unlike any other.
A miracle that still works the miracle of faith today. Amen.
Disciple: The Call
Our new sermon series is all about the word “disciple.” The word is interesting. It’s simple meaning is “follower.” Look up in the dictionary and it refers to “one who adheres to the teachings of another.” So, it isn’t necessarily Christian, yet, it seems to be strictly associated with Jesus.
That’s probably because of the 12 disciples. Have you heard of them? The 12 disciples are a group of 12 men who followed Jesus during his three-year ministry. Remember their names? I do because of the well-known song:
Peter, Andrew, James, and John, fishermen of Capernaum,
Thomas, and St. Matthew too, Philip and Bartholomew,
James and Less and Jude the Brave,
Simon the Zealot and Judas the Knave,
Twelve Disciples here in all, following the Master’s call.
These 12 disciples made discipling famous.
But a disciple is more than just those 12.
A disciple is any follower of Jesus.
What’s it take to be Jesus’ disciple in 2018? That’s the goal of our sermon series. We will learn about being a disciple, as we look at how Jesus disciples his disciples. Before we begin, let’s say a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
The first lesson that we’re going to learn about being a disciple comes from a time before the disciples were disciples. Because before they could follow, they needed Jesus to tell them to follow. They needed a calling. And one of the very first instances come from Mark 1.
Picture Mark 1 opening up with a beautiful morning sunrise sneaking over the horizon of the Galilean Sea. Standing on the beach is a guy named John. He’s holding a cup of his favorite He-Brew blend coffee close to his nose and breathes it in.
“Caffeine and fish guts! Beautiful isn’t it?”
John looks to see his friend Peter smirking in his direction as he holds a bundle of thickly roped nets in his arms. “You don’t mind if I borrow them this morning.”
“Go ahead. Just be sure to give us a few of your catch as payment.” John’s brother James comments as he throws an oar into their boat. “Dad’s expecting that we have all our nets out on the sea this morning.” Peter nodded, took a swig of the rum bottle setting at the edge of the dock and went off.
Meanwhile James makes his way around to his brother, “Did you hear about the commotion downtown yesterday?”
“It’s that Jesus guy again. Apparently, he was outside the Capernaum synagogue telling a bunch of Pharisees to Repent! I wish I could have been there. It would have been nice to knock those religious zealots off their high pulpits. Apparently, he told them all that they too were sinners and they too were in need of a Savior.”
John shook his head as he threw another pile of nets into the boat. “Repent, huh? That sounds a bit like John the Baptist. Only John was at least interesting. He was homeless. He lived in the desert. He ate poached crickets for breakfast. This Jesus guy? He’s just a commoner. He’s a carpenter. I just don’t think it’d be worth following him.”
“Well,” James continues, “He’s got loads of people following him already. In fact,” he leans in real close, “I think I know the difference. John the Baptist proclaimed sin and the need for a Savior. This Jesus? He proclaims sin…and that He is the Savior.”
John pauses. “That is interesting. Interesting and foolish. How can a carpenter save us from sin?”
James shrugs. “I don’t know. But…there’s something about him…”
John returns to loading up the boat with buckets and nets. Only pausing to talk report to his dad about where they planned on fishing that morning and how much they expected to haul in. Just as they were about to push off…a commotion. Up the road, about 100 feet away, John could see a small group following a rather plain looking man. The man was teaching and talking as he went and the others were listening.
“Hey!” James whistles. “It’s that Jesus guy I was talking about.”
John leans closer, steadying the boat and straining to listen: “Repent! The Kingdom of heaven is near. Repent! For God’s kingdom is here. Repent to be saved from destruction. Repent and trust God’s Messiah – to be saved from sin.” (Mk 1.)
John watches as Jesus talks.
He certainly looks convincing.
He certainly seems to believe what he’s saying.
But…again…how could it be true?
How could some carpenter be a Savior from sin?
As John watches the group approach, the dynamic changes.
Jesus stops talking and turns towards the docks.
He turns towards some fishermen in the boats.
He turns…toward Peter.
“Come. Follow me.” (v.19)
John let out a quiet guffaw. He couldn’t be serious…Peter? He’s a bit gruff for spiritual work…He smelled of worm guts, four letter words and a bit of stale wine.
Peter wasn’t that foolish.
Peter didn’t like religious folk.
Peter would never follow a…
John’s thoughts were cut off. Because in less than an instant, Peter jumped over the boat and into the water. He waded as quickly as he could to the shore near Jesus. His brother Andrew followed – he docked the boat and approached on land – but he approached Jesus too.
They all shook hands.
And they followed Jesus.
They followed Jesus right over to the dock where John was.
And John’s thoughts started swirling. Me? He better not stop for me…Does he know who I am? I don’t have any religious credentials. I’m not a Pharisee; I’m a fisherman. And a sinner. I’ve got filthy language. I’ve been known to get drunk. And I’ve struggled with lusting after that servant girl on dock 9.
This Jesus is on a spiritual crusade.
This Jesus seems righteous.
This Jesus seems holy.
How could I ever fit in?
But…Jesus…as if reading his thoughts…smiled.
And stretched out his hand.
“Come. Follow me.”
John looked at Jesus.
He looked at James.
He looked at his net…and threw it to the ground.
He got out of the boat and followed Jesus.
He had a calling.
II. Notes on Jesus’ Calling
And there you have it. The very first calling of the very first disciples to follow Jesus. Peter, Andrew, James and John. But what I think interesting about this account is how there are quite a few things about Jesus’ calling of these disciples that are the same as when he calls you and me to be disciples.
No, we don’t all own boats.
And none of us smell like fish – at least I think.
But there are three important ways that our calling as disciple is the same.
1. The Call is Urgent
Note what it says that Jesus’ main message was very time sensitive. He said, “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (v.15)
Notice what he did not say – “The time is next week.”
Or, “The time is in a few years.”
Or even, “The time is after you have graduated college, found a wife, and started a career.”
Jesus’ call to the people was urgent.
The call of the disciple is urgent.
And Jesus’ call to you to be his disciple is urgent.
This is so interesting. Because 21st century humans are usually very urgent about things. We are always in a hurry – and this week with the snow – was tough for a lot of us – because we are always in a hurry.
We are in a hurry to get to work.
In a hurry to make money.
In a hurry to get the kids to karate.
In a hurry to make supper.
In a hurry to get the kids to bed so we can sit down and catch the latest episode of Fuller House on Netflix!
We are always in a hurry – except when it comes to Jesus.
I’ve been a pastor for 6 ½ years now, but I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone say:
“Sorry Pastor. No time to chat. We’ve got to hurry home and study the Bible.”
Or: “Pastor --- could you get that baptism scheduled soon! Let’s hurry it up.”
Or: “Pastor – can we start Bible basics at 6am tomorrow morning? I can’t wait to grow in faith.”
It just doesn’t happen.
Honestly, I don’t have the urgency I should when it comes to Jesus.
But we should.
Because Jesus is the only way to heaven.
The kingdom of heaven is near.
Meaning death is near.
Meaning our judgment from God is near.
Meaning our judgment from God that determines where we spend eternity is near.
I bet there are some people in Hawaii get this. Did you hear about it? There was an accidental nuclear warhead warning. For 7 minutes people thought that the island was about to explode, and their lives ended. They called loved ones. They hid where they could. They prayed prayers.
But it wasn’t real.
They didn’t die.
But eventually they will.
And you will.
This is urgent.
2. The Call is Hard
Jesus call was this: “Repent!” (v.15) Repent means to do a 180-degree turn.
