This morning, we will begin our miracle series, by examining God’s incredible power of sickness. But before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Defining Miracle
I think it’s important to start a study on miracles by defining the word “miracle.” So, here it is:
A miracle is an occurrence outside the NATURAL laws of the Universe.
Because miracle can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. Over time, I think we’ve “dumbed down” the phrase.
For instance, we use it at childbirth. A baby is born and people post on Instagram: “Check out my child! #Miracle”
Is childbirth amazing? Yes. Is it a miracle though? Not really. That’s how God set up the universe.
We even use it in sports. “I can’t believe my favorite football team made the playoffs. It’s a miracle!” Might it have been impressive? Sure. But is it a miracle? Not so much.
But when the New Testament uses the word miracle it actually is talking about events that occur outside the natural order of things.
Seawater standing up like drywall? That’s not how water usually works.
A heavy rock wall tumbling because of trumpet noise? Not normal.
Three men being thrown into a fiery furnace and coming out unsinged? Let’s not test it.
A virgin giving birth to a child? Miracle.
In the New Testament, the number one miracle doer is Jesus.
But did you know that Jesus miracles aren’t often called miracles as much as they are called signs.
That’s interesting. Because a sign functions by pointing you in the right direction.
We have signs in our hallways that say “Restrooms” with a little arrow putting in a certain direction. The point of the sign? To direct you to the restrooms.
Even a traffic light. GREEN means “GO”, red means “STOP, and yellow means, “hurry up it’s about to turn red.”
Jesus’ miracles were SIGNS pointing people to his DIVINITY.
Think about it:
If God’s the one that set the laws of the universe into motion, then he is the only one able to act outside of those laws.
It’s like STAYING UP LATE. If the rule of your house is that kids need to be in bed by 9 pm, the kids need to go to bed, but the adult can stay up. (Granted, they might not. They might be in bed on the couch around 7:15 pm, but you get the point.)
Your kids can’t. You can. You set up the law; you can act outside of it.
Jesus acts outside of the laws of the universe set up by God, in all of his miracles.
Because he is God himself.
II. The Man with Leprosy
But it enough talking about it. Let me show you.
When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed him. Just then, a leper came to him and bowed down to him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mt. 8:1-2)
Notice. There are large crowds of people with Jesus. They had just heard Jesus give the Sermon on the Mount, a very famous sermon. They were all drawn in by Jesus’ speech and his ideas.
But someone that hadn’t made it up to the mountain was waiting as they came down.
He was a leper which means that he had the disease known as leprosy. It was a flesh-eating disease that slow dried out your cartilage and cause the tips of your fingers, your toes, your nose, and your ears to (brace yourself) fall off.
Leprosy was awful. Still is! If you want to know how awful, do a Google image search. (But not if you’re faint of heart.)
Besides being awful…
Leprosy was INCURABLE. This isn’t true anymore. There is a cure. But at the time, there weren’t any medicines, any acupuncture, any essential oil, any healthy diet, or any operation that anyone knew about in order to cure it. That means that if you were diagnosed with leprosy you had to quickly resign yourself to the fact that you would not be healed.
Leprosy was CONTAGIOUS. It was so contagious that if you were diagnosed with leprosy, you were sent into quarantine. Only the quarantine wasn’t a room in your house. You were sent outside the city walls, into the desert to live in what they called “leper colonies”.
Leprosy was FATAL. The end result, 100 percent of the time was death.
All these truths about leprosy left this man was without hope.
He had heard doctor after doctor tell him there was no cure.
He was alone, banished outside the city.
He knew what had happened to other friends – they died.
This meant -
He wouldn’t get to see his family again.
He wouldn’t get to hold his children again.
He wouldn’t get to kiss his wife again.
He wouldn’t feel better.
He wouldn’t regain strength.
He wouldn’t go back to his job.
He’d be by himself.
Outside the city walls.
Did you notice something about this man?
He approached Jesus with confidence.
He didn’t say: “If you are able…”
Or, “If you have the strength…”
Or, “If you have the right medicine…”
He said, “If you are willing…”
Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean.”
And after Jesus says that, there aren’t months of radiation.
There aren’t weeks of chemo.
There aren’t even 15 minutes to allow the medicine to take effect.
Jesus simply speaks and…
IMMEDIATELY he was healed of his leprosy.
And if you’re thinking, “That’s impossible.”
Remember – there’s a crowd of people present.
It wasn’t Jesus by himself.
There were hundreds of witnesses to this miracle.
Many who had undoubtedly seen that man sitting around outside the city gates day after day after day.
In fact, Jesus has professionals corroborate the healing. He tells him to “Go, show (himself) to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (v.4) The priests at this time were similar to doctors. They were able to pronounce people as diseased or not.
They were probably the same people who once told the man, “You are diseased, away from us!”
Now? They were saying to him, “You’re healed! Celebrate with us.”
And remember – while this is 2000 years after the fact, this book is not. These words that we are reading right now were written down at a time when the majority of the people who witnessed this would have still been alive.
Jesus is able to CURE the INCURABLE.
Here’s where this is important:
You might know someone who has been diagnosed with disease.
You may have been diagnosed with disease.
And internet articles might not give you a chance.
Social media anecdotes might not give you a chance.
Doctors might not give you a chance.
You have Jesus. And Jesus can cure the incurable.
Do you want a second instance of this? How about sin!?!
It’s CONTAGIOUS – passed down from parents to children.
It’s INCURABLE – nothing we can do will ever remove it.
It’s FATAL – “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
But Jesus cured the incurable!
He lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
He died innocently on the cross.
He rose triumphantly and cured you of all sin, guilt and shame!
By faith in Jesus, you are forgiven.
Incurable guilt – CURED!
This means that whatever you’re dealing with, as long as you have Jesus, you have hope.
Because Jesus provides HOPE in any ILLNESS.
He cured the incurable disease of leprosy with his hand.
He cured the incurable disease of sin with his death.
There is nothing that Jesus can’t do.
There is no disease too incurable.
There is no disease too contagious.
There is no disease too fatal for Jesus.
III. The Centurion’s Servant
Word of this miracle got around.
In fact, it made its way outside the Jewish community to a Roman centurion whose servant was deathly ill.
He must have heard stories of Jesus.
Yet he had a lot working against him. In fact, I’m sure his advisors gave him a host of reasons not to waste his time:
“Jesus is Jewish. You’re Roman. There’s too big a racial divide. He won’t help you.”
“You’re a high ranking official. What will it look like for a Roman elite to go looking for help from a homeless carpenter?”
“You’re a sinner. From what I’ve heard, this man is a holy man. He won’t give you the time of day.”
For some reason…
He trusted Jesus.
And as he looked at his servant growing pale, soaked in sweat, and approaching death.
[the] centurion came to [Jesus] and pleaded with him, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed and suffering terribly.” (v.5)
Despite the racial difference…
Despite the social difference...
Despite the man’s sin…
Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” (v.6)
But the man, thought this was too much.
He was a high ranking official and he didn’t make house visits.
And Jesus was higher ranking than him.
He didn’t need to do a house visit.
And so, the high-ranking government official said, “Lord, I am not worthy for you to come under my roof.” I’m a sinful man. You’re holy. I don’t deserve anything from you.
But only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am also a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (v. 8-9)
You have authority too.
You tell diseases to leave and they do.
You tell health to return and it does.
You tell bodies to be healed and they listen, because you have authority over them.
When Jesus heard this, he marveled. He said to those who were following him, “Truly, I tell you: I have not found such great faith in anyone in Israel… Go. Let it be done for you as you have believed.” (v.10)
Here’s where it gets extra amazing.
Because when the man turned to leave, he made note of the position of the sun.
Maybe just to the right of the west of the cloud.
And when he returned home, he found the servant well.
But that’s not the amazing part.
After giving him a hug.
After doing the “happy dance.”
He asked one of the other servants.
When did this happen?
“At the time the sun was right to the west of the clouds! I remember. Because I was so excited, I ran outside to tell the others.”
Make no mistake.
This was a miracle.
This was Jesus.
Jesus provides HOPE even when he’s not VISIBLY PRESENT.
Because you won’t be able to see Jesus.
Look for Dr. Jesus.
He doesn’t work at Duke.
He doesn’t work at UNC.
He doesn’t work at Rex.
He doesn’t work at Wake Med.
He grants healing to those within those walls.
You can’t see Jesus.
But that doesn’t he isn’t with you.
And it doesn’t mean he won’t provide healing.
He’s all powerful. ‘
His power goes beyond physical, tangible presence.
Again – just like sin.
You and I weren’t physically there when Jesus died on the cross.
And yet Jesus didn’t have to come to 2020 in order to die in our physical presence.
His death and resurrection cross physical, temporal boundaries to bring healing and forgiveness.
His same healing power gives us hope in the face of illness.
IV. When Healing Doesn’t Happen
People die all the time from disease.
Some are even believers.
What’s the deal?
To answer that question – I want you to remember two significant things that these the two men in today’s accounts said.
(1) Lesson from the Centurion
Remember what the centurion said to Jesus?
“I’m not worthy…”
That’s a strange statement, because this centurion was a high ranking, Roman official.
He oversaw hundreds of soldiers. (Hence the name “Century-on”)
He had a good career.
Plenty of people who looked up to him.
And yet he didn’t say, “Jesus. I demand this, because I deserve it.”
He knew he was a sinner.
He knew he only deserved death.
He knew that any healing Jesus could grant was out of his mercy.
We need to remember the same thing.
I remember that I got sick for one of my birthday’s awhile back. And I thought….
“This isn’t fair! I work hard. I serve God. I serve God’s people. And now I get a day off to celebrate my birthday and I’m sick? God I deserve to be healed.”
Is that actually true?
Did I deserve healing?
Remember – the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.”
It’s easy to think:
I deserve healing.
I’ve done nice things.
I’ve been a good parent.
I’m worthy of being healed.
None of us are.
If God heals us physically, it’s not because we deserve it.
It’s because of his mercy.
But in God’s mercy is real hope.
Because unlike human ‘goodness’ which isn’t nearly as good as we think it is.
God’s mercy? Is a mercy that caused him to die on a cross for our sins.
Mercy that saved us to eternal life – where there won’t be any sickness.
And mercy that sometimes heals us from sickness.
(2) Lesson from the Leper
Remember what the leper said to Jesus?
“If you are willing…”
It wasn’t a question of whether healing was possible,
But whether it was God’s will.
In this man’s instance? It was.
But sometimes God’s will is that the sickness won’t be cured.
Is it because he loved that person less?
If you are suffering a sickness and you haven’t been healed yet, is it because God loves you less than the healthy?
He died on the cross for you.
He doesn’t love you less.
He loves you the same as those who are health.
In fact, it’s because of his LOVE combined with his incredible wisdom, that God sometimes allows a disease to run its course.
Sickness has a way of driving people towards Jesus.
Sickness can be God’s way of
Bringing you to faith…
Or strengthening your faith…
Or working through you to be a witness to our friends and family of our faith in Jesus.
Bringing you ultimate healing in heaven.
In heaven, there isn’t any leprosy.
In heaven, there isn’t any cancer.
In heaven, there isn’t any sickness.
In heaven, there is only health.
Who here remembers King Herod?
Hmm, no, no not the King Herod who met with the wise men and then ordered all the infants in Bethlehem killed. That was his grandfather.
No, not the King Herod who ordered John the Baptist beheaded and later wanted to see Jesus perform a miracle. That was his uncle.
I’m talking about the King Herod who put the first apostle of Jesus to death and tried to do it again shortly after.
