We’re on the final lesson in our three-part PEACE series. Back on December 1st, Pastor Robin reminded us that, as believers, we have PEACE with God because of what Jesus did for us. Two weeks ago, we talked about how that PEACE with God leads us towards PEACE with our family and friends.
But if we stopped the series there, it wouldn’t be complete.
It’d be like an unfinished Dot-to-Dot puzzle. Ever you seen one of those in a coloring book? You connected dot 1 to dot 2, dot 2 to dot 3, —all the way to dot 57 until there is a completed picture.
But what if you leave 58 to 79 unfinished? The picture isn’t complete. What was supposed to be a cookie ends up looking like the letter “c”.
The same thing is true with our sermon series.
If we forget to connect the final dot in God’s plan for PEACE, the picture ends up being completely different.
Because God’s declaration of PEACE to us and guidance in PEACE with family and friends isn’t just so that YOU have a peaceful Christmas.
God brings us to PEACE with him and guides us to live in PEACE with others so that we can deliver HIS PEACE to them.
Our goal for today is to:
(1) identify the BEST gift you can give anyone this Christmas
(2) understand WHAT MAKES this gift the best gift ever
(3) make a game plan for bringing this gift to people in your life
Before we begin: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Best Gift
The lesson for today comes from the book of Isaiah. It was written 700 years before the very first Christmas, at a time when the people of Judah didn’t have a lot to feel peaceful about.
Recently, the Assyrian army had been conquering countries, devastating cities, and violently tearing apart armies. Now, the army had gotten very close to the country of Judah -- even completely destroying and devastating their sister country of Israel – where many of their relatives and friends resided.
It was a time of war.
People were anxious.
People were concerned.
People lived in fear.
Young men were afraid to walk outside by themselves at night.
Fathers were nervous that a letter may contain news of another relative killed in battle.
Mothers cuddled their children closely, afraid they might not have many days left.
It was to that kind of atmosphere that God brought this message:
Rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem.
Free yourself from the chains on your neck…
For this is what the Lord says;
“You were sold for nothing,
And without money you will be redeemed… (Isaiah 52:2-4)
Did you catch it?
God’s message to the people of Judah was that Assyrian would not defeat them.
God would free them from their oppression.
Soon, they would be redeemed.
But here’s what I want you to do.
Put yourself in Isaiah’s shoes.
He just heard from God’s mouth the very good news that the war would end soon and there would be PEACE.
This is where there’s a shift in chapter 52.
Because to this point, Isaiah has been recording what God has told him to tell others.
Now, Isaiah comments on the job that God just gave him:
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (v.7)
Feet aren’t normally that beautiful.
They can be stinky.
They can be smelly.
They can have ingrown toenails.
They can have thick pieces of black hair on the big toe.
If you want beautiful feet, you’ve usually got to work hard at it.
You need to scrub off the calluses.
You need to clip your toenails.
You need to rub essential oils on them to keep them smelling good.
Even at Christmas, if you’re opening up present on your living room floor, you might want to throw on a pair of elf slippers or maybe some socks with jingle bells on them.
Feet aren’t normally very beautiful.
How beautiful on the feet of those who bring good news.
They got to walk to tell the young men; they were safe.
They got to deliver the message to the dad; that their relatives would come home.
They got to tell the mother’s; it’s ok to send your children outside now.
There is no greater GIFT than the gift of GOOD NEWS.
Think about it:
How awesome when a friend text message you, “There’s a 50% off sale down at Kohl’s.”
How wonderful when you get the email: “Your Amazon Prime order has shipped.”
How excited do your kids get when you say: “There’s only 2 more days until Christmas!”
The message of Jesus is also good news.
In fact, the word commonly used to describe the message of Jesus is “the Gospel.”
Did you know that the word “Gospel” literally means, “Good news.”
It’s the “good news” that we have a Savior.
Friends, there’s no greater gift than good news.
And there’s is no greater GOOD NEWS than the GOSPEL.
II. The Beauty of the Gospel
If you believe the Gospel, then perhaps you understand the incredible effect the Gospel has had on you.
But for a moment, I don’t want you to apply the Gospel to yourself.
I want you to apply it to someone you know that doesn’t’ believe it.
Think about it:
What kind of an effect would the Gospel have on them?
