We’re in the middle of a sermon series called FRESH. It’s all about getting a FRESH start in the new year. So far, we have gotten a FRESH perspective – that God is not for the “righteous,” but for sinners; and we have learned about the personal FRESH start that God offers to us in baptism.
But…how does all of this affect YOUR day to day life?
It’s kind of like becoming a vegan. Once you get a Vegan Life tattoo, you don’t just go to Burger King for a Triple Whopper.
Or if you are diagnosed with Gluten Intolerance, it’s not wise to bemoan the diagnosis with a package of saltine crackers.
Or even if you declare yourself a Duke fan and you attend the Duke basketball game in full Duke blue, it would be unwise to stand up and cheer when a baby blue Tarheel slam dunks the basketball.
Once you have been given a FRESH start, it necessitates that you live in a FRESH way.
Today we are going to dive into God’s Word to learn more about what a FRESH lifestyle looks like. 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 Ephesian Issue
The lesson for today comes from the book of Ephesians. It’s a letter written by a pastor to church in Ephesus. And there are two main reasons that he writes the letter:
(1) Young Church.
This church in Ephesus was not that old. The majority of the people that belong to that church were fairly young in their faith, too.
This isn’t necessarily bad. Usually when people are young in their faith, they are filled with enthusiasm and excitement for their Savior and for the FRESH start that He has given them.
But one of the challenges when you are a young-in-faith Christian is that you don’t have very deep roots in the faith.
Like a young plant that hasn’t had a long time to grow deep roots, young in faith Christians haven’t had a long time to grow roots.
Paul’s letter was written, in part, to deepen their roots and grow their faith.
(2) Ungodly Culture.
The second reason for the letter goes hand in hand. Ephesus was not exactly a place well-known for worshipping the true God.
It wasn’t a place that taught that Messiah.
It wasn’t a place that was blessed with a temple or filled with Old Testament readers.
It was a city that developed a good portion of its economic capital from false god worship.
There were temples devoted to false gods.
Priests paid to man those temples to false gods.
Maintenance men paid to fix the toilets at those temples devoted to false gods.
In fact, in Acts 19 describes a marketplace that was dedicated to buying little handmade false gods for you to take home and worship. Can you imagine? I picture storefronts with names like: “Idols ‘R Us”, “JC Idols,” and “Build-a-Bear: False God Edition.”
One of the most famous false gods to worship in Ephesus was a god called Artemis.
Artemis was not a god like the LORD.
Artemis didn’t have so many rules.
Artemis didn’t care if you were drunk when you worshipped her.
She didn’t care if you chose to worship her by sleeping with people you aren’t married to.
In fact, she encouraged you to come to special room in the temple where lots of people slept with other people they weren’t married to – all in the name of Artemis!
The new church in Ephesus was young in their faith.
Paul’s concern was that many of them would claim to be followers of Jesus, but then follow the same, regular old, sinful, Ephesian way of life.
As a result, Paul writes his letter:
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. (v.17)
“Gentile” is a word that usually means not Jewish.
But here it’s focus isn’t on the genealogical code of the Ephesian people.
But on their lifestyle – as a people far apart from the true God.
Paul wants them, the people who are close to God, to stop living like the people who are far apart from God.
Three reasons the Ephesian way of life wasn’t all it was cracked up to be:
(1) Darkened in Understanding.
The picture is of a two people. A guy who is blindfolded and in darkness and a guy who isn’t blindfolded and can see. The guy who can see has no problem maneuvering as he goes about life. He can see things, so avoid obstacles and walks around bumps in the road. But the guy who is blindfolded has troubles. He bumps into walls. He stumbles on steps. He steps on Friendly, the neighborhood cat!
It would not make a lot of sense for the guy who doesn’t have the blindfold on to say: “I wish I was wearing a blindfold. Then, I could bump into things, trip over obstacles and be viciously attacked by Friendly, the neighborhood cat.”
Yet – that’s exactly what the Ephesians believers were doing.
They were the ones in the light. They knew what the truth was. They knew what pleased God.
But they were being tempted to live like the people with the blindfolds on!
“Man, I wish that I was drunk more. It’d be fun to ruin the few friendships I have left by screaming obscenities at people.”
“I’m so jealous of Bob. I wish I had the intimacy issues that he has thanks to playing the field and sleeping with a different girl each night.”
“Family is alright, but I think I need to be more like others at work to focus more on money, money, money, money, money…”
This is foolish. If you are in the light but walk around with your eyes closed – don’t be surprised when you leave a relational mess everywhere you go.
(2) Lost Sensitivity.
Paul writes, “having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity and they are full of greed.” (v.18)
Does this ever happen to you? You’re looking for a late-night snack and you grab the bag of chips up in the cupboard. You figure. “I’ll just have one.” You sit down. Turn on Netflix. And place one chip into your mouth.
You start searching through the “Because You Watched The Office” section of Netflix and have switched to putting two chips into your mouth.
You settle on your show and suddenly your find yourself, almost subconsciously, throwing in 5 or 6 chips at the same time.
Before you know it, you’re doing that thing where you just grab a pile with your hands, toss your head back and drop it into your open mouth.
You’ve lost all sensitivity.
It’s the same thing with sin. Something might seem morally repugnant to you: I hate looking at porn.
Then, you make that one concession: “I feel really, really bad. Granted, it was only a lingerie ad and I kinda have to look at it because it’s a pop-up ad. But it wasn’t right.”
Then, another concession: “Well, it’s only nudity. I suppose it’s not good for me, but it could be worse.”
And before you know it– “Yep. I watch porn. What’s the big deal?”
Staying on the path to an ungodly way of life leads to losing all sensitivity.
Like a friend of mine. I remember this back in college. Things were kind of going downhill for him. He took some of us aside and was in tears. He said, “I am struggling with the party lifestyle. I get wasted. I get high. I sleep around. It’s horrifying.
But…that’s not the reason I am concerned.
That’s not the reason I am horrified.
The reason I feel horrified…?
It’s because I don’t feel horrified.
Living a sinful lifestyle will lessen your sensitivity to sin. Be careful.
(3) Separated from the Life of God.
One final reason: “They are separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” (v.18) And I think, really, this manifests itself in two ways.
They feel dead inside. They can’t shake sin. They can’t shake shame. They can’t shake this feeling that they are directly responsible for messing up their own lives. They are apart from God. Apart from the “life” that has forgiveness and stuck with the dead weight of their sins.
If you are a believer, this is multiplied.
Because the devil comes along and takes full advantage:
“You’re a believer…but you do that stuff. Hmmm… Are you sure?”
“You’re a God lover, why do you love that sinful thing so much? Maybe…God doesn’t love you.”
“You’re supposed to be his child? You’re acting like his enemy. You MUST be his enemy.”
If you continue in your sinful lifestyle, you will continue to deal with this dead inside feeling; and miss out on the joy of forgiveness!
But this is about more than feeling dead inside.
Do you remember John 3:16? It says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
That’s nice. That’s encouraging. That’s good news.
But…have you ever read John 3:18? “But whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he does not believe in the name of God’s Son.”
Condemned? That’s a reference to death.
Here’s Paul’s point: Are you, as a believer headed towards heaven, really jealous of the unbelieving way that leads to hell?
Do you believe it’s a better way from life?
If so, do you believe you are still a believer if you believe that life apart from Jesus is better?
Here’s the truth.
Living your life apart from God, threatens living eternal life apart from God.
This is a warning.
A warning Paul wrote.
A warning the Holy Spirit preserved.
A warning that God is speaking to your heart today.
Take heed. Because “That is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.” (v.20-21)
II. Zacchaeus – a Case Study
Zacchaeus grabbed the lowest hanging branch of the sycamore fig tree and pulled himself up. He positioned his feet in the crook of the rather large branch, steadied himself with his left hand and while trying to catch his breath, he looked over the crowd to the speaking 300 some odd feet away.
Zacchaeus had always wanted to see him. He had heard Jesus promoting a new perspective on God. The promise that God loved even scum of the earth, tax collecting sinners like himself and sent the Savior for scum of the earth tax collecting sinners like himself.
It gave Zacchaeus hope. Because Zacchaeus lived a lifestyle without a lot of hope.
He had gotten into the tax collecting business for the money.
And the money led to greed.
The greed to deception.
Deception to stealing from his neighbors.
And the stealing from his neighbors…to not having many friends.
He got drunk.
He paid for women.
He paid for the illegal drugs for that table over there if only…they’d hang out with him.
It wasn’t real friendship.
It wasn’t a good way to life.
It left him alone, guilt and ashamed.
That’s why he had to be in the back – he was too sinful to be near a teacher like Jesus.
And he had to be in a sycamore fig tree because he was too short to see over anyone.
But from up in that branch…he could see just fine.
And he could see just fine…as Jesus spoke.
He could see just fine…as Jesus ended his sermon.
He could see just fine…as Jesus walked…directly…towards…him.
And Zacchaeus thought: “Surely! He’s going to call me out! Surely. He’s going to point out to the crowd a modern-day example of sin and filth – which is exactly what I am.”
But Jesus said something different: “Zacchaeus. Come down right now. I’m going to your house today.” (Lk. 19:5)
And Zacchaeus moved down from that tree faster than any house cat.
He was excited that Jesus wanted to be with Him.
He took him home to his house.
He listened as Jesus spoke about forgiveness.
He heard as Jesus proclaimed himself to be the Savior for scum of the earth, tax collecting sinners like himself.
And Zacchaeus believed Jesus.
And then! Zacchaeus said something that is altogether incredible:
“Look Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (v.9)
Do you see it?
Zacchaeus didn’t need his money-based life when he had the promise of the eternal things.
Zacchaeus didn’t need to fill his life with greed when he was filled with the love of Jesus.
Zacchaeus didn’t need things and stuff when he had the one thing needful.
Zacchaeus didn’t need sin that condemns when he had the Savior who saves.
Neither do you.
You have the One.
You have your Savior.
You have absolutely, full and complete forgiveness with Jesus Christ.