Of course, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were all the same king, right? The time-span is short enough that they could all be the same man and more to the point, they all behave very similarly. They have no regard for the true God. At best they are apathetic about it, and at worst they actively work against it just to further their own means.
And that’s exactly what’s happening in our reading today. This particular Herod, Herod Agrippa I, was just trying to secure his position as king. He was “king” of the Jews, but not in any way the Jews really recognized. He was put there by the Roman conquerors. The Jews hated the idea of any nation being over them, and this puppet king was just an ongoing reminder of it. So Herod had to deal with this constant distaste from them.
However, at this time, there was something else the Jews were starting to hate just as much. There were these men who were trying to subvert the Jewish religion. Followers of what was sometimes called The Way, but recently had started using the term “Christians”. The Jews hated these guys, too. And as the old saying goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Herod realized that if he attacked this new church movement, he’d earn himself some points in the polls with the Jewish people and that would make his job that much easier.
The first major target? James. Son of Zebedee, brother of John. Same John who later wrote the gospel of John, a few letters, and the book of Revelation. James was one of the original twelve, he’d walked with and learned from Jesus himself. And Herod, in true dictatorial power, had him executed. No trial or any sort of legal cause. Just, “you die.”
It’s not like being a Christian was a picnic so far, but this stepped it up even more. Yes, he wasn’t the first to die for Jesus, but he was the first of the twelve who was martyred. And this time it wasn’t just the Jewish leadership acting out, it was the Roman government. And not even because they opposed the message of Jesus, but because the king wanted to be popular.
So, if things weren’t already tense in Jerusalem for Christians, this was going to raise the bar. And it only went higher. The next target was Peter, probably the most prominent leader of the early church. And there was nothing Peter could do about it. Nothing any of them could do about it. Herod had all the authority, all the power. His word was law. He said kill somebody and it happened. Reasons didn’t matter. There was no law to protect from that. No justice. Herod was just in control of the situation and the Christians, the apostles were not.
And so, it happened that after his friend and travelling companion of the last four or so years was essentially murdered that Peter found himself in prison waiting a similar fate. Guarded by a rotating squad of soldiers, actually chained to the soldiers in the prison. The next day, probably, he was going to die. And it wasn’t going to stop there. Herod would keep on going until there wasn’t anyone left.
The rest of the believers, what could they do? They couldn’t storm Roman soldiers and force Peter free, they were just people, not fighters.
It’s a desperate situation. One of the most public leaders of the church was waiting to die. A man who opposed everything they stood for was in complete control. And the message of the gospel was in danger of being snuffed out by that man’s actions.
So why is Peter sleeping soundly? It wasn’t because he knew what was going to happen next. Because when an angel jarred him awake and the chains fell from his wrists, when he was led out of the prison unseen by any of the guards watching, Peter didn’t actually believe his eyes. He thought it was a vision, a dream. It wasn’t until he was out in the city proper when the angel left him, when he was hit by the cold of the night air and the silence that hung there after the angel left that he realized this was really happening. It was real.
Peter escapes. God rescued him. The believers had not sat idle but had prayed continuously for his rescue. God answered those prayers. He was free, and he would live to see another day.
And shortly after this event, Herod himself was struck dead by God. Go ahead and read the rest of the chapter when you get home today. Herod, being puffed up by some sycophants, was called a god. And he just soaked it in. God had enough and struck him down for such arrogance. The man in “complete control” died, just like that.
And the gospel spread. News of Herod’s death only set it further ablaze as it burned through the nations. Everything that seemed hopeless was overturned.
Brothers and Sisters, this is why Peter was sleeping soundly that night. Because he had utter confidence that it was God, not Herod that was in control. Peter thought he would die, but that didn’t matter to him because God is unstoppable. Peter knew that Herod’s plan couldn’t succeed in wiping out the gospel truth of Jesus because it was God’s gospel, with the power of God behind it. He knew for a fact that the gospel, by God’s power, is unstoppable.
Peter, by God’s power, was unstoppable. Every earthly power and authority came against him and it didn’t work because God didn’t allow it.
And before him, James, brother of John, son of Zebedee, by God’s power, was unstoppable.
You remember James, right? He was the first one Herod arrested and succeeded in killing.
Wait, let me rephrase that. He was the first one Herod tried to kill.
Maybe this whole time you were thinking about him. Maybe you were thinking “Great for Peter, what about James? God didn’t seem so keen on miraculously rescuing him!”
He didn’t? James was a sinner after all. We can even find that in the Gospels, like the time he and his brother arrogantly asked for a higher position than the rest of the twelve with Jesus. James deserved to die. And more than die, he deserved to be cut off from God and his mercy forever. He deserved hell.
But instead of that, God himself endured hell for James. He went in James’ place. And in return, he gave James the credit of a life lived without sin, in complete obedience to God. Jesus did those things for James. He lived and he died for James.
Herod did everything in his human power to stop James. But it didn’t work. The Roman sword that pierced him was what ushered him into the eternal arms of his Father. He didn’t die. He lives, forever, free of all pain and suffering and most especially free from the burden of sin. Peter was rescued from a cell. James was rescued from this life of pain and tears.
Peter’s time for that came eventually of course, but the point is that neither of these men were failed by God. And neither of them were overcome by the forces of this world. By God’s power, by the power of the gospel message, the message about Jesus, they were unstoppable.
I hope, by now, you realize this is not just a story about Peter and James. This is about you, too.
The gospel is unstoppable.
Peter, by God’s power, was unstoppable.
James, by God’s power, was unstoppable.
You, by God’s power, are unstoppable.
I don’t mean you can leave this building and go do whatever you want; that’s relying on your power and it’ll fail you every time. But the power of the gospel in you cannot be stopped.
It is this simple. You know the truth, that God lived for you, died for you, and rose to life for you. Because Jesus lived, died, and rose for you, you are forgiven and God will take you to be with him forever. That’s the good news that you know and trust, that is the gospel.
And there is no power here on earth that can stop you. Nothing can tear Jesus away from you. No human or natural agent can separate you from God’s love. And literally nothing that happens to you here on this earth can take away the salvation that God has given you freely by this truth. You are already saved. You are already rescued. Nothing can take that away from you. With the gospel truth in you, you are unstoppable.
It’s important to remember this perspective when your life seems anything but unstoppable. I doubt any of us will experience a night in prison awaiting execution, but that doesn’t mean we don’t find ourselves in situations where we feel beaten down, pushed around, and tempted to lose hope because whatever earthly situation we find ourselves in is not looking like it’s going to work out.
The message here is not “that earthly situation is going to work out”. It’s not “God will definitely miraculously free you from that earthly prison.” The message is that God has already freed you from a much more deadly prison. And that even if things don’t go our way here, it all leads to the same end – victory.
The troubles, the trials, the forces of this world will scream that they are in control of your life, and they will try to imprison you and beat you down. It may even seem like they are in control. Things we value, people we care about, even our own health might be taken away. But they can’t stop you. Because you have God and he cannot be stopped. Because of Jesus, you have already won. And the message continues.
I’m not saying God will never help you here and now either. He absolutely will. But that’s not where our hope is. Our hope is not in being delivered from bad bosses or car troubles or crushing debt or inoperable cancer. When it seems like he isn’t helping, when it’s like he’s not trying to rescue you at all, remember: he already has. Come what may, you are already saved.
God’s goal is to get you and anyone else he can to know and trust the gospel message so you can be safely brought to heaven with him. That mission will not be stopped. And while you are still here, God has chosen you to carry out that mission. Share the message that makes you unstoppable. The message cannot be stopped. No matter what powers try to stifle it, they will never succeed. Share it with confidence and share it out of love for those who need it.
You are saved, you are unstoppable in him. Share the truth so others may know the same rock-solid comfort. That is the path God has put before you: to speak his truth so long as you can. You will not be stopped on that path so long as God wants you to run. You cannot be stopped from sharing the truth so long as you are here.
Brothers and sisters, our God saves. Nothing in heaven above or on the earth below can stop him from carrying out his mission in you and through you. The gospel will continue.
Brothers and sisters, our God has saved you. Nothing in heaven above or on the earth below can stop you from being welcomed into his arms when this is all over.
Brothers and sisters, go out today, wake up every day after this absolutely secure in the certainty of this truth: God and his gospel are unstoppable.
For our sermon, we are continuing the story of the Promised Land conquest and we will be looking at Joshua 10. Joshua 10 is interesting – because it’s kind of like the climax. A group of nations join forces to fight off the Israelites. That’s one of their toughest challenges to date.
Will they win the battle?
Can God win the battle?
Can God beat 5 nations at the same time?
We are going to look at the answer this morning and I know it’s going to be a very encouraging story for you. But before we begin, let us pray: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is truth. Open our eyes to see what YOU want us to see. Open our ears to hear what YOU want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what YOU would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Coalition
Adoni Zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had taken Ai and totally destroyed it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and that the people of Gibeon had made a treaty of peace with Israel and had become their allies. He and his people were very much alarmed at this, because Gibeon was an important city, like one of the royal cities; it was larger than Ai, and all its men were good fighters. So Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem appealed to Hoham king of Hebron, Piram king of Jarmuth, and Japhia king of Lachish and Debir king of Eglon, “Come up and help me attack Gibeon, because it has made peace with Joshua and the Israelites.” (10:1-4)
Now I don’t know exactly how this look. For some reason, I picture them all around the table (kinda like a 1920s mobster movie). A few are smoking cigarettes and others are twirling their knives on the table – just to show that they have some skills.
Then Adoni-Zedek speaks, “Listen. I don’t like you guys. You don’t get along with me; I don’t get along with you; and you don’t get along with each other. But I ain’t asking us to be best friends. I’m asking us to get each other’s backs. There’s a bigger threat out there. Those Israelites – need to be defeated. They crossed the raging Jordan River. They knocked down the walls of Jericho. They routed Ai. Soon – they’re coming for us.
I say…We don’t let ‘em.
I say…We get ‘em.
I say…We fight this “LORD” and shut him up once and for all.
And they glare at each other.
And they nod at each other.
And they spit in their hands and shake on it.
It’s an alliance.
An alliance against God.
To be fair there are getting some pretty, nasty characters.
Adoni-Zedek. He’s the mastermind of the plans and the king of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was always a very rich city which would have allowed him to fund the upcoming battle.
Hoham of Hebron was the king of giants. That was the area that the Israelite spies had visited 40 years earlier and after seeing the men of Hebron decided, “These guys are like giants. We are like grasshoppers. We are gonna get destroyed.” Those same intimidating gigantic men were now a part of this coalition.
Piram and Debir were the kings of Jarmuth and Eglon. These cities were both located a hill. That allowed them a tactical vantage point. Like two fighter jets nose diving onto the playing field – their armies could bull doze down on their enemies and strike. Not to mention – that being on the top of the mountain – they likely had many skilled archers in their ranks.
Finally, there was Japhia, king of Lachish. Lachish at that time was under the control of the Egyptian empire. They would have had access to Egyptian technology and weaponry. Chariots. Horses. Javelins. And fine military training.
Together they were similar to any group of super villains.
The Injustice League.
The Legion of Doom.
They wanted to ban together for the sake of their common enemy:
II. God Fights Back
So, the Fearsome Five make their plan. They decide to attack Gibeon. It’s smaller than Israel and it doesn’t have a history of God helping them out like Israel does. So, it makes good sense. They come down. They attack. They put the city under siege.
But not before Gibeon gets a messenger sent out.
He takes the back roads.
He heads through the forests.
He makes his way into the camp of Israel and deliver a message to Joshua.