A few things:
(1) It brings PEACE
Christmas is a time that a lack of peace becomes very evident.
Kids proclaim STRESS: “You didn’t get me what I wanted.”
Parents proclaim STRESS: “You didn’t get your child what you should.”
Friends proclaim STRESS: “I can’t believe you aren’t spending more time with me.”
Spouses proclaim STRESS: “Christmas reminds me of how terrible of a spouse you are.”
People proclaim stress to each other.
But with the message of Jesus you get to proclaim PEACE. That out of all their relationships that they have…spouse, friend, coworker, parent, child, sibling, 2nd cousin twice remove, there is ONE relationship that they are guaranteed to have peace with and it just so happens to be the one being that they have sinned against the most:
(2) It brings GLAD TIDINGS from God
One thing that has been popular in Christmases past is the Christmas letter. People used to write down all the good things that happened over the past year and update friends and relatives on it. I remember receiving a letter from a nice elderly couple up from North Minnesota that only included the latest updates to their garden: “The colerabi came in good this year.” Even the millennial version of it – no letter; just a picture from Shutterfly – announces some kind of good news; “We’re still a family.”
When you tell your neighbors about Jesus, it’s really like you’re delivering God’s Christmas letter to them. And it’s one of the only Christmas letters with good news for the recipients: “Dear friend, Things are going well in heaven. My Son Jesus is still the Savior. His death and resurrection 2000 some years ago still paid for all of your sins. You are still forgiven. You are still at peace with me. You are saved.”
(3) It brings SALVATION
Particularly verse 7 says that when you proclaim the message of Jesus, you proclaim salvation. (v.7)
It’s kind of like participating in a giving (or angel) tree. We’ve got one in our hallway. If you happen to be the one that delivers the presents, you’ll be deliving to some people who didn’t have enough money to buy gifts for their kids. You’ll be “saving” Christmas.
But how much greater when it comes to the message of Jesus.
They owe a debt that they could never pay.
But when you tell them the message of Jesus?
That big guilt that they feel? They’re saved from it.
That big sin that they did? They’re saved form it.
That terrible death that they’re facing? They’re saved from it.
(4) It says, “GOD REIGNS”
Which is another layer to the Gospel message.
Because if the God who saved them, has good tidings for them, and is at peace with them is also the KING of the universe…
Then, whatever they’re going through…
…estrangement from family.
…their loving God is in control.
…and all will work out for their good.
III. Game Plan
Friends, it is eternally important to share the message of Jesus this Christmas. So…here’s what we’re going to do next. We’re going to game plan.
Because if you are one of the College Football teams you are currently game-planning for their upcoming Bowl game.
If you’re UNC, you’re game planning for Temple.
If you’re Wake Forest, you’re game planning for Michigan State.
If you’re Duke or NC State, you’re game planning for whoever you play in the opening game next year.
If you’re a believer listening to this today, you’ve got to game plan for how you’re going to share the Peace of Jesus this Christmas.
(1) Share TOGETHER
Because look at what Isaiah writes next: “Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy.” (v.8)
Notice it’s a plural. You have more than one watchman so that you can get the message out to the entire city, quickly and efficiently.
It’s the same for us. We share the message of Jesus TOGETHER.
TOGETHER we pool our funds for social media ads inviting people to Christmas Eve.
TOGETHER we work together to put on the best Gospel proclamation service Tuesday night.
TOGETHER we sharpen our skills in sharing faith through Bible study.
TOGETHER we challenge each other to share our faith.
TOGETHER we pray for each others’ efforts.
TOGETHER we plan to follow up on those who join us and connect them with the message of peace.
And it has to be TOGETHER.
Because the effect is larger when it’s TOGETHER.
It’s like going in with your siblings on a gift for mom and dad. If you pool you’re money, you can get the next HD TV. But on your own? You never will.
It’s the same thing.
TOGETHER, we reach North Raleigh.
But only TOGETHER.
On our own, we NEVER will.
(2) Identify your End of the Earth
Verse 10 says, “All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” (v.10) It’s a promise of our God. He died for ALL and he wants ALL to know about their Savior.
It’s kind of hard to invite someone who lives in Australia to worship in Raleigh.
Remember though – Christianity is a team sport.
God isn’t calling you personally to go to the ends of the earth.
He’s just calling you to go to the ends of YOUR earth.