You don’t need your former way of life.
You don’t need your sin.
You don’t need the stuff that the world apart from Christ chases after.
You have the eternal, constant, all-powerful, undeserved love of Christ Jesus.
Here’s what God’s Word is telling you:
Jesus gave up everything to be with you. Give up your sinful lifestyle to be with Him.
Just like Jesus said about Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Literally!
Jesus, who is salvation, came to Zacchaeus’ house. What else did he need?
And that same Jesus, has come to your house, by faith. What else do you need?
III. WHAT NOW?
And so…the WHAT NOW? It comes from the next part of Ephesians four. Verse by verse. A three-step encouragement to find a new way of living.
1) Put Off Your Old Self
Paul writes, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.” (v.22)
A few years back I had this black shirt that I bought off the clearance rack of TJ MAXX (Because I only buy off the clearance rack at TJ Maxx) and I bought this on my own, without Julianna present. Anyway, I thought it was cool. It was a long-sleeved black, nice shirt that had charcoal stripes running lengthwise, and a subtle hint of flashiness when the light hit it the right way.
Julianna thought that the light should never hit it and it should remain in the closet.
Understand. This is the gist of what God is telling you.
Take off your old way of life.
Take off the addiction.
Take off the greed.
Take off the lust.
Take off the rage.
Take off the bitterness, gossip, and pride.
It doesn’t look good on you.
And…more importantly…it’s not who you are!
Take a moment. Think about a sin that you struggle with. Think of a sin that you like to wear.
I want you to identify that sin and this week, like right now and take steps to take off that old, sinful lifestyle!
Which might sound intimidating.
It might sound hard.
That’s why we need to remember the second point:
2) Be made NEW in your Minds
Paul continues, “You were taught…to be made new in the attitude of your minds…” (v.23) Look carefully at that verb. It’s passive. It doesn’t say, “Make your attitude new.” That’s really hard to do. Theologically, it’s impossible to do. If your mind is one of sin and the former way of life, it won’t be able to make itself new and develop a new way of life that’s actually new.
Instead, it’ll just be:
“I should stop gossiping.” And then, “Man, aren’t I awesome at not gossiping?”
From a lifestyle of gossip to a lifestyle of pride – aka – from a lifestyle of sin to a lifestyle of sin.
We need Jesus.
We need to BE MADE NEW.
We are made new in God’s Word.
We are truly made new through repeated, repetitive, persistent and consistent time in God’s Word.
It’s like moving down to Raleigh after living many years up North in Wisconsin. And now that I have been here 8 years --- I’ve noticed something about my vocabulary. I say things that I didn’t used to say.
I say things like:
and “Bless your heart.”
Time around people who said things like that has led me to be made new in my mind and speak things like that.
It’s the same with God’s way of living.
Time in God’s Word… Repeated, repetitive, persistent and consistent time in God’s Word will make our minds new.
Repeated, repetitive, persistent and consistent time watching that TV-Mature Netflix series? It won’t make you new. It’ll keep you in your old lifestyle.
But time in God’s Word?
It makes your minds new.
Because it reminds you of who you are.
This all leads to the final big point from Ephesians:
3) Put on the New Self
Specifically, Ephesians says: “Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (v.24)
Because as the alarm goes off in the wee hours of the morning and you’re trying to figure out what outfit would look good and which pair of novelty socks you should wear today:
Don’t forget your watch.
Don’t forget your wedding ring.
And don’t forget to put on Jesus’ love.
Clothe yourself with the fact that you are forgiven.
Put on the socks that say you are SAVED.
Put on the T-shirt that says God’s child.
Put on the hat with the phrase HEALED FROM SIN visible on the brim!
Put on the NEW self and live as the NEW self the rest of the day.
That’s a NEW way of living.
That’s a FRESH way of living.
That’s the way of living that God has called you to. Amen.
Well it’s about that time of year again. That time when time is usually on our minds. In just two short days it will be one year later than it was a year ago, which usually prompts us to look back over that last year and figure out what we liked and usually more often what we didn’t like that we want to change next year. My mailbox has already been flooded with flyers for local gyms trying to guess what those goals might be for me.
But never minding the failed resolutions that inevitably come out of this, the real problem with all of that is that it tends to have a failed focus. The things we are proud of the year before and the things we strive to change in the next… well… are they the right things?
Today, let’s look at what the apostle Paul had to say and consider our past and our future in light of those words that God had him write. At the beginning of our section he writes:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
If anyone had reason to be proud and confident, it was Paul. He was a paragon of virtue. He was born of the right people, God’s own chosen nation. He followed every command from God and every tradition of his people. He was part of the moral elite, the Pharisees. If he was around today, he could be bragging on Facebook about how all three of his perfect children were excelling in their own extra-curriculars while showing photos from his last tropical vacation, the new house he’s building, the promotion he got this year, and how he hit his target weight in half the time expected.
And what does Paul say about all these things he should be bragging about?
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
And now what does he say about that life? He considers it a loss. He doesn’t just find that entire life to be worthless, he actually considers it detrimental to his life. In fact, he considers everything a loss when it is compared to the greatness of simply knowing his Lord Jesus Christ. Now, if you remember back, if you were here for our summer series on the book of Acts, you may remember that this was not a conclusion that Paul came to on his own. He didn’t suddenly realize that all that was wrong and worthless. God had to reveal it to Paul.
In that confrontation on the road to Damascus, God appeared to him and made Paul aware of exactly how wrong and backward his life had been from start to finish. God taught Paul that everything of his own he thought he should be proud of was in reality something to be ashamed of, and there was nothing good in himself. The house, the job, the vacation, the perfect life – those things were all hurting him, not helping.
Why? Because they weren’t good enough. They couldn’t save him. No matter how hard he tried to do everything right and have the perfect life and have people love him and all that, it wasn’t good enough for God. God demands perfection. What’s more, God requires that he himself be the focal point of our lives. That we do everything for him. Paul hadn’t done all those things for God, he did them for himself! Everything he thought was worth anything wasn’t just a waste of time, it was actively keeping him away from the God who could save him.
It was at this point, at the bottom of everything, when Paul had all hope in himself cut out from under him, that God showed him his mercy and grace in Jesus. And Paul understood the only thing worth anything in this life is Christ himself. Paul gave up hope in himself and clung to the hope of Jesus as his savior, trusting that Jesus alone is the only way he can possibly be rescued.
Now Paul’s experience may sound outlandish, and maybe the circumstances are. But those aside, this is the experience that every Christian goes through to come to a knowledge of their savior, the same Christ. Each one of us has to realize: I am sinful. I cannot save myself. I need Jesus. Only he can help me. Only he is worth anything in my life.
And so, the question now is, as I’m looking back over 2018 and looking on to my plans for 2019 – do my thoughts show that I’m convinced of this truth?
Do I really consider everything I have apart from Christ is a loss? Do we really “buy” that, or are we feebly clinging to the notion that some of what we have or do or are is worthwhile, profitable, useful? Sure, there’s plenty of stuff it’s easy to look at and identify as useless and harmful. We know that indulging our sinful temptations is harmful to us. Sin damages faith, it hurts our relationship with our God and it risks our eternal life.
But of course, God himself gives us great things to be used for our recreation and enjoyment…what about those? Even with those we must be cautious. These gifts are to be used to enrich our lives of service to him. They are a means to an end. They help us relax, recharge, lift our spirits so we can continue our work for God. But when the gift becomes the purpose, when all our time and energy gets poured into one hobby or recreational pursuit, it ultimately becomes a loss for us, because again, it is distracting us and taking us away from the only thing that is to our gain, our Lord Christ.
But even that doesn’t go as far as Paul was talking here. Remember he listed off all the great things about himself that he had claim to. Every achievement or source of pride – what did he say about them? He considered a loss. And for the same reason: they served to distract and take him away from our God. It is the same for us.
We need to see that there is no difference here. It could be the grossest display of sinful indulgence or it could be chasing a goal that isn’t our Lord or it could just be plain old pride in myself and my abilities and accomplishments. They all do the same thing: they lead us away from God. The best of who we are, the best of what we have and do in our lives…these too are a loss! Pardon me for a moment while I get a little complicated. They are a loss when we view them this way. Let me elaborate.
If I look see the best I have as the best I have, then where is the focus? If the best I can do I view as the best I do, then where is the focus? If I am proud of myself for my accomplishments, for the things I have done with the strength of my hands or the skill of my intellect, then I am worshiping myself and am taken away from God. Even if I take pride in all the good things I do for God, that I give him my money and my time without complaint, that I am a helpful member of the church body, then I am still worshiping myself for how great I am.
It doesn’t matter what does it, it doesn’t matter how it comes about, whatever it is, if our focus slips from looking ahead to eternity, then it is a loss to us! What is to our gain, what we do need is to keep our eyes forward, on Christ, as Paul tells us here. He had plenty to be proud of, plenty to indulge in, but his reaction was anything that kept him apart from Christ, anything that caused him to focus on himself or anything that wasn’t Christ was a loss to him. And why? Because only Christ had what he truly needed. Forgiveness of sins and the gift of righteousness.
This is why it is so dangerous to let the things of this life steal our focus away from Christ. Just like Paul, all the best we have… can’t save us. We do not measure up to God’s standards. Without Jesus, we are dead. We would be cut off from God and left to an eternity without any of his mercy or grace. There is nothing worse than that. There is no goal to set that is more important than avoiding that outcome. But we cannot avoid it ourselves. Nothing we have changes this for ourselves.
Only Jesus makes a difference. And it makes all the difference. Where we are unworthy and have nothing good to offer, Christ makes us worthy. His life of obedience is credited to us, and his innocent sacrifice on the cross eliminates the debt we owe our God. In Christ, and only in him, are we saved. We are declared innocent before God our Father and we are promised a heavenly home is prepared for us at the end of our time here. Through him we will, as Paul says here, obtain the resurrection of the dead.