I suppose it sounded something like this:
Hi. Remember us? We are the guys who totally deceived and tricked you a couple of weeks ago. You were kinda angry. Sorry about that. Anyways…will you…and God…um…honor that treaty? Help us!!!
And Joshua crumbles up the message. He summons his army, but gets a bit nervous. This was bigger than anything they’d faced. 5 nations – all at once?
Could they handle that?
Could they defeat the Fearsome Five?
Would they be victorious?
And perhaps – right about then – Joshua remembered something that someone had said to him at the start of all this. “Do not be afraid; Do not be discouraged. I the LORD you God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1)
Only…he wasn’t remembering it.
God was repeating it:
Do not be afraid…I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you. (10:8)
So, Joshua nods.
God approves of the rescue.
There may be five nations against them; but they had God on their side.
And God is full of surprises.
(1) All Night March
Joshua summons his army and he takes the best fighting men marching through the night. It’s a 20-mile journey from Gilgal – where Israel was camped – to the battle scene at Gibeon. Think about that – the armies of the Fearsome Five sleep in their tents with complete confidence, but wake up to see the army of Israel approaching in the distance. It’s not a pleasant sight while you’re drinking your morning coffee.
But that’s God’s swift hand! When we need rescue, God acts swiftly to save us.
And I do mean God. Because the second surprise is found in verse 10. The LORD threw the Canaanite armies into confusion before Israel. Now I’m not exactly sure what confusion means – but I’ve noticed that just about every iteration of confusion that I can think of doesn’t serve an army very well.
Whether it’s dizziness so they can’t see where they are going.
Or color blindness so they can’t tell which army is on which side.
Or that kind of weird haze that you get after a nap where you aren’t really sure if you’re awake or not – and whether the dog is licking your hand or not….
Whatever the confusion was – it is not something that an army wants to deal with while fighting.
And look who causes the confusion. Notice the subject.
It’s not the well water.
It’s not the bourbon from last night.
It’s not something that a group of soldiers were smoking close by.
God is the one causing the confusion.
God is the one fighting the war.
Which leads to the next surprise:
(3) Victory for the Underdog
Verse 10 continues, “Joshua and the Israelites defeated the Canaanites completely at Gibeon.” Even though they are only one army – they easily dispatch the 5 armies they are fighting against.
Because they’ve got one God on their side.
One God is stronger than 5 armies.
He’s stronger than 10 armies.
He’s stronger than all the armies of the world armed with swords, daggers, spears, machine guns, F-150s, tanks and an ocean liner of nuclear bombs.
God is undefeated.
But God isn’t done.
Because look at what happens next – as the armies of the Kings flee and retreat. The Israelites pursue. They try to overtake them. But the armies have a head start and Israel is having a hard time cutting them off.
Verse 11: As they fled before Israel, the Lord hurled large hailstones down on them.
Have you ever seen hail before? To be fair – you don’t want to be trapped in a hailstorm. It smarts to have a marble sized piece of hail hit you in the right spot. And golf ball sized hail is the kind of hail that will dent your car --- even ruin your roof – where hopefully your hailstorm insurance will take care of the damage.
How big are these stones?
More of the Canaanites died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites. (v.11b)
Wow. That’s miraculous.
(5) The Day Lengthens
But still. There were a lot of soldiers. There were a lot of nations. And as Joshua is watching this battle take place he’s smiling. He’s happy. But as he watches from a hill to the south, he looks at the horizon. In the distance, he can see the sun about to set in the west and the moon is already making its appearance to the east.
It’s about to be dark.
It’s about to be impossible to battle.
It’s about to be time for this incredible day to end.
Too bad. God was on a roll too.
It’s too bad it had to end.
Joshua said to the LORD in the presence of Israel: Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you moon, over the Valley of Aijalon. (v.12)
What happens next is another incredibly puzzling and yet amazing event. One that contradicts everything that we can observe in day to day science. One that we take incredible cosmic powers to accomplish: the ability to manipulate gravity and the fortitude to hold giant rotating rocks in their exact place in the universe.
The sun stopped…and delayed going down about a full day. (v.13)
Think about that.
The sun doesn’t move.
Or rather – the earth stops rotating to allow day to continue.
III. What Now?
The author of Joshua – who wrote well after these events were finished wrote this in verse 14, “There has never been a day like that day before or since, a day when the LORD listened to a human being.” He literally did that incredible, amazing thing that Joshua asked of him.
And it was an awesome day. But how does that awesome day affect today for you?
(1) Be Confident in Your Savior
Because that’s the God that is on your side.
He sends his enemies into confusion.
He protects his people with hailstones.
He literally controls the solar system in order to save his people from their enemies.
And this wasn’t the only time.
Because…Do you know what happened 1500 some odd years later? God controlled the solar system again. It was midday and God blocked out the sun. There was pitch black darkness all over the land from Noon to 3 pm.
Around the time that Jesus was hanging on a cross.
Then, three days later – early in the morning – God put his hands around the sides of the earth. He lifted it up. He shook it. He shook it hard. He shook it hard until the stone that was sealing off Jesus’ tomb was rolled back.
And as the dust clears, he sends the devil into confusion.
He sends hailstones of his righteousness to crush our sins.
He raises his SON to STAND firm that day…and always.
Be confident in your Savior.
Be confident in his Victory.
(2) Be Bold
Because Joshua prayed a pretty bold prayer, wouldn’t you say?
He prayed for God to break the regular rules of time and space in order to keep the fight going.
But God listened.
Be bold in your prayers, too.
Pray for healing from your sickness.
Pray for help finding a job.
Pray for your marriage to be repaired.
Pray for full forgiveness from your Lord.
Prayer for peace with your heavenly Father.
Prayer God to take you home to heaven.
No matter the prayer – how big OR how small – prayer it to your incredible God!
Because God answers prayer.
God doesn’t answer halfheartedly.
God doesn’t answer a bit.
God doesn’t answer but act sometime next week.
God comes to fight.
In fact, that’s how this section of God’s Word ends: The LORD was fighting for Israel. (v.14b)
Here’s the truth -- The LORD not only fought for Israel.
The LORD is fighting for you.
Breathing is kind of important. Agreed?
(Who knew we’d all be on the same page within 10 seconds of the start to a sermon?)
Breathing is important, but …some breaths are more meaningful than others:
The deep breath as you ask your first crush on a date.
A gasp when your significant other gets down on one knee.
The final Lamaze breath as your child enters the world.
Your first breath as you enter the world.
But…what if I told you the most important breath of your lifetime didn’t even take place in your lifetime?
MAIN BIBLE PASSAGES:
Matthew 27:45, 50-55
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[e] went into the holy city and appeared to many people. 54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” 55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph,[f] and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
I. The Most Important Exhale
It was Friday afternoon. Almost 2000 years ago. The people were doing one of the things they did for fun back then. No, they weren’t checking Instagram. No, they weren’t sampling their favorite sushi. No, they weren’t leaving work early to get on I—440 before it got hectic.
They were watching a crucifixion.
It was a larger commotion than normal. Three men were being executed. Two of them were fairly routine culprits — everyday thieves. But the third was of intrigue:
His name was Jesus. He was famous in the land of Israel. He had had quite a following and it was reported that he had done many miracles. And he wasn’t being killed for any of those. He was being crucified because he claimed to be the Son of God.
Now that is a strange claim, agreed? We’re getting used to strange claims though. Politicians make them all the time. “I’ll save you billions.” “You’ll never have to pay taxes again.” “I’ll fix America in a few months.”
But as outlandish as some of their claims are, I don’t think any of them have claimed to be the Son of God. If they did, we could go on Factchecker.com just to confirm, it ain’t true.
Here’s what’s interesting though – the fact surrounding Jesus seemed to point to the fact that it was true! He was reported as making the blind to see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear. He walked on water, stopped storms and changed water into wine. He healed the sick, drove out demons, and raised the dead.
Even his death had some strange, significant events surrounding it.
Around the 6th hour (which in Jewish time was about noon. 6 am was the first light and was therefore the first hour…making the 6th hour, 6 + 6 = 12 noon)…around the 6th hour darkness covered the earth. (Matthew 27:45) That word “darkness” there doesn’t refer to slightly overcast day. It’s a word used to describe the much thicker darkness of nighttime.
Nighttime darkness at noon? Strange.
Still the crucifixion continued as planned. In the darkness each one of the condemned slowly crept closer to death. Until in a loud voice, Jesus cried out “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Then, he exhaled.
And His followers watched.
They held their breath.
Nothing. His chest didn’t move. His mouth made no sound. His breath didn’t return.
But then, something.
Matthew 27:51 says, “The Curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” Notes on that curtain. (Cause if we don’t talk about it, it isn’t that impressive.) It wasn’t made from silk. It wasn’t made from Kleenex. It wasn’t made from those hippie beads that you can hang from the ceiling and tear in half with a wave of your hand. It was a long, woven veil. 60 feet long, 30 feet wide and 1 inch thick. It was heavy. In fact, it was so massive that it the Israelites used hundreds of priests to manipulate it. That’s not something that’s torn easily. Probably not torn without heavy machinery.
The fact that it was torn, completely half at the time of Jesus’ death? Strange.
But that’s not it. Matthew continues, “At that moment…the earth shook and the rocks split and the tombs broke open.” This wasn’t just a tremor. It was large enough on the Richter scale to split through large rocks that were used to mark the graves of the people. Also strange.
Now maybe if one of those three things happened the day Jesus died – the darkness at noon, the earthquake, or the curtain ripped in half, I’d say: It’s a coincidence. Even two? I can understand. Three…that might be pushing it, but not impossible.
But then a fourth thing happened that would be impossible if it happened all alone. Let alone in conjunction with the other things we have already mentioned. “The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the city and appeared to many people.”
Pastor, you don’t believe that! That’s impossible! It could never happen. Dead people don’t come back to life. That would be a miracle!
Um…isn’t that the point?
And notice that these resurrected people appeared to many people. It wasn’t just one guy saying, “I think I saw Aunt Edna last night.” It was a whole city that awoke to unexplained sightings. It wasn’t just the crazy guy down on the corner of Fayetteville St. It was real, everyday, respectable people. They all had seen these incredible thing!
Understand what the Bible is. It’s a record of some fairly incredible things. True. But it was written down at the same time that the people who saw these things had lived. It was written down, shared, made public, and approved by hundreds of people who saw the very things that Matthew wrote down happened.
That means that these incredible things aren’t a myth.
They weren’t an accident.
They weren’t a coincidence.
They were signs.
And just like you can head to the mall after church and find signs everywhere that say, “Meet Easter Bunny Here!” “1/2 OFF Easter dresses there” “Egg Hunt POSTPONED." These incredible signs were telling the people that something incredible just happened. Today these incredible signs are telling you – when Jesus breathed his last – something incredible happened.
What incredible thing happened? Take a look at Romans 4:25, “He was delivered over to death for our sins,” “on behalf of our sins,” or "because of our sins.”
Why? Because...God hates sin.
Like drunk driving. Does drunk driving make you angry? If you’ve ever been affected by it or lost a loved one, I bet it does. In fact, that message has gotten out there enough that – I imagine almost all of us – Republicans and Democrats are Independents – are against drunk driving. Mothers can belong to a group dedicated to prosecuting offenders (MADD). Even Budweiser ran a Super Bowl ad against it. So…when someone is caught drunk driving – there is punishment. We get it. We are ok with punishing that sin because that sin makes us angry.
Get this: That sin makes God angry, too. Actually, all sin makes God angry. Not just big sins like murder, theft, and adultery, but smallers sins: like a grabbing a few dollars from your co-worker's wallet, taking a quick peek down the secretary’s shirt, or making a tiny racist remark about your friend from another culture.
