Today we are taking a look at a guy with some really, really bad sins who is confronted by the Risen Lord Jesus himself. Our goal is to apply what he learns about his really, really bad sins and apply it to our own really, really bad sins. But before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Background
The guy we want to talk about has already made a few cameo appearances in the book of Acts. Maybe you noticed? Maybe you didn’t.
First, flash back to the end of Acts 7. That’s the section about Stephen, the bread delivery guy who told widows about Jesus -- and got killed because he delivered bread to widows and told people about Jesus. At the end of his trial, as the religious leaders are angry and picking up stones to hurl them at Stephen, Acts 7:58 says this: “Members of the Sanhedrin laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul and he approved of their killing him.”
Have you ever tried throwing a baseball in a sports coat? Or toss the pigskin in a three-piece suit? It’s not very easy. Usually, you take off the coat, so your arms are a bit freer.
These guys? They took off their coats because they wanted as little friction as possible for throwing stones at the “Jesus lover’s” head.
And Saul – he’s not in the game – but on the sidelines – holding onto the non-violent-stone-hurling-clothing and nodding and approving.
Essentially, this Saul guy got his start as the equipment manager for Stephen’s murderers.
In fact, this spurs Saul on to action. He didn’t want to be a benchwarmer forever. Look at 8:3 “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” He’s motivated. He sees a bunch of religious leaders kill an Ordinary Christian church member and he says, “Anything you can do, I can do better.” He goes on an assault as the main guy in charge of destroying the church.
He doesn’t just throw Apostles in jail.
He pursues ordinary church members.
And not just the guys either….
Saul crosses over into the field of throwing Christian women – usually untouchable because we should treat women with respect and take good care of them – but Saul brings his special form of violence against Christian women.
In short, if you are a Christian, you would have been a target for Saul.
Flashforward. The persecution in Jerusalem caused the church to spread. Christians scattered to the north south and west. As they spread, God’s Word spread.
The Unstoppable Gospel remained unstoppable. It’s what we talked about the last two weeks.
About how Philip shared the amazing, Unstoppable Gospel with Simon the dark arts magician and a town under his dark magic.
About how Philip dirty, rugged and sweaty shared the amazing, Unstoppable Gospel with the Ethiopian royalty in the middle of nowhere and he believed.
Saul persecuted the church in Jerusalem.
The church spread out and started growing outside of Jerusalem.
And Saul couldn’t stand it.
Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belong to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. (9:1-2)
It’s kinda like crabgrass. Any of you have crab grass? I’ve been trying to get rid of it by pulling the stuff that pops up or spraying on some crab grass killer. But then what happens is, I kill it in one spot and then it pops up in another spot. I’m thinking about torching the whole lawn, but the crab grass would probably be all that survived.
Saul viewed Christianity like crab grass.
He viewed it as a weed that needed to be destroyed.
He was willing to travel hundreds of miles to put a stop to it.
So, he asked the priests for letters – official recommendation letters stamped with the Pharisaical seal of approval – that he could take to synagogues in other towns. Letters he could give to his fellows Jews in the synagogue that read, “This is Saul. He’s cool. Let him kill off all the Christians in the area. It’s for the best.”
Saul asked for letters like that.
Saul received letters like that.
And Saul was empowered to kill because of letters like that.
II. The Confrontation
One particular eradication journey was to a place called Damascus. It was about 150 miles to the North East of Jerusalem.
That’s not an easy trip. But Saul goes – cause his hatred for all-things-Jesus is that much.
It was hot.
It was sweaty.
It was long.
But Saul kept himself occupied. As he travelled, surrounded by a group of vicious henchmen, he practiced swinging his sword, picturing it plunging into the heart of “a mouthy Christian” and he whistled. He was so happy to be doing God’s work and totally eradicating the message of Jesus.
He was carefree.
He was happy.
He was right.
A bright flash. (v.3)
Not the sun.
A brilliant, otherworldly like flash that filled the entirety of Saul’s vision.
Saul fell down.
He heard a voice:
Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? (v.4)
Who was it?
Was it Peter?
Was it John?
Was it one his friends playing a prank?
The voice spoke again:
I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. (v.5)
Jesus? As in the guy that I’m persecuting?
As in the guy that my associates killed?
As in the guy that was dead?
As in the guy that supposedly came back to life, but that’s impossible so I have been dedicating my life to completely and absolutely eradicating all of his followers?
Saul looked and believed the man.
And it wasn’t just the subtle glow of the light.
It wasn’t just the confidence in his voice.
It was the nail marks in his hands.
And a lump grew in Saul’s throat the size of a Passover matzo ball.
Jesus was real.
He had thought it was all a sham…
He had thought it was all phony…
He had thought it was all a demon inspired threat to the truth about God…
He was wrong.
Jesus wasn’t the demon inspired threat.
And Jesus? He must have come for revenge.
To zap him.
To destroy him.
To breathe murderous threats against him and take him as a prisoner to the tortures of hell.
Just not yet.
Get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do. (v.6)
Then, Jesus disappeared.
Thank God – he had a few more moments to live.
But…Saul blinked. He couldn’t see. The light was gone and there was only darkness. It was a chilling reminder of how he had been in darkness and completely wrong about Jesus.
He heard his companions voices:
Saul, are you alright?
Saul, we heard the voice?
Saul, what should we do next?
“Drop your swords.
Take my hand.
Get me to Damascus.”
III. The Change
Upon getting to Damascus, Saul changed his itinerary.
Instead of fighting Christians, he was fighting his own demons.
I was so wrong.
I am so guilty.
I persecuted God’s Son!
I killed his people.
I am a liar.
I am a murderer.
I am a sinner – guilty – and in danger of the fires of hell.
Saul didn’t eat.
Saul didn’t drink.
He allowed his physical body to go through the torture that his soul was going through. (v.9)
And then, on the third day…
A man named Ananias.
He was a disciple of Jesus.
He would have been one of the men that Saul came to kill.
Now he was blind.
He was weak.
Surely, Ananias had come to kill him.
“Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (v.17) You are his chosen instrument. He will work through you. He loves you. He died for you. He forgives you.
It was hard to believe!
He was such a sinner.
He was so guilty.
He had done so much wrong!
But …as soon as Ananias finished his message…God did something to emphatically prove Ananias’ point:
Immediately, something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see again. (v. 18a)
Visual proof of the invisible truth.
God had forgiven Saul.
But seeing spiritually that Jesus was his Savior.
Saul got up.
He got up and immediately was baptized. (v.18b)
He was loved.
He was accepted.
He was forgiven.
IV. The Truth
This true story is a true story about Saul.
It’s a true story about God’s grace to Saul.
But it’s also a true story with one very important truth for you.
Jesus died even for the really, really bad sins.
We shouldn’t rank sins. God doesn’t do that.
But humanly speaking, we rank sins all of the time.
There are certain sins that just stick with us. Certain sins we feel extra guilty for. Certain sins that we become convinced Jesus would never have died for.
Is that actually true?
Jesus died for all sins.
Jesus died for the small sins.
Jesus died for even the really, really bad sins.
For that arrest.
For cheating on your spouse.
For practicing homosexuality.
For those awful words you said.
For that violent thing you did.
For that racist blow-up at work.
Even the “worst” and most awful sins find their relief in Jesus.
Want proof? Saul later wrote this:
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Tim. 1:15)
Saul gets it.
He knows what it’s like to feel guilt.
Humanly speaking he did a great deal of sins.
Humanly speaking his sins rank up at the worst!
Yet he was forgiven.
If he was forgiven, you are forgiven too.
There is no sin too big.
No sin too bad.
No sin too “sin” for Jesus our Savior.
So…what now? Two things:
1) Lay Your Really, Really Big Sins at the Feet of Jesus
If Jesus removes even your really, really big sins, then stop carrying their guilt around.
You need to drop them.
You need to leave them at the foot of the cross.
At the gym, sometimes they make us carry Kettle Balls. Kettle Balls can be a lot of different weights. Sometimes, if you want to do the prescribed workout, the Kettle Ball can be up to about 70 lbs. You have to carry it in a lot of different ways. At your side. In a front rack. Even over your head. It can be tiring. Especially after walking a couple 100 meters.
Then, when you get to the end, you set them down at the rack and you stop carrying them. Like I never pick it up and go: “I wish we could carry these for another couple of hundred feet.” NEVER.
Why do the same thing with guilt?
Jesus died for your sin.
Jesus removed all your sin.
Jesus removed all your guilt.
There is no reason for you to pick it up and carry it with you.
God is strong enough.
God carried it to the cross.
Leave it at the cross.
2) Be Ananias for Others
Because Ananias had every reason to not share forgiveness with Saul! In fact, if we back up in the story – Ananias is a bit frightened to bring the message of Jesus to Saul, a known Christian persecutor, as he is a Christian.
I bet Ananias felt like saying: “Hi Saul! Ya big jerkface! I hope that God punishes you with hell.”