It’s like Simon Says. Ever played that? Simon says what you are to do and you do it. Simon says, “Raise your hand,” so you raise your hand. Simon says, “blink your eyes,” so you blink your eyes. Simon says, “Repent,” so you turn around.
Jesus says repent and you turn around.
Not physically, but spiritually.
You turn from sin to Savior.
And this isn’t as easy as Simon Says.
Think about what Jesus is calling you to turn from.
Turn from selfishness. Stop worrying about yourself, stop the innate desire to make you # 1.
Turn from toxic friendships – particularly ones that selfishly won’t want you to leave
Turn from overdrinking – so challenging there’s chemical dependence struggling against you.
And that’s not all to turn from.
Turn from heterosexual lust.
Turn from homosexual lust.
Turn from hatred.
Turn from racism.
Turn from four letter words.
Turn from gossip.
Turn from greed.
Turn from pride.
Jesus is calling you, “Turn from following your sinful desires and turn toward following me.”
But oh so blessed.
Because what does following any random sexual desire lead to? Brokenness in family, guilt in your heart, and the cycle of trying to fill your desire with the next desire.
And what does overdrinking lead to? A headache, bad decisions, hurt friendships – even alcoholism.
And what does pride lead to? Missing out on key help, losing friends, and a loneliness when no one wants to be around you.
Following sinful desires leads to nothing good.
But following Jesus?
That leads to complete forgiveness.
That leads to peace with God.
That leads to eternal life.
That leads to joy everlasting.
Because when you follow Jesus, you’ll see that he followed the desires of his heart.
And the desires of his heart – were you.
It led him to the cross.
It led him to suffer on that cross.
It led him to die on that cross.
It led him to emerge from the grave victoriously – to save you from sin.
This is the good news that comes with following Jesus.
He is your Savior.
3. The Call is for You
This is important. Because it’s easy to think – these 12 disciples must have had something special about them.
They must have been a higher level of qualified than I could ever be.
They must have been perfectly suited for being disciples.
But look at this. Did you see verse 20? When Jesus had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them…
Did you notice that? “Without delay?”
There wasn’t a test.
Not even a Facebook quiz.
Jesus just calls…
Because Jesus calls sinners.
Are you a sinner? Jesus is calling you.
“Come. Follow me.”
But I’m pretty guilty.
But I struggle with homosexuality.
But I keep lying.
But I got a DUI once.
But I said some horrible things just last week.
But I’ve been divorced…twice.
Jesus still calls.
He calls you without delay.
Come. Follow me.
III. What Now?
1. Follow the Call
You have one. Whether you’ve never followed Jesus before or you’ve followed him for a long time. Follow him!
Because some of you might be thinking, “I’ve been following Jesus for a long time. I’ve already answered the call. I’ve already been following Jesus. What could God possibly be calling me to do?”
Easy. He’s calling you to follow Him more closely.
In fact, I saw a bumper sticker the other day. It was in fine print and you had to drive really close to see what it said. It said, “Are you following Jesus as close as you are following this car?”
But think about it.
Are you following Jesus so closely that you know the fine print of his desires?
Can you see his Word in every situation?
Follow him more closely. Heed the call.
2. Make the Call your Priority
Because I always think it’s intriguing that there’s a net involved in that fishing scene. Because nets always catch things. That’s why fishermen used them. Nets caught fish.
But this net almost serves to catch John that day and prevent him from ever following Jesus.
Think about it. That net represented a lot.
The work he had to do.
The money he had to make.
The family he had to take care of.
The mouths he had to feed.
The father he had to please.
But John looks at that net – and threw it down.
Those can wait.
Jesus is the priority.
What are your nets? What are the things that prevent you from following Jesus?
They are different in all of our lives.
A net can be family.
A net can be work.
A net can be money.
Drop that net.
There’s nothing it offers you that can’t find ultimate fulfillment in Jesus.
Drop you net…and follow him.
I was a Senior Vicar – 24 years old and I had been called to the hospital. I was there to visit a woman named Matilda – someone whom I had enjoyed lightly toasted bread and tea with on numerous occasions. We had gotten together to talk about her family, hummel figurines, and the best episodes of the Lucy show.
But now…now there was no Lucy show. No figurines. No lightly toasted bread.
Matilda had just died. Her breathing had stopped.
And my stomach just felt strange. I had just seen someone die. Now…now how could I help?
As I looked at the tear stained eyes of the family members in the room -- I racked my brain. Should I do CPR? Should I run to get a nurse? Should there be some kind of special Pastor trick that I hadn’t learned yet in Pastoral theology that I should be used to return her breath to her...?
I felt helpless. Helpless because…What’s there to do when the breathing stops?
Today we’re finishing up our sermon series called BREATHE and we what Jesus did to prep you for eternal breathing, what he’s currently doing, and what you can do to prep yourself.
I. He’s Preparing Things for You
Take a look at John 14. This happens 43 days before Jesus’ ascension – 40 days before Ascension is Easter. 3 days before Easter is Maundy Thursday. It’s the night Jesus that Jesus is betrayed; the night he’s arrested; the night before he’s beaten, flogged, convicted, crucified, and killed.
And as Jesus was speaking about it, he’s disciples were getting spooked.
If the Pharisees did that to their leader, what would he do to them?
And If Jesus was dead, how could he protect them?
And if he couldn’t protect them, wouldn’t they just run out of breath?
Listen to Jesus’ words of to them:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, I would have told you so. I am going there to prepare a place for you.
Now note that when Jesus says, “His Father’s house,” he’s not talking about Joseph. That would have been his step-dad’s house in Nazareth. While a carpenter makes a living, I doubt that the house had enough room for 11 disciples to spread out on the living room floor for a nap. Can you imagine what that would have been like? “Peter & Andrew – you’re brothers so you can sleep in this room together. John, you take the floor. And Philip? There’s an old futon out back that you can curl up on.”
Nope. The Father he was talking about was bigger.
And the house He was talking about was bigger too.
In my Father’s house are many rooms.
Ever been to the Biltmore Estate? It has over 250 rooms. 33 bedrooms. 43 bathrooms. 3 kitchens and 65 fireplaces. It’s able to house hundreds of people at the same time. That’s a lot.
Heaven houses a lot more. It has many rooms. Enough rooms for God to fill it with people from every age, every era, every culture, and every race. Scripture talks about thousands upon thousands and ten thousand upon ten thousand. Myriads of people crowding the halls of this divine house, taking up residents in one of its many rooms.
And one of those rooms? It’s for you.
Look at what Jesus says next, I am going there to prepare a place for you. That’s a promise he makes to his disciples. A disciple is a follower of Jesus. Do you follow Jesus? Do you believe in him? Jesus is talking about you.
Jesus isn’t up in heaven laying on a couch flipping through episodes of Fuller House on Netflix. He’s not in heaven sipping martinis by a heavenly poolside and leaving you down here with all your problems, with all your relationship problems, with all your financial struggles, to slowly go through life working your dead-end job, barely making it until you die.
He’s busy. He’s preparing a place for you.
Suddenly you get this picture of Jesus sweeping up the floor, turning the Roomba loose on the carpet, putting flowers in a vase by the bedside table, fluffing pillows, lighting some candles, spraying some Febreeze and folding a towel into one of the little duck like creatures that they make at the Holiday Inn.
Is Jesus actually doing such mundane earthly tasks? Probably not. It’s heaven. It’s not earth. But the point is this: Jesus is that excited to have you in heaven. He’s getting a special spot, preserved and prepared just for you.