God hates those things. He hates it because they hurt others. These things hurt his children.
So he prosecutes sin.
He threatens to punish all sinners.
If you’re a sinner, he threatens to punish you. If you don’t like to hear that, tough. God will not be stopped.
But if you’re hearing me, if you’re convicted, if you know your sin and you know you deserve punishment, hear this: God doesn’t want to punish you. He never did. That’s why he died.
He was delivered over to death for your sins. To save you from sin’s consequence!
Which is a nice thought. But, how do you we know this worked? He died. How do we know this whole thing isn’t just one big made up, pretend thing that we celebrate at Easter to make the day a little sweeter?
II. The Most Important Inhale
Enter the inhale.
Same week. Three days later. Early in the morning a group of women were on their way to the graveyard. They brought with them some spices and special herbs. Traditionally these were things they would use to honor their dead – kinda like grabbing a bouquet of flowers to take and place on Grandpa’s tomb.
And as the crisp morning air awakened their senses, the tears started flowing. They missed him. He was their dear friend. He had shown them love when no other man had. He had rescued them from dark places. He had given them hope…and a future.
When he died, that hope had been ripped away. It felt like her heart was gone. They had killed him. They had killed her hope.
But their sadness was interrupted.
2 There was a violent earthquake. And an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.
Have you seen pictures of these stones? Jesus had been buried in a standing tomb. It was a rich person's tomb. And rich people won’t be buried in the ground with a tiny little grave marker. No. They had these big, cut out of a cliff walk-in tombs – with enough space for a small dinner party – if you wanted to have a small dinner party in a tomb.
For a door? They would use giant rocks to withstand grave robbers. I don’t know the exact size and weight of these rocks. But…I think it’s safe to say that rocks the size of a door are pretty heavy. I could probably do about a dozen bicep curls with these. And it isn’t even close to door sized.
Tomb door rocks were so big that they needed to be moved in place by a soiree of heavy duty Roman soldiers. In fact, this was such a problem that the women were even discussing amongst themselves whether they had made a mistake in coming out there in the first place. Who was gonna move the stone? There were guards in front of the tomb, but were there enough?
Turns out…they didn’t need to worry. An angel moved it out of place like Arnold Schwarzenegger moving a pair of 2&1/2 pound ankle weights.
If the earthquake and opened tomb wasn’t enough to stir up some excitement, the angel did! 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. In other words – he was glowing. Long before the days of face paint and special effects. There isn’t a pyro guy off in the corner trying to trick the women. It isn’t David Copperfield using the illusion of the camera to throw the ladies off guard.
In fact, the women weren’t the only ones to see the angels. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The big, tough, I’ll get killed if I screw up my job, Roman guards – fainted!
5 The angel held up a hand. He calmed them. He spoke gently to them. “Don’t be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
Process that for a moment. Jesus – the guy who died in front of hundreds – whose death was confirmed by the Roman soldiers at the cross, the Roman soldiers who took him down, his followers who left with tears, his buriers who took his body, the Roman governor who allowed them to take his body, and the Roman soldiers who had closed the rock door over Jesus’ dead body – that Jesus – who had really died….
…was alive again.
And just in case the women didn’t believe the angel, he let them see it for themselves. Go ahead. Look! He’s gone. He should be here; he died. But he’s not here. Miraculous? Yes! Impossible? Not with God.
This brings us back to Romans 4. He was delivered over to death for our sins, but raised to life for our justification. Justification is a courtroom term. It’s the opposite of condemnation. If we are guilty we are condemned; if we are innocent, we are justified. Condemnation bad. Justification good.
Jesus’ resurrection is proof that we are justified! It was God’s almighty, Divine declaration about you and your life. Listen to it: Hear the rumbling of the earthquake, listen to the cracking of the rocks, and the shrieks of the guards and the voice of your LORD:
You are justified.
You have been declared innocent.
By faith in Jesus Christ, you are saved.
This is why the inhale is so important. If Jesus doesn’t take that breath in the grave on Easter Sunday morning, then you and I are still in our sins. Jesus’ death didn’t work. His promise of forgiveness didn’t mean a thing. You and I have to face God standing in the filthy, disgusting cesspool of all our awful sins.
In fact, 1 Corinthians 15:14 takes it a step farther. “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” In other words, if Jesus doesn’t take that breath in that tomb, then the Christian faith, is one big useless, irrelevant, irreverent, cruel joke! And I’m a big old fool for teaching it to you.
But…if Christ does take that breath, if his lungs do move again, if blood starts to circulate in his veins and brain activity returns to his nervous system. Then…there is no moment more important.
That breath means you are forgiven.
That breath means you are at peace.
That breath means that all will be well.
That breath means that God did what he said he’d do.
That breath means that God was victorious.
That breath means that you are victorious.
That breath means that God rose from the dead.
That breath means that you will rise from the dead.
Treasure it. Celebrate it. Take a breath…breathe out with joy! Jesus has inhaled. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen!
It came down to a coin flip.
Did you hear? People were so confused about who to vote in the Iowa caucus that certain districts decided their vote via coin flip. The same completely random device that decides whether I should have ham or turkey was used to decide who the next leader of the free world would be.
I can understand why they did this. The political landscape is confusing right now. It's confusing enough that people on the Democratic side voted within .1% of the lead candidates. On the Republican side, there is still a crowd of people left to vote for. The inundation of information has certainly fogged my brain. Vote for this guy because this. Don’t for this guy because this. Vote for this guy and you're this. Vote for that guy and you're that.
As confusing as the political landscape is, religion can seem just as confusing. The same inundation of information is readily available on the internet. Information that says Jesus is the Savior; next to websites that say Buddha spoke the truth; besides articles that say Allah is God; scoffed at in the comment section by a scientist who links to an article “proving” that the world evolved billions of years ago without any god at all.
They all seem like nice people.
They all make interesting points.
There plenty of people believing all of them.
How then do you cut through the confusion and get to a moment of clarity? How do you figure out what's right?
Listen to whichever answer makes you feel good?
Ask that know-it-all at work?
Close your eyes and point?
Or maybe now is where we flip the coin?
Today Jesus will help you out as we take a look at the final sermon in our series: Jesus’ First and only Transfiguration. His goal is to clear away the clutter and make it very clear to us who your Savior is.
I. The First Century Confusion
Check out Mark 9:28-36. That’s about halfway through the book of Mark (and about halfway through Jesus’ ministry). At the time, there was a hubbub surrounding Jesus. People came from far and wide to see him. They had heard of his miracles. They had heard of his wise teachings. They had even heard rumors that he might be the Messiah. Amazing if it were true, but blasphemy if it wasn’t.
People were confused --- Who was this Jesus?
Simon felt the same way. To be fair – he had a moment of clarity a few days ago. Jesus had asked all of them, “Who you think that I am?” Peter had tensed up. He had looked around to see who was listening. He had taken a deep breath.
“You are the Christ; the Son of the Living God!”
Jesus’ reply made him smile. “Blessed are you…This has been revealed to you by God!”
Peter was pretty proud. He had gotten it. Lots of other people didn’t get it, but he did. He was impressed with himself. The other disciples were impressed with him. Jesus was even so impressed with him – he had changed his name to Peter – which means “rock,” as in “That was a solid rock of a confession of truth.”
But then Jesus started talking about something strange. He mentioned that he would go to Jerusalem, be betrayed, arrested, falsely tried, sentenced to death, and crucified.
Peter was quick to speak up. “Never Lord! That’s a terrible idea. It won’t happen because I won’t let it.”
Peter stood there. Arms at his side. Anticipating the adulation of the Lord that was undoubtedly on his way. “Well done Peter. You’re so smart Peter. I’m going to change your name to Super Peter – Defender of All Things God."
But he didn’t get that nickname:
Get behind me Satan! You don’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of humans.
Peter sat down faster than he stood up. He stared at his sandals.
That was embarrassing. But it didn’t make any sense? If Jesus was the Messiah, why didn’t he want to ride into Jerusalem and conquer? Why wasn’t he building up an army of soldiers? Why did he did he want to go to Jerusalem and die? That was an awful plan for a Messiah to have.
Maybe…he wasn’t the Messiah.
II. The Transfiguration Cuts through Confusion
These kinds of thoughts had been swirling in his head for days. As he stood at the top of a mountain, he yawned – one of those three seconds yawns. Here’s something that wasn’t confusing. It had been a long journey to top. He was mentally exhausted and physically drained. Jesus was over saying a prayer.
Shutting his eyes for a few moments wasn’t a bad idea.
Then…a light. A bright light.
At first, it seemed like a part of some strange dream, but then his eyelids felt the unmistakable coolness of the evening air. He looked over at his disciples friends. Their eyes met his and they nodded in astonishment.
He was definitely awake.
The light wasn’t coming from a dream. It was coming from Jesus’ own face. It was bright – like the sun – like staring up to the sun on a morning day. He had to glance down and blink a few times.
When he looked up again, he noticed that Jesus' clothing was different too. It was a brilliant white. Not just any white. Peter had a white robe that was stained brown from the sand and had that fish guts stain on the back which his wife had scrubbed repeatedly to try and get it out. That was white–ish.
But the clothing on Jesus – it was whiter than white. It was whiter than the bleachiest, bleach white. It was whiter than humanly possible. It shined too. Like lightning.
Is that what had happened? Had Jesus been struck by lightning?
No. No, he was still standing. He was fine. In fact, he was talking to two others men. Peter listened carefully. Jesus called one “Moses” and the other “Elijah.” Peter looked at John and mouthed the words, “Are you serious?” These two were legends in the Jewish world.
Moses had been responsible for the first five books of the Bible. He had led the Israelites out of Egypt. God had split the Red Sea through Him and given the Ten Commandments to him.
Elijah had been a prophet of God during the time of rampant apostasy in Israel. He had opposed the false prophets of Baal in a fiery showdown. He had been fed by ravens. He raised the dead. He had heard the whisper of God with his own ears.
Elijah & Moses. Before his very eyes. It was amazing. It was incredible. It was…impossible.
Moses and Elijah had both been dead for thousands of years.
But as he watched their conversation unfold before his very eyes and as his two friends witnessed the same things besides him (and as he confirmed that electricity with the power to pull off such a swoon wouldn’t be invented for another 1800 years), Peter realized something.
This was real. It was real… real. It was real and it was one of the most incredible things He had ever seen in his life. His faith was surging. “Lord!” he shouted, “It is good for us to be here. Let me set up three shelters. One for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
As his words hung in the air, they were enveloped by a cloud. A thick cloud. A cloud that covered up Jesus. A cloud that covered up Moses and Elijah. A cloud that covered up Peter himself.
Then…he heard a voice. A booming voice. “This is my Son; whom I love. Listen to Him.”
With that, the cloud subsided. Moses was gone. Elijah was gone. The blinding light was gone. Only Jesus remained.
But something was different. While Jesus had changed back, something had changed within Peter. He could see clearly – not just because there was no longer any cloud or blinding light. Peter could see clearly that Jesus was the Messiah.
Do you remember your first Transfiguration?
Does your mom tell you, “Honey, you’re face was so cute. It was shining just like the sun.” Does your Grandpa hike up his shorts and say, “I remember the booming voice of God just like it was yesterday.” Do you have a few photographs that are nothing more than a brilliant white light with the faintest trace of your facial outline? (At least, you think).
Probably not. I don’t remember my first Transfiguration because I didn’t have a Transfiguration. You don’t remember your Transfiguration because you didn’t have a Transfiguration.
Neither did Buddha. Neither did Joseph Smith. Neither did Mohammed. Neither did Charles Darwin.