When we understand and accept this dynamic between us and our God, it changes how we view our lives and it changes why we do whatever it is we do. When we recognize that nothing we have to offer is good in its own merit, we no longer do things out of pride or for praise or for any reward. Rather we do the good we do because God has made it possible. He gives us the strength, the time, the ability, and it’s the blood of Christ that washes our actions and makes them good for God. And we keep this attitude by keeping our looking ahead to Christ. With eyes on him, on what he’s done for us and on where he’s waiting for us – that sets our goals and mind straight for the coming year. As Paul concludes our section today:
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
As Paul says, we have not yet fully attained this goal of looking ahead to our God. We have not fully become as like Christ as we would like. But we do strive always to be better at it. Not by waking up each day and promising to “do better”, that will get us nowhere or even take us backwards. The way to pursue Christ is by renewing our focus each day on him. Learning from him, studying him, growing closer to him. That is what Paul is striving for here.
And when we do that, there’s a natural side-effect: Christ’s power will work through us to accomplish what we cannot on our own. We will grow to be more like him. Now, we recognize that this work will never be completed in this life. We will always have room to grow in him. But that is not an excuse for us to simply give up and say “good enough!” We should never be satisfied with how far our devotion to Christ has progressed! This should be our number one goal every year!
But if you look back over the last year and think: well I sure didn’t do that, then I have good news for you. Our devotion to God is not perfect and we should not despair when we do not live up to God’s standards. We strive, strive, strive… but never despair when we fail. It is because we fail that we have a savior. It is because we fail that Jesus died. And it is because of Jesus that our failures are forgiven. Forgotten. We show our love to God by showing him what he’s worth to us, but our expressions of love to God are simply that, they are not what keeps us in his favor, they are not what make him love us. There will be times of failure and every time we return to him, he has forgiveness for us.
Brothers and sisters, forget what is behind. Forget the things that drag you down to this world and hold you here. Forget your pride and yourself. And don’t look back with regret either. Forget your own failures; God already has. Leave the past in the past. Strain toward what is ahead. Look ahead to the prize that God won for you. Press on toward it. Make that your goal for 2019 and beyond. Reach for Christ every day like your life depends on it. God is reaching back for you, taking hold of you, guarding and guiding you every step of every day. Stay close to him, draw close to him. You are a forgiven child of God, you have absolutely everything to look forward to in him. Amen.
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.
I was a Senior Vicar – 24 years old and I had been called to the hospital. I was there to visit a woman named Matilda – someone whom I had enjoyed lightly toasted bread and tea with on numerous occasions. We had gotten together to talk about her family, hummel figurines, and the best episodes of the Lucy show.
But now…now there was no Lucy show. No figurines. No lightly toasted bread.
Matilda had just died. Her breathing had stopped.
And my stomach just felt strange. I had just seen someone die. Now…now how could I help?
As I looked at the tear stained eyes of the family members in the room -- I racked my brain. Should I do CPR? Should I run to get a nurse? Should there be some kind of special Pastor trick that I hadn’t learned yet in Pastoral theology that I should be used to return her breath to her...?
I felt helpless. Helpless because…What’s there to do when the breathing stops?
Today we’re finishing up our sermon series called BREATHE and we what Jesus did to prep you for eternal breathing, what he’s currently doing, and what you can do to prep yourself.
I. He’s Preparing Things for You
Take a look at John 14. This happens 43 days before Jesus’ ascension – 40 days before Ascension is Easter. 3 days before Easter is Maundy Thursday. It’s the night Jesus that Jesus is betrayed; the night he’s arrested; the night before he’s beaten, flogged, convicted, crucified, and killed.
And as Jesus was speaking about it, he’s disciples were getting spooked.
If the Pharisees did that to their leader, what would he do to them?
And If Jesus was dead, how could he protect them?
And if he couldn’t protect them, wouldn’t they just run out of breath?
Listen to Jesus’ words of to them:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, I would have told you so. I am going there to prepare a place for you.
Now note that when Jesus says, “His Father’s house,” he’s not talking about Joseph. That would have been his step-dad’s house in Nazareth. While a carpenter makes a living, I doubt that the house had enough room for 11 disciples to spread out on the living room floor for a nap. Can you imagine what that would have been like? “Peter & Andrew – you’re brothers so you can sleep in this room together. John, you take the floor. And Philip? There’s an old futon out back that you can curl up on.”
Nope. The Father he was talking about was bigger.
And the house He was talking about was bigger too.
In my Father’s house are many rooms.
Ever been to the Biltmore Estate? It has over 250 rooms. 33 bedrooms. 43 bathrooms. 3 kitchens and 65 fireplaces. It’s able to house hundreds of people at the same time. That’s a lot.
Heaven houses a lot more. It has many rooms. Enough rooms for God to fill it with people from every age, every era, every culture, and every race. Scripture talks about thousands upon thousands and ten thousand upon ten thousand. Myriads of people crowding the halls of this divine house, taking up residents in one of its many rooms.
And one of those rooms? It’s for you.
Look at what Jesus says next, I am going there to prepare a place for you. That’s a promise he makes to his disciples. A disciple is a follower of Jesus. Do you follow Jesus? Do you believe in him? Jesus is talking about you.
Jesus isn’t up in heaven laying on a couch flipping through episodes of Fuller House on Netflix. He’s not in heaven sipping martinis by a heavenly poolside and leaving you down here with all your problems, with all your relationship problems, with all your financial struggles, to slowly go through life working your dead-end job, barely making it until you die.
He’s busy. He’s preparing a place for you.
Suddenly you get this picture of Jesus sweeping up the floor, turning the Roomba loose on the carpet, putting flowers in a vase by the bedside table, fluffing pillows, lighting some candles, spraying some Febreeze and folding a towel into one of the little duck like creatures that they make at the Holiday Inn.
Is Jesus actually doing such mundane earthly tasks? Probably not. It’s heaven. It’s not earth. But the point is this: Jesus is that excited to have you in heaven. He’s getting a special spot, preserved and prepared just for you.
If one of the angels comes along and says, “Hey Jesus, is anyone using this room? I want to use it for some divine yoga!”
Jesus will respond, “No! That room is for my beloved. It’s for this 21st century Christian, sitting in row 7, seat 2 at Gethsemane church in Raleigh, NC. I’ve been preparing that spot for them for years. I lived perfectly for them. I died for them. I rose triumphantly for them. All so that they might live in that room – down the hall from me – eternally.”
II. He’s Coming Back to Get you
When your spot is ready – when the time is just right – Jesus is coming back. If I go there and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me.
Did you know that infants are terrible at peekaboo? Infants lack something called “object permanence.” That means they don’t understand that objects generally don’t disappear out of thin air. So, if you are making an infant smile and then throw a blanket over your face, the infant thinks “Help. He’s gone. Don’t know where to either.” The infant is extra surprised to see you again – because he was expecting that you were gone.
Don’t we do the same thing with Jesus?
The way this world is going – things are so awful. Jesus isn’t ever coming back!
Finances are so hard – I imagine God doesn’t care a bit about me.
I’m so lonely – Jesus must have forgotten all about me.
My health is deteriorating fast. Jesus must have checked out!
Nope. He remembers.
When he’s done preparing a place for you, he will come back and take you to be with him.
To a place without the sin and immorality of this world.
To a place without financial burdens.
To a place surrounded by God’s love.
To a place where there is no sickness; no sadness and no pain!
That’s sounds pretty awesome. It would be sad to miss it.
Like Google Calendar. Do you ever use its features? If you ever have a really important event you can set it up shoot off an alarm that way you don’t miss the meeting. Sometimes I have to put a couple of reminders for a really big day – like the Doritos convention – I have reminders 1 week, 3 days, 24 hours, 12 hours, 5 hours, 2 hours, 1 hour & ½ an hour before hand. I don’t want to forget!
Don’t you worry about Jesus. He won’t forget. Don’t think you’ve done too much sin or been too far away for too long that he will forget all about coming to get you.
He will remember you. He will come back for you.
It doesn’t matter where you are:
On the sixth floor of your office surrounded by stacks of paper at work? He will remember you. He will come back for you.
In line to make a rent payment at the fourth apartment you’ve tried out this year? He will remember you. He will come back for you.
On the fourth floor of the sixth building on the gigantic campus of UNC Health Center? He will remember you. He will come back for you.
In the ground, row 18 in the cemetery, plot 37 – He will come back for you.
Lazarus had been buried in a tomb for four days. He had been dead for longer – probably a whole week. His body had begun to deteriorate. The grave had begun to smell like rot. He was dead.
When Jesus got there to see him, his sisters lost it: “You’re too late! You should have been here earlier. You missed him. You could have helped him; you could have saved him; but now he’s dead.”
Jesus? He had them roll the stone away. He peered inside. He called out: “Lazarus!”
Lazarus walked out – alive.
There’s a promise that Jesus made right before doing that to Lazarus. He said, “Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me; will never die!” (Jn. 11:27)
Do you believe in Jesus? That means you will live.
Have cancer? You will live.
Getting older? You will live.
Nervous about terrorist? You will live.
You will be in heaven. You will breathe. Even when you’re breathing stops.
III. What Now?
1. Give the Best Gift a Mom Can Give
Here’s the Mother’s Day connection. We are gonna get it in there somehow. If you are a modern mom, there’s a lot of pressure to be a good mom. Our world is of the opinion that if you want to be a good mom you need to enroll your kid in ballet, take him to swimming, karate, clarinet, science club, make sure he has good grades but get him an iPhone, feed him the most expensive organic food available, but save up enough money for college, make sure he’s disciplined, but not be one of those hard-nosed moms either.
It’s hard. It’s also wrong.
Because if you want to be a good mom, there is one thing needful: Teach your kids about Jesus.
Nothing else is that important. Tell them Bible stories. Read them the Bible. Do family devotions. Bring them to church. Bring them to Sunday School. Have them baptized.
If you want to them in heaven with you, do all you can to teach them about the one, the ONLY ONE, who offers heaven. Jesus!