If one of the angels comes along and says, “Hey Jesus, is anyone using this room? I want to use it for some divine yoga!”
Jesus will respond, “No! That room is for my beloved. It’s for this 21st century Christian, sitting in row 7, seat 2 at Gethsemane church in Raleigh, NC. I’ve been preparing that spot for them for years. I lived perfectly for them. I died for them. I rose triumphantly for them. All so that they might live in that room – down the hall from me – eternally.”
II. He’s Coming Back to Get you
When your spot is ready – when the time is just right – Jesus is coming back. If I go there and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me.
Did you know that infants are terrible at peekaboo? Infants lack something called “object permanence.” That means they don’t understand that objects generally don’t disappear out of thin air. So, if you are making an infant smile and then throw a blanket over your face, the infant thinks “Help. He’s gone. Don’t know where to either.” The infant is extra surprised to see you again – because he was expecting that you were gone.
Don’t we do the same thing with Jesus?
The way this world is going – things are so awful. Jesus isn’t ever coming back!
Finances are so hard – I imagine God doesn’t care a bit about me.
I’m so lonely – Jesus must have forgotten all about me.
My health is deteriorating fast. Jesus must have checked out!
Nope. He remembers.
When he’s done preparing a place for you, he will come back and take you to be with him.
To a place without the sin and immorality of this world.
To a place without financial burdens.
To a place surrounded by God’s love.
To a place where there is no sickness; no sadness and no pain!
That’s sounds pretty awesome. It would be sad to miss it.
Like Google Calendar. Do you ever use its features? If you ever have a really important event you can set it up shoot off an alarm that way you don’t miss the meeting. Sometimes I have to put a couple of reminders for a really big day – like the Doritos convention – I have reminders 1 week, 3 days, 24 hours, 12 hours, 5 hours, 2 hours, 1 hour & ½ an hour before hand. I don’t want to forget!
Don’t you worry about Jesus. He won’t forget. Don’t think you’ve done too much sin or been too far away for too long that he will forget all about coming to get you.
He will remember you. He will come back for you.
It doesn’t matter where you are:
On the sixth floor of your office surrounded by stacks of paper at work? He will remember you. He will come back for you.
In line to make a rent payment at the fourth apartment you’ve tried out this year? He will remember you. He will come back for you.
On the fourth floor of the sixth building on the gigantic campus of UNC Health Center? He will remember you. He will come back for you.
In the ground, row 18 in the cemetery, plot 37 – He will come back for you.
Lazarus had been buried in a tomb for four days. He had been dead for longer – probably a whole week. His body had begun to deteriorate. The grave had begun to smell like rot. He was dead.
When Jesus got there to see him, his sisters lost it: “You’re too late! You should have been here earlier. You missed him. You could have helped him; you could have saved him; but now he’s dead.”
Jesus? He had them roll the stone away. He peered inside. He called out: “Lazarus!”
Lazarus walked out – alive.
There’s a promise that Jesus made right before doing that to Lazarus. He said, “Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me; will never die!” (Jn. 11:27)
Do you believe in Jesus? That means you will live.
Have cancer? You will live.
Getting older? You will live.
Nervous about terrorist? You will live.
You will be in heaven. You will breathe. Even when you’re breathing stops.
III. What Now?
1. Give the Best Gift a Mom Can Give
Here’s the Mother’s Day connection. We are gonna get it in there somehow. If you are a modern mom, there’s a lot of pressure to be a good mom. Our world is of the opinion that if you want to be a good mom you need to enroll your kid in ballet, take him to swimming, karate, clarinet, science club, make sure he has good grades but get him an iPhone, feed him the most expensive organic food available, but save up enough money for college, make sure he’s disciplined, but not be one of those hard-nosed moms either.
It’s hard. It’s also wrong.
Because if you want to be a good mom, there is one thing needful: Teach your kids about Jesus.
Nothing else is that important. Tell them Bible stories. Read them the Bible. Do family devotions. Bring them to church. Bring them to Sunday School. Have them baptized.
If you want to them in heaven with you, do all you can to teach them about the one, the ONLY ONE, who offers heaven. Jesus!
2. Give the Best Gift a Mom Can Get
Moms – you might be getting a lot of gifts today. A pair of earrings. A flower. A card with “I think it’s a spotted cow” on it. Happy “Mooo—ther’s Day!” Careful how you react! Because if you want to show appreciation for a gift, you take good care of it. You put it in a special spot. You make sure not to throw it away. You keep it for years to come.
It’s the same way with spiritual gifts.
Maybe you have a Christian mom.
Maybe you had a Christian mom.
Maybe you had a grand mom, an aunt, an uncle, a dad, a somebody who loved Jesus and cared give you the gift of your Savior.
Use that gift. Take care of that gift. Keep your faith in Jesus strong. Exercise your spirit in God’s Word – at church, at home, listening to your iPhone as you drive. Whatever it takes to make sure you’re breathing when your breathing ends.
That’s what Matilda had done. She had read her Bible. She sang her hymns. She had listened to the cassette tapes of sermons that past pastors had brought her. She even listened to the CDs of Sundays service that I brought her (after I explained to her how it all worked).
She listened. She heard about her Savior’s last breath on the cross. She heard about her Savior’s first breath in the tomb.
When she took her last breath in that hospital room, immediately, instantly, she segued to her first divine breath.
In her Father’s house.
BREATHE: A Breath of Fresh Air
Ezekiel’s body hit the ground with a thud. The temp was hot. The air was thick. There was a stale odor seeping into his nostrils.
Some road trip.
Moments ago, he had been minding his own business. He had been preparing for another round of preaching, another round of prophesying, another round of warning the Israelites to stop their evil ways. And as he walked by the Babylonian marketplace where he would grab a morning drink, a piece of bread and begin writing his speech for the day, God intercepted him.
Ezekiel had been picked up, moved by the Almighty hand of the Lord, taken from his daily life and routine to…to…this! Wherever this was!
Ezekiel looked up. He was in a valley – what appeared to be the deepest part – with long mountainous crags on all every side. As his eyes followed the pastures ahead, he spotted what appeared to be clumps in the distance. Maybe they were piles. Some kind of bramble.
He took a few steps in that direction, until his sandled foot stubbed against something. He tripped, but kept his balance. Then, he turned around to see what his foot had a struck. In the ground, he saw something small and yellowish brown. He couldn’t quite make out what it was. Curiosity got the best of him so he got down on his knees and brushed the dry dirt away hoping to discover what it was.
When he did, he backed away in horror.
It was a skull. A dead bone.
As his eyes adjusted to the light, he realized that this was exactly what the piles in the distance were. Bones. Lots of them. Everywhere.
The Spirit of God led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. (Ezekiel 37:2)
I. A Lesson in the Valley
Ezekiel found himself wandering through the valley. Bones were everywhere he looked. Jawbones to his left. Leg bones to his right. Piles and piles of death – fading reminders of the people who once owned them.
Now…they were motionless. Dead. Lifeless.
It kinda reminded Ezekiel of the Israelites. For years he had been commissioned by God to warn his fellow countrymen about their sins. He had explained that the reason they were captives in Babylon was their sins and their only way out of Babylon was repentance and patience – patience in waiting for the delivering hand of God.
But the people’s response was MEH! They hadn’t seemed to care. They were lifeless. Their faith…was dead.