Jesus’ Transfiguration is one of a kind. It proves that He is one of a kind. It makes it clear that He is the Savior.
Jesus said this, “Believe me when I say that I in the Father and the Father is in me; at least believe me based on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” Transfiguration fits right up there at the top! A brilliant shining face? Whiter than white clothes? Talking to two guys who have been in heaven for thousands of years?
Do you remember the Spin Doctors? They sang the song, "One, two, princes kneel before you. That's what I said, now, Princes, Princes who adore you." Do you remember them? No? I once met their bass guitarist and their roadie. That’s the extent of famous people I’ve met.
Jesus is rubbing shoulders with Moses and Elijah! Years after they were dead. This is incredible! Then, the voice. The booming voice of God Almighty. A voice that had been heard before --- in the Garden of Eden – “I will send someone to crush the devil’s head;” – on Mt. Sinai – “Here are commands, if you break them you will need a Savior.” – at Jesus’ Baptism – “Here is that Savior. It’s my Son. Jesus.”
Listen to God.
Your Savior is Jesus!
Forgiveness comes from Jesus.
Heaven comes from Jesus.
There is no one else. Only him. PERIOD.
III. A Clear Directive
Listen to God and listen to his clear directive at the end. “Listen to Him.”
There is a lot of application here. There are a lot of questions in the world that have a lot of different answers depending on who it is you talk to:
Is homosexuality a sin?
Should I live with my boyfriend before marriage?
Should I really be giving money to the church?
Should I even be going to church?
Is salvation really by grace or should I get to work on doing good things?
What are good things?
Is every religion really just the same religion which all end up leading to heaven anyways!?!
When you’re looking for the answer, it doesn’t have to be confusing! Don’t listen to Facebook. Don’t listen to Twitter. Don’t listen to Instagram, Wikipedia, or your College professor with his fancy, hipster goatee.
Listen to Jesus.
It doesn’t have to be confusing! It can become confusing when we make it confusing. We do that when, like Peter, we don’t like the answer.
Think about it. He had already identified Jesus as the Messiah prior to the Transfiguration. But it was after He called Jesus the Messiah that he turned around and told his confessed Messiah that his plan – to die on the cross – was foolish! He didn’t like it so he wasn’t going to listen to him.
But on the mountain – it was abundantly clear that Jesus was the Messiah – he, Peter, was not. He needed to listen to Jesus, not the other way around.
Can I tell you something? Jesus is smarter than you. Please don’t be hurt by that. (He’s smarter than me too.) I’m not just talking about Math facts and science facts. I’m not just talking about Jeopardy trivia either. (Although I’m sure Jesus would be buzzing in answers before Alex Trebek even asked the questions.)
Jesus is smarter than you when it comes to what’s bad for you. He’s smarter when it comes to what’s good for you. He says sin is bad for you. He, your Savior, is good for you.
Listen to Him.
AND THANK GOD that Jesus didn't listen to Peter. If he would have, we would still be in our sins. (Even as believers.) We would be destined for eternal damnation in hell. Our lives would be one fatalistic train ticket to destruction.
But Jesus didn't listen. He went to Jerusalem. He held out his hands to be arrested. He listened to his death sentence. He waited as nails were driven into his hands. He died.
He died and completed God's perfect Messiah plan for salvation. He saved you from sin. He saved you from from death. He saved you from the devil.
LISTEN TO HIM!
But that wasn’t it. Jesus didn’t stop there. He went to the next phase in the plan. The phase that Peter had totally ignored when he rebuked Jesus. Take a look at it:
On the third Day, I will rise again from the dead.
Yeah, I’m listening to that guy.
BOTTOM LINE: Don’t let your eternity come down to a coin flip. God has made a clear to you. Jesus is the Way. Jesus is the Truth. Jesus is the Life.
Listen to Him. Listen to your Messiah. Amen.
Social Media is filled with them.
It wasn’t so easy to do when I was a child, otherwise I'm sure I could be embarrassed by them for years to come. Now all it takes is a cell phone and a semi, steady hand and viola – videos clips of your child’s first.
We record all kinds of first. First words. First crawl. First steps. First attempt at eating a pickle. First birthday. First day of school. First bike ride. First basketball game. First time ever watching Star Wars. Of course, nobody every records and posts a video of “my child’s first not wanting to eat broccoli tantrum,” but I digress.
Firsts are important for us. They showcase maturity and growth. And sometimes…they showcase something more.
Today we’re taking a look at another first of Jesus. But it isn’t something that's normal. In fact, it is by definition something abnormal. We are going to take a look at Jesus’ first miracle – an event unexplained by the laws of nature; supernatural; from God.
I. He Cares
Take a look at John 2:1. It says, “On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.”
The setting is a wedding. Jesus had been invited to a wedding. So…stop for a moment and think about the last wedding you were at. You’ve got an idea of the setting. Beautiful flowers, friends and family, delicious food – all in all a joyous occasion.
But back then weddings were celebrated a bit differently from the way they are celebrated today. The reception lasted longer than a night. It appears that the party would go on for a few days.
At first, that sounds like a good idea. A week long party. But think about what that might be like. The bridesmaid that you made a fool of yourself while dancing now has to see you the next day. The usher that was flirting with you the night before – the one you weren’t interested in at all — has another shot to impress you. Uncle Ted, who you got into an argument about politics with, has a second chance to win the argument the next day. The cups, streamers, and dying flowers don’t look quite as beautiful the next day.
Of course – one of the big perks that probably kept people around and prevented them from returning home to work – FREE FOOD & FREE DRINKS. Think about it how nice that would be. Chicken Cordon Bleu for lunch. A butter lobster for dinner. Late night oven baked pizza snack. Prime rib for breakfast. Prime rib for lunch. Prime rib for dinner.
But at this particular wedding, something disappointing happened. The mother of the groom didn’t object to the marriage. The bride didn’t abandon the groom at the altar. The officiant didn’t even mess up the couple’s last night.
It was much worse: They had run out of wine!
I say it like that because it doesn’t appear to be all that big of a deal. Now granted – there were probably only two drinks available at the wedding – water and wine. The wine, more popular, because it had been fermented and filtered. To lose that as an option was at the very least a social embarrassment. At most – it was the breaking of a social contract. “I travelled through three cities to get here and they can’t even provide me with proper nourishment. How rude!”
Still – you’d think, with the exception of Uncle Karl, everyone would get over it. This isn’t someone who had gotten very sick. It isn’t someone who couldn’t walk. It isn’t someone who couldn’t talk or hear or see.
Mary sighed. She knew the couple and she knew the family. She didn’t like how embarrassed they looked. But…what could she do? On a carpenter’s salary, she didn’t have enough money to go and pick up a jar. Besides – Cana wasn’t her hometown. Where would she get the wine? What would be open at this hour?
There’s nothing she could do to help. Except…
Her son. Jesus. There was something extraordinary about him. She had treasured it in her heart. She reflected: An angel had announced his conception. She had given birth without having had sex. Shepherds came to worship him that night. Time after time, people had swept him up from her arms to praise God for his birth. Men from far in the east had visited them and given extravagant gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh. King Herod – had tried to kill him.
Now granted – He hadn’t done anything miraculous yet. He was a model boy. A perfect boy, but that didn't mean he could fix this.
Yet, there was something special about him. Something incredible. Something magnificent. Something divine.
When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
He looked at her.
He smiled. “Dear woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.”
Mary looked down. He’s right. Why would this be the time? Why would this be the first miracle? Why would, if he was the Savior of the World, have time to care about saving this couple’s reputation?
And yet. Maybe.
She motioned for the boy that was pouring a glass of water close by. She followed him back to where the other servants had gathered. She hushed her voice. She pointed at Jesus. “Do whatever he tells you.”
Have you ever felt like that? Have you felt that maybe your problems are just too unimportant for Jesus to care? Too small for him to “do a miracle?”
· I’ve got a big test coming up, but…it only makes up 15% of my grade. I’m in this alone. God’s got bigger things to do.
· I have a tough schedule this week – 50 hours of work, plus taking my kids to swim lessons and I’m meeting with my manager. But none of that’s spiritual, so…God bless my soul?
· I’d love to have God’s blessings. I’m meeting the realtor this week. But we’re aren’t able to afford anything over $300,000 and that’s pretty small for a hefty God. I think he’ll only be helping me if the house was over a million!
· What does God care about me? I’m not movie star. I’m no athlete. I’m no politician. I’m just me. Normal. Lactose intolerant. Kinda shy. God doesn’t care about me. He couldn’t.
Take a look at Jesus’ reaction to this minor problem. 6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.”
Take note. Jesus didn’t avoid Mary for the rest of the night. He didn’t say his goodbyes and get to the local motel. He didn’t give his disciples a few dollars and say, “You guys take care of it.”
He cared too much.
The same is true about you. He cares too much to ignore event the smallest of your requests for help. Take a look at what Jesus said here. He said, “29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Sparrows are tiny birds. They’re common and not all that impressive. Case in point: When’s the last time you went to the zoo and your kid said, “Mommy, when do we get to see the sparrow exhibit?” The toucan or the flamingo, sure…but sparrow? Probably not.
Yet God cares about one of them. He cares about what they are doing. He cares about the worms they eat, the twigs they need for their nests and the branches they rest on.
You are way more important than a sparrow. Jesus didn’t die for sparrows. He died to save you. He cares about you.
He even cares about your hair. Isn’t that amazing? God has a count of how many hairs you have on your head. Some of you are thinking – that’s not really that impressive. But think about what he’s saying. Yet God knows. God knows and God cares about you. He cares even about your hair count – something that there’s isn’t even an app for yet!
It means he cares about little ol’ you and he cares about the little ol’ things that go on in your life.
He cares about you. Every part of you. Even the seemingly less significant parts.
In fact, after seeing what Scripture says, the only way we can say, “God doesn’t care,” is if we listen to ourselves rather than him. Isn’t that the truth? When we think God doesn’t care, it’s because we don’t think it’s significant enough.
That’s tantamount to telling God – the things He cares about (you) – isn't important!
Stop that. Repent. Turn to your God who cares so much about you and receive his forgiveness.
II. He Can
Of course, maybe you’re thinking. That’s nice, but caring isn’t enough. It’s nice to hear he cares, but if you can’t help, then what’s the point?
It’d be like the Green Bay Packers last night. Did I care if they won? Absolutely. Did I wish I could help? Absolutely. Is there anything I could acutally do to help? Well…in spite of my superstition that as long as I stand with a bag of Doritos in my hand – NO!!!
What good is it if you care, but you can’t do anything!?!
Nearby Jesus were six big stone jars. They each held about thirty gallons of water. They were placed by the entrance to the wedding hall as an old fashioned faucet. Before indoor plumbing, this was key for washing hands – especially so in the Jewish culture which called for a ceremonial washing of the hands before they ate.
Jesus said to his servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’
The servants looked at each other. That was it? This woman had talked to them so confidently – This guy will fix the problem. – But all he wanted was more water. They could have come up with that. It didn’t solve the problem of wine – it just provided a less tasty consolation.
But they said they would, so they did. They went outside. The drew some water form the well. They filled each jar up to the brim. Then, they lugged them back – with sweat dripping down their foreheads.
Then, Jesus told them, “draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
Did you want him to confirm that it was water? Were you hoping that the master had had too much to drink and wouldn’t notice the different? C’mon guy. This won’t work. This is going to bring even more embarrassment than not having any wine at all.
But…they had promised. So, they took the ladle. They poured it into a nearby chalice. They took the cup to the master of the banquet. And they were totally ready to tell him, “It was that guys’ idea.”