But he doesn’t.
Instead, he denies his own personal feelings and shares God’s forgiveness.
You do the same.
When someone has sinned greatly – against you – against someone else – share the Gospel.
Don’t do the thing where someone comes up to you and says, “I’m sorry,” and you’re like, “That was really, terrible and awful, what you did to me.”
And they say, “I know. I’m sorry.”
And you say, “Yes! It was awful! The worst!”
And they say, “I do regret it. I am terribly sorry.”
And you say, “You were so wrong. So very, very, very, very, very wrong.”
That’s not helpful.
That’s not God’s message to the repentant heart.
God’s message to the repentant heart is “Forgiven.”
That’s the message we share with the repentant heart. The message of “Forgiven in Jesus.”
This is not the end of Saul’s story. It’s only the page turn. Just wait – stick with it – you are going to watch Saul’s life totally transform in devotion to Jesus.
And that’s because Jesus was totally devoted to Saul.
That same Jesus was devoted to you.
That same Jesus devoted his life to you.
That same Jesus gave up his life for you.
In him, even the really, really bad sins are really, really forgiven. Amen.
Animals have amazing instincts. It’s true.
Geese know to migrate cross country during the weather change.
Baby kangaroos instinctively climb into their mother’s pouches to suckle.
Honeybees dance to communicate the whereabouts of pollen to each other.
Animals have amazing instincts, usually.
Sometimes they get confused. Sometimes they get confused enough that they forget exactly who they are.
Like the lion who is playing around with his food – I mean – his friend – the deer…
Or this dog trying to get his fellow pups (and by that, I mean baby chickens) to throw the ball…
Or this turtle that thinks that turtle shaped sandbox is long lost Uncle Earl…
In the animal kingdom, mistaken identity is cute.
But what about in the spiritual kingdom?
What happens when you have a spiritual identity crisis?
Today we are going to talk about the very real identity crisis that Christian can suffer from – you might even be going through it right now. Our goal? To reexamine what our NEW identity is in Jesus and be confident of that NEW identity. Before we do, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Corinthian Identity
The lesson for this morning comes from a letter written by a pastor named Paul to church in a city called Corinth. A bit about Corinth – It was a harbor town located on the coast of Greece. It was a popular trade center which saw all kinds of goods and ideas pass through its marketplace.
Around 49 A.D. Pastor Paul went on a missionary journey. On this journey, he went from city to city in southern Europe sharing the message of Jesus with people who had never heard of Jesus. When he went, he had a method for how he brought the Gospel to a new city. (He would start by bringing the message to the Jewish synagogue located in town. He was Jewish. They were Jewish. He figured they had a connection). After that, Paul would go the non-Jewish part of town. He would enter the marketplace and the town square. He would encounter people who were completely unfamiliar with Jesus, completely unaware of God’s grace and completely unlearned in the Old Testament promises of the Savior.
That’s what Paul did in Corinth.
He spoke about Jesus to the Biblically learned Jews expecting the Messiah and the Biblically illiterate non-Jews not even knowing he exists…
Which group do you think would be Paul’s message?
The answer is surprising:
Many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:8)
That means the Corinthian church was filled with brand new believers in every sense of the world.
The believers were people who had previously NEVER heard the Good news of Jesus before and were in love with that good news of Jesus.
As a result, Paul stayed with this church for a while. He told them about Jesus. He told them about forgiveness. He told them about the peace they had with God.
But Paul was a missionary.
Eventually…he had to move on to the next city.
And after about a year, he did.
Fast forward a couple of years.
Things had changed in Corinth.
The church was not as joyful as it once was.
The church was filled with bitterness.
The church people were overwhelmed with guilt.
Without Paul around, their fellow Corinthians from the marketplace began to question their Christianity:
“You mean you don’t stay out late and get drunk on the weekends? What about the benders? The ragers? The good ol’ days? That’s not who I remember.”
“What do you mean marriage is important? You used to sleep with me and my sister on the same night? This Christian thing has changed who you are.”
“I thought you were a Corinthian. Corinthians worship Poseidon! Come on. Here’s some money. Let’s go have sex with the prostitutes in front of his temple to receive Poseidon’s blessing.”
And…it was working.
The Corinthians were listening to their friends, their coworkers, their neighbors.
They were falling into sin.
Worse yet – when they failed – on Sunday mornings as they made their way to church shaking off a hangover – the Jews -- the ones who hadn’t believed in Jesus – were waiting for them along the way:
“Oh look! If it isn’t Ned! He’s looking so religious this morning. He worshipped his god all last night by getting drunk.”
“Yep. He’s not a Christian. Unless there’s a denomination called “Christian drunkards.”
“And here’s the worst part. They’re going to get together and talk about forgiveness today. Ya’ll are fools!”
You aren’t loved; but hated.
You aren’t forgiven; but filled with sin.
You aren’t righteous; but absolute scum.
And the Corinthian congregation was in shambles.
And they argued with each other.
And they pointed out each other’s sins in order to make themselves feel better about their own.
And they fled back to their addictions.
And they were filled with shame.
And they were in the middle of a spiritual identity crisis.
Pastor Paul heard of this and he was compelled to respond. He wrote this to them: “Listen…we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” (2 Cor. 5:16) You aren’t just a bag of bones. You aren’t just stressed muscles that need to let off some steam. You aren’t just sex organs that need to be fulfilled. You aren’t just an object for someone else’s pleasure. No, we regard you as much more than that.
Why? Because we used to regard Christ in that way, though we do so no longer. (v. 16b)
We thought of Christ as a common Jewish man.
He wasn’t especially attractive.
He wasn’t especially powerful.
He was a former carpenter’s apprentice who had a few bruises on his knees from bending over to nail tables together.
And he sure didn’t look all that special on the cross.
He sweated like a common earthly man.
And bled like a common earthly man.
And died like a common earthly man.
But then…do you remember what I preached to you? Then…Jesus came back to life!
Unlike any man ever, Jesus came back to life.
Unlike any man ever, Jesus walked the earth again.
Unlike any man ever, Jesus rose from the grave.
Do you see Paul’s point?
Jesus proved there was more to him than the earthly man.
As believers in Jesus…
There’s more to you too!!!
II. a NEW identity
Has anyone here seen Remember the Titans? It’s a film that follows a high school football team in the segregated south. The coach works hard to integrate the team and help them work together at a time when people who looked different from one another – didn’t even attempt to.
At one point – things get heated. Players are being divisive. The team isn’t working out.
So…coach makes them look at their jerseys.
He tells them to look at their helmets.
He tells them to notice that they are the same.
Because under that helmet and jersey, the players aren’t black and white, rich and poor, educated and uneducated.
They are Titans.
Paul says the same thing to the Corinthians – and to you. If you are in Christ, the old has gone; the new has come…God has reconciled us to himself.
You are no longer “addict.”
You are no longer “slut.”
You are no longer “failure.”
You are no longer “convict.”
You are no longer “homo.”
You are no longer “bitter old man.”
You are no longer “gossip.”
You are no longer “sinner.”
You are forgiven.
You are loved.
You are righteous.
You are pure.
You are God’s child.
You are reconciled.
That’s your identity!
And that’s the identity that Paul was trying to get the Corinthians to remember.
It’s the identity that Paul had taught them about.
It’s an identity that you and I have learned about.
It’s an identity that is as true for you as it was for a Corinthian.
You are reconciled.
III. Identity Origins?
Granted. You might say, “That sounds nice, but how do I know it’s true? How do I know it’s not just a bunch of psycho babbles?” Look at what Paul says next and there you’ll find a few answers:
1. It’s from God
Verse 18 literally says, “All of this is from God who was reconciling himself to you in Christ!” God’s the ultimate source. He’s the ultimate reason behind the new identity of “reconciled.” And that’s good news – because it means that no other identity really counts.
It’s like the name that your parents give you. That’s the name that’s on your birth certificate. That’s the name that’s on your social security card. That’s the name that’s on your taxes. Your friends might give you a nickname. They might call you something for short, but that’s not your real name. Your parents had the authority to name you and they did.
And there is not greater authority than your spiritual Father – God himself.
And God himself has named you “Reconciled.”
And there is no other name the world can give you that has the authority to conquer this.
2. It’s through God’s people
Because it’s true! God did not speak in some loud booming voice to the Corinthians.
But he spoke through the Apostle Paul. Paul wrote, “We are Christ’s ambassadors, as if God were making his appeal through us!”
And it’s true! God might not have spoken to you in some loud, booming, obviously God voice.
But he has spoken to you.
Through the stern yet loving voice of your Sunday School teacher.
Through the tearful voice of a concerned friend.
Through the tremoring words of your great grandfather.
Through the gentle lullaby of your mother singing: “Jesus loves you.”
Through words that sound a lot like mine right now.
God may speak through his people. But they are still his words.
“We are Christ’s ambassadors, making his appeal to you: Be reconciled to God!”