Ezekiel’s thought process was interrupted by the booming voice of the LORD: He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
Ezekiel looked at the pile nearest him. A shin bone that used to walk. A knee joint that used to bend. A shoulder socket that used to reach for a bottle of wine. They had moved, sure. But death had crippled them. These bones were worthless. Anyone knew that.
…This wasn’t just anyone speaking to him.
God, you are the expert. You are the Creator of heaven and earth. You are the One who formed Adam, the very first man, out of clay! God, You alone know.
God responded, “Prophesy to these bones. Prophesy and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
Wait a second? God, you want me to talk to the bones? The Israelites were one thing, but now you want me to prophesy to these bones? These things aren’t living. They aren’t moving. They can’t hear me. They don’t even have ears!
But…you are God. And…no one is watching so.
I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them…
A foot connected to an ankle bone. A fibula and tibia met up like long lost friends. Ribs flew through the air and forced Ezekiel to duck for his life. Then, little stitches appeared at the joints…like some sort of invisible hand was cross stitching a pattern across them. Muscles formed in clumps at the biceps, the delts, and the quads. A skeleton near Ezekiel’s feet suddenly had a six pack. Then, skin. It draped down like a blanket and covered up all of these insides into one cohesive, identifiable body.
…but there was no breath in them.
And God spoke again.
9 “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’”
Ezekiel paused again.
First, bones and now the wind? You want me to preach to the wind? The forces of nature that only you control? You really expect me to get them bring these bones to life? Would it even do that?
Could it even do that?
10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered the bones; a loud noise like a tornado rushed in from all sides. It blew through the newly formed hair on the bodies, moved the loose cartilage of the ears, and entered into the nostrils. Then, the chests moved. The bodies came to life and stood up on their feet-- one after another – a miracle after a miracle -- a vast army.
And Ezekiel? He stood in awe. Had seen the incredible. God had brought breath out of death!
II. A Lesson in North Raleigh
That’s a pretty sweet Bible story, isn’t it? How awesome would it be to see a science room filled of bones come to life and be real people? Because of the bones, it probably doesn’t get told as much in Sunday School as Noah’s ark, but it’s still pretty sweet.
And it’s not without some very real and very important lessons for you and me as we try to do ministry in North Raleigh. Take a look at these few:
1) We Too Were Bags of Bones
In order to get this bone for the kids lesson – I asked one of my friends who teaches elementary science for some help. She got back to me with a message about all the different bones that she could bring. Dog shin bones, goat thigh bones, even a cow skull. She wisely thought the cow skull would totally distract the kids and lead to me using control over the kids during the kids lesson. (I need reviews like that more often).
But it got me to thinking – all these different bones – all these different places – unless your are an A+ college biology student, you might not know what bones goes where, what kinds of animals it’s from and where it goes in the skeleton.
Isn’t it the same with God’s perspective of us? We are all sinners – dead in spirit – dead in faith. God looks down at us and he can’t tell apart the one pornography from the other. It’s easy to get the gossiper confused with the liar. The one God can’t tell if he should label it a racist, an adulteress, a thief or a strange combination of all three!
What I’m trying to say is that apart from Jesus – God sees us all as a pile of good as dead, useless, worthless, sinful bones.
Read it yourself in Ephesians 2:1 – “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”
Now you might argue:
I’m not so bad. I was pretty good apart from Jesus. I might be a bit better now, but I was no slouch back in the day either.
I’m without him right now and I think I’m doing just fine. I don’t need anyone’s help and I don’t need God’s.
Have you ever downloaded an app before? When you download an app what do you expect it to do? Probably what it says it’s going to do. If you get an app downloaded, and it constantly freezes all the time, if it sends the Angry Birds in the opposite direction of the way you were flinging them OR if you every time you touch the DELIVER PIZZA button on the Pizza Hut app, you get sushi – the app is broken. It’s worthless.
God made you and I to serve him. He made us to devote our lives in love to him. He made us to serve others completely selfless all the time, all the time, all the time.
We haven’t done that. None of us have. There’s nothing we could do to fix that! Apart from Jesus, we were dead in sin.
If you are apart from Jesus, then that’s how God views you – dead. He sees your life as a rotting, deteriorating mess of an experiment – the only thing for which it's good, being an eventual decomposition into the soil where other bones can be buried too.
You were dead in your sins, but God made you alive with Christ.
2) God Brings Breath from Death
Do you know what’s really interesting? The Hebrew word for breath that we read in Ezekiel is RUACH…it’s also the exact same words that we translated as WIND. Two definitions; same word.
But there’s one more definition for RUACH. Do you know what it is?
Suddenly, it makes complete sense as to why the breath brought life from death, because the Holy Spirit was with the breath.
And the Holy Spirit is God.
And God has no problem bringing breath from death.
That’s what he has done to all believers. He worked the RUACH, Spirit worked through the RUACH/Breath of His Word to bring use to life. He breathed forgiveness into our sin burdened lungs. He took our sin rotting heart and gave us a heart of joy in the Lord. He lifted us up to our feet, dusted us off from our sins, and helped us take our first steps for the Lord.
God brought breath from our death.
If he hasn’t yet, that’s my prayer for you. It’s God’ s prayer for you, too.
In fact, that’s why he took on flesh and bone. It’s why he lost his breath on that cross. It’s why he took another breath in the tomb that first Easter morning – because every breath he took, all along the way – was to give you that a breath of FRESH AIR – to bring breath from death!
3) Let the Breeze…Out?
If you’ve got animals, there maybe be times when you need to let him some fresh air. Truth is: animals can stink the joint up. If you don’t have animals, maybe it’s the kids. If you don’t have kids, ladies, it’s probably the husband.
So you let the breeze in! You need fresh air. Glade has spent millions of dollars perfecting outdoor, fresh scents for just that reason.
But…what if the stink isn’t inside? What is the stink is outside?
You watch the news lately? This world stinks. It’s filled with sin and hatred and immorality! It’s filled with racism, selfism, and I’m-better-than-you-ism. Our world wants nothing to do with God and the morality is where it is because that is the case.
So…Let the breeze out!
Remember what God told Ezekiel? He told him to speak to the winds. He told him to say what He, the Lord, had said. He asked him to prophesy – which, in its simplest format – means to share God’s Words.
You’ve got the same power, because you have the same word. When you speak about your Savior to a sin burdened friend, that word of God has the ability to bring life to their souls!
Pray for the opportunities. I had the chance to do that this past week. I went to visit a friend from my assisted living ministry who was in the hospital. I got there and she was tired, sad, and honestly not looking all that good.
What did I do? Not much. I read Psalm 46 – “The Lord is our Refuge and Strength, an ever present help in trouble!” And the Spirit did his thing. Her spirits were lifted. A breath of fresh air in that dank, hospital room. Her spirit was breathing again!
You do the same.
And remember: Ezekiel did that and the winds came from all over from the North and the South; the East and the West.
That’s God’s plan. To fill the earth with the winds that bring breath – with the wind of his Word. From far north of Iceland to the down under of Australia. From the Far East of China to the far west of Arizona. From Durham to Clayton. From Cary to Knightdale. From I-540 to I-440. From Falls of Neuse to Six Forks.
Wherever you’re at. Speak God’s Word. Breathe a breath of fresh air into this world.
And God? He’ll do what he does. He’ll bring breath from death. Amen.
BREATHE: Spiritual Life Support
What could I do?
I was on I-85. Driving back from our Pastor’s Conference in Roanoke, VA on Wednesday evening. Pastor Lange from Ascension in Jacksonville was with me. We were cracking some kind of funny pastor jokes when traffic started slowing down. Up – ahead of us – was a minivan, flipped upside down.