The master took a sip. He swished it in his mouth. He swallowed. He leaned down and sniffed it. He smiled.
He called the bridegroom – who had been totally unaware of everything that just happened and he said to him, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
Can you imagine what was going through the servant's’ mind? Wait. What happened? We filled that glass from the ladle. The ladle had been dipped in the jar of water. The water was from the well. The reason we did that was because Jesus….
Jesus! He must have done something. But…what? We were with the water the whole time. And how would he smuggle in 180 gallons of wine anyway? This was impossible. This was incredible. This was….
How do you normally make wine? First you plant the grapes. Then you grow the grapes. A process that takes a couple months. Then, you harvest the grapes. Then, follow the chart, you sanitize, combine, pitch, aerate, ferment, rack, stabilize, degas, clarify, fill, clear, rake, age, rack again, bottle, cork and condition.
Granted – Jesus could have skipped the first couple of steps – but still do you get the point? Wine making takes hundreds of hours of work, months of waiting, and lots of equipment.
Jesus made wine in seconds, with no waiting, and without nothing but water!
It’s a miracle.
Look at John’s conclusion to this section: “This was the first sign that Jesus did which revealed his glory.”
It’s like I’m sure Michael Jordan’s mom can remember the first basketball game that she thought, “He might be something special,” or Leonardo Da Vinci’s parents saw a painting and thought, “He might have some special artistic talent.”
The disciples saw Jesus do his very first God thing and got to thinking – he might be something special. He might be something divine.
This is where your mind needs to be too! Because this isn’t the only sign that Jesus does. He continues to show his incredible, God-power throughout his life. He makes the blind to see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, the mute to talk, the sick to be healthy, the water to be walked on, the storm to be quiet, the demons to leave, the skies to open up and a voice to proclaim, “This is my Son, whom I love with him I am well pleased,” the dead to come back to life…himself to die and come back to life.
Jesus did God things. Things that no one else could do, can do, or ever will do.
It means HE IS GOD!
The fact that he changed water into wine – reminds us that he really did change something else.
He changed your spiritual status.
He changed your guilt into forgiveness.
He changed your status of condemned into innocence.
He changed your death into life eternal.
Of course, apart from Jesus – the water would have still been water. Apart from your Savior, on your own, you will still be guilty. You will still be condemned. You will still be sentenced to eternal death in hell.
But with him – a miracle. A chance. Forgiveness. Innocence. Eternal life. And with that: peace, joy, and confidence.
Confidence that God cares and confidence that God can. Amen.
The Pharisees were the most religious looking people of the time. They dressed religious with long flowing robes and ornamented sashes; they talked religious – about the Bible, about God, and traditions. They walked religious – with a stoic, appropriately respectable jaunt! It wouldn't be surprising if they smelled religious – a soothing combination of incense and oil with a hint of sweat (because they had been praying so hard)
The Pharisees even ate religiously. With big motions so that everyone could see what they were doing, they walked over to a nearby jug. They spoke words of Hebrew blessing. They dipped their hands in the water and gave them a ceremonial washing from the tip of the pinky finger to the crook of the elbow.
Then, they sat down, expecting to see everyone’s eyes filled with amazement at just how devoted to God they were.
The people weren’t looking at them. An upstart group of men who had been gaining quite a following recently had the crowd’s attention in the corner. Their leader was called Jesus and the men that followed him – disciples. They seemed like decent people who knew the law and knew religion. The Pharisees were interested in talking with them.
But as they approached the disciples, they noticed something appalling.
THEY DIDN’T WASH THEIR HANDS!!!
So, like a Preschooler, excited to tell mom and dad about the bad thing that he caught his brother doing, the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
Now – this wasn’t a germ issue. It wasn’t a "when did you last use the restroom issue." It wasn’t a matter of physical cleanliness at all. It was a religious issue – a matter of spiritual cleanliness.
It’s important for us too. Today we are interesting in finding out if we are clean. (No, I’m not asking if you took a shower recently and if you used soap and if you washed behind your ears). I want you to consider if you are spiritually clean.
I. Where NOT to Measure Cleanliness
We going to start by taking a look at Jesus’ response. He emphasizes where NOT to look for the answer this question:
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’"
Wouldn’t it be really awesome to find out that a long time ago someone had prophesied about you? Wouldn’t it be pretty cool to find out that you would be a prophet? Or you’d walk on water? Or you’d become President of the United States?
Jesus was telling the Pharisees that there was an Old Testament prophecy that talked about them. But I don’t think they were too happy to find out. Because the prophecy painted them in a horrible light!
“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” 7 They worship me in vain.” That word “vain” means “empty; worthless; without any substance to it.” The Pharisees sang the praises of God, sure. They followed God’s rules, absolutely. In fact, there probably wasn’t anyone who followed God’s rules better than the Pharisees.
But in their hearts? These godly actions weren’t being done for God. These actions were being done for themselves.
“Isn’t it awesome how much I serve at church? I love having people say, “You do such a great job.”
“God – notice how I didn’t drink any alcohol at the party tonight. I’m a little better than all those people who did, right?”
“God, did you see that check I just made out for charity? It’s ok if you didn’t. They’re gonna put my name on the donor list. You can find it there."
We can’t look to Godly actions to identify ourselves as “clean.” The motivation may be far apart!
The Pharisees had taken it a step farther. "Your teachings are but rules taught by men.” The Pharisees didn’t just follow God’s rules. They followed a collection of Rabbinical writings that their teachers had written down. These teachings were supposed to take it to the next level. These teachings were supposed to subscribe another level of holiness to the Pharisees!
God says, “Rest on the Sabbath.” I won’t just rest; I will also make sure that I don’t even take 1000 steps on my pedometer.
God says, “Give a tenth of your harvest to me.” I’ll go one better and make sure I give a tenth of the salt I put on my fries to him.
God says, “Fast every once in awhile.” I’ll fast today and tomorrow and the day after that (Just as long as everyone sees the hunger in my eyes and they know how godlike I am.
But what’s Jesus saying here. These laws didn’t make them cleaner. In fact, they had no relevance whatsoever on their status before God. They were mere human laws! Teachings taught by men.
How many of you went school supply shopping recently? Did you pick up some erasers, number two pencils, a 64 pack of Crayola crayons, 2 packages of tissues, a painting smock, Play-doh, a Dora the Explorer backpack, and Fruit Roll up Snacks?
How many of you got those things for your college kid? You wouldn’t. That would be mixing up the two supply lists.
When the Pharisees were fulfilling their own man made laws, they had God’s supply list all messed up. Yes, they did things that they themselves had thought of, but they failed miserably at things that God had thought of. Things like mercy, fairness, and love.
Don’t get caught in the same trap. Don’t measure cleanliness via human actions either.
II. Where TO Measure Cleanliness
Where then should we look to for cleanliness? Listen to what Jesus says, “15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come.”
Ask yourself this question:
Where does the murderer plan his murder?
Where does the adulterer decide to sleep with his secretary?
Where does the boss figure out ways to cheat his employees?
Where does the pornographer think, “I should look at pornography?”
Where does the gossiper decide, “I’m going to tell everyone how much of a loser that person is?”
The answer is simple. It starts on the inside. In here (our brains) and in here (our hearts.) Spiritual uncleanness is measured in the heart!
So…how clean is your heart?
Here’s a test. Jesus next gives a list sinful things. Take a look with me: “21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
You ever done any of those? Then, your heart is unclean.
Think that you never have? Then you're full of deceit and arrogance. Your heart is unclean.
Yes, but pastor…I’ve only struggled with it a little bit. I don’t do those things all that often.
What if I told you that the Organic, GMO free, farm raised chicken was missing a key ingredient? Mercury! Maybe it’s not as clean as you thought, huh? Or what if you opened up a bottle of pure, fresh from the mountains clean Aquafina water and brown came out? Probably not drinking that one.
If your heart produces, has produced, has ever produced any kind of unclean actions, then your heart is unclean! You are unclean.
This is a big deal. It’s a big deal because God is a connoisseur of holiness! He loves his human lives to be completely devoid of any impurities. None in action. Nothing sinful in words. Nothing sinful in thoughts.
He has the palate to tell the difference! We might not; but God does. God does and when God finds impure hearts, do you know what he does? He throws them away. From his presence. Forever.
That’s a very real threat of our very real Holy God!
III. How Do I Get Clean?
1 John says this, “The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purifies us from all sin.”
If you needed a blood transfusion, because your blood went toxic, do you know what would be valuable? Using blood that isn’t toxic. Similarly, it wouldn’t do any good if you needed a new lung to take the lung of the 30 year smoker with cancer.
Unclean things don’t fix unclean things. We, who are unclean, cannot make our hearts, which are unclean, clean!
But Jesus, He is. Jesus lived a life that was completely pure in every way. His actions were God pleasing always. His words were morally upright always. His thoughts were completely in line with God’s way of thinking always.
Granted, it probably helped that He was God. Did you know Jesus claimed that? He claimed to be God’s Son, the Lord of heaven and earth. If it’s true, that would explain why Jesus is as holy as God wanted – because He was God….who is holy.
But that’s hard to believe! Do you know what else is hard to believe?
That Jesus could make a blind man see with only his hands – but he did.
That Jesus could make a lame man walk with only his words – but he did.
That Jesus could calm storms. That he could walk on water. That he could change water into wine. That he could die a tragic death on a cross in front of hundreds of people, be buried and assured of his death by the many involved with placing his body into the grave, ONLY to come out of that grave, a grave sealed shut with a giant stone and guarded by the Navy Seals of that day, ONLY to come out of that grave ALIVE! And to appear to hundreds in various times, at various places, and in various ways.
Jesus did God things. Which is proof that he’s God. Which is proof that He’s miraculous.
Which is proof that he cleans hearts.
1 John 1:9 says this, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us all our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Granted, this is a faith thing. I don’t have a giant, divine X Ray machine to show you how Jesus cleans souls. It doesn’t have visible proof.
But, we do have the very words of God written down right here. If you confess your sins, God is faithful and just He will (he has forgiven you) and He will (He has cleansed you) from all unrighteousness.”
It wasn’t long after Jesus made these statements that this whole Him having the power to cleanse people thing got put to the test.
A woman approached him with tears in her eyes. She was stressed. She was appalled. She was at her wits end.
Her daughter was possessed by an evil spirit. (Talk about unclean.) The evil spirit controlled her. It led her to speak hate. She hurt herself. She tried to drown herself. She had put her mother through misery. Her little child, her daughter, was in agony.
“Lord, can you help!”
“For such great faith, go. Your daughter is healed.”
The woman returned and she found her daughter returned. Healed. Freed. Cleansed.
Stop trying to clean yourself. Turn to the One who cleans all hearts. Put your faith in Jesus. Be clean. Amen.
“I will raise the believers up on the last day.”
Did anyone else notice that Jesus had said that? Bartholomew looked around. He saw the people uneasily shifting their weight. If the whole idea of Jesus as Bread wasn’t strange enough, now Jesus was claiming that he could give people eternal life. He was making the statement that he could raise dead bodies back to life. No one could do that!
Sure. He’d seen Jesus do all kind of amazing things. He made the sick well. He made the blind see. He made the lame walk. He had just gotten done feeding over 5,000 people with just a few loaves of bread and two fish.
But death? Nobody could cure death. That was impossible.
But as Bartholomew scanned the crowd that had gathered in the synagogue, he saw a strange sight. In and amidst the sea of disgust and mistrust, he saw hope.
The grandma in the corner whose body was betrayed by arthritis and crumpled from degeneration.
The woman whose family had a history of heart disease.