3. It’s paid for by Jesus
Up to the east of church is Falls of Neuse Rd. We used to live right across the street by the apartments complex there. Behind the apartments are million dollars homes situated on a beautiful golf course called the North Ridge Country Club. There’s 36 beautiful holes, a private swimming area, tennis courts and a private club for dining events.
How do you get in? You pay your membership dues. Those dues would include up to $30,000/year.
I could not afford to be a member there. I don’t have enough money.
And the cost to be a member of God’s kingdom? It’s a life of perfection.
I can’t afford that.
You can’t either.
But we are members.
Because Jesus paid the price for us.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says just that, “God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.”
In other words, your identity is paid for.
It can’t be taken away.
You are NEW in Jesus.
III. What Now?
Two major things that I want you to take away and put into practice this coming week. They both come from verse 16. Look at it again, “From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.”
(1) Regard Yourself from God’s Point of View
Because it won’t be long after this service that you hear those worldly thoughts again:
You’re only humans – have some fun.
You’re one of us – enjoy this sin a little.
(And then) You are the worst of sinners that God could never ever, ever love.
Stop regarding yourself from the worldly point of view.
Start regarding yourself from God’s point of view.
Start regarding yourself as your NEW identity.
The NEW YOU doesn’t do the things of your old sinful way of life.
The NEW YOU doesn’t live selfishly.
The NEW YOU doesn’t live for your bodily desires.
The NEW YOU doesn’t live frightened of God’s eternal wrath.
The NEW YOU lives for Jesus.
The NEW YOU lives for others.
The NEW YOU lives for the Spirit.
The NEW YOU lives confidently in God’s forgiveness.
The more you understand God's forgiveness, the more confidence you'll have in God's love.
(2) Regard Others from God’s Point of View
This is doubly important. Because as easy as it is to view yourself from a worldly perspective, it is even easier to view others that way:
“Oh her? That’s the adulteress. God does not forgive her.”
“That guy has a bunch of tattoos! He’s not one of us.”
“That guy? Over there? I think he’s Islamic. We need him to leave immediately!”
Stop regarding people from a worldly point of view.
That’s what worldly people do.
Rather, from God’s point of view.
Because that’s what God’s people do.
Regard them as souls that Jesus died for.
Regard them as souls that need to hear that Jesus died for them.
Regard them as future – brothers and sisters.
That’s what Paul did! It’s why he wrote them this letter as brothers and sisters and not as “you no good, awful, dirty rotten sinners from Corinth!”
That’s because Paul understood one more thing about his identity. He wasn’t just a member of God’s kingdom, he was an ambassador.
And as believers in Jesus, you are ambassadors, too.
Think about what an ambassador does. He heads off to foreign countries. He represents his country. He speaks on behalf of his country.
You are God’s ambassadors. You are about of his country. You represent his country. You speak on behalf of your Lord.
That’s an important task. Who is up for such a task?
Can I tell you about Susie? Susie is 4 years old.
Susie attends Precious Lambs.
Susie loves Jesus.
She loves Bible Times.
She loves Jesus songs.
She loves going to chapel.
Susie’s mother told me the other day that Susie talks about Jesus even when she isn’t at school.
She talks about Jesus at home.
She talks about Jesus at her brother’s basketball practice.
She talks about Jesus at the grocery store.
She talks about Jesus before she goes to bed.
Susie has not forgotten her identity.
Susie knows she’s four years old (ask her; she’ll tell you).
But Susie also knows that she is an ambassador for Jesus.
Don’t you forget it either because you have a NEW identity in Jesus. Amen.
Today we are going to continue our NEW series by talking about how Jesus’ love for us transforms our love for each other into a NEW kind of love. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The OLD Definition of Love
The lesson for this morning comes from a letter written by the Apostle John written to believers everywhere and describing the aspects of a Christianity. Now – remember that Christianity was still relatively new. Jesus had died and risen within 15 years of this letter. For many believers, they were very recent converts from Old Testament Judaism or Greek Mythology. In this part of the letter, John reminds the believers that not every concept of Christianity is new. In fact, he points out that the heart of Christianity is an ancient command. Check out verse 11, “This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”
In Genesis 1 (which is as beginning as it goes), God creates a marvelous world for all of humanity. He loves humanity and he teaches them to love. He tells them to love by caring for the animals, by caring for one another and by caring enough to not eat that the fruit on that one tree that God asked them not to eat from.
It’s a simple way to show God love, but it’s a good way. (It’d be similar to not eating your mom’s chocolate brownies that she spent hours creating from scratch until she gives the ok. It’s loving to respect her wishes, since she’s the one who made them in the first place.)
In the very first loveless act of all time…
God selflessly gives them everything and they selfishly take something.
God loves, and people fail to love.
But let’s not dwell there. Surely, that little mistake can’t change everything? Surely the formerly love filled world, won’t plunge into lovelessness…
Fast forward a generation. Adam and Eve have two sons – one named Cain and another named Abel. And since Adam and Eve had failed so miserably at showing love, I am certain they went out of their way to tell their boys TO love….
Their mom and dad.
Now by this time, the tree that Adam and Eve could show love by not eating from it, was gone. They no longer lived in the beautiful garden; they had been banished to the wilderness. So, they would show love to God in a different way. They would take the best of their resources, put them on a stone, dedicate them to the Lord and set them on fire. It was a way to give back to God who had given them all things.
It looked like this:
Abel was a shepherd. He would bring one of his favorite sheep. One of his best sheep. One of his prized possessions, put it on an altar and set fire to it.
And Cain was a farmer. Cain would bring some of his vegetables, even his best vegetables, put them in a pile, place them on an altar and set fire to it.
Outwardly, the two offerings looked about the same.
Abel loved God.
Cain? Not so much.
“This is such a dumb rule. Why should I have to give something back to God? Sure, he gave us this world. Sure, he makes the sun rise up, but sometimes the sun burns the food. And he’s not the one working like I work. I sweat. I bleed. I get blisters. I break my back to make this stuff grow and he wants me to give it back to him? Really? I will. I don’t want him to strike me dead, but…I won’t be happy about it.
And look over there? It’s my stupid brother with his big old goofy grin on his face. “Praise God from whom all blessing flow!” What a joke. Tell you what -- I’ll make something flow. It won’t be praise. It’ll be blood. From his head.
And… …That’s what happened:
While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. (Genesis 4:8)
This is pretty awful.
This is pretty cold blooded.
This is not love in the slightest.
Good thing we are so much farther along and would never stoop to such awful lovelessness…
Agree or Disagree?
Love is following your heart.
To be fair, the world would tell us that this is true. Have you ever seen Once Upon a Time? It’s a TV show where storybook characters come to life and live in the modern 21st century. Snow White is in it. Prince Charming is in it. Pinocchio is in it. It’s kind of fun and interesting to watch these characters in our environment. Snow White trying to talk to bunch of real life robins. Prince Charming is not so charming. Pinocchio lives in the forest and lights a fire…of wood.
There’s a phrase that gets used over and over again on the drama “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
The idea is that if the beautiful Belle’s heart longs for the ugly beast, she should go for it. “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
Or if the pauper Aladdin wants the royal Jasmine, then he should go for it: “The heart wants what the heart wants.”
But what if that same logic gets applied to the villains?
What if what the Evil Queen wants to destroy Snow White? Reason to do it?
What if the evil Jafar wants to put Aladdin in a bottle? It’s cool right – the heart wants what the heart wants.
What if the selfish Gaston wants Belle just as much as the Beast does? Is it cool when he kidnaps her and forces her to be his?
Of course not. The reality is that following your heart does not always lead to noble choices.
Oftentimes it leads to hateful choices.
That’s what happened with Cain. Look at what it says about him, “Do not be like Cain, who (was of evil) and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brothers were righteous.”
Cain followed his heart.
His heart hated giving offerings.
His heart hated his brother.
His heart hated his heavenly Father.
And the murder was just Cain following his heart.
But it wasn’t love.
I would submit that you and I have the same problem.
When we follow our hearts, it isn’t always love.
I felt really, really angry at her pastor, that’s why I flew off the handle and called her those ugly names. My heart felt upset. I was just following it.
I know I promised to be faithful to my spouse, but that other person is so sexy….and well…the heart wants what the heart wants. You don’t want to stop love…do you?
Follow my heart is absolutely how I live my life, Pastor. I just do whatever I feel like. Which is why I’m in jail for drinking too much and driving.
Here’s the truth: Love is NOT following your heart.
Because we have sinful hearts.
Sinful hearts always do sinful actions.
And sin--filled actions aren’t love.
They are hatred.
It’s like opening up a jar of peanut butter and expecting to find fresh asparagus. It’s foolish! Peanut butter is made from peanuts. Asparagus is not on the ingredients list. There isn’t any in sight. (And if there is…you need to find a new place to buy asparagus)
Our hearts are filled with sin.