There weren’t any police cars yet, so we stopped. We got out and jogged toward the scene. There, underneath the wheel well was a woman.
I don’t need to get into the details, but it was gruesome. Gruesome and quiet. There were about 12 of us who had stopped. And after the lady in nursing scrubs began whispering to her gently and I called 911. We all looked around thinking the same thing…
What can I do?
Have you ever felt like that? Not so much at a car accident, but have you ever seen a friend who was in real spiritual trouble? In such a scenario, what do you do? Should you just walk right on by? It’s not your responsibility, right?
Today we are continuing our series called BREATHE and we are going to learn about how our God has equipped and empowered us to offer Spiritual life support to others.
Take a look at John 20:20-21. This takes place on Easter Sunday. It’s after Jesus rose from the dead, after he appeared to Mary Magdalene, after he appeared to his disciples, and right after he let them touch his hands and side.
I imagine they had some questions:
What was death like?
What were you doing during those ‘death’ days?
Did you go to heaven? Did you see my Aunt Edna? How does she look?
But Jesus had other plans:
“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Have you had anyone breathe on your lately? That’s not usually polite. Maybe with mints, definitely not with garlic.
But Jesus didn’t breathe on them to have them check his breath. He commissioned them to do a job. He sent them to continue his work. As God the Father had sent Jesus from heaven to save humanity, Jesus was sending his disciples into the world to save humanity. Which really makes us – disciples -- rethink our purpose.
Because…What’s our job as Christians? Attend church? Sing songs? Put fish symbols on the back of our car bumpers? Is it really our job to help sin burdened spirits?
Yes. According to this passage Jesus has commanded his disciples – disciples means followers, so if you follow Jesus this is talking about you -- to help save souls.
Now – if you’re gonna save souls, you need the right equipment to do so. The fireman needs his firehose. The police man need his police gear. The surgeon needs his scalpel. And the Christian needs to be armed with the very tool for saving souls that Jesus has given him:
If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.
Matthew 16 speaks similarly. In it Jesus tell the disciples that he has given them the keys to heaven. What is the only way sinful human beings like you and me are getting to heaven? It’s God’s forgiveness. That’s the key. We need God’s forgiveness to unlock the gates of heaven. This whole forgiveness thing – forgiving or not forgiving – is something that the Christian church has called the KEYS. The keys to salvation. The keys to heaven. The keys to saving souls. There are two keys.
(1) THE LOCKING KEY.
Take a look at the first key. It says, "If you do not forgive someone, that is pass on God’s forgiveness, they are not forgiven.” The word “forgiveness” here paints the picture of loosening or untying bonds. Not forgiving, then, means to tie up, to tighten, to bind. It means to take the spiritual key that God has given you and tightening the chains of unforgiveness on someone.
I hope you’re thinking HOW IS THIS HELPFUL? Since when is tying someone up any kind of way to heal anyone? That’s not usually the way I approach healing the cold. Some tea? Yes. Orange juice? Sure. Tying someone up so they can’t move? Not so much.
But take a look at 1 John 1:8. It says this, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
It’s kind of like a toddler. You’re in your living room after a long day’s trip –watching The Land Before Time 8 and she keeps nodding off. Falling asleep. It gets so bad that her head is literally slumped to the floor.
You say, “You should go to bed.” She says, “NO! I’m not tired!” She’s claiming to be without tired. She’s deceiving herself. The truth isn’t in her.
Same thing with people and sin. If anyone claims to be without sin and “cool” with God on our own, probably getting to heaven because “I’m not so bad,” they are wrong. God’s Word says differently.
Binding someone’s conscience by proclaiming “That is a sin. Repent.” is important. It speaks the truth to them. It causes them to rethink their actions. It usually hurts their feelings.
Pastor are you suggesting that we hurt people’s feelings? That sounds kind of mean. In America, we don’t say anything that might hurt anyone’s feeling at any time.
Understand this: We aren’t hurting people’s feelings for the sake of hurting people’s feelings. We are hurting their feelings for the sake of their salvation.
Like in Corinth. Corinth was an ancient town with a young Christian church that had been formed there by the Apostle Paul – Paul was one of Jesus’ disciples. He had been going around telling people that Jesus was their Savior. Many people believed in Corinth and they started a church there. They probably had some kind of opening ceremony. They probably ate a very large potluck. They probably hugged and were excited to be in God’s church.
But after awhile they had problems. One of the problems was that there was a man who was sleeping with his father’s wife. A sin that Paul said “was so bad that even the pagans – people who don’t remotely believe in Jesus – do not tolerate.” A sin that – I can’t imagine any of you, believer or unbeliever would be willing to say “That sound pretty morally right.”
So how did Paul want them to deal with it? He wanted them to expel them to call him out. He wanted them to hurt his feelings. He wanted them to even expel him from the congregation.
“Hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”
Think about that phrase? Destruction of the flesh. It describes what happens when you hear about your sins. You get a gurgly feeling in your tummy. Your muscles tighten up. You feel stress. It isn’t pleasant. I know this for a fact –when Julianna calls me out for something – I don’t usually say, “Oh thank you so kindly.” I get upset! It hurts.
But that was the point! This binding, this hurting was necessary to show the man his sins that he might turn to his Savior and live.
Same thing for us. When someone is sinning, when someone is living a sinful lifestyle, when someone is unrepentant, it is our duty to bind them, to show them their sin. To lock up their conscience not because we enjoy seeing people squirm, but in order to save them.
Because if we don’t turn them, if they don’t realize their sins, if they don’t turn to their Savior, their feelings won’t be hurt, but one day – their soul will hurt…
We don’t want that. We want people in heaven. In fact, that’s why we lock people up. We lock people up, so that we can set them free.
2) THE UNLOCKING KEY.
Can you imagine what it is like to be bound up?
To have sin and guilt weighing down your every move?
To constantly be concerned that God hates you?
To be convinced that you have done too much wrong to ever be forgiven?
Imagine the joy of being able to use the second key to a guilt trapped conscience. If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven. That word “forgive” literally means “to loosen, untie, unbind.” It means to “release!”
And if you think it's nice to be set free from some ropes that have been holding you captive, imagine what it’s like to be set free from guilt that has been holding you captive?
That’s the message we get to proclaim. Not just “I forgive you,” but “God forgives you.” God forgives you because Jesus lived innocently without any guilt. God forgives you because Jesus died innocently in your place. God forgives you because Jesus rose triumphantly to prove that God’s forgiveness is yours.
Of course, sometimes, sometimes this is even harder than pronouncing forgiveness. “Pastor, I don’t want to forgive him. I don’t want to forgive him because his sin was against me. We should forgive all the other sinners who ask for forgiveness, sure…but not that guy. Pastor, I want you to kick him out of the church and never let him in because his sin was against me.”
Remember the Corinthians? Remember how Paul told them to expel the man who was sleeping with his dad’s wife? They did. They expelled him. And it worked. The man was cut to the heart. Guilt overtook him. He stopped sleeping with his dad’s wife and asked for repentance.
But the church wasn’t giving it to him. He had been an embarrassment to them. He had caused the Apostle Paul to write a letter that would be written down for 2000 years and give the Corinthian church a bad name. Why should they forgive them?
So Paul wrote them another letter. 2 Corinthians. Look at what he wrote, “Forgive and comfort him so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow...Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven…I have forgiven in the sight of Christ.”