The boy whose father had been diagnosed with the incurable and fatal disease of leprosy.
Was Jesus sure of what he was doing? Did he really want to give people the hope of eternal life?
Jesus spoke again. “Truly, Truly, I say to you, the one who believes in me, has eternal life. I am the Bread of Life” (v.47)
Bartholomew gulped. Jesus didn’t stutter.
What do you think about that? Today we’re going to take a look at perhaps the most outrageous claim that Jesus makes in this section of John 6. We’re going to hear that the Bread of life not only enriches your trust, nourishes your soul, and improves your vision – but it also Extends Life…to eternity. And we need to be asking the question: How? How can Jesus make such a promise where all of the minds at UNC and Duke combined have failed? How can Jesus defeat such a thing as death?
Let’s get into the Scriptures and listen to Jesus’ answer.
I. Bread that Gives Life…Gives Life
Here’s that phrase that we just talked about in context. It comes from John. 6:47 “Truly, Truly, I say to you, the one who believes in me, has eternal life. I am the Bread of Life.”
Ever been to the cereal aisle in the store? If you walk up and down it, you’re going to see all kinds of large print, flashy description – Vitamin enriched! Fiber Packed! Excellent source of Riboflavin! It makes it way into other things too. I saw an Orange Juice – probably for the lactose intolerant – it’s says “Vitamin C Injected” on the outside.
So it makes sense. When you eat Cereal of Fiber, you get fiber. When you drink milk of Vitamin C, you get Vitamin C.
Jesus’ claim is similar – and really simple. When you eat the Bread of Life, you receive – wait for it – LIFE!
This isn’t what normal bread can offer you. Go to the store. Eat some Wonder Bread. Grab some little Debbie Snacks. Try on the Kroger version of multigrain bread – they might be healthy. They might help you extend your life a bit. But no other bread can make the eternal life extension claim that the Bread of Life can.
Jesus says as much. In verse 49 he says, Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died.” Interesting too. Because the bread in the wilderness, literally came down from heaven. It came down in a mysterious and miraculous way! Every morning the people got up in the desert, they’d look around. They’d see white stuff. Not snow. But a piece of a bread-like substance. This was a miracle.
But even that miracle bread did not stop them from dying. All of those Israelites saw their bodies turn to dust. That bread went into their bodies. Turned into calories. It was burned. It was gone. It didn’t prevent anyone from dying. It didn’t save anyone from eternal death. It didn’t have any ability to raise a dead body back to life.
But… the Bread of Life does. 50 Here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. That’s quite the promise. So how do you suppose Jesus can make that promise? How can Jesus promise our bodies a resurrection and our souls to pass on to eternal life? What makes the Bread of Life so special? It gives life.
II. Jesus’ Flesh is Resurrection Packed
51 "I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Notice the reminder in verse 51. He is the bread that “comes down from heaven.” In other words, He is God’s Son. He has divine flesh. His flesh has divine power. That means three very important things:
A) Jesus’ Blood is Universal
What type of blood do you have? Blood types are tricky. If you have A blood, you can’t receive B blood. If you have B blood, you can’t receive A blood. If you have O blood, then you can only receive O only blood!
But Jesus’ blood? It covers the sins of all people. It cover sins of lust. It covers sins of greed. It covers sins of pride, gossip, angry, unforgiveness, hatred, disgust, apathy, idol worship – you name it. Christ is a universal donor.
On the cross, Jesus didn’t have a needle stuck in his arm, but he had nails driven into his hands. He was killed in order that your sins might be covered.
Why is that a big deal? Because the Wages of sin is death. With sin covered and removed, there is no death!
B) Jesus’ blood is Infinite
But it’s more than just universal – and able to cover any sin. Jesus’ blood is also infinite.
Think of POWs. If you have a prisoner of war, you trade. One prisoner for one prisoner. One life for another. Blood for blood. One human for one human.
But what about God’s blood? Can you imagine how many people his blood could trade for? Infinite. If God’s blood pays for an infinite number of people, that blood pays for you. It pays for your sins.
C) Jesus’ blood is victorious
Although it doesn’t appear like that way. Even look at Jesus’ words. He says, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” In other words – I will give up. I will give to the cross. I will give to nails, and thorns, and a spear to the heart. I will give up to God’s wrath against sin. I will give my life to death.
But that’s not how the story ends. Jesus returns. He is victorious over the nails, over the thorns, and the spear to the heart. He is victorious over sin. He is victorious over death. He is alive!
Do you understand why Jesus promises life? His blood is universal, infinite, and his blood always beats death!
III. It’s About Faith
Ok. So. How do you make this yours? How do you make eternal life yours?
52 … the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
This is a really good question. Because Jesus isn’t talking about cannibalism; he’s probably not talking about Lord’s Supper – something he hasn’t even established yet.
What’s interesting is Jesus’ answer. Take a look at it. It isn’t so much an explanation but a call to faith. 53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.”
I’ve gotta be honest. I don’t know how fluoride works. But I use it. (Good news, right?) It works. How about you? Can you explain Ibuprofen? Does it work? Could you draw or me a diagram to show how Nasonex works? Do you still use it?
There are plenty of things we don’t understand how they work. But we use them anyway. In trust.
Jesus flesh doesn’t require you to understand the scientific, divine process behind the removal of sin and the promise of eternal life. It’s not a matter of reason – it’s a matter of faith. Because faith connects you to Jesus. Faith connects you to the Bread of Life. Let Jesus continue, “56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.”
Has this ever happen to you? You’ve gotta get up real early in the morning. You set yoru alarm. Your phone is getting close to dead though, so you plug in the phone to the battery charger and then place it on the window ledge. You set the alarm for 5:30am. You wake up around 7am. Why? Turns out, your black lab thought it would be nice to walk right past the dangling cord of the phone and pull the charger out from the phone.
When the phone isn’t connected to the charger, it’s dead. When we aren’t connected to our Savior, we’re dead! How can you expect to live forever if you aren’t connected to he one who gives you the power to lives forever?
You can’t. So stay plugged in to Jesus. Get connected to Him with devotions. Get connected to coming to Bible classes. Get connected to Him by getting involved in church.
Because being connected to Him means life.
Let me tell you about Lisa. Lisa was a mother of three with a preschooler at the congregation I vicared at. She was a blessing to the congregation. She played music. She taught kids.
Lisa also taught us strength. She had cancer. When I was there, I got to see her battle cancer. I got to see her go to chemo. I heard her encourage others. She focused on her Lord. She found him as her strength. She trusted in him.
Then, the cancer got real bad. She had weeks to live.
I want to read to you her Facebook note. This was about a week before she died: “I know this brings much sadness. Death always will. But I hope once the shock wears off you will be able to rejoice that I am almost home. I will be waiting with open arms to greet all my friends who are saints through what Christ has done for us. To God Be the Glory!”
How can she make such a statement? She was connected to Jesus.
She...is...connected to Jesus in a way unlike any other.
You too. Stay connected to Jesus.
That was amazing!
From what they could see in the back, Jesus had made the bread come out of thin air. He had been feeding them all from what seemed like one never ending basket of food. There’s no way that thing had the thousands of loaves of bread and the thousands of fish necessary to feed the whole crowd stuffed inside of it’s wicker sides.
Jesus had done a miracle.
And, come to think of it, there was probably only an hour or so more before it would be time for late night snack. They could go back into town and use some of their hard earned money to buy few dates to satisfy their late night hunger or…
“…Hey! Do you wanna follow that Jesus!?!”
With Jesus, they’d never be hungry again. They’d never need to walk to the store, beg on the side of the road, work all week long, farm the fields, raise the chickens, or even so much as unpackage the wrapping paper. With Jesus, they could sit back, relax and take it easy. Jesus could provide all that their bodies needed.
Now…if only they could find him...
Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever feel if God would simply ‘show up’ in your life and take care of all your earthly needs – then you’d be set? Do you ever feel like the most important thing you need is a better job, plenty of food, a new home, the right guy, the right children – more money?
The North Carolina powerball is currently at 50 million dollars. Dream with me – what would that be like? Most of your problems would go away, right? You could pay off your mortgage. You wouldn’t have to work. You could catch up on child care payments. You could get a nice car whose driver side window went all the way up. You could pay for all the doctor bills and appointments necessary at Duke and UNC in order to heal yourself of every ailment that bothers you.
I think it’d be an awesome way to ensure that we break ground on a brand new facility for Precious Lambs tomorrow! With state of the art robot assistant teachers in every room. Each kid could have their own iPad!
If only God paid more attention. He needs to provide more physical blessings for us. Afterall, there is nothing more important than physical blessings…right?
Physical blessings were the reason the crowd searched for Jesus through the night. While he was on the lake with the disciples, they were frantically going through the neighboring towns just like the search party in Beauty and the Beast – “Where is he? Have you seen Jesus? Have you seen my ticket to easy street?”
Take a look at your text. Listen to what happens when finally found him the next day They asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” As if they knew, Jesus is going to want us to talk about spiritual stuff. Rather than calling him what we want -- FREE FOOD PROVIDER -- we should call him teacher. It’ll placate his conscience and we’re sure to get some more food.
But Jesus saw right through their plan, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill."
In other words – you guys couldn’t care less that I am the Messiah doing incredible, soul saving miracles. All you care about is your stomach.
Quiz Time. The Israelites thought that feeding their bellies was the most important thing. What body part do you think is the most important to keep healthy?
Take a look at the options below. Then, write down the one that you think is most important to keep healthy.
Stomach --- Brain --- Sex Drive --- Wallet --- Smile --- Soul
Maybe you circled stomach. This probably depends on how your stomach feels. (We could all circle it at one time or another). As long as you aren’t hungry, things are ok. It’s why you get cranky when you haven’t had enough to eat. It’s the reason you work. In your prayer life, this the only thing you ever really ask God for. If you’re a kid, you might have picked this one. There was a young girl not that long ago whom I asked, “What is your favorite part of church?” Answer? The cookies. At least she’s honest.
Maybe you circled brain. If you did, you value education above all else. It’s important to get your kids in the best academic school. That’s the number one thing you look for in a Preschool, an elementary school, a middle school or a high school. It’s why you read the way you do – biography here, science there, dominate all my friends on Trivia Night there – so that I can place my doctorate on the wall there. It’s why you never bring up a bunch of Bible stuff like Creation and the Flood and Jonah inside of a big fish in front of your friends because that would make you look foolish.
Maybe you circled sex drive. Maybe you didn’t cause it’s kind of embarrassing, but a look at your life would certainly make a case that this is most important. You throw out all of your morals for a moment of excitement. You ignore God’s warnings for your soul, because you are too busy listening to the longings of your sexuality. XXX.com is favorite on your computer’s webpage while Biblegateway.com isn’t even highlighted as a “recently visited’ website.
Maybe you circled wallet. (Which isn’t technically a body part so perhaps we should have placed “hip where your wallet or purse goes instead) If you did circle that, then congratulations – you agree with millions of Americans who verbally disavow wealth but secretly think money is the only thing necessary. You love watching your stocks grow. You have an entire shelf of “Get rich quick Books”, but you don’t have any idea where your Bible is. Your least favorite part of the service it the offering because “God better not be asking for my hard earned money."
Maybe…and this is tricky…you circled your smile. “God I just want to be happy.” If you did circle this, you’ve watched plenty of Disney films. Who cares about money. Who cares about food. Who cares about my wallet or my sex drive – just as long as I’m happy. And honestly? Who cares about what God says? My moral compass will consist of “Does it make me happy?” If it does, well, sorry God.
Of course there is only one answer that I haven’t read yet. Maybe you circled it. If so, that's a good answer.