We can’t expect their desires to lead us to true love!
Only to true sin.
Only to hatred.
And if there’s one thing that God hates – it’s hatred. In fact, God hates hatred so much that he must destroy it! In fact, the Bible says this: “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murder and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” (1 Jn. 3:14-15)
Do you see the warning?
Stop following your sinful hearts.
Those desires will lead you to death.
II. a NEW definition of love
But…if following your heart isn’t the definition of love…then what is?
Remember what we read earlier: This is a message that has been there from the beginning: Love one another. (v.10)
That means love was a concept that was possible for Adam and Eve to accomplish even though they failed miserably at it.
It also means that love was a concept that was in existence before Adam and Eve…were.
And who “was” before Adam and Eve?
And that only leave one option:
God is love (1 Jn. 4:8.)
Because God is not sinful.
God is holy.
God is not hateful.
God is loving.
God is not selfish.
God doesn’t take.
God doesn’t kill,
And God gives you an excellent example of all this: Look at verse 16: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. In a complete reversal of Cain, God gives up his own life. Rather than killing someone else when he was mad, God is killed in order to save those who sinned against him! He gives himself as a sacrifice in order to appease his own hatred of hatred.
Do you get what I am saying?
Jesus died for Cain.
Jesus died for Abel.
Jesus died for you.
Even when there was nothing he desired about you.
Remember – he hates sin. It’s like if God had a dating profile, he would list sin as the one trait that he is totally unattracted to. Picture your sin like the most unattractive traits that you can imagine. A bunch of pimples. A terrible stench. Broccoli stuck between his teeth. A 1970s mullet and conversation that only revolves around himself.
That’s how God views our sin, totally and completely unattractive.
And that’s how we look to him.
But God didn’t ignore you.
He didn’t swipe left.
He didn’t forget all about you.
He loved you.
He loved you enough to die for you.
Here’s the truth then:
Love is NOT following your heart.
Love is following God’s heart.
It’s thinking of his desires first, not my own.
It’s loving like he loves, not like I love.
III. What Now?
And what is God’s love like? Three things to keep in mind as you strive to love like him.
1) Love by Giving Up
Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in them? (V.16-17) God gave up heaven and came to earth for us. He gave up perfection and entered a sinful world for us. He gave up his life and purchased eternal life for us.
May we give up as God gives up.
Here’s what I want you to do. Right now – write down one practical thing that you can give up this week in order to show love.
Maybe it’s money – you give up some of your “fun budget” to help a friend in need.
Maybe it’s time – and you give up that binge watch on Netflix to spend time with your spouse.
Maybe it’s strength – and you give up your strength as you finally attack that honey-do-list that’s been sitting on the fridge for the past 12 months.
Remember – love is not about taking for yourself.
But giving up for others.
Just like God gave up himself for us.
2) Love with Action
Because one of the easiest things to do is to mistake the phrase “I love you” as actual love.
It’s like the husband sitting on the couch playing Fortnight for three hours and shouting, “I love you honey,” as his wife vacuums the house for him. And then is offended when his wife asks him later, “Do you really love me?” “I told you while I was playing video games. Isn’t that enough?”
Nope. That’s not what love is.
Love is an action.
It’s why John writes, “Dear children, let us not love with words…but with actions.” (v.18)
It’s how God loved us. He didn’t just say “I love you,” but he showed that he loved us.
He acted by coming to earth, living perfectly, dying innocently and rising triumphantly for us.
Put your love into practice by acting in love for your family.
Put your love into practice by acting in love for your friends.
Put your love into practice by acting in love for your church family.
Put your love into practice by acting in love for your enemies.
Love with action.
3) Love in Truth
Because it wouldn’t be very loving if you saw a black widow spider hanging off a spiderweb and dangling near your friend’s ear and your response was: “Don’t worry about him. He’s not poisonous. If he bites you, you’ll be fine.”
That’s not loving.
That’s a lie.
And God teaches the same thing. “Dear children, let us not love with…speech, but in truth.” (v.18)
Love tells your friends when they are making bad life choices.
Love tells your husband when that tie doesn’t match with that jacket.
Love tells your wife when she has a piece of lettuce stuck in her teeth.
Love tells the truth.
And there’s no greater truth than the message of Jesus’ loves.
Some of you may know this already. A few weeks ago, Southwest Flight 1380 was en route from New York to Dallas. About 20 minutes in to the flight, the engine blew up and it hit one of the windows on the plane – busted it completely open, sucking a woman half way out the window and sending the plane hurtling to the earth.
Pastor Tim Bourman and his wife Amanda were on that plane.
Friends of mine.
A pastor in our synod.
He said that while he was in the air he was very scared, very frightened, very horrified. He thought that he was about to die.
But what can you do? He couldn’t fly the plane. So…he did all that he could.
He reached into his pocket.
He pulled out his phone.
He texted his two kids who were on the ground safe at home.
He texted them.
But not them.
His message said this:
“Never lose your faith in God. Jesus loves you.”
Amazing. That’s true.
You do the same.
Share that truth this week.
Share that love of Jesus – today.
Love like Jesus today. Amen.
When I was growing up I worked for a restaurant manager whom we affectionately called Larry the Scary Rex. The nickname came from the fact that he managed about how you’d expect a Tyrannosaurus Rex to manage.
He was loud like a T-Rex.
He ate like a T-Rex.
He drank like a T-Rex.
He fired people left and right – leaving destruction in his path -- like a T-Rex.
One time – he threw a sack of potatoes at my head – not so much like a T-Rex (I don’t know that they could lift it with their arm), but…it was mean like a T-Rex.
The point: Larry was not the greatest leader.
Maybe you know a leader like that.
Maybe you know one that flies off the handle.
Or one that only cares about himself.
Or one that you only work for because you are afraid of what would happen when you are no longer on the job market.
Is Jesus like one of those leaders?
Better? Somewhere in between?
Today we look at what kind of a leader Jesus is; and why he’s worth following. Before that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Background
The lesson for today comes from John 10. But a bit of background: in John 9, there is a man who has been blind from birth. He’s never been able to see anything. Not the green trees, not the blue sky, not his mother’s smile. Until he meets Jesus. Jesus heals him, and he sees.
But not everyone thought it was amazing. A group of religious leaders – called the Pharisees – saw this miracle and were furious. Rather than focusing on the fact that Jesus healed the man simply by touching his eyes, they focused on the fact that the healing took place on the Sabbath. After all, ‘any good religious leader knew that you never do any work on the Sabbath.’
The Pharisees are upset with this event because it caused even more people to follow Jesus and stop following them.
So…they hold an investigation.
They investigate the blind man.
They investigate his parents.
They investigate the blind man again.
Their goal is to prove that the man wasn’t blind, and Jesus was a phony.
But they couldn’t.
Because it was real.
But after a day of investigation, the jaded courtroom fails to convict Jesus of anything – Jesus has an opportunity to speak to them. The Pharisees are insistent that He is a disastrous leader to follow. Jesus argues otherwise:
Very truly I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice. (Jn. 10:1-5)
This is what we call a parable. It is a common literary device that Jesus uses in his teachings. In it, Jesus uses a simple everyday story to teach a deep spiritual truth.
In this parable, the everyday story revolves around a shepherd. Shepherding which was very, very familiar to the people of his time. It was an agrarian society. Sheep were used heavily. For clothing, for blankets, but also for sacrifices and food. To speak of shepherds in the 1st century was like speaking about Smartphones today.
That’s important. Because Jesus uses this parable to get his people thinking.
Not about “sheep shepherds”…
…but spiritual shepherds.
II. The Shepherd and the Front Gate
Check out verse 1 again. “Anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way is a thief and a robber.”
This is pretty simple illustration. If you see someone jumping a chain link fence, they might not be legit. Best case scenario? They need to retrieve a soccer ball that went over the wall. Worst case scenario – they are up to no good. Regardless, they don’t have authority to go through the main gate. The only option they have is to hop the fence, hope it’s not electrified and avoid the barbed wire.
But the shepherd? The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. He doesn’t have to put his body in danger. He belongs there. Whether the gate is a simple keylock, a retina scanner or requires a security code, he enters through the main gate. In fact, the gatekeeper opens the gate for him. He says, “What’s up Bob? Hope your day is going well. Did you catch the game last night? Can’t believe Lebron lost again! Anyways – have a good day tending to the sheep.” He doesn’t question the shepherd, because the shepherd belongs in the sheep pen.
Now this is where the parable gets a bit tricky. We are talking about spiritual shepherds, not actual shepherds. Therefore, we are talking about a spiritual gate, not an actual gate. It is important that we identify the gate correctly, because identifying the right gate helps us identify the shepherd because he will be leading people through that gate.
So…what’s the right spiritual gate?
An invisible forcefield?
The place where the rainbow meets the sunset in the morning?
Some kind of Sci Fi channel thing?