This really transforms forgiveness doesn’t it? Think about it – if someone has sinned against you, you have the unique opportunity to share God’s love. Usually we want revenge. Usually we want to yell. But God has gifted you a chance to show incredible Godlike love, Godlike forgiveness that may save his soul.
Now, I get it. This might sound unnerving. It might sound intimidating. I can’t tell someone their sins are endangering them to hell. I can’t comfort someone with God’s love – I don’t know what to say.
Look back at what Jesus told his disciples – Receive the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is all powerful.
The Holy Spirit is all wise.
The Holy Spirit is always present.
The Holy Spirit is God.
God is with you. You have him. He will not leave you to do this on your own.
I felt this at the car crash. After I had called 911, the firemen and paramedics came quickly. They got out the jaws of life and they began saving the woman.
I looked over – and next to me was a man who looked very frantic. It was one of those things – this tragedy caused him to open up to a stranger. He said, “Life is so fragile. It’s so quick. I don’t know if I was able to do all I could to save her. In fact, I haven’t been there for my wife. I haven’t been there for my kids.”
I put my hand on his back. He sobbed. The Holy Spirit took over.
“Friend, that's why we've got Jesus. He defeated death. He defeated sin for us. He offers forgiveness."
May God enable you to see the opportunities to share his Law and Gospel...to offer spiritual life support.
BREATHE: Toxic Fumes
It happened not that long ago in Philadelphia. March 26th the newspaper headlines were “4 people, 1 Dog Killed in Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.” Apparently, a gas pipe had broken up and the gas made its way up into the apartment overnight and silently took their lives.
The people didn’t see the gas because it’s colorless. They didn’t smell it because it’s odorless.
In other words – while it seemed completely tame, the air was deathly toxic.
Today we are continuing our series called BREATHE. We’ve been talking about how breathing in the truth of Jesus’ resurrection gives us peace when we are afraid and lifts us out of grief and sadness. But today we’re heading in a different direction.
As positive as breathing in Jesus’ resurrection is – God’s Word also warns us about the spiritual equivalents to carbon monoxide. Some things that appear fine, but are deadly toxic to our souls.
I. Spiritual Toxins
This message is found in the book of Ephesians. That’s a letter written by one of Jesus’ disciples named Paul to a group of Christians that lived in a place called Ephesus. Listen to what he tells us brothers and sisters. He says we are to “Follow God’s example and walk in the way of love.”
That sounds nice, doesn’t it? In fact, I don’t know of any Christian who wouldn’t agree with those two statements. They sound so nice in that positive sense. But when you reverse it and put it in its negative form, it immediately becomes a lot more difficult to hear.
Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking which are out of place.
I have a friend who is allergic to gluten. She was gluten free long before gluten free was cool. She is allergic. Gluten would make her so sick that just a hint of it would make her stomach sick for a whole day. One time we went out to McDonald's and she ordered very specifically, “I need to have a hamburger patty, but only a patty please. No bun.” So that’s what they gave her – by simply taking it off of a bun. No more than an hour later, her body reacted violently to the hint of gluten – the few crumbs left on the patty had made her very sick.
This is how much of sin makes God sick. His Being can’t stand even a hint of it. It’s also how toxic sin is to his people. Even a hint of it, can infect us – and put us in grave spiritual danger. This is true of all sin, but in this section he gets very specific about a few sins.
(1) ….of Sexual Immorality.
What’s sexual immorality? In order to define it, we first have to define sexual morality.
That takes us back to the Creation of the World. God had just finished creating human beings. He loved them. He created them and He wanted more of them so he gave them the ability to reproduce. Then, God did something really clever. He wanted them to actually fill the earth, so God made human beings attracted to one another. He created a very special, a very intimate act that two people share with one another – sexual intimacy.
Take a look at this passage from Genesis. It says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two, the husband and wife, will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)
Think of it this way: How many people have you high fived in your life? Quite a few, I imagine. It’s a nice gesture, but it’s not all that intimate. We high five friends, associates, coworkers, even a random stranger at the bar after your favorite basketball team makes the winning shot.
But sexual intimacy? God meant that to be between two people and only two people. He wanted it to be a special connection between a husband and a wife that only the husband and the wife shared with one another and no one else.
Sin? Sin poisons it. Sin takes the gift of intimacy and ruins it. It links you to a third person, a fourth person, someone who isn’t your spouse. It divides. It conquers. It leaves one feeling guilty, heartbroken, and defeated.
If you’ve ever sinned in this way, you probably know what I’m talking about. Sexual immorality poisons relationships.
Back to our Ephesians passages. God tells us to avoid the poison of sin by avoiding sexual immorality. If sexual morality is “Sexual intimacy between a man and a woman in a marriage covenant,” immorality is intimacy in anything else.
Some of you are thinking, “Aha! Homosexuality is wrong then.” You’d be right. That’s not compatible with God’s definition of marriage. But understand this – God is not just talking about that.
He’s says, "Not even a hint..."
…if you are heterosexual, but you aren’t married to the person you’re sleeping with, that needs to stop.
…it means if you are dating a girl, you aren’t plotting ways to touch things that are reserved for the marriage bed.
…it means you aren’t flirting with that guy at work who is married to someone else, while you are married to someone else.
…it means you aren’t just glancing through the Victoria’s Secret website in your spare time.
…it means if that one show on HBO gets you thinking thoughts that should be reserved for your wife, about someone who isn’t, stop watching it!
God says not even a hint, because even these "smaller sexual immoralities” are poison. They hurt your relationships with others. They hurt your own perspective. They hurt your relationships with God. Every time.
(2) Not Even a Hint of Greed.
The second toxic sin – is fairly similar. Greed. It’s similar because both greed and sexual immorality are extremely selfish. One says “Give me my sexual desire, I want it! ” the other says, “Give me that money, thing, stuff, because I want it.”
Greed just like sexual immorality poisons relationships.
I was in the preschool this past week. One of the kids was having their very last day. So she brought in some treats. Little cookies for the others to eat. I was in there celebrating because – cookies are great – and one of the little kids started complaining – “Where are the sprinkles? This one should have sprinkles. I’m mad this doesn’t have sprinkles.” She started crying. The kid who brought them heard her making fun of the sprinkle-less cookies and she started crying too. They didn’t get along very well for that five minutes.
Greed poisons relationships.
A lot of you are thinking, Great! I love this message. Let’s go storm Wall Street right now! Don’t get me wrong. I am sure that Wall Street has greed on it. Absolutely it does.
Not even a hint means more than just “Let’s get Wall Street.”
…it means you aren’t adding a few extra miles to your mileage reimbursement on your taxes because “I really want those extra $10.”
…It means you aren’t refusing to buy your wife a vase of flowers because I really want that bag of Doritos.
…It means you aren’t holding back on your offering to church because they aren’t doing the things in church that I want them to.
…it means you aren’t arguing with your spouse over the budget because “I want to spend the money this way.”
Even these seemingly smaller greeds are poison. It poisons relationships. They poison relationships with others. They poison your own way of thinking. They poison your relationship with God.
(3) …Sinful Talk.
One more toxin: There shouldn’t be any coarse joking, foolish talk or obscenity.” It’s a couple of different sins, all wrapped up in one phrase: “Sinful Talk.”
There’s an old saying that the tongue is the most powerful muscle in your body. That doesn’t mean that the tongue will literally what wins the next World’s Strongest Man competition. Far from it. It’s a reference to just how much poison the tongue can inflict. James 3:8 say this, “The tongue is a restless evil, it is full of deadly poison.”