2. Give the Best Gift a Mom Can Get
Moms – you might be getting a lot of gifts today. A pair of earrings. A flower. A card with “I think it’s a spotted cow” on it. Happy “Mooo—ther’s Day!” Careful how you react! Because if you want to show appreciation for a gift, you take good care of it. You put it in a special spot. You make sure not to throw it away. You keep it for years to come.
It’s the same way with spiritual gifts.
Maybe you have a Christian mom.
Maybe you had a Christian mom.
Maybe you had a grand mom, an aunt, an uncle, a dad, a somebody who loved Jesus and cared give you the gift of your Savior.
Use that gift. Take care of that gift. Keep your faith in Jesus strong. Exercise your spirit in God’s Word – at church, at home, listening to your iPhone as you drive. Whatever it takes to make sure you’re breathing when your breathing ends.
That’s what Matilda had done. She had read her Bible. She sang her hymns. She had listened to the cassette tapes of sermons that past pastors had brought her. She even listened to the CDs of Sundays service that I brought her (after I explained to her how it all worked).
She listened. She heard about her Savior’s last breath on the cross. She heard about her Savior’s first breath in the tomb.
When she took her last breath in that hospital room, immediately, instantly, she segued to her first divine breath.
In her Father’s house.
Ezekiel’s body hit the ground with a thud. The temp was hot. The air was thick. There was a stale odor seeping into his nostrils.
Some road trip.
Moments ago, he had been minding his own business. He had been preparing for another round of preaching, another round of prophesying, another round of warning the Israelites to stop their evil ways. And as he walked by the Babylonian marketplace where he would grab a morning drink, a piece of bread and begin writing his speech for the day, God intercepted him.
Ezekiel had been picked up, moved by the Almighty hand of the Lord, taken from his daily life and routine to…to…this! Wherever this was!
Ezekiel looked up. He was in a valley – what appeared to be the deepest part – with long mountainous crags on all every side. As his eyes followed the pastures ahead, he spotted what appeared to be clumps in the distance. Maybe they were piles. Some kind of bramble.
He took a few steps in that direction, until his sandled foot stubbed against something. He tripped, but kept his balance. Then, he turned around to see what his foot had a struck. In the ground, he saw something small and yellowish brown. He couldn’t quite make out what it was. Curiosity got the best of him so he got down on his knees and brushed the dry dirt away hoping to discover what it was.
When he did, he backed away in horror.
It was a skull. A dead bone.
As his eyes adjusted to the light, he realized that this was exactly what the piles in the distance were. Bones. Lots of them. Everywhere.
The Spirit of God led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. (Ezekiel 37:2)
I. A Lesson in the Valley
Ezekiel found himself wandering through the valley. Bones were everywhere he looked. Jawbones to his left. Leg bones to his right. Piles and piles of death – fading reminders of the people who once owned them.
Now…they were motionless. Dead. Lifeless.
It kinda reminded Ezekiel of the Israelites. For years he had been commissioned by God to warn his fellow countrymen about their sins. He had explained that the reason they were captives in Babylon was their sins and their only way out of Babylon was repentance and patience – patience in waiting for the delivering hand of God.
But the people’s response was MEH! They hadn’t seemed to care. They were lifeless. Their faith…was dead.
Ezekiel’s thought process was interrupted by the booming voice of the LORD: He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
Ezekiel looked at the pile nearest him. A shin bone that used to walk. A knee joint that used to bend. A shoulder socket that used to reach for a bottle of wine. They had moved, sure. But death had crippled them. These bones were worthless. Anyone knew that.
…This wasn’t just anyone speaking to him.
God, you are the expert. You are the Creator of heaven and earth. You are the One who formed Adam, the very first man, out of clay! God, You alone know.
God responded, “Prophesy to these bones. Prophesy and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
Wait a second? God, you want me to talk to the bones? The Israelites were one thing, but now you want me to prophesy to these bones? These things aren’t living. They aren’t moving. They can’t hear me. They don’t even have ears!
But…you are God. And…no one is watching so.
I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them…
A foot connected to an ankle bone. A fibula and tibia met up like long lost friends. Ribs flew through the air and forced Ezekiel to duck for his life. Then, little stitches appeared at the joints…like some sort of invisible hand was cross stitching a pattern across them. Muscles formed in clumps at the biceps, the delts, and the quads. A skeleton near Ezekiel’s feet suddenly had a six pack. Then, skin. It draped down like a blanket and covered up all of these insides into one cohesive, identifiable body.
…but there was no breath in them.
And God spoke again.
9 “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’”
Ezekiel paused again.
First, bones and now the wind? You want me to preach to the wind? The forces of nature that only you control? You really expect me to get them bring these bones to life? Would it even do that?
Could it even do that?
10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered the bones; a loud noise like a tornado rushed in from all sides. It blew through the newly formed hair on the bodies, moved the loose cartilage of the ears, and entered into the nostrils. Then, the chests moved. The bodies came to life and stood up on their feet-- one after another – a miracle after a miracle -- a vast army.
And Ezekiel? He stood in awe. Had seen the incredible. God had brought breath out of death!
II. A Lesson in North Raleigh
That’s a pretty sweet Bible story, isn’t it? How awesome would it be to see a science room filled of bones come to life and be real people? Because of the bones, it probably doesn’t get told as much in Sunday School as Noah’s ark, but it’s still pretty sweet.
And it’s not without some very real and very important lessons for you and me as we try to do ministry in North Raleigh. Take a look at these few:
1) We Too Were Bags of Bones
In order to get this bone for the kids lesson – I asked one of my friends who teaches elementary science for some help. She got back to me with a message about all the different bones that she could bring. Dog shin bones, goat thigh bones, even a cow skull. She wisely thought the cow skull would totally distract the kids and lead to me using control over the kids during the kids lesson. (I need reviews like that more often).
But it got me to thinking – all these different bones – all these different places – unless your are an A+ college biology student, you might not know what bones goes where, what kinds of animals it’s from and where it goes in the skeleton.
Isn’t it the same with God’s perspective of us? We are all sinners – dead in spirit – dead in faith. God looks down at us and he can’t tell apart the one pornography from the other. It’s easy to get the gossiper confused with the liar. The one God can’t tell if he should label it a racist, an adulteress, a thief or a strange combination of all three!
What I’m trying to say is that apart from Jesus – God sees us all as a pile of good as dead, useless, worthless, sinful bones.
Read it yourself in Ephesians 2:1 – “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”
Now you might argue:
I’m not so bad. I was pretty good apart from Jesus. I might be a bit better now, but I was no slouch back in the day either.
I’m without him right now and I think I’m doing just fine. I don’t need anyone’s help and I don’t need God’s.
Have you ever downloaded an app before? When you download an app what do you expect it to do? Probably what it says it’s going to do. If you get an app downloaded, and it constantly freezes all the time, if it sends the Angry Birds in the opposite direction of the way you were flinging them OR if you every time you touch the DELIVER PIZZA button on the Pizza Hut app, you get sushi – the app is broken. It’s worthless.
God made you and I to serve him. He made us to devote our lives in love to him. He made us to serve others completely selfless all the time, all the time, all the time.
We haven’t done that. None of us have. There’s nothing we could do to fix that! Apart from Jesus, we were dead in sin.
If you are apart from Jesus, then that’s how God views you – dead. He sees your life as a rotting, deteriorating mess of an experiment – the only thing for which it's good, being an eventual decomposition into the soil where other bones can be buried too.
You were dead in your sins, but God made you alive with Christ.
2) God Brings Breath from Death
Do you know what’s really interesting? The Hebrew word for breath that we read in Ezekiel is RUACH…it’s also the exact same words that we translated as WIND. Two definitions; same word.
But there’s one more definition for RUACH. Do you know what it is?
Suddenly, it makes complete sense as to why the breath brought life from death, because the Holy Spirit was with the breath.
And the Holy Spirit is God.
And God has no problem bringing breath from death.
That’s what he has done to all believers. He worked the RUACH, Spirit worked through the RUACH/Breath of His Word to bring use to life. He breathed forgiveness into our sin burdened lungs. He took our sin rotting heart and gave us a heart of joy in the Lord. He lifted us up to our feet, dusted us off from our sins, and helped us take our first steps for the Lord.
God brought breath from our death.
If he hasn’t yet, that’s my prayer for you. It’s God’ s prayer for you, too.
In fact, that’s why he took on flesh and bone. It’s why he lost his breath on that cross. It’s why he took another breath in the tomb that first Easter morning – because every breath he took, all along the way – was to give you that a breath of FRESH AIR – to bring breath from death!
3) Let the Breeze…Out?
If you’ve got animals, there maybe be times when you need to let him some fresh air. Truth is: animals can stink the joint up. If you don’t have animals, maybe it’s the kids. If you don’t have kids, ladies, it’s probably the husband.
So you let the breeze in! You need fresh air. Glade has spent millions of dollars perfecting outdoor, fresh scents for just that reason.
But…what if the stink isn’t inside? What is the stink is outside?
You watch the news lately? This world stinks. It’s filled with sin and hatred and immorality! It’s filled with racism, selfism, and I’m-better-than-you-ism. Our world wants nothing to do with God and the morality is where it is because that is the case.
So…Let the breeze out!
Remember what God told Ezekiel? He told him to speak to the winds. He told him to say what He, the Lord, had said. He asked him to prophesy – which, in its simplest format – means to share God’s Words.
You’ve got the same power, because you have the same word. When you speak about your Savior to a sin burdened friend, that word of God has the ability to bring life to their souls!
Pray for the opportunities. I had the chance to do that this past week. I went to visit a friend from my assisted living ministry who was in the hospital. I got there and she was tired, sad, and honestly not looking all that good.
What did I do? Not much. I read Psalm 46 – “The Lord is our Refuge and Strength, an ever present help in trouble!” And the Spirit did his thing. Her spirits were lifted. A breath of fresh air in that dank, hospital room. Her spirit was breathing again!
You do the same.
And remember: Ezekiel did that and the winds came from all over from the North and the South; the East and the West.