“I am the gate for the sheep. …whoever enters through me will be saved.” (v.7)
Jesus is the gateway to eternal life. He is the gateway to forgiveness. He is the gateway to peace with God.
He alone offers forgiveness.
He alone promises peace.
He alone died and rose form the dead to prove his authority to do this.
He is the gate and he is the only way for you and me to enter eternal life.
That’s 1/ 2 the solution. Because if Jesus is the gate, then the shepherd is the one who comes to his people with the message of Jesus.
The message that he is the Savior.
The message of forgiveness.
The message of God’s grace.
Do you get it?
Jesus is not just the gate.
He’s also the Shepherd.
III. The Gate Jumpers
But that reverses the Pharisees thought process.
Because they were convinced that they were the right shepherds and Jesus was wrong.
They told people to wear fancy religious jewelry, to keep all the Sabbath laws, to try harder, do better and achieve moral greatness like them and that would be their gateway to eternal life.
But that wasn’t the gate.
It was throwing a grappling hook over the top of the fence, scaling it, jumping off the other side and tossing the sheep over the top to their ski masked buddy on the other side.
Do you get it?
The Pharisees were leading people away from Jesus. (the Gate)
They weren’t shepherding people in the right direction.
They weren’t shepherding people at all.
They were robbers.
Now maybe that doesn’t seem relevant to you. Because Pharisaism as a legitimate religious organization is not a big part of our culture.
There isn’t a Pharisaical Christian Church of America.
There isn’t a #PhariseesRule hashtag.
They aren’t even registered as a non-profit organization.
But that doesn’t mean that spiritual robbers aren’t something to be concerned about.
A spiritual robber is anyone trying to lead you spiritually apart from Jesus and his message.
Thing is that a spiritual robber usually doesn’t identify themselves that way: “Hi, I’m a spiritual robber. I am here to lead you away from eternal life. Nice to meet you.”
They are much sneakier than that.
I hear Jesus’ voice to wait until marriage, but…my girlfriend is so hot. It’ll feel good; I’ll follow the voice of lust.
Yes, I hear Jesus’ voice that I should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s but…I owe a lot of money on taxes and they won’t check to see if my mileage is correct so…I’ll follow the tax cheating voice.
I know…Jesus says he is the only way to heaven, but that seems intolerant. At least, that’s what social media tells me. And I want those voice to like me, so…I’ll listen to the world’s voice instead.
If you are following any voice other than Jesus…
You aren’t following the shepherd.
You are following the robber.
And…if you are telling people to stop following Jesus,
If you are guiding people apart from God’s Word,
If you are leading your children away from Jesus, you aren’t just a lost sheep…
You are a thief.
You are stealing from God.
…nobody steals from God and gets away with it.
V. The Voice of the Shepherd
Jesus mentions it in this section. There’s another difference between shepherd and robber. A robber doesn’t know the sheep’s names. He simply grab’s a bit of sheep food, crouches on his knee and shouts, “Here Sheepy, Sheepy!”
The shepherd? He knows each sheep by name.
He knows Fluffy is the one that’s extra fluffy.
He knows Patch is the one with the patch over his eye.
He knows Marvin is the one that bears a striking resemblance to Uncle Marvin.
The shepherd knows his sheep.
He calls them by name.
Even when they have gone astray – he calls them by name.
And today – He is calling you.
By your first name.
By your middle name.
By your last name.
By your nickname.
By your maiden name.
By your online gamer name.
He knows the names you call yourself.
But he doesn’t call you by those names.
He calls you the names He has given you:
V. WHAT NOW?
Follow Your Shepherd
One of the most interesting things that I’ve ever seen is the way that a sheep responds to the shepherd’s voice. It works kind of like how it does with pets. When you call your dog, he comes running. When he hears your voice, he comes running. When he hears your voice, outside the house, on the driveway, barely even through the door, he jumps up onto your laps and starts running in circles because he is so excited that you are home!
Jesus said this: “The shepherd goes on ahead of the sheep and they follow him because they know his voice.” (v.4)
Are you one of Jesus’ sheep?
Not the voice of the world.
Not the voice of false teachers.
Not the voice of your emotions.
Follow your Savior’s voice.
He is leading your somewhere wonderful!
No matter what he has to give up to get you there.
Because that’s the sign of a Good Shepherd.
They are willing to give up things for the sake of their sheep.
A good shepherd gives up a bit of money to buy some extra sheep food for a hungry lamb.
A good shepherd gives up his time to stay until the next shift shepherd arrives.
A good shepherd gives up his sleep to hyper vigilantly keep watch for wolves.
How good a shepherd is Jesus?
I lay down my Life for the Sheep. (v.11)
Jesus gave up his life for you.
He gave up everything for you.
That’s how much your shepherd loves you.
Follow him. There is no better shepherd. Amen.
I was in Arizona this past week for a wedding and then we had a chance to do some sight-seeing in Sedona, AZ. Ever been there? There are these beautiful Red Rock mountains that overlook the city. It’s absolutely gorgeous. (I put a picture up on the PowerPoint, just to prove to you that I was actually there…not just playing hooky at home).
But we didn’t just hang out at the mountains. We also had a chance to shop the city. And while we were doing so, I noticed a sign on one of the restaurants: It said: Greatest view in Sedona!
And at first, I was pretty excited! But over time, I noticed the same sign on the next restaurant. And the next bar. And the next pub. In fact, all of the places on that strip had very similar signs. Such that, my reaction went from: “Look at that. It’s got a view. It’s the best place in town,” to “Look at that. It’s got a view. Like every place in town.”
Religious messages can be kind of like that.
They all seem to be about the same.
Do these things to be saved.
Do those things to be saved.
Today we want to look at the message of Jesus and we will see three ways in which it is entirely different than any other religious message that you’ll ever hear. Reasons that the message of Jesus is a new kind of message. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
Our lesson starts in a small room with the doors locked.
Bolted shut; bar latched; a chair in front of the door…locked.
The disciples are afraid.
They have just seen Jesus…murdered (crucified).
How much longer until the soldiers did the same thing to them?
How much longer until the leaders demanded their own executions?
How much longer until they too were killed?
Suddenly, a knock at the door.
Andrew put his finger to his lips – and motioned for Philip to look out the window.
Simon moved slowly. He lifted up the curtain. He peered out the window and smiled. “We know them.”
They unbolted the bolt.
Unlocked the lock.
Moved the chair out of the way and let in a few of their friends.
“We saw him. We saw him. Jesus is alive! We saw him. He not dead. He’s alive.”
“We went to the grave and we thought he’d be dead, but the stone was moved!”
“An angel. A brilliantly bright angel. He saw us and spoke to us and said Jesus was alive.”
“We thought that was amazing enough, but then when we started come back…we saw Him. Jesus. He’s alive!”
As the women kept talking, the disciples’ expressions went from frightened to pitying.
These poor delusional women. They were wrong. They were hallucinating. They were thinking they saw something that could never be.
As James had them both sit down with some tea, another knock. It was Peter and John. They too had been to the tomb. And…they could confirm: the women were right. At least partly. The stone had been rolled away and Jesus’ body was not there.
That was strange. Something must have happened…but…
Another knock. This time it was Cleopas and his friend. He had said they were going on holiday, but. They had seen him. On their way, they had talked to him. He had comforted them. Then, he showed them! He was alive!
At this point, the quiet little room was a buzz with noise.
Excitement. Mystery. Questions.
What was going on?
What do you think happened?
Could it be true?
In fact, everyone was so distracted that they did not hear the next guest enter the room.
Granted --- he didn’t knock.
He just appeared.
While they were…talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (v.37)
And the disciples…Have anything but peace!?!
Is that a ghost?
Is he here to get us?
Is he going to begin haunting me for abandoning him? I knew this would happen.
But Jesus notices the tension, so he continues. “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (v.38)
One by one…the disciples look at each other. Touch him? Touch the ghost? But…that’s impossible. They’re spirits.
Finally, Peter volunteers his brother Andrew…and pushes him forward.
He lifts up his hand.
He places it on Jesus’ hand…and…
The other disciples quickly come over.
They feel the bumps on his skin.
They feel the hairs on his arms.
They touched the holes near his hands.
But just to confirm. “Do you have anything here to eat?” (v.42)
Nathanael ran over to the table. He grabbed the piece of bread that fish sandwich that he had been gnawing on nervously and took it to Jesus. He half expected it to fall to the floor.
Jesus ate it in their presence. (v.43)
It didn’t fall to the floor.
It went down his tongue.
Into his throat
Into his belly.
Like it does with any living human being.
Then, Jesus gave them something else.
Something beyond visual proof.
Something beyond physical proof.
Proof that had been around for centuries:
He said to them, “This is what I said would happen. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in Old Testament.” (v.44)
I had to die.
And I had to rise.
And I did.
And I am.
Just as it was written.
And now…the next part that is written. It involves you. It involves you and this new kind of message.