Your soul is the only thing listed that you cannot live without. It is the only thing that lasts forever. It's what makes you -- you. It's what will be judged by God Almighty at the end of your life.
If you wrote down soul, good for you. But don't get too excited. Next I want you to think -- if soul is the most important part of your body to keep healthy -- how healthy have you been keeping it?
If someone looked at your life this past week, would they be able to tell that soul feeding is your number one priority?
If not, repent for the times that you haven’t made it your priority.
It's time to change.
Of course if you are going to start feeding your soul, then you need to know what to feed it. There are plenty of bad options out there. What is the best option for feeding your soul.
Allow Jesus to answer. Let him tell you about the Bread of Life -- the best soul food you'll ever eat.
1) It’s Longevity.
Jesus said, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
Have you ever had stale Doritos before? It's such a sad event. They taste stale and kind of soggy. Yuck. That’s why it’s important to look at the sell by date on the back of the packaging – for any kind of food! Imagine if grocery stores never changed their produce or sent things out after they expired - not good.
That’s the problem with anything physical – it will expire. Food spoils. Knowledge fades. Sexual highs last a moment. Money disappears with the change of the ticket tape. Your smile comes, goes, and appears as a fake pleasantry even when you are feeling lonely and empty inside.
But the food that Jesus is offering, lasts much longer than the end of the month. It’s shelf life will outlast the brick and mortar of any store. It even outlasts the pickles down in the cellar of your grandma’s house.
Jesus offers Food that endures to eternal life. As in…it lasts forever. Just like your soul. Which when you die, will continue to live eternally. Either in the joyous, painfree courts of heaven OR the painful, awful, fiery depths of hell. A forever that could start at any moment.
Sounds important, right?
2) It’s Producer
The people are interested in what Jesus has to say, so they respond, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
The people are very interesting in their next answer. They asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’"
In other words – "Maybe Jesus, we’ll believe you…if you make us some more of that FREE bread out of thin air bread!” (At least they’re persistent).
32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.” Moses wasn’t doing magic tricks by providing manna to fall from the sky in the desert – that was God. Consequently, the bread of life that Jesus was speaking of also came directly from God!
Ever been to a family reunion before? The truth is that some of the dishes at the family reunion potluck are better than others. Grandma made that pie? Delicious. Uncle Bob fried that chicken? I’ll have some. Crazy Aunt Gertrude made that Jell-O with some kind of floaties in the middle? I’ll pass.
The bread of life comes from God! It comes from the only holy, perfect, all powerful, all loving, all knowing, all incredible Being in the universe! He will provide a sweetness beyond Little Debbie, a nutrition beyond the Green Giant and a satisfaction beyond Snickers.
3) It’s Source
Jesus continues and we get another reason this bread is so good – similar to the last one. “The bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
How about that for a factory location? Heaven is perfect. Heaven doesn’t have any sanitation points knocked off its operation. Heaven doesn’t have any bad reviews on YELP. Its customer satisfaction is beyond perfect! Any product from there would be incredible.
I love the Pit. Love the chopped pork, the fries, the fried okra. As far as I am concerned, anything from the Pit is great. At least that’s what I thought. Then, I ordered the BBQ Chicken. It was...ok.
Heaven isn’t like that. It doesn’t disappoint. This bread that Jesus speaks of from heaven – will not disappoint!
Hopefully Jesus’ pitch is working in your heart. It certainly excited the people. 34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
Their mouths were watering. Their stomachs were growling. I’m sure a few of them even held out their hands.
35 Jesus sighed. “I am the bread of life.
This fits in with what Jesus said earlier. The work of God is to Believe in the one he sent. The food Jesus was talking of wasn’t some kind of food that you at with your mouth and tasted with your lips. It wasn’t an inanimate object.
It was himself. His very being. A being that God had sent for them. A being that would go to the cross to remove their sins. A being that would rise from the dead on a glorious Easter Sunday.
A being that feeds our souls.
When tired? Jesus makes us strong.
When hopeless? Jesus gives us hope.
When sinning? Jesus gives us rebuke.
When guilty? Jesus forgives our sins.
When doubting? Jesus gives assurance.
When facing death? Jesus makes us live forever!
So get up. What are you waiting for? Feast on the bread of Life. It doesn’t come in packages. You can’t buy it at the store. It doesn’t grow in the fields. It comes to you in the Word of God. It comes to you in the Gospel. It comes to you in the message of Jesus your Savior.
Start your day with a balanced breakfast -- a prayer and a bible reading. Listen on your iPhone if you have to. Don't forget the Bread of Life! Amen.
This wasn’t how it normally went.
Philip had been to Passover plenty of times. Jerusalem was always bustling. They came to see the beautiful trellises of the temple and the powerful foundation of the city's wall. They crowded in the marketplaces to sample the city fare. They went to the synagogue to catch a glimpse of Caiaphas or Annas as they went up their business.
But as the Passover approached, the crowd wasn’t in Jerusalem.
As Philip sat with Jesus and the other disciples on a hill near the Sea of Galilee, he saw the crowd approaching. They moved across the rolling landscape like bunch of cattle roaming together toward their shepherd.
There was a lot of them.
“Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus asked.
Philip blinked. Jesus was looking at him.
What was he talking about? It had been a long day. He was sweaty and tired. The other disciples were sweaty and tired. Jesus was sweaty and tired. Yet, all he could think about was getting these people food?
Not to mention there were thousands of these people. 5000 men alone. Do you know how many pieces of maza they’d have to bake? The sheer amount of horses they’d need to load up all this food? There was no catering. There wasn’t online ordering. Domino's wasn’t around yet and no one delivered. In fact, there probably wasn’t a restaurant in Jerusalem who was prepared for such an incredible order. If they wanted to pay for all these people, Jesus should have started taking donations months ago.
Philip responded to Jesus’ question, “Month's wages wouldn’t buy enough food for all of them!"
In other words: This was impossible.
Can you really blame the disciples?
Imagine with me, getting ready for Easter breakfast here at Gethsemane. Guys. We’re cooking up some delicious pancakes, lots of bacon, and some of that special sausage gravy. Then, someone comes in to report that there’s a line of cars that goes out of the parking lot, wraps down Newton and around Falls of Neuse all the way –in two lanes of traffic – past the 440 intersection.
Do you think we’d have enough food?
Actually we panic in circumstances not nearly as impressive. We panic when the supper party is only supposed to be a ‘few close friends’ and then a couple of the single people from work bring guests with them. Will there be enough Cheez Whiz? Did I get enough meat? Will ten bags of Doritos be enough?
But it’s more than just parties. Anytime a situation seems impossible, we begin to doubt:
“I can’t believe that I got injured. Now I have to see the doctor and my health insurance isn’t even that great! How will I pay for it?”
“NC Car tax is due? I didn’t remember to figure that into the budget? How will we get by?”
“The mortgage is behind and the collectors are calling from RoomsGo! What’ll we do? Sell the kids?”
“The doctor says my aunt has what? That’s terminal. There’s no way. It’s impossible.”
"The relationship with my kid has soured. She won't talk to me. It's impossible."
"My husband and I have done too much wrong for each other. To stay married...it's impossible."
Why the doubting? The problem is simple.
Scripture says “Jesus did this to test Philip.” What was Jesus hoping Philip would think of when he asked him that question? He was hoping Philip would think of all the incredible things that he had seen Jesus do. That in spite of the impossible situation Philip would have thought of the time Jesus impossibly changed water into wine. Or the time he cured incurable leprosy. Or the time when he healed people with impossible lameness so they could walk again.
But Philip thought of none of that. Instead, he focused solely on the problem. He was convinced. This was impossible.
When problems arise and we doubt, we do the same thing. We are focusing on the problem. When our mind is zeroed in on that problem, it’s hard…impossible for us to see a way out of it.
But that’s not where God would have us focus.
Andrew agreed with Philip. “Here’s a boy with 5 loaves of bread and two small fish.” He told Jesus, “But how far is that gonna go?”
Philip nodded. They couldn’t feed the people. It was impossible. Jesus nodded too. Philip was happy that Jesus was listening to reason.
But then, Jesus reached out. He grabbed the basket from the young boy. He patted him on the head and then returned to where he was seated. He looked up. He prayed.
Then, Jesus did something crazy. He started passing out the bread.
At first, Philip thought this seemed a bit rude. Afterall, his mom had taught him that it wasn’t very nice for them to eat in front of all these people. But Jesus tapped his shoulder. And pointed. The disiples were to start passing the food to the people.
So they did. They passed out a loaf. Then a fish. Then another loaf. And another. And another. And another.
They passed out bread and fish until every single one of those 5,000 plus people had some.
Not just “some.” It wasn’t as if everybody got a little crumb. Philip looks around and he saw people smiling. Some were rubbing their bellies. He heard a few of them say, “I’m stuffed.”
Then Philip saw something even more incredible. Matthew was holding a basket filled with –get this – bread and fish. He wasn’t the only one. All the other disciples had baskets full too. In fact, there were 12 baskets filled with food.
12 x more left over than before they fed over 5,000 people? "That’s impossible,” Philip thought.
Then he smiled. “No. That’s Jesus.”
Take a look at this simple passage from Luke 1:37 It’s a great passage to memorize and place on your heart this week, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
Brothers and sisters, the same is true for you. I don’t care your situation.
Incurable illness? Not impossible with God.
Unworkable job environment? Not impossible with God.
Awful relationship conditions? Not impossible with God
Impossible to deal with children? Not impossible with God.
Not enough food to feed family? Not impossible with God.
Unpayable bills? No impossible with God.
Sin hardened addictions? Not impossible with God
Unshakeable guilt? Not impossible with God.
Nothing is impossible with God. Not feeding close to 10,000 people with a few loaves of bread and two fish. Not sending birds to feed you when there isn’t any food around. Not having your sins of doubt – and mistrust – and “God this is too big for you to deal with” – removed.
Talk about impossible! We can’t get rid of our guilt. We’re sinful mistake ridden people. All attempts to rid ourselves of sin are sinful and mistake ridden. It’s impossible for you or me to do anything about it.
But Jesus did. He did the impossible! He cured the incurable disease of sin. He breathed life into our dead souls. He bridged the unleapable cavern between us and God. He knocked down the impossible barrier of our sins. He died and then he did the impossible (doing anything while you are dead is pretty impossible, but Jesus did the impossible while he was dead) he brought himself back to life!
Jesus has done the impossible for you. Jesus will do the impossible for you.
So…if you’ve got trust issues, how do you deal?
Do you remember Flinstones vitamins? I used to eat those growing up. I ate them because they tasted good and because they had Barney Rubble pictured on them. But the real reason my mom gave them to me (and your mom gave/gives you vitamins) is so that you are nourished and enriched.
It’s the same thing with our spirit.
When you trust count is low, eat some of the Bread of Life. Struggling to get through the day? Stop and read this section of John 6 again – focus how God provides. Trust deficiency? Read the rest of John and see our Savior do impossible things. Malnourished in faith? Meditate on this passage “Nothing is impossible with God.”
Give your soul the divine vitamins and minerals necessary and not only will you have a healthy trust, but your trust will begin to grow strong.
When you stop focusing on the problem and instead focus on the problem solver, your trust will be enriched.
That’s what happened to the crowds. When they saw what Jesus did, they trusted. They trusted him to give them all the food they wanted. They moved to make him king.
Jesus disappeared. He got away from there. Now he was testing them. They knew what they thought was best. Did they trust Jesus to do what was best?
Do you? If you don't, I challenge you to read more about the one that I recommend you put your trust in. Meditate on Jesus. Read about what he's done and feast on the Bread of Life.