Maybe you’ve experienced this.
Raise your hand. Have you ever heard anyone say that they hate you? How’d that feel? Not good?
Ever heard anyone use a racial slur against you? How’d that feel? Not good?
Ever heard anyone refer to you as a four letter word? How’d that feel? Awful?
Ever heard anyone whispering about what you did at church? How’d that feel? Terrible? Me too.
The phrase is “Stick & stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” That’s a nice sentiment – it’s just not very true. It does not give us the right to verbally assault one another.
Sinful talk is poison. It will poisons your work environment. It will poison your relationships. It will even poison a church!!! We’re getting very close to embarking on some very awesome ministry together. One of the biggest things that can halt us in our tracks? It isn’t money. It isn’t architectural plans. It isn’t even bad weather.
It’s sinful talk. Even small, seemingly insignificant sinful talk – a little bit of gossip here – some grumbling and complaining there – that can poison a church. It can poison God’s kingdom.
And here’s the thing about God’s kingdom.
Do you remember a few years ago when you could smoke a cigarette in just about any bar and restaurant? Recently, just about everywhere is now a SMOKE FREE ZONE. What’s that mean? It means that cigarettes were deemed toxic -- even as second hand smoke. Therefore, these areas were to remains completely free of the toxins.
This is how God feels about sins. He wants his Kingdom to be a sin free zone. He wants his people to actively seek to destroy it. Eventually…eventually he plans on doing it himself.
"Of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of God and of Christ. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.”
II. The SIN Antioxidant
Wow. God’s really serious about sin? If you’re like me, you’re feeling pretty low right now. I’ve let all of those things into my life. Sexual immorality, greed and foolish talk – they have all infected me. What hope is there for me? In fact, sometimes these things infect me so much that I struggle to stop myself from continually hurting others.
I’m poisoned. I need help.
Read verse 8.
You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.
Light versus darkness is an age old story. In Star Wars there’s the light side and the dark side of the force. In Harry Potter, there’s light magic versus dark magic. But here’s something for thought – all of these dark versus light battles come from the language found in the Bible. Language right here. Language that says “Darkness is bad. Darkness is what we were. The Lord made us light.”
Think about it: You can’t fix darkness with more darkness. Try it. Next time you fall asleep, wear black sweatpants and a black sweatshirt to bed. When you wake up at 1am because you’re sweating hot, notice how it is completely dark in the room.
Darkness plus darkness leads to more darkness.
Sinful humans trying to correct sinful human tendencies leads only to more sin.
But Jesus? Jesus is the light of the world. He is completely devoid of all the dark poisons we have been talking about.
Sexual Immorality? No way. Yet he came to this world and made a more intimate connection to you and me than anyone ever had or will – he took our sinful dark, disgusting moments to the cross. He linked himself to you and died for you.
Greedy? He was greedy for only one thing – you! He gave up the divine glory of heaven, exchanged it for a crown of thorns, your sins, and a painful death on the cross.
Sinful words? Sure – he hates sin. But he had no such harmful words to speak to you. In fact the only words He speaks in Scripture are, “I love you. I died for you. You are forgiven.”
This then is what this passage means. “You are light in the Lord.”
It means – the poison of sin is not fateful.
It means Jesus is the antidote.
It means by faith in Him you are now saved.
III. What Now?
(1) Get rid of the Poison.
We were talking about carbon monoxide earlier. One of the ways we fight carbon monoxide poisoning is to get a carbon monoxide detector. But when the detector goes off – beeps really loudly – it does no good to sit on the couch and say, “After this episode of House of Cards is over!” You have to do something. Get out of the house. Call 911. Get the leak fixed.
We just learned how poisonous even the ‘seemingly small’ sins are. It will do no good if you go back home and make no change in your life.
Instead, get rid of the poison. Put a filter on your Internet. Stop watching that TV show. Get rid of that friend on Facebook. Don’t talk about that one person. Increase your giving at Gethsemane. Do whatever it takes to make sure that not even a hint of sexual immorality, greed or sinful talk is found in your life.
(2) Evaluate Relationships.
This one is hard. Because sometimes the poison – is your friends. Yes. God does say “be in the world.” He says that we aren’t to be hermits. We need to be in and among unbelievers in order to share the message of Jesus.
But when spending time with your friends starts to lead to sin…when you find yourself saying, “I have to sleep with that girl in order to convert her to Christianity…” Stop. You aren’t converting them. They are infecting you.
Take a break. Recharge. Reconnect with God. Reinvest in Bible Study and reinforce your spiritual armor before you return to these people.
After all, we are light in the Lord. Therefore, shine! Shine where it’s needed most.
I’ll tell you what. It’s so easy to feel like shining here at church. You can sing really loudly. You can say a prayer with a crowd of Christians. You can down talk all these sinful things as sinful.
But it’s already pretty bright in here. You need to shine where it’s darkest. Out there. In the world.
When you are breathing the fresh air of Jesus’ resurrection, the pure teachings of his Word and you aren’t breathing in the poison of sin, you will be shining at your brightest. May God enable us to do so. Amen.
I. The Worst Kind of Fear
The doors were locked.
A deadbolt. Another deadbolt.. A few boxes stacked in front of the door. One of those giant wooden planks that sits atop two metal supports on both sides. There was no way anyone was getting in.
It was evening on the very first Easter Sunday. The disciples were gathered together and talking in hushed voices:
“Do you think the Pharisees will come after us?”
“Do you think they’ll want us dead? Or was Jesus enough?”
“Do you think they know who I am? I can’t remember if they saw my face when we were running away last Thursday night!”
“Do you think crucifixion will be as bad as it sounds?”
Then, their hushed panic was interrupted by a knock on the door. A few of them jumped. Quietly Matthew peeped through the tiny hole in the door.
It was Mary Magdalene. They let her in, they told her not to scare them like that. But she wasn’t listening. She was a sobbing mess. “They’ve stolen his body!” She sobbed. “I couldn’t even see him.”
Peter and John put their arms around her. They lifted up their hoods so that they wouldn’t be seen. They ran with her to investigate.
As the other disciples waited, they heard another knock. Their breaths were short again. Slowly they opened the door to reveal the group of women that Mary had abandoned. They weren’t nearly stressed. In fact, they seemed joyful.
“Shhh!” Nathanael tried to quiet them down. “You’re making too much noise. They’ll hear us.”
“What of it!?!” Today is too great not to shout HALLELUJAH!” They began talking about angels – and resurrection – and how they had seen Jesus.
Okay. That was impossible. Jesus was dead.
Maybe, they needed to lay down. Maybe their emotions were getting the best of them.
But then, Peter and John returned. Yep. The tomb was empty alright. There wasn’t a trace of a body in there. And if you didn’t trust John, you could trust Peter. He was thorough like that.
Then, a third knock. “It’s Clopas!” said a voice. As they opened the door Philip exclaimed, “I thought you were heading to Emmaus today!”
“We were, but then…we saw Him….Jesus….He’s alive.”
As all of these stories marinated, the mood of the room changed. There was a buzz. Could it be? Could he really…? Could Jesus be...alive?
Then, someone else joined them.
Someone else who didn’t knock.
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them.
And at first, the disciples were shocked. Was this a hallucination? No, the others saw it too. Was it a ghost? No…the floor creaked when he walked. Was it a look alike? No…they had spent three years with the Lord, they knew his unmistakeable face.