Preach the message of forgiveness of sins to all nations. (v.46)
II. A NEW Message
This is the message of Jesus. It comes not via the mailman, not via email, not via text message, but from the lips of a man who had died three days earlier.
But it’s not just the delivery that’s unique. The message itself is also very distinct. It is a message unlike any other religious message in history. Here are a few things about Jesus’ message than are unlike any other.
1. Real Life After Death
The first difference has to do with Jesus’ approach to death. To be fair, other religions had tackled the topic before, but they tended to talk in platitude. They tended to talk about spiritual afterlife or just general life in the sense that “your spirit lives on.”
Have you seen the movie Coco yet? It’s the newest Pixar film and like most Pixar films it’s fun for kids and adults. Although – the topic is a bit grimmer. It takes place on the Dia de Muerta or the Day of the Dead. In the movie, the young hero enters the city of the dead and visits all of his dead relatives (as seen by all the skeleton characters here.) The young man learns that it is important to remember those who die, to keep their memory alive or else, they literally fade away into oblivion. He goes back to the land of the living with renewed focus on remembering his ancestors.
Now the movie certainly underscores the importance of making relationships in this life and remembering the good things about people who have passed away. That’s great.
But the theology of life after death is incorrect.
If life after death simply means that people will remember you, in all honestly, that’s not that encouraging.
Because those are just memories.
The people are still dead.
But with Jesus? Alive means alive.
He stood before the disciples in real flesh.
Real blood cells.
Real hair follicles.
And his promise to all who believe in him in this: Whoever believes in me will live even though he dies; whoever lives and believes in me will never die. (Jn. 13)
Meaning there is life after death.
There is real, life after death.
It means we have to pay attention.
It means this stuff is important.
It means we really need to be concerned about where we will be when that happens.
2. The Messiah Has Come (and Won)
The second thing that makes this message different has to do with the Messiah. Messiah is a Hebrew word that means “Anointed One.” In the Old Testament, anointing was very common. The people would anoint the heads of their leaders with oil. They would anoint the heads of kings, priests, and prophet.
But throughout the Old Testament there are references to “THE Anointed One.” The Messiah. This One would be anointed to save us from sin, death and hell.
And for millennia, whenever things looked bleak…
Whenever things looked sad…
Whenever things looked abysmal…
The Old Testament Israelites would calm one another with this promise:
“The Messiah is coming.”
But when things looked bleak to the disciples…
When they looked sad…
When they looked abysmal.
Jesus said something a bit different: “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in Old Testament.” (v.44)
Do you see it?
Instead of “the Messiah will come,” Jesus said, “The Messiah already came (and Won).”
That’s an important message. Because too often in this life – as 21st centurion Raleighians – we keep thinking that the Messiah will come.
If only I get this job, I’ll be saved.
If only I get more money, I’ll be saved.
If only this health product works…
If only this person gets elected…
If only I keep the commandments better…
If only I find the right person…
If only I try a bit harder…I’ll be saved.
But those things aren’t your Messiah.
Your Messiah already came.
And he won.
3. Repentance for Forgiveness
This leads to the final difference in Jesus’ message: Forgiveness.
At the time of Jesus, that’s exactly what the Pharisees taught that forgiveness came from what you did --- aka what they did.
Wear religious jewelry for forgiveness.
Cut your beards at regulation length for forgiveness.
Give 1/10th of your flour to God.
Only take 1000 steps on any Saturday.
And never, ever, ever cook a vegetable meal in a pot that previously housed a meat meal for forgiveness.
But Jesus doesn’t preach that.
He preached: “Repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (v.45)
Repentance means to do a 180 degree turn.
It means to turn from sin; to turn to God.
To turn from unbelief; to turn to Jesus.
In short, it means believe.
Believe you are sinner.
Believe that you need a Savior.
Believe that you have a Savior in Jesus.
Believe in Jesus for forgiveness and you will have forgiveness.
This is drastically different from any other religious message back then.
And drastically different from any religious message now.
It’s no longer about what you NEED to do for God.
But what Jesus already has done for you.
III. What Now?
This. Is. Our. Message.
We are to share this message that there is life after death, that Jesus is the Messiah who came and brings forgiveness to all who believe in him.
This is our message.
So, what now? Two things:
1. Don’t Change the Teaching
Ever played Telephone? You come up with a phrase, you whisper it into a friend’s ear. Then, they whisper it to the next person. And so on and so forth. Eventually, the message gets to the end of the semi-circle. The last person reveals the message and almost always it is incorrect. Whether it’s accidently or purposefully, the message has been changed. It started out with “My house is the shape of a square” and changed to “My pastor doesn’t have a lot of hair.”
Sometimes that happens with God’s Message. Sometimes we feel like we need it to better.
Maybe we have a friend who hasn’t lived a very good life or a coworker who has been anti God for years. And finally, they reach out to us.
Their marriage blows up in their face.
They receive a dire diagnosis.
They are feeling guilty.
And they ask you for help.
And your response is: “Well…you’re going to have to do better. You’re going to have to try harder. I imagine if you turn your life around, then God might possibly forgive you.”
No. The message has been lost in translation.
Jesus’ message is about grace.
It’s about Him being the Messiah.
It’s about Him accomplishing our salvation.
It’s about forgiveness being totally based on Him.
Teach that message! Not your own.
2. Teach It to ALL Nations
Because that’s where Jesus wanted the message to go. “To all nations.”
Not to the people who look like you.
Not to the people who act like you.
Not to the people who have the same culture as you.
To all nations.
Jesus preached not just to the Pharisees.
He preached not just to the religious leaders.
He preached to the prostitutes.
He preached to the drunkards.
He preached to the homeless.
He preached to the terminally ill.
He preached to the people that no one else thought even deserved a religious message.
Jesus gave them the most incredible message of all time – one that changes life.
One that we are to use to change lives.
The other day I was talking with a friend who was doing Bible study with me. At once point of the Bible study, she revealed her background. She said that she grew up in a “Christian” church. One that taught about Jesus. One that taught about Christianity. One that taught the Bible. One that had crosses all over the church.
But…she didn’t know of forgiveness.
She didn’t know this NEW Message of complete forgiveness.
She knew of how she failed.
She knew of how she had to do better.
She knew of how God threatened wrath if she didn’t do better.
But then…then she heard something different.
She heard of God’s grace.
She heard of her Savior who already came.
She heard of the very real eternal life won by Jesus.
And it transformed her.
Now? No other message will do.
No other message but the incredible NEW message of Jesus. Amen.
I'm excited to get the chance to talk to you all this morning. I know I'm not Pastor Phil, but I spent a lot of time getting today's message ready for you, and I really hope you find it just as beneficial as his.
Did that sound believable?
Honestly, I'm not that concerned about it, moreso that I wanted to demonstrate just how hollow our use of the word “hope” can be. Have you noticed that? I mean, it's a word that's meant to elicit – well – hope! But when you think about how we use the word, about what our typical hope really is... hope is not much comfort.
Think about how you use the word. Most of the time we're actually using it to express the idea that we don't really think something will happen, or that we don't really believe what we've been told.
“The party is going to be a blast. Sure, hope my cousin remembered to reserve the venue.”
“Just got my hair done, sure hope it doesn't rain.” (I wouldn't know about that one.)
I mean, what are we really saying when we use that word "hope"? Seems to me it's just a way of expressing that this is the outcome I would prefer but I have no actual reason to believe that it's going to go my way. It's what I'd like – but my wishes aren't going to influence the outcome. It's basically an empty word of wishing. In fact, sometimes we even use the word to indicate we don't actually expect the outcome!
“Dad says we're finally getting together for dinner tonight!” “Really? Well, I sure hope so.”
This can get a little more bleak when we get to more serious examples of when we throw this word around and then start to realize exactly how hollow it rings.
“I hope I have enough money to pay the bills this month.”
“I hope this relationship works out.”
“I hope my health improves.”
How are those kinds of sentiments any better than just outright wishing and the horses they would conjure? Let's be honest, they're not. And yet we cling to these empty "hopes" so tightly, invest so much in them that what happens when they're crushed? When we don't get what we're hoping for (which, depending on how good you are at tempering expectations, can happen a lot)… when we don't get that outcome we're hoping for... what happens?
Fear? This was how I pictured my life. This was the only way I saw my life proceeding normally. Now, I can't pay these bills. Now, I won't have that someone I think I need in my life. Now, I won't be in this life much longer. I thought, wished, hoped life would be one way and now it's not going to be. What is going to happen? It's not alright the way it should have been so what is going to happen?? I can't handle the uncertainty of this road I did not plan for.
Disappointment? This was to be my life. That was the only way I thought I would live. And any alternative isn't worth bothering with. I might as well sit here and just pine after what should have been. I don't know how to deal with this.
Anger? I deserved this. This is what is owed me. It should have been this way! And now it's not. It's someone's fault. I don't know whose but I'll figure it out and I'll blame everyone I can along the way until I get what was coming to me.