To the ends of your block.
To the end of your cubicle.
To the end of your couch.
Who are the people you know who don’t know Jesus? Look at the bottom of your note sheet. There’s a spot for writing some of those people down. Take a moment, write them down. Plan to share Jesus with them.
(3) Include ALL Nations
Because its’ really, really, really, really, really easy to say, “I can’t think of anyone who looks like me to share the Gospel of jesus with, so I don’t know if there is any one for me to share the message of Jesus with.”
Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
That includes the people who look like you.
And the people who don’t.
The people who have the same culture as you.
And who don’t.
The people who have the same religion as you.
And who don’t.
Do you know someone like that? Don’t be too nervous to write them down. God’s peace is for them too!
(4) Rejoice TOGETHER
The final thing that I want to include is found in verse 9:
“Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” (v.9)
And this is where I think we could do better.
Because, we all agree that many need to hear about Jesus.
And we agree that sharing Jesus is challenging to do.
Let’s celebrate when it happens.
Let’s rejoice when someone invites someone to Christmas via text message.
Let’s rejoice when someone shares a scripture on Facebook.
Let’s rejoice when someone brings someone along to worship.
Let’s rejoice together, because we share Jesus together.
Celebrating these accomplishments, pumps us up.
Gives glory to God.
And motivates us to keep sharing Jesus.
Friends, there is no better gift than the message of Jesus.
May God be with you as you share the message of Jesus.
I love a peace-filled holiday evening.
The gentle glow of the Christmas lights on the tree.
A cup of cocoa warming your hands.
The potpourri filling the air with the soothing aroma of balsam and pine.
A pair of fuzzy Rudolph slippers cozying your feet.
The quiet melodies of Bing Crosby crooning in the background.
The voice coming from your child’s bedroom down the hall, “Mommy! Bobby’s looking at me funny.”
The shrill reply coming right back, “Nu-uh! He’s lying.”
The eye-rolling gaze from your spouse, “You’re turn to deal with it. I’m really into this episode of “The Great Christmas Bake-off.”
Your sharp response, “You never do any of the work around here.”
Your spouse’s reply, “I always do all the work!”
An interrupting DING to reveal a text from your coworker: “Hey loser! I can’t believe you said that about me at work today.”
And the Facebook reply from Uncle Marvin: “I vehemently disagree with your political stance, snowflake!”
All while Bing Crosby’s crooning is interrupted by Alexa: “Phone call from your monster-in-law. Shall I answer?”
Today we’re continuing our sermon series on PEACE and we’re going to talk about the one of the big things that can ruin a peace filled holiday evening: people.
Our goal is to identify types of peace that actually lead to unrest, determine how Jesus’ peace affects our relationship with others, and get guidance from God’s Word for a peace-filled Christmas with people. Before we begin: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. False Peace
The text we’re studying for this morning comes from the book of Colossians. Colossians is a letter written to the church in Colosse. Even though it was a church that existed 2000 some years ago, thousands of miles across the ocean from North Carolina, in a language very different from us, it shared one very important similarity:
People who had arguments with their parents.
People who were estranged from their children.
People who were separated from their spouses.
People who were gossiped about at work.
People who sat on one side of the church because they didn’t want to fight with someone on the other side of the church.
Since they were people, we know the Colossian church didn’t have perfect peace.
In spite of all the sin…
In spite of all the anger…
In spite of all the reasons that people gave other people not to have peace,
Look at what God calls them to do: “Let Peace…rule in your hearts.” (v.15)
It’s written down for us too, so today the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts and says:
“Let Peace…rule in your hearts.” (v.15)
But there’s a lot of different types of peace in the world.
Which type rules your heart?
(1) Avoidance Peace
The person with this type of peace does what it describes…
They avoid talking about difficult issues with his wife.
They avoid that one person at work.
They avoid one person on Facebook
The theory is that if this person causes me unrest, I’ll avoid them so that things are peaceful.
And to be fair, that’s not a terrible idea in some situations. Especially if you’re amped up and emotionally charged,
What happens when you can’t quite avoid that person?
For example, I saw two kids on the playground the other day. One of them thought it was hilarious to follow the other one while making goose sounds in the ear of the other child. The other child didn’t like it. But instead of telling her friend to stop, she simply ran to the other side of the playground.