That’s God’s plan. To fill the earth with the winds that bring breath – with the wind of his Word. From far north of Iceland to the down under of Australia. From the Far East of China to the far west of Arizona. From Durham to Clayton. From Cary to Knightdale. From I-540 to I-440. From Falls of Neuse to Six Forks.
Wherever you’re at. Speak God’s Word. Breathe a breath of fresh air into this world.
And God? He’ll do what he does. He’ll bring breath from death. Amen.
What could I do?
I was on I-85. Driving back from our Pastor’s Conference in Roanoke, VA on Wednesday evening. Pastor Lange from Ascension in Jacksonville was with me. We were cracking some kind of funny pastor jokes when traffic started slowing down. Up – ahead of us – was a minivan, flipped upside down.
There weren’t any police cars yet, so we stopped. We got out and jogged toward the scene. There, underneath the wheel well was a woman.
I don’t need to get into the details, but it was gruesome. Gruesome and quiet. There were about 12 of us who had stopped. And after the lady in nursing scrubs began whispering to her gently and I called 911. We all looked around thinking the same thing…
What can I do?
Have you ever felt like that? Not so much at a car accident, but have you ever seen a friend who was in real spiritual trouble? In such a scenario, what do you do? Should you just walk right on by? It’s not your responsibility, right?
Today we are continuing our series called BREATHE and we are going to learn about how our God has equipped and empowered us to offer Spiritual life support to others.
Take a look at John 20:20-21. This takes place on Easter Sunday. It’s after Jesus rose from the dead, after he appeared to Mary Magdalene, after he appeared to his disciples, and right after he let them touch his hands and side.
I imagine they had some questions:
What was death like?
What were you doing during those ‘death’ days?
Did you go to heaven? Did you see my Aunt Edna? How does she look?
But Jesus had other plans:
“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Have you had anyone breathe on your lately? That’s not usually polite. Maybe with mints, definitely not with garlic.
But Jesus didn’t breathe on them to have them check his breath. He commissioned them to do a job. He sent them to continue his work. As God the Father had sent Jesus from heaven to save humanity, Jesus was sending his disciples into the world to save humanity. Which really makes us – disciples -- rethink our purpose.
Because…What’s our job as Christians? Attend church? Sing songs? Put fish symbols on the back of our car bumpers? Is it really our job to help sin burdened spirits?
Yes. According to this passage Jesus has commanded his disciples – disciples means followers, so if you follow Jesus this is talking about you -- to help save souls.
Now – if you’re gonna save souls, you need the right equipment to do so. The fireman needs his firehose. The police man need his police gear. The surgeon needs his scalpel. And the Christian needs to be armed with the very tool for saving souls that Jesus has given him:
If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.
Matthew 16 speaks similarly. In it Jesus tell the disciples that he has given them the keys to heaven. What is the only way sinful human beings like you and me are getting to heaven? It’s God’s forgiveness. That’s the key. We need God’s forgiveness to unlock the gates of heaven. This whole forgiveness thing – forgiving or not forgiving – is something that the Christian church has called the KEYS. The keys to salvation. The keys to heaven. The keys to saving souls. There are two keys.
(1) THE LOCKING KEY.
Take a look at the first key. It says, "If you do not forgive someone, that is pass on God’s forgiveness, they are not forgiven.” The word “forgiveness” here paints the picture of loosening or untying bonds. Not forgiving, then, means to tie up, to tighten, to bind. It means to take the spiritual key that God has given you and tightening the chains of unforgiveness on someone.
I hope you’re thinking HOW IS THIS HELPFUL? Since when is tying someone up any kind of way to heal anyone? That’s not usually the way I approach healing the cold. Some tea? Yes. Orange juice? Sure. Tying someone up so they can’t move? Not so much.
But take a look at 1 John 1:8. It says this, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
It’s kind of like a toddler. You’re in your living room after a long day’s trip –watching The Land Before Time 8 and she keeps nodding off. Falling asleep. It gets so bad that her head is literally slumped to the floor.
You say, “You should go to bed.” She says, “NO! I’m not tired!” She’s claiming to be without tired. She’s deceiving herself. The truth isn’t in her.
Same thing with people and sin. If anyone claims to be without sin and “cool” with God on our own, probably getting to heaven because “I’m not so bad,” they are wrong. God’s Word says differently.
Binding someone’s conscience by proclaiming “That is a sin. Repent.” is important. It speaks the truth to them. It causes them to rethink their actions. It usually hurts their feelings.
Pastor are you suggesting that we hurt people’s feelings? That sounds kind of mean. In America, we don’t say anything that might hurt anyone’s feeling at any time.
Understand this: We aren’t hurting people’s feelings for the sake of hurting people’s feelings. We are hurting their feelings for the sake of their salvation.
Like in Corinth. Corinth was an ancient town with a young Christian church that had been formed there by the Apostle Paul – Paul was one of Jesus’ disciples. He had been going around telling people that Jesus was their Savior. Many people believed in Corinth and they started a church there. They probably had some kind of opening ceremony. They probably ate a very large potluck. They probably hugged and were excited to be in God’s church.
But after awhile they had problems. One of the problems was that there was a man who was sleeping with his father’s wife. A sin that Paul said “was so bad that even the pagans – people who don’t remotely believe in Jesus – do not tolerate.” A sin that – I can’t imagine any of you, believer or unbeliever would be willing to say “That sound pretty morally right.”
So how did Paul want them to deal with it? He wanted them to expel them to call him out. He wanted them to hurt his feelings. He wanted them to even expel him from the congregation.
“Hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”
Think about that phrase? Destruction of the flesh. It describes what happens when you hear about your sins. You get a gurgly feeling in your tummy. Your muscles tighten up. You feel stress. It isn’t pleasant. I know this for a fact –when Julianna calls me out for something – I don’t usually say, “Oh thank you so kindly.” I get upset! It hurts.
But that was the point! This binding, this hurting was necessary to show the man his sins that he might turn to his Savior and live.
Same thing for us. When someone is sinning, when someone is living a sinful lifestyle, when someone is unrepentant, it is our duty to bind them, to show them their sin. To lock up their conscience not because we enjoy seeing people squirm, but in order to save them.
Because if we don’t turn them, if they don’t realize their sins, if they don’t turn to their Savior, their feelings won’t be hurt, but one day – their soul will hurt…
We don’t want that. We want people in heaven. In fact, that’s why we lock people up. We lock people up, so that we can set them free.
2) THE UNLOCKING KEY.
Can you imagine what it is like to be bound up?
To have sin and guilt weighing down your every move?
To constantly be concerned that God hates you?
To be convinced that you have done too much wrong to ever be forgiven?
Imagine the joy of being able to use the second key to a guilt trapped conscience. If you forgive anyone their sins, they are forgiven. That word “forgive” literally means “to loosen, untie, unbind.” It means to “release!”
And if you think it's nice to be set free from some ropes that have been holding you captive, imagine what it’s like to be set free from guilt that has been holding you captive?
That’s the message we get to proclaim. Not just “I forgive you,” but “God forgives you.” God forgives you because Jesus lived innocently without any guilt. God forgives you because Jesus died innocently in your place. God forgives you because Jesus rose triumphantly to prove that God’s forgiveness is yours.
Of course, sometimes, sometimes this is even harder than pronouncing forgiveness. “Pastor, I don’t want to forgive him. I don’t want to forgive him because his sin was against me. We should forgive all the other sinners who ask for forgiveness, sure…but not that guy. Pastor, I want you to kick him out of the church and never let him in because his sin was against me.”
Remember the Corinthians? Remember how Paul told them to expel the man who was sleeping with his dad’s wife? They did. They expelled him. And it worked. The man was cut to the heart. Guilt overtook him. He stopped sleeping with his dad’s wife and asked for repentance.
But the church wasn’t giving it to him. He had been an embarrassment to them. He had caused the Apostle Paul to write a letter that would be written down for 2000 years and give the Corinthian church a bad name. Why should they forgive them?
So Paul wrote them another letter. 2 Corinthians. Look at what he wrote, “Forgive and comfort him so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow...Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven…I have forgiven in the sight of Christ.”
This really transforms forgiveness doesn’t it? Think about it – if someone has sinned against you, you have the unique opportunity to share God’s love. Usually we want revenge. Usually we want to yell. But God has gifted you a chance to show incredible Godlike love, Godlike forgiveness that may save his soul.
Now, I get it. This might sound unnerving. It might sound intimidating. I can’t tell someone their sins are endangering them to hell. I can’t comfort someone with God’s love – I don’t know what to say.
Look back at what Jesus told his disciples – Receive the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is all powerful.
The Holy Spirit is all wise.
The Holy Spirit is always present.
The Holy Spirit is God.
God is with you. You have him. He will not leave you to do this on your own.
I felt this at the car crash. After I had called 911, the firemen and paramedics came quickly. They got out the jaws of life and they began saving the woman.
I looked over – and next to me was a man who looked very frantic. It was one of those things – this tragedy caused him to open up to a stranger. He said, “Life is so fragile. It’s so quick. I don’t know if I was able to do all I could to save her. In fact, I haven’t been there for my wife. I haven’t been there for my kids.”
I put my hand on his back. He sobbed. The Holy Spirit took over.
“Friend, that's why we've got Jesus. He defeated death. He defeated sin for us. He offers forgiveness."
May God enable you to see the opportunities to share his Law and Gospel...to offer spiritual life support.
It happened not that long ago in Philadelphia. March 26th the newspaper headlines were “4 people, 1 Dog Killed in Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.” Apparently, a gas pipe had broken up and the gas made its way up into the apartment overnight and silently took their lives.
The people didn’t see the gas because it’s colorless. They didn’t smell it because it’s odorless.
In other words – while it seemed completely tame, the air was deathly toxic.
Today we are continuing our series called BREATHE. We’ve been talking about how breathing in the truth of Jesus’ resurrection gives us peace when we are afraid and lifts us out of grief and sadness. But today we’re heading in a different direction.
As positive as breathing in Jesus’ resurrection is – God’s Word also warns us about the spiritual equivalents to carbon monoxide. Some things that appear fine, but are deadly toxic to our souls.