And all that leads me to this extremely dangerous conversation that I am sure you have heard before and probably even spoken part of in your life. When trouble or difficulty hits, when bad stuff happens that we struggle to react to:
“It's going to be okay.”
“I hope so.”
If we're trying to offer hope in bleak circumstances, what could possibly ring more hollow than some kind of statement like that without anything behind it? “It's going to be okay.” By what authority, proof, or truth can you state that? And the response is just as hollow. “I hope so.” Sure would be nice but on what basis do you even hope that it will be? And when that is crushed too? Then what?
What if instead of all that muck and mire of empty hope that's no better than wishing, what if instead there was a different kind of hope that was guaranteed? What if I could say, “It's going to be okay,” and that were a fact not an empty platitude? We can, because of the NEW kind of hope that Jesus offers us through Easter.
And that's where this new kind of hope actually begins. In the grave. I mean, that's the real problem, isn't it? Looming out there beyond all the other things in life that could go wrong, and all the problems we might face here for a time is the one that we can't avoid and the one that can cause the most fear, anger or sadness: death.
What will happen when I die? What will happen to me after I die? Will it be good? Bad? We can hem and haw and fret about everything that happens in the meantime, about every wish or hope we have for this life but in the end they all add up to zero and conclude at this one question, same for you or me or anyone else.
In Jesus, this one all-consuming question is answered, and it is answered definitively. Though St. Paul speaks from the negative, this is his conclusion for us. Listen again to his words to the Corinthians:
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
I don't want to get too far into it, but the problem in Corinth was that some people had started saying we wouldn't actually be raised from the dead. But, Paul, says, you didn't think that through! If no one is raised from the dead, guess who else wasn't raised from the dead? Jesus! Jesus was a new kind of raised from the dead, you know. He wasn't just brought back to life like some of the miracles he did: Lazarus or Jairus' daughter or the like. Those people came back to life, lived a normal life and then... well they died again at the end of it.
Jesus was a new kind of being raised. He was raised forever. He lived a normal life, he died, and then he came back to life forever. And he did that not just because he is God, he did it to model for us what would happen to us now. He was the prototype, the first, the firstfruits as Paul calls him here. His journey is what we all follow.
So, Paul says here, if you're saying that no one is raised from the dead like that, well then neither was Jesus. And if Jesus was not raised from the dead...you're in serious trouble. Because Jesus being raised from the dead was like a promise to us. A promise that because he did what he did, that is what would happen to us too.
Jesus lived as a human. He never doubted the love of the Father, he never questioned the will of his Father, and he always obeyed his Father perfectly. Kind of exactly not like us. But for us. In your place. And then, as we watched just a little over a week ago, he walked willingly to death for you. He took your place in hell and handed you the perfect life he lived. And he died.
If he had stayed dead, all of this would have meant nothing. He would've been a liar. His sacrifice would've been rejected by God. And we would still be trapped in our debt to God. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. You are forgiven. Your debt is paid. Jesus was and did everything he said. His resurrection is proof.
And again, more than proof of what his death means, it's proof of where you're going. It's proof that you will rise. He is the firstfruits from the dead. He is the first one to die and be alive forever and ever but he is just the first. All who sleep in him will follow that path. Which includes you!
So you want a new kind of hope? Here it is. Everyone who dies will rise. Everyone who dies in Jesus will rise with Jesus, like Jesus, to eternal life in Jesus. Not a well-wish, not a daydream, not a “sure would be nice”. This is a fact. If you're ever troubled by doubt look to the cross and ask yourself, “Did Jesus die?” Look to the grave and ask, “Did Jesus rise?” The answers are yes. And so the answer to the biggest question of “how will this all end?” is: in the best possible way.
In the end, everything from this life will be left behind. Whatever hurts between now and then will be washed away and forgotten, it is temporary. You'll be alive forever in eternal glory and perfection. That is real hope. It's a fact of a better future that cannot fade or be taken away and will never end when you get there. It doesn't get better than that.
And the beauty of that hope is that combined with God's promises, this changes our perspective on all hope throughout the rest of this life. God promises you this end. And on top of that promise, he promises that everything he allows or causes in this life is designed to get you to that end safely.
I want you to think about that.
It is a promise that because Jesus died and rose, you are going to heaven. Your end is the best possible end that anyone could ever imagine. And it is a promise that everything in between is managed by God to get you there. That means everything's covered. That's a certain hope that lasts from now until forever.
Gone are the symptoms of false hope because we don't need them anymore.
Fear? Fear is a result of not knowing what's coming. You know what's coming and how it will end. Look to the promise of the empty tomb and fear evaporates.
Disappointment? That comes because what we have doesn't measure up to what we think or expect we should have. But the promise God makes to us – it literally cannot be better than that. Eternity in heaven with our Creator. You can't go higher and it won't fail you.
Anger? At what? You might feel like circumstances in your life are unjust and the things that happen to you, the things that people do to you or others demand an angry response... but God allowed them to happen to accomplish his promise – to see you safely home to heaven. Can you really get angry at that?
Brothers and sisters let's replace this meaningless and stale conversation with something far better, with something that means something. Something based on truth that cannot change. Something that reminds us of real hope.
“It's going to be okay.”
“I know it will. Because of Jesus.”
People always talk about Easter being a magical time, a wonderful time, a special time, a time unlike any other.
Is it really?
You can color Easter eggs any day of the year. (They look the same in December as they do in mid-April)
You can buy chocolate bunnies any day of the year. (In fact, if you wait till the day after Easter, they cost a lot less.)
You can eat a big breakfast – any day that Waffle House is open.
You can dress up – any day of the year. (Trust me. Go to the mall. Somebody’s having a sale.)
You can even be reunited as a family – gasp - even on a non-holiday.
Here’s the truth:
A lot of the things that we think make Easter special – aren’t really that special.
They aren’t miracles so much as non-miracles.
Does that mean there’s nothing special about Easter?
Today we want to look at the one thing that makes Easter miraculous. A miracle unlike any miracle ever – a NEW kind of miracle. And we want to learn how that MIRACLE is still doing miraculous things in 2018. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. He’s Dead…Really Dead.
Our Easter lesson starts at the house of a woman called Mary.
Not Mary Magdalene.
Not Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
Mary. Mother of James and Joses.
Ever heard of her?
She hadn’t slept much that night. Not much the last couple of nights. The scenes that played out whenever she closed her eyes were too horrifying, too awful, too grotesque:
The repetitive fists connecting to the prisoner’s face.
The visceral shouts of “CRUCIFY HIM!”
The tearing of flesh with the 7 stranded, metal tipped, leather whip. (Being Flogged)
The blood drops popping out of the thorns smashed through his forehead.
And then…the hanging.
The hanging...and the dying.
The mother of James the Less stood up. She walked over to the window. The sun would be up soon. And…she needed to move on. She needed to move on because it wasn’t going to change: Jesus. Was. Dead.
She had seen him die.
She had seen his head drop and his body go limp.
She had seen the soldiers take the limp body off the cross.
She had seen the burial preparations that the make shift morticians had done to his body.
She had even seen the place where the put his body.
She had seen the door to the grave shut – sealing him in death.
Jesus was dead and there’s nothing she could do about it.
Suddenly, she heard a frantic knocking at the door. It was Mary Magdalene. Her hair was ragged. Her eyes were tear stained. Mascara running. She looked a bit…rough.
“Hurry. We’ve gotta get going. We’ve gotta be there for him. We’ve gotta.”
“I know. I know. Just a second. I’m almost ready.”
The mother of James the Less went behind the door and strapped on her sandals.
They were going to Jesus’ tomb.
They going to honor him.
They were going to begin healing from this tragedy.
She shut the door behind her and joined Mary in the streets. At the corner they met up with their friend Salome. She had her arms full – a few bottles of anointment in one arm – spices like balsam, saffron, frankincense and myrrh. “Don’t’ just stand there; help me with a few of these bottles.”
They nodded, grab some of the spices and continued their journey to the early morning graveyard.
The walk there was odd. There wasn’t much to say. There was the occasional sobbing…a few sniffles, and strange attempts at small talk.
“I think I saw a bird.”
“Do you guys thing saffron will taste good on a fish sandwich?”
“My neck is still sore from staring up at that cross.”
But eventually, a good question:
“When we get there, who’s going to move the giant stone for us?”
They hadn’t considered it yet. That stone was a good 500 some pounds. It was large enough to cover the entrance to the tomb. And it had been sealed – with the seal of Pontius Pilate – an extra precaution to ensure that grave robbers didn’t do anything to his body. They could ask the Roman soldiers on guard – another part of that security – but they were rather lazy oafs who didn’t care much about Jewish culture – let alone Jewish burial practices. Unless they had money, they might have to move that stone on their own.