Until the other kid caught up. “HONK!”
Then, she went to the sandbox.
Finally, she went underneath the slide – the secret lair of the 4 year old playground.
And it was peaceful for a bit,
And suddenly, she stopped trying to hide and shouted, screamed, and generally had a full-fledged meltdown because of her friend.
The same thing happens to adults.
When the avoider can no longer avoid, the peace is disturbed.
And there’s one epic explosion.
Because avoidance peace, isn’t really peace at all.
It just aims to manage the tension.
(2) Substance-Induced Peace
Holiday parties mean that we may have to interact with people that are difficult. That causes anxiety. In anticipation, what can happen is that we self-medicate:
A shot of whiskey.
A six pack of beer.
An entire bag of Doritos.
Anything to distract us from our anxieties and give us peace.
But do substances really lead to lasting peace?
A shot of whiskey can loosen up your tension, and it can loosen your tongue as argue with your friend.
A six pack of beers leads to a calmness on your body – which leads to you calmly calling your coworker names – something they’ll remember on Monday.
A bag of chips can help you feel content when you feel discontent about a conversation with your spouse, but come 7 am? Sluggish and cranky. (And sluggish and cranky aren’t good for fostering peace in a marriage.)
Substances don’t give lasting peace. They simply numb us to the anxiety in our bodies.
Now, understand what I’m saying:
It’s not wrong to have a beer.
And it’s not wrong to eat a cookie.
But it is wrong to try to find peace in those things rather than your God.
(3) “Sneaky” Peace
This kind of peace LOOKS peaceful.
It LOOKS like you get along with others.
it LOOKS like you’re doing fine with your family.
It LOOKS like you enjoy your friends even when they’re planning something that you don’t like at all.
Instead of talking about it with them.
You talk about them with others.
Did you hear that coworker’s idea? It’s awful…
Here’s a funny meme about my brother eating a snack with the words “PIG” plastered over it.
Text, text, text. Everyone thinks I’m having a good time, but really, I hope that the tinsel suffocates them.
Sneaky peace isn’t peace.
Because when the gossip catches up to you, how do you think that goes over?
(4) Exhausted from Yelling Really, Really, Loudly Peace
This type of peace is also known as ‘Professional Wrestling” peace.
Because to these people, the answer to disagreement is simply to fight people!
They let people have it.
They write an angry email.
They blog incessantly – typing as loudly as their fingers can type.
And they get all their anger out and…
…They feel better.
Because they’re exhausted.
But this peace is not peace.
Because while you might feel ok for a moment.
The people you yelled at? Not so much.
This isn’t what people called to peace do.
(5) Selfish Peace
The selfish peace can be one of the trickiest of all. It’s a type of peace that exists, as long as, people agree with you.
Gingerbreads are the best kind of cookie, right? I’ll fight you if you disagree.
I think we should hold the work party on Friday night…, RIGHT EVERYONE!?!!
We should spend exactly $20 on each kid for Christmas. $20 is the right amount. We can peacefully get these presents, if you buy them for only $20.
But it’s even worse if someone disagrees with this type of person. Because instead of entertaining the idea that maybe, they, a sinful, imperfect human being, could possibly be incorrect, they blame all the discord on the other person.
It’s like the Grinch! He hated Christmas. He hated toys. He hated carols. He hated the Christmas feast and the roast beast.
And he hated it because the Whos liked it.
And he was convinced the Whos down in Whoville were all jerks.
And the disagreement was all their fault.
And it had nothing to do with the fact that he went and hid up on a mountain and was generally unpleasant to people all the time.
And so, the night he steals Christmas, he’s at peace, because it was all their fault anyway!
Stealing the toys? They deserve it.
Breaking the ornament? This is on them.
Losing the Roast Beast? Cindy Lou Who is the One to blame!
This type of thinking doesn’t lead to peace.
It just leads to people wanting nothing to do with you.
Here’s the truth:
Any peace other than JESUS’ peace creates DISHARMONY.
Picture your life like this piano.
You have a note.
You play it well – it sounds nice.
When you play well with others – there’s harmony.
When you and your family are at peace – beautiful.
When you and your friends are at peace – wonderful.
When you and your church family are at peace – phenomenal.
When you avoid disagreement and prefer growing bitter– CLANG!