I. Spiritual Toxins
This message is found in the book of Ephesians. That’s a letter written by one of Jesus’ disciples named Paul to a group of Christians that lived in a place called Ephesus. Listen to what he tells us brothers and sisters. He says we are to “Follow God’s example and walk in the way of love.”
That sounds nice, doesn’t it? In fact, I don’t know of any Christian who wouldn’t agree with those two statements. They sound so nice in that positive sense. But when you reverse it and put it in its negative form, it immediately becomes a lot more difficult to hear.
Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking which are out of place.
I have a friend who is allergic to gluten. She was gluten free long before gluten free was cool. She is allergic. Gluten would make her so sick that just a hint of it would make her stomach sick for a whole day. One time we went out to McDonald's and she ordered very specifically, “I need to have a hamburger patty, but only a patty please. No bun.” So that’s what they gave her – by simply taking it off of a bun. No more than an hour later, her body reacted violently to the hint of gluten – the few crumbs left on the patty had made her very sick.
This is how much of sin makes God sick. His Being can’t stand even a hint of it. It’s also how toxic sin is to his people. Even a hint of it, can infect us – and put us in grave spiritual danger. This is true of all sin, but in this section he gets very specific about a few sins.
(1) ….of Sexual Immorality.
What’s sexual immorality? In order to define it, we first have to define sexual morality.
That takes us back to the Creation of the World. God had just finished creating human beings. He loved them. He created them and He wanted more of them so he gave them the ability to reproduce. Then, God did something really clever. He wanted them to actually fill the earth, so God made human beings attracted to one another. He created a very special, a very intimate act that two people share with one another – sexual intimacy.
Take a look at this passage from Genesis. It says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two, the husband and wife, will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)
Think of it this way: How many people have you high fived in your life? Quite a few, I imagine. It’s a nice gesture, but it’s not all that intimate. We high five friends, associates, coworkers, even a random stranger at the bar after your favorite basketball team makes the winning shot.
But sexual intimacy? God meant that to be between two people and only two people. He wanted it to be a special connection between a husband and a wife that only the husband and the wife shared with one another and no one else.
Sin? Sin poisons it. Sin takes the gift of intimacy and ruins it. It links you to a third person, a fourth person, someone who isn’t your spouse. It divides. It conquers. It leaves one feeling guilty, heartbroken, and defeated.
If you’ve ever sinned in this way, you probably know what I’m talking about. Sexual immorality poisons relationships.
Back to our Ephesians passages. God tells us to avoid the poison of sin by avoiding sexual immorality. If sexual morality is “Sexual intimacy between a man and a woman in a marriage covenant,” immorality is intimacy in anything else.
Some of you are thinking, “Aha! Homosexuality is wrong then.” You’d be right. That’s not compatible with God’s definition of marriage. But understand this – God is not just talking about that.
He’s says, "Not even a hint..."
…if you are heterosexual, but you aren’t married to the person you’re sleeping with, that needs to stop.
…it means if you are dating a girl, you aren’t plotting ways to touch things that are reserved for the marriage bed.
…it means you aren’t flirting with that guy at work who is married to someone else, while you are married to someone else.
…it means you aren’t just glancing through the Victoria’s Secret website in your spare time.
…it means if that one show on HBO gets you thinking thoughts that should be reserved for your wife, about someone who isn’t, stop watching it!
God says not even a hint, because even these "smaller sexual immoralities” are poison. They hurt your relationships with others. They hurt your own perspective. They hurt your relationships with God. Every time.
(2) Not Even a Hint of Greed.
The second toxic sin – is fairly similar. Greed. It’s similar because both greed and sexual immorality are extremely selfish. One says “Give me my sexual desire, I want it! ” the other says, “Give me that money, thing, stuff, because I want it.”
Greed just like sexual immorality poisons relationships.
I was in the preschool this past week. One of the kids was having their very last day. So she brought in some treats. Little cookies for the others to eat. I was in there celebrating because – cookies are great – and one of the little kids started complaining – “Where are the sprinkles? This one should have sprinkles. I’m mad this doesn’t have sprinkles.” She started crying. The kid who brought them heard her making fun of the sprinkle-less cookies and she started crying too. They didn’t get along very well for that five minutes.
Greed poisons relationships.
A lot of you are thinking, Great! I love this message. Let’s go storm Wall Street right now! Don’t get me wrong. I am sure that Wall Street has greed on it. Absolutely it does.
Not even a hint means more than just “Let’s get Wall Street.”
…it means you aren’t adding a few extra miles to your mileage reimbursement on your taxes because “I really want those extra $10.”
…It means you aren’t refusing to buy your wife a vase of flowers because I really want that bag of Doritos.
…It means you aren’t holding back on your offering to church because they aren’t doing the things in church that I want them to.
…it means you aren’t arguing with your spouse over the budget because “I want to spend the money this way.”
Even these seemingly smaller greeds are poison. It poisons relationships. They poison relationships with others. They poison your own way of thinking. They poison your relationship with God.
(3) …Sinful Talk.
One more toxin: There shouldn’t be any coarse joking, foolish talk or obscenity.” It’s a couple of different sins, all wrapped up in one phrase: “Sinful Talk.”
There’s an old saying that the tongue is the most powerful muscle in your body. That doesn’t mean that the tongue will literally what wins the next World’s Strongest Man competition. Far from it. It’s a reference to just how much poison the tongue can inflict. James 3:8 say this, “The tongue is a restless evil, it is full of deadly poison.”
Maybe you’ve experienced this.
Raise your hand. Have you ever heard anyone say that they hate you? How’d that feel? Not good?
Ever heard anyone use a racial slur against you? How’d that feel? Not good?
Ever heard anyone refer to you as a four letter word? How’d that feel? Awful?
Ever heard anyone whispering about what you did at church? How’d that feel? Terrible? Me too.
The phrase is “Stick & stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” That’s a nice sentiment – it’s just not very true. It does not give us the right to verbally assault one another.
Sinful talk is poison. It will poisons your work environment. It will poison your relationships. It will even poison a church!!! We’re getting very close to embarking on some very awesome ministry together. One of the biggest things that can halt us in our tracks? It isn’t money. It isn’t architectural plans. It isn’t even bad weather.
It’s sinful talk. Even small, seemingly insignificant sinful talk – a little bit of gossip here – some grumbling and complaining there – that can poison a church. It can poison God’s kingdom.
And here’s the thing about God’s kingdom.
Do you remember a few years ago when you could smoke a cigarette in just about any bar and restaurant? Recently, just about everywhere is now a SMOKE FREE ZONE. What’s that mean? It means that cigarettes were deemed toxic -- even as second hand smoke. Therefore, these areas were to remains completely free of the toxins.
This is how God feels about sins. He wants his Kingdom to be a sin free zone. He wants his people to actively seek to destroy it. Eventually…eventually he plans on doing it himself.
"Of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of God and of Christ. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.”
II. The SIN Antioxidant
Wow. God’s really serious about sin? If you’re like me, you’re feeling pretty low right now. I’ve let all of those things into my life. Sexual immorality, greed and foolish talk – they have all infected me. What hope is there for me? In fact, sometimes these things infect me so much that I struggle to stop myself from continually hurting others.
I’m poisoned. I need help.
Read verse 8.
You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.
Light versus darkness is an age old story. In Star Wars there’s the light side and the dark side of the force. In Harry Potter, there’s light magic versus dark magic. But here’s something for thought – all of these dark versus light battles come from the language found in the Bible. Language right here. Language that says “Darkness is bad. Darkness is what we were. The Lord made us light.”
Think about it: You can’t fix darkness with more darkness. Try it. Next time you fall asleep, wear black sweatpants and a black sweatshirt to bed. When you wake up at 1am because you’re sweating hot, notice how it is completely dark in the room.
Darkness plus darkness leads to more darkness.
Sinful humans trying to correct sinful human tendencies leads only to more sin.
But Jesus? Jesus is the light of the world. He is completely devoid of all the dark poisons we have been talking about.
Sexual Immorality? No way. Yet he came to this world and made a more intimate connection to you and me than anyone ever had or will – he took our sinful dark, disgusting moments to the cross. He linked himself to you and died for you.
Greedy? He was greedy for only one thing – you! He gave up the divine glory of heaven, exchanged it for a crown of thorns, your sins, and a painful death on the cross.
Sinful words? Sure – he hates sin. But he had no such harmful words to speak to you. In fact the only words He speaks in Scripture are, “I love you. I died for you. You are forgiven.”
This then is what this passage means. “You are light in the Lord.”
It means – the poison of sin is not fateful.
It means Jesus is the antidote.
It means by faith in Him you are now saved.
III. What Now?
(1) Get rid of the Poison.
We were talking about carbon monoxide earlier. One of the ways we fight carbon monoxide poisoning is to get a carbon monoxide detector. But when the detector goes off – beeps really loudly – it does no good to sit on the couch and say, “After this episode of House of Cards is over!” You have to do something. Get out of the house. Call 911. Get the leak fixed.
We just learned how poisonous even the ‘seemingly small’ sins are. It will do no good if you go back home and make no change in your life.
Instead, get rid of the poison. Put a filter on your Internet. Stop watching that TV show. Get rid of that friend on Facebook. Don’t talk about that one person. Increase your giving at Gethsemane. Do whatever it takes to make sure that not even a hint of sexual immorality, greed or sinful talk is found in your life.
(2) Evaluate Relationships.
This one is hard. Because sometimes the poison – is your friends. Yes. God does say “be in the world.” He says that we aren’t to be hermits. We need to be in and among unbelievers in order to share the message of Jesus.
But when spending time with your friends starts to lead to sin…when you find yourself saying, “I have to sleep with that girl in order to convert her to Christianity…” Stop. You aren’t converting them. They are infecting you.
Take a break. Recharge. Reconnect with God. Reinvest in Bible Study and reinforce your spiritual armor before you return to these people.
After all, we are light in the Lord. Therefore, shine! Shine where it’s needed most.