But as they tried to figure out whether or not a bottle of myrrh was a good bargaining chip, they entered the grave yard. Th early morning light shone on something they weren’t expecting:
The stone was gone.
It was no longer at the front of the entrance at least.
It had been rolled away.
Set to the side.
Mary Magdalene panicked.
“What in the world? That’s too much. They torture him. They kill him and now this? Did they take his body and hang it on a pole. I can’t. I can’t…handle.”
Mary Magdalene dropped her bottles to the ground, turned around and ran out of there.
After a moment, Salome looked at the mother of James the Less, “Let’s go,” she said solemnly.
They both walked forward toward the tomb. As they got closer, they noticed a subtle glow coming from inside the tomb – as if the morning light was trapped inside.
They peeked in.
There was no body.
He didn’t look like a criminal.
He wasn’t wearing Roman soldier gear.
He was dressed in white – glowing white.
And he was smiling.
“Do not be afraid. You are looking for Jesus who was dead. He is not here. He has risen—just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
The women stood still for a moment.
Was this an angel? Did they dare go in?
Their curiosity was too much. They entered the tomb and began a frantic search of the area.
The body wasn’t in the grave clothes – they were folded nicely at the top of the stone bed.
And it wasn’t behind the stone.
And it wasn’t under that leaf in the corner.
And there wasn’t any sign of digging anywhere.
In fact, there wasn’t any sign of a struggle.
There wasn’t any blood.
There weren’t any footprints.
The body was gone.
Utterly amazed and slightly stupefied, the women turned to the angel. “Go and tell his disciples. They will see him again.” The angel said.
The mother of James the Less nodded.
Salome did too.
They were trembling.
They began to walk away from the tomb.
The walk turned into a trot.
The trot into a jog.
The jog into a run.
They didn’t stop and tell anyone on the way. No one would believe them anyway. They’d just call them a bunch of crazy women – off their rockers – insane.
They were almost in the clear.
Almost back without talking to anyone until…
A man…from behind a nearby bush.
The women stumbled.
And said, “Greetings.”
It was a voice they heard before.
They looked up to see who it was.
It was Jesus.
II. A Miracle Unlike Any Other.
That my friend is the true story of the resurrection.
That my friends is what makes Easter unlike any other holiday in history.
That is what makes today’s celebration miraculous.
Because – the miracle that occurred on that Sunday morning was unlike any miracle ever…
1. Jesus Did the Impossible…
To be fair – Jesus had done the impossible before. He had made blind people see. He had caused the deaf to hear and the lame to walk.
But death is much more than that.
Your eyes don’t work.
Your ears don’t work.
Your legs don’t work.
Your heart doesn’t work.
Your lungs don’t work.
Your body doesn’t work.
And…nowadays…we have some incredible advances in science.
We can use defibrillators to shock a heartbeat that has stopped back to beating again – as long as it’s only a been 2 minutes or less.
We can hook people up to breathing machines that pump air in the lungs electronically.
We can have people’s blood come out of the body and back into the body through a machine that is doing the job of a nonfunctioning liver.
We can keep organs moving and working – when there isn’t any brain activity – and we aren’t exactly sure if someone is dead or not.
He had been dead for over 36 hours.
His body would already have been decaying.
No amount of chest compressions.
No amount of defibrillator shocks.
No amount of forced air from an iron lung could do anything to help him.
He came back to life.
He did the impossible.
2. …In a State in which It is Impossible to do Anything…
A few weeks ago, someone hit a racoon near my house. It was out on the street squished to the ground. Kinda gross. And over the next couples of days I saw it on the road as I drive to and from work.
Do you know what I saw happen?
The racoon did absolutely nothing. Because it was dead.
And dead things do nothing.
He was dead.
And he did the one thing impossible for any human to do while they were living.
Combine those two facts.
It isn’t like he lifted his finger.
He didn’t wiggle a toe.
He didn’t start whistling.
While he was a in a state in which it was impossible to do anything, he did the impossible!
The dead guy brought himself back to life!
But that’s just the beginning…
3. …As a Visual Proof of the Impossible Invisible Truth
1 Corinthians 15:22 says this, “As in Adam all die.” That’s a refence to the very first human being. A guy named “Adam” which literally means, “Man.” Adam was made perfect. Adam was made without sin. Adam was made not to die.
But then…he chose to sin.
He was no longer holy.
He was the opposite of good --
He was evil.
And as a result – people were going to die.
If you think it’s harsh that God would punish them with death, then you don’t understand holiness.
Imagine if a judge fined you for going 10 mph over the speed limit, but then didn’t fine the guy after you for going 15mph over. That’d be unjust. That’d be unfair. That’d be an unjust in support of wrong.
If a good God is like, “That bad isn’t so bad. I’ll let it be.”
Suddenly, he’s not a good God.
He’s tolerating evil.
He’s an evil God.
God can’t be in support of wrong.
He can only be against it.
That’s why Adam had to be doomed to death.
But here’s where it gets really sad. Because Adam and his wife passed the bad down to their children. It’s kind of like genetics. In genetics, you pass on your hair color to your children. You pass on freckles. My dad passed on my receding hairline and I look forward to one day passing it on to my son.
Adam? He passed on his sinfulness.
He and his wife were sinful humans who gave birth to sinful humans.
Those sinful humans grew up and gave birth to more sinful humans.
Until…eventually…you and me.
Sinful humans doomed to death.
Maybe you know that.
Whether it’s cancer.
Whether it’s old age.
Whether it’s losing a child.
Whether it’s a freak car accident.
Whether it’s terrorism or mass shootings.
You know our world is filled with death.
And eventually…it will come to you and me.
It’s impossible to get away from!
But “As in Adam all die, in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22b)
Jesus is different than Adam.
He was born of God who is holy, not Adam who is unholy.
He lived perfectly.
He was good.
He did not deserve death.
Allow me to explain with a simple kitchen sponge. Do you all own one of these? (Most are nodding heads – a few single guys are like – What’s a sponge and what is it for?) A sponge soaks up dirt. It soaks up grime. If you spill orange juice, a sponge soaks up the orange juice off of the counter and removes it from the counter. It soaks up the coffee from the coffee table and removes it from the coffee table. It soaks up the failed science experiment of red food dye, baking soda and lemon juice and removes from the science table.
Before use – the table is dirty; the sponge is clean.
After us – the sponge is dirty; the table is clean.
And that’s what Jesus did for us.
He soaked up our sins on his body.
He took them on himself.
He soaked up our greed, our lusts, our selfishness, our gossip, our gross sinful failures – even the ones that stain our hearts deeply.
He became dirty and left us clean.
And since he was dirty – that’s why he died.
It’s what happens to any dirty, disgusting sponge, it gets thrown away.
God the Father threw Jesus onto across and into a tomb.
You are now without a stain.
You are clean because of Him.
In other words – God forgave you.
Which sounds awesome. But hard to believe.
Because you can’t see sins evaporating into thin air.
Nobody has a halo around their head this morning.
The fact is we still sin.
How do we know Jesus cleaned us?
Because the very thing that caused Jesus to die – our sins – no longer kept him dead.
Jesus rose; he left your sins in the tomb.
Jesus annihilated your sins.
Jesus destroyed your guilt.
Jesus killed death.
And that’s what this passage is saying, “In Christ all are made alive.”
Now we are no longer born of sinful Adam, but of sinless Christ.
We are no longer born of unholy Adam, but of holy God.
We are no longer born of destined to die, but destined to live Jesus Christ.
THIS IS WHAT MAKES EASTER SPECIAL:
Jesus did the impossible while in a state by which it is impossible to do anything as proof that the invisibly impossible had been done.
This is a message for you. Believe.
Believe that Jesus died.
Believe that Jesus rose.
Believe that Jesus has done the invisibly impossible and cleaned you from all of your sins.
That’s what In Christ means. It means believers in Christ. Unbelief means rejecting his work, running into the empty tomb, grabbing those dirty sponges of yucky sins and saying, “I prefer to live in filth.”
Yuck. Condemnation is deserved.
But belief in Jesus means trusting that he has cleansed us from our sins.
It means trusting in his forgiveness.
It means trusting that because of Him, you will live.
No matter who you are.
Because the women in the story today are the first two to see Jesus’ empty tomb. Did you remember their names? It’s Salome – a woman that’s only mentioned during this resurrection time period and Mary the mother of James the Less. A woman known simply for being a mother.
It’s not Peter.
It’s not John.
It’s not Pontius Pilate or one of the Pharisees.
It’s not even Mary Magdalene.
It’s two seemingly insignificant players in the story of Jesus’ life whose only appearance is on that weekend.
You might feel like a Mary, the mother of James the Less.
You might feel like a Salome.
You might feel not all that important, not all that godly, and not all that much like God could care about you.
But he does.
He lived for you.
He died for you.
He cleaned you.
He rose for you to prove it.
That’s the miracle of Easter.
A miracle unlike any other.
A miracle that still works the miracle of faith today. Amen.