Suddenly, a dread fell over the disciples. Jesus wasn’t a hallucination. Jesus wasn’t a ghost. Jesus wasn’t a vision. It was much worse than that.
Jesus was alive.
(1) They Had Wronged Him!
You might be thinking. Why? Why would that be bad news to them? Jesus was alive!
Tell me -- Have you ever had a bad morning? You’re on the way to work and you kind of brush past some guy to get into the elevator – you force him to take the next one – and about fifteen minutes later as your boss is leading the morning meeting for work – you see the elevator guy again – turns out; he’s the C.E.O.
Or maybe you’re at the edge of Falls of Neuse. You’re waiting…and waiting…and waiting to turn left onto it. Finally, you pull out just a tad close to a car that looks like its pretty far away, but as soon as the car turns on it’s flashing blues and reds, you realize that cop car was a lot closer than I thought.
This is exactly how the disciples felt!
Jesus was alive, sure. But he was also the guy they had just abandoned. He was also the guy some of them had just denied knowing. He was the guy they had let die on that cross.
(2) They Couldn’t Hide from Him!
Remember: The doors were locked. And that locked door was meant for the Romans. But when they looked behind Jesus, the doors were still locked. They couldn’t hide from Jesus.
That meant when Matthew tried to slip behind Simeon – “Maybe he can’t see me.” Or Andrew pretended to be asleep. And Philip sat in back thinking – “If I don’t move, maybe he won’t see me.”
Jesus still saw them. They couldn’t hide from Jesus.
(3) He was God!
Here’s the scariest part of all. It wasn’t like they had sinned against one another. It wasn’t as if one of them was yelling at the other one for stealing his favorite tunic without asking. It wasn’t as if they had sinned against another human.
If Jesus was really standing before him, it meant He had really risen from the dead. If he had really risen from the dead, it meant he really was God!
The God of heaven. The God of hellfire and brimstone. The God who when he got sick of storms told them to buzz off. The God who when he was angry with demons sent them away from this earth. The God who spoke to terrible disease and sent them packing with his burning anger.
What was to stop him from doing just that. To them. Right now.
Do you understand the disciple’s fear? Maybe you’ve wronged God. Maybe you’ve done some pretty bad sins. Maybe you came here today troubled by something awful that you did just last night. In fact, maybe that’s why it was hard to get here today. (Or maybe it's why you are only reading this online.)
But here's the problem...
Have you ever played hide & seek with some kids before? Kids have pretty good hiding spots. They can get into a lot better hiding places than dad. Dad gets to hide behind the shower curtain and behind the door and that’s about it. (And now I just gave away my two best hiding spots.) Kids can get into really good spots though. Behind the washing machine, inside the cupboard, under the bed.
But what happens when you find them. What do kids do? They cover their eyes. They cover their eyes because they figure that somehow you can’t see them, if they can’t see you.
Do you ever get so scared of God that you think like that? That you figure – as long as I don’t approach God – as long as I don’t go to church – as long as I don’t read that one part in the Bible – then, I’m good.
That doesn’t work. You can’t hide from God.
He sees your sins. He sees all your sins.
Even the sins that you think he doesn’t see – He sees.
The pornography at night?
The flirting with the guy that’s not your husband?
The cheating on the test when the teachers isn’t looking?
Stealing that money from your friend's purse?
Others might not see it. God does. God hates sin. He hates it with a hellfire vengeance.
II. The Best Kind of Antidote
Do you feel that? I do. It’s fear. Fear because we’ve sinned. Fear because God knows it. Fear because that sin was against God.
That’s the kind of fear the disciples were experiencing. They trembled. Each hoping that Jesus would make it quick and painless. Then, Jesus moved. His mouth opened. The disciples braced themselves. He spoke:
“Peace be with you!” As in…It worked. As in…You have been saved. As in…You’re forgiven.
Can you imagine that collective breath that was let out in that room? Jesus wasn’t there to get revenge. He was there to give them assurance. He was there to tell them of their salvation. He was there to tell them that his sacrifice had worked. He was there to tell them that He was victorious and they were at peace with God!
Because that’s what the resurrection means. Jesus’ resurrection means that he defeated sin, death, and hell. It means that those who believe in him are forgiven. It means that you are forgiven!
Pastor, I know all that. But I still get scared. Life is tough. Finances are difficult. Relationships are hard. My job is in the air. The devil…the devil loves to make me doubt this peace I have with God. What do I do when I’m scared?
A couple things.
1) Don’t Hide.
We already said that doesn’t work. God sees all things. God is there for all things. It’s like when you see your kid do something he isn’t supposed to. He might as well come clean. You saw him do it.
God’s already seen it. Don’t lie. Don’t hide it. Bring it to him.
Secondly, bring it to him, because he wants PEACE with you. Even though He isn’t the one who wronged your relationship – that’s on you – God still wants peace with you. That’s why he came to this earth. That’s why he died on the cross. That’s why he rose from the dead and spoke to the disciples and had the disciples write it down so that you would hear His desire. PEACE.
Scripture says this, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just. He will forgive us all our sins.”
Confess your sins to God. Confess the ones that are public. Confess the ones that are obvious. Confess the ones that are private, hidden, known only to you and God. Confess your sins – and hear his promise of forgiveness.
2) Come Back to Reality
I remember the very first haunted house I ever went to. It was a gym at our local grade school – with a few spooky cobwebs hanging from the basketball hoops. But there was one part that was creepy. They made me put on a blindfold and reach my hand into a bowl. I grasped what I thought was earthworms and eyeballs!
I was bawling. I threw them on the ground. I was panicking as we left – so badly that my dad took me back inside to show me that I hadn’t touched worms and eyeballs but spaghetti and meatballs.
Oh. Thanks for that reality check.
That’s what Jesus helped the disciples do. A smile. Kindness. Words of promise. The reality was that Jesus wasn’t dead. He wasn’t dead and he wasn’t mad at them. He had died for their sins and there was no reason to be afraid.
When you’re dealing with fear, come back to reality.
When you think you’re all alone, come back to reality – Jesus is with you.
When you think everyone is against you, come back to reality – Jesus has your back.
When you think God can’t handle this, come back to reality – Jesus died and came back to life!
3) Examine His Wounds
That’s one of the things Jesus did for his disciples. He showcased that it was really him. He let them run their hands on the nail marks in his hands and place their hands into the spear mark in his side.
When they touched his wounds, they didn’t just see some kind of really cool scars.
They saw his love. “He did this for me?”
They saw his power. “These scars defeated death?”
They saw his resurrection. “They are moving; he is still alive; praise God!”
Pastor – how can I do that? I don’t get the privilege of seeing the resurrected Lord Jesus with my physical eyes like the disciples.
I’m gonna tell you the same thing we said last week. If you want to examine his wounds, examine the Scriptures. Read his Word. It’s not overkill that God’s telling us to do it a second time. In his Word we see the pain God went through. We see the pangs that his heart goes through as we sin against him. We see the pain he suffers at his betrayal. We see the awful suffering of his crucifixion. You’ll see that he did this for you. Because he loves you that much.
4) Understand this Phrase: “Peace be With You.”
That’s God talking! There is no one higher. It isn’t me talking. It isn’t an angel talking. This is a message of peace, straight from the top!
If you’ve got peace with him…
Romans 8 says just that. Take a look. It says this, “31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things…35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" Can money troubles? Bill collectors? Cancer or AIDS? Drugs or alcohol? Divorce or loneliness? Terrorists, explosion and attacks? NO!
"37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!"
May these words keep us from fear now and always. Amen.