I’ll tell you what. It’s so easy to feel like shining here at church. You can sing really loudly. You can say a prayer with a crowd of Christians. You can down talk all these sinful things as sinful.
But it’s already pretty bright in here. You need to shine where it’s darkest. Out there. In the world.
When you are breathing the fresh air of Jesus’ resurrection, the pure teachings of his Word and you aren’t breathing in the poison of sin, you will be shining at your brightest. May God enable us to do so. Amen.
I. The Worst Kind of Fear
The doors were locked.
A deadbolt. Another deadbolt.. A few boxes stacked in front of the door. One of those giant wooden planks that sits atop two metal supports on both sides. There was no way anyone was getting in.
It was evening on the very first Easter Sunday. The disciples were gathered together and talking in hushed voices:
“Do you think the Pharisees will come after us?”
“Do you think they’ll want us dead? Or was Jesus enough?”
“Do you think they know who I am? I can’t remember if they saw my face when we were running away last Thursday night!”
“Do you think crucifixion will be as bad as it sounds?”
Then, their hushed panic was interrupted by a knock on the door. A few of them jumped. Quietly Matthew peeped through the tiny hole in the door.
It was Mary Magdalene. They let her in, they told her not to scare them like that. But she wasn’t listening. She was a sobbing mess. “They’ve stolen his body!” She sobbed. “I couldn’t even see him.”
Peter and John put their arms around her. They lifted up their hoods so that they wouldn’t be seen. They ran with her to investigate.
As the other disciples waited, they heard another knock. Their breaths were short again. Slowly they opened the door to reveal the group of women that Mary had abandoned. They weren’t nearly stressed. In fact, they seemed joyful.
“Shhh!” Nathanael tried to quiet them down. “You’re making too much noise. They’ll hear us.”
“What of it!?!” Today is too great not to shout HALLELUJAH!” They began talking about angels – and resurrection – and how they had seen Jesus.
Okay. That was impossible. Jesus was dead.
Maybe, they needed to lay down. Maybe their emotions were getting the best of them.
But then, Peter and John returned. Yep. The tomb was empty alright. There wasn’t a trace of a body in there. And if you didn’t trust John, you could trust Peter. He was thorough like that.
Then, a third knock. “It’s Clopas!” said a voice. As they opened the door Philip exclaimed, “I thought you were heading to Emmaus today!”
“We were, but then…we saw Him….Jesus….He’s alive.”
As all of these stories marinated, the mood of the room changed. There was a buzz. Could it be? Could he really…? Could Jesus be...alive?
Then, someone else joined them.
Someone else who didn’t knock.
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them.
And at first, the disciples were shocked. Was this a hallucination? No, the others saw it too. Was it a ghost? No…the floor creaked when he walked. Was it a look alike? No…they had spent three years with the Lord, they knew his unmistakeable face.
Suddenly, a dread fell over the disciples. Jesus wasn’t a hallucination. Jesus wasn’t a ghost. Jesus wasn’t a vision. It was much worse than that.
Jesus was alive.
(1) They Had Wronged Him!
You might be thinking. Why? Why would that be bad news to them? Jesus was alive!
Tell me -- Have you ever had a bad morning? You’re on the way to work and you kind of brush past some guy to get into the elevator – you force him to take the next one – and about fifteen minutes later as your boss is leading the morning meeting for work – you see the elevator guy again – turns out; he’s the C.E.O.
Or maybe you’re at the edge of Falls of Neuse. You’re waiting…and waiting…and waiting to turn left onto it. Finally, you pull out just a tad close to a car that looks like its pretty far away, but as soon as the car turns on it’s flashing blues and reds, you realize that cop car was a lot closer than I thought.
This is exactly how the disciples felt!
Jesus was alive, sure. But he was also the guy they had just abandoned. He was also the guy some of them had just denied knowing. He was the guy they had let die on that cross.
(2) They Couldn’t Hide from Him!
Remember: The doors were locked. And that locked door was meant for the Romans. But when they looked behind Jesus, the doors were still locked. They couldn’t hide from Jesus.
That meant when Matthew tried to slip behind Simeon – “Maybe he can’t see me.” Or Andrew pretended to be asleep. And Philip sat in back thinking – “If I don’t move, maybe he won’t see me.”
Jesus still saw them. They couldn’t hide from Jesus.
(3) He was God!
Here’s the scariest part of all. It wasn’t like they had sinned against one another. It wasn’t as if one of them was yelling at the other one for stealing his favorite tunic without asking. It wasn’t as if they had sinned against another human.
If Jesus was really standing before him, it meant He had really risen from the dead. If he had really risen from the dead, it meant he really was God!
The God of heaven. The God of hellfire and brimstone. The God who when he got sick of storms told them to buzz off. The God who when he was angry with demons sent them away from this earth. The God who spoke to terrible disease and sent them packing with his burning anger.
What was to stop him from doing just that. To them. Right now.
Do you understand the disciple’s fear? Maybe you’ve wronged God. Maybe you’ve done some pretty bad sins. Maybe you came here today troubled by something awful that you did just last night. In fact, maybe that’s why it was hard to get here today. (Or maybe it's why you are only reading this online.)
But here's the problem...
Have you ever played hide & seek with some kids before? Kids have pretty good hiding spots. They can get into a lot better hiding places than dad. Dad gets to hide behind the shower curtain and behind the door and that’s about it. (And now I just gave away my two best hiding spots.) Kids can get into really good spots though. Behind the washing machine, inside the cupboard, under the bed.
But what happens when you find them. What do kids do? They cover their eyes. They cover their eyes because they figure that somehow you can’t see them, if they can’t see you.
Do you ever get so scared of God that you think like that? That you figure – as long as I don’t approach God – as long as I don’t go to church – as long as I don’t read that one part in the Bible – then, I’m good.
That doesn’t work. You can’t hide from God.
He sees your sins. He sees all your sins.
Even the sins that you think he doesn’t see – He sees.
The pornography at night?
The flirting with the guy that’s not your husband?
The cheating on the test when the teachers isn’t looking?
Stealing that money from your friend's purse?
Others might not see it. God does. God hates sin. He hates it with a hellfire vengeance.
II. The Best Kind of Antidote
Do you feel that? I do. It’s fear. Fear because we’ve sinned. Fear because God knows it. Fear because that sin was against God.
That’s the kind of fear the disciples were experiencing. They trembled. Each hoping that Jesus would make it quick and painless. Then, Jesus moved. His mouth opened. The disciples braced themselves. He spoke:
“Peace be with you!” As in…It worked. As in…You have been saved. As in…You’re forgiven.
Can you imagine that collective breath that was let out in that room? Jesus wasn’t there to get revenge. He was there to give them assurance. He was there to tell them of their salvation. He was there to tell them that his sacrifice had worked. He was there to tell them that He was victorious and they were at peace with God!
Because that’s what the resurrection means. Jesus’ resurrection means that he defeated sin, death, and hell. It means that those who believe in him are forgiven. It means that you are forgiven!
Pastor, I know all that. But I still get scared. Life is tough. Finances are difficult. Relationships are hard. My job is in the air. The devil…the devil loves to make me doubt this peace I have with God. What do I do when I’m scared?
A couple things.
1) Don’t Hide.
We already said that doesn’t work. God sees all things. God is there for all things. It’s like when you see your kid do something he isn’t supposed to. He might as well come clean. You saw him do it.
God’s already seen it. Don’t lie. Don’t hide it. Bring it to him.
Secondly, bring it to him, because he wants PEACE with you. Even though He isn’t the one who wronged your relationship – that’s on you – God still wants peace with you. That’s why he came to this earth. That’s why he died on the cross. That’s why he rose from the dead and spoke to the disciples and had the disciples write it down so that you would hear His desire. PEACE.
Scripture says this, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just. He will forgive us all our sins.”
Confess your sins to God. Confess the ones that are public. Confess the ones that are obvious. Confess the ones that are private, hidden, known only to you and God. Confess your sins – and hear his promise of forgiveness.
2) Come Back to Reality
I remember the very first haunted house I ever went to. It was a gym at our local grade school – with a few spooky cobwebs hanging from the basketball hoops. But there was one part that was creepy. They made me put on a blindfold and reach my hand into a bowl. I grasped what I thought was earthworms and eyeballs!
I was bawling. I threw them on the ground. I was panicking as we left – so badly that my dad took me back inside to show me that I hadn’t touched worms and eyeballs but spaghetti and meatballs.
Oh. Thanks for that reality check.
That’s what Jesus helped the disciples do. A smile. Kindness. Words of promise. The reality was that Jesus wasn’t dead. He wasn’t dead and he wasn’t mad at them. He had died for their sins and there was no reason to be afraid.
When you’re dealing with fear, come back to reality.
When you think you’re all alone, come back to reality – Jesus is with you.
When you think everyone is against you, come back to reality – Jesus has your back.
When you think God can’t handle this, come back to reality – Jesus died and came back to life!
3) Examine His Wounds
That’s one of the things Jesus did for his disciples. He showcased that it was really him. He let them run their hands on the nail marks in his hands and place their hands into the spear mark in his side.
When they touched his wounds, they didn’t just see some kind of really cool scars.
They saw his love. “He did this for me?”
They saw his power. “These scars defeated death?”
They saw his resurrection. “They are moving; he is still alive; praise God!”
Pastor – how can I do that? I don’t get the privilege of seeing the resurrected Lord Jesus with my physical eyes like the disciples.
I’m gonna tell you the same thing we said last week. If you want to examine his wounds, examine the Scriptures. Read his Word. It’s not overkill that God’s telling us to do it a second time. In his Word we see the pain God went through. We see the pangs that his heart goes through as we sin against him. We see the pain he suffers at his betrayal. We see the awful suffering of his crucifixion. You’ll see that he did this for you. Because he loves you that much.
4) Understand this Phrase: “Peace be With You.”
That’s God talking! There is no one higher. It isn’t me talking. It isn’t an angel talking. This is a message of peace, straight from the top!
If you’ve got peace with him…
Romans 8 says just that. Take a look. It says this, “31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things…35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" Can money troubles? Bill collectors? Cancer or AIDS? Drugs or alcohol? Divorce or loneliness? Terrorists, explosion and attacks? NO!
"37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!"
May these words keep us from fear now and always. Amen.
When my parents came down a couple of weeks ago, they brought down a few items that were still stored at their house from the two weeks Julianna and I lived there before moving to our own apartment in Raleigh. One of the items they brought down was Julianna’s wedding dress. And…she tried it on. She fit into it perfectly and looked as beautiful as ever.
So…I got to thinking…I wonder if my suitcoat still fits. The other day I went into my closet. I found what I think was my suitcoat and I tried it on.
It was a little tighter than I remember it. I had to “suck it in” in order to get the pants on. In fact, the suit was tight enough that it was a little more difficult to breathe.
The same thing can happen spiritually. Grief, sadness, and gloom can get to be too much. They can tighten themselves around you like a two sizes too small suit. Grief can metaphorically make life so stressful that it literally makes it more difficult to breath.
Perhaps there is no one who understood the suffocation effect that grief has more than Mary Magdalene. Open up your Bibles and find her story in John 20 beginning at verse 1.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. This is what Matthew 28 talked about last week as Mary was a part of that group of women who were heading toward the tomb. But John indicates that Mary was not a part of the women that made their way to the angels. Rather, she ran away from the tomb. She ran to Peter and John and told them that the tomb was open. While she was telling them this, the other women were talking to the angel and hearing the glorious message that Jesus had risen.
But Mary missed that. Instead, she must have followed behind Peter and John. Crying. Stumbling. Sobbing.
Jesus had been the one man who had ever shown her unconditional love. He had gone near her when no one else would. He had talked to her when everyone else ignored her. He had healed her…when she thought all was lost.
Scripture says, Mary had been possessed by seven demons. Jesus had driven them out.
And when Jesus had driven those demons out – he had driven out other demons. No longer did she feel unlovable. No longer did she feel unloved by God. No longer did she feel completely worthless. Jesus’ actions had shown she had value and that she had purpose.
But…they had taken that away from her. The had taken her Lord away from her.
They had killed him.
Now to make things worse, someone had added insult to injury and stolen his body. She couldn’t even give him a proper burial. She couldn’t even search from some kind of closure at his gravesite.
Eventually, she made her way to the entrance of the tomb. The guards were gone. The other women were guard. Peter and John were gone. Only Mary – Mary and an empty tomb – Mary, her broken heart and her empty tomb.
She sobbed – grief was pressing on all sides of her. It was hard to catch her breath as she collapsed in front of the door. Slowly she lifted her head. Slowly she looked inside – hoping to see a piece of his garment…a left behind hair. A sandalmark. Something to remind her of the good times. Something to remind her of her Lord.
Something to give her hope.
What she found was so much more incredible. 12 Mary bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head of the stone gurney and the other at the foot.
Now – if ever there was something that might jar Mary out of her sadness, it might be an angel. Bright, shining, gleaming. You don’t see them every day. Imagine if one appeared on Falls of Neuse as you were fighting traffic to work in the morning. Suddenly, you’re wide awake. The doldrums of the morning drive are quickly shaken off.
Mary should have noticed. She should have been filled with hope. She should have been excited. She should have at least been a bit frightened. She had divine, holy angels in front of her. Angels who would have answered her questions. Angels who could have given her good news. Angels that maybe she should have investigated.
Instead, she simply answers their question: They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have put him. And fixated on that terrible thought, filled with grief that her Savior was dead, she turned around and left.
Does that ever happened to you? Does grief ever become so great that it’s hard to focus on anything positive – even if it’s staring you in the face?
Essentially that’s what clinical depression does. It becomes a dark cloud over your life. It overshadows everything that you do.
A young woman named Erin wrote about what depression was doing to her on her blog. She said, “I feel stifled and so alone. I can’t focus and all I can write about is how much pain I’m in physically and emotionally, how tired I am, and how lost I feel. And just thinking about those things makes them worse. I am really really struggling.”
For some of you that might happen a lot. For others not as often. But hopefully you can relate.
Is it a chemical imbalance that leads to depression? Sure. Science has documented that. But –somewhere along the line – we have to admit that there’s a much greater cause for depression. One that can’t be counteracted with medicine and psychotherapy.
It’s called sin.
Sin that someone did to you.
Sin that you did to someone else.
Sin that you did to you.
Sin doesn’t like to be ignored.
Do you remember the story of a tell tale heart? In it, the killer takes the body and stuffs it into the floor. At first, he’s ok. But soon every time he passes that body he hears its heart beating. As if it were a loud drum, he hears it beating and reminding him day after day, moment after moment of what he’s done.
Sin is a lot like that. It beats loudly. It beats steadily. It loves to remind us over the awful, grievous things we have done –
Sinner – sinner –sinner.
Scum – worthless – unloved – sinner.
Know what? If the world is as Mary Magdalene thought it was, then Jesus is dead. There is no reason for hope. “If Christ has not been raised…you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor. 15)
There is only sin.
There is only hatred.
There is only death.
There is only eternal damnation in hell.
If Christ hasn't been raised...
II. Grief Relief
Mary staggered out of the tomb. It was all too much. She fell to the ground. Her tears hit the dirt and changed it into little salty mud droplets.
Then, a twig snapped. The quiet swish of grass blades being displaced caught her ears.
Footsteps. They spoke, “Dear woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
She looked up. Her tears were so great – she didn’t recognize the person in front of her. He must have been the gardener. Maybe he had some answers. Maybe he could help her.
She choked out the words between sobs. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
What she heard next was something she had before. Something that had accompanied her freedom from the demons. Something that had been accompanied by kind words of God’s love. Something that had been spoken by her dearest friend – in that exact same way.
She turned toward him. She cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” Which means “Teacher.” Suddenly a smile adorned her face. The tears of sadness turned to tears of joy. The grief was replaced with incredible exuberation!
It was Jesus. He was alive!
We looked at this scripture earlier. Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…That means it isn’t hopeless. It means it isn’t worthless. It means that you are not in your sins. It means the devil doesn’t win. It means death is not the end. It means you are not destined for hell. It means that by faith in Jesus you are headed to heaven!
This is incredible news.
It’s kind like driving a car out to the country in the middle of the night. Turning the headlights off for a few moments. Looking at all that’s around you. Allowing your eyes to adjust. Seeing nothing but darkness. Then, immediately switching the headlight to high beams! Man is it bright!
Jesus’ resurrection is like that. It plows through the darkness. It shines a lot on the dismal things in our lives. He will brighten every aspect of your day from now until eternity.
But pastor I’m a Christian. I still struggle. I still feel filled with grief sometimes. How do I breathe a sigh of relief? How do I stay positive when depressing things are going on all around me?
For Mary, that was what did it. She saw her Savior. She saw him living. She saw him breathing. She saw his eyes tracking her movements. She saw his chest moving as oxygen flowed in and out of him. Seeing her resurrected Savior was key.
But we don’t get that opportunity. We weren’t there at the tomb. We aren’t anywhere near Israel or 36ish AD. How do we see Jesus?
John 1:14 says, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only."
That’s Jesus. He’s the One and Only. He’s the Word.
Understand then that we see Jesus when we open up this Bible. Every time you’re in church. Every time we read a lesson. Every time we sing a Bible based hymn. Every time you turn on your Bible app at lunch. Every time you go old school and open your Grandma’s KJV at her house. Every time you are in God’s Word – you see Jesus.
You see his heart. You see his love. You see his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of his sins.
Trust God on this! It will affect your mood. It might not be a total immediate transformation. But it will work, because that’s what God’s Word does.
Listen, you wouldn’t give up taking an antibiotic after one try would you? Especially if the doctor told you to take two, 3x a day for a whole week. Don’t stop reading God’s Word ever. It produces joy!
2) Make Sure your Joy is in the Lord!
Philippians says, “Rejoice in the Lord, always!” Do you know who wrote that? The Apostle Paul. Do you know when he wrote that? He wrote it while he was in prison for telling people about the Lord.
That’s not the most compelling circumstances for joy.
Yet notice he doesn’t say, “Rejoice in the fact that today’s food is better than yesterday’s.”
He doesn’t say “Rejoice in the fact that the shackles are more comfy in this cell than the guy next door’s.”
It doesn’t even say “Rejoice in the fact that I’m smarter than my captors.”
He says, “Rejoice in the Lord!” The Lord who called me. The Lord who found me. The Lord who made me his own. The LORD who lives and breathes and is alive forever. The Lord who promises me a home with him.
Keep this in mind. It’s easy for us to want to find joy in earthly things. I got a new job. I got a raise. I got a new friend. But those things might not last. And when they do fail, you will fall back into the doldrums of sadness.
Rejoice in the LORD! He lasts forever.
This interesting. Because Mary had been sad for a few days. Yet as soon as she felt the joy of seeing her risen Savior, Jesus had work for her. He told her to get up, not to hold on to him, and instead to go and tell his disciples that he would see them soon.
Really….it makes a lot of sense. Mary had just been lifted out of sadness. She had breathed a sigh of relief. There were others who needed that news too. Others who needed their guilt lifted away.
Others who needed to know that Jesus lived.
Do you know people like that? Let me change that…You do know people like that. The only way you don’t is if you are a hermit.
Why wouldn’t you share the Gospel with them?
You might be thinking Pastor...Easter is over. You don’t have anymore of those invite cards. There isn’t a breakfast to invite people to anymore. Call me again next year!
What if you were doing some spring cleaning with your spouse and you were moving some boxes from the garage to the attic and suddenly the box filled with all of your paper weights – and in this illustration you have a lot of paper weights – a paper weight collection – what if it got to be too much and your spouse lost his balance and lay on the ground caught underneath the weight of the box?
How long would you let him wait?
Why would you let your friends wait under the weight of their sins and guilt?
Help them breathe. Share the Gospel. Tell them of how Jesus died, but also of how he came back alive. Tell how his breath allows us to breathe a sigh of relief. Amen.