When you self-medicate with substances – WHAM!
When you gossip – BANG!
With you rage – DISSONANCE!
When you stay self-centered – DISHARMONY!
False peace drives people apart.
If you’re in the business of driving people apart.
If you’re in the business of creating disharmony with people that God created…
You’re also creating disharmony with God.
II. The Peace of Jesus
Speaking of disharmony.
Mary was a young woman who was about ready to become harmoniously united to a guy named Joseph.
Like most, it was a day she dreamt of.
A beautiful wedding.
A beautiful ceremony.
A beautiful reception.
All leading up to a beautiful marriage.
As each day got closer to their SAVE the DATE, Mary’s anticipation for a harmonious marriage to start grew.
Standing right in front of her!
And his message to her:
You will give birth to a Son and call him Jesus. (v31)
Talk about something that could ruin a relationship.
Something that could cause disharmony and non-peace.
Mary was suddenly pregnant with a child that wasn’t from her soon-to-be husband!
Do you know what she says at the end of it all?
Do you know what she says after finding out this disruptive news?
“I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (v.38)
Did you hear that?
There’s Peace for her.
And, if you read the rest of the story, peace for Joseph.
And the reason they have peace in their relationship?
It’s because they have peace with God.
Peace that only Jesus can bring.
Here’s a few unique things about the peace of Jesus:
(1) It’s Divine
This is the main point of last week’s sermon. You have peace with God!
Remember this memory verse from Romans 5:1
Therefore, since we have been declared innocent through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Is God’s peace.
Think about it.
It’s not peace with your dog or your cat.
it’s not peace with your two-year-old.
it’s not peace with your sister, your mom, your dad.
Or some random acquaintance that you haven’t talked to for years on Facebook.
You have peace with the ruler of the universe!
There’s no higher level of peace in existence.
(2) It’s Unearned
Note that this is totally different from the people. Usually, you have to earn their peace. If you wrong them by “accidently” eating all of their Christmas BonBons, you might need to…
…send them a humorous BonBon GIF.
…spend hours making your own version of chocolatey, peanut-buttery goodness.
But with God?
You have peace.
Because of Jesus.
Not because of you.
You don’t need to try harder.
You don’t need to do better.
You don’t need to give more.
You don’t need to believe better.
Jesus was born miraculously, lived perfectly, died innocently and rose triumphantly.
Because of him, you have peace.
(3) It’s Complete
That’s important to remember.
Because sometimes in our earthly relationships, there’s peace…but only in certain areas:
You might have peace with your Uncle, as long as you don’t talk about politics.
You might have peace with your spouse, as long as, you don’t talk about finances.
You might have peace with your children, as long as, you don’t ever tell them that they have to go to bed.
But with God? It’s a complete peace.
You have peace with God in the morning and at night.
You have peace with God on a Sunday and a Monday.
You have peace with God during church and afterwards.
You have peace with God when you’re feeling peaceful and even when you’re not.
God’s peace is complete.
And God’s peace is a peace that God has called us to with others.
III. How to Be Peaceful with People
How do you do it?
Look at the text again. Colossians offers some guidance.
(1) Let Jesus’ Peace Rule
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” (v.15)
Focus in on the word “rule”. The Greek word actually has to do with refereeing in sports.
As in, the guy in the striped shirt has the final say.
As in, the guy with the whistle determines what’s legal.
As in, some guy on a power trip gets to determine that the three point basket I shot as time expired to win the Consolation prize at a 6th grade boy’s basketball tournament, didn’t count! (I’m not bitter).
God says to let PEACE be the deciding factor in our hearts.
Let it determine our actions.
Let it determine our words.
But, not just any peace, this is Christ’s peace.
Remember – Christ’s peace is…
…DIVINE! Peace with your parents is a godly thing.
…UNEARNED! Be peaceful even if your someone hasn’t earned back peace.
…COMPLETE! Don’t just be peaceful while other family members are around…be peaceful all the time.
(2) Be Thankful!
Verse 15 ends with the instruction, “Be Thankful.” (v.15b)
Because if you are thankful, it is a lot more challenging to be cranky. In fact, it is scientifically proven that thankfulness releases a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical that is release when you exercise that makes you feel good.
So…when you’re feeling unrest from somebody else, take a moment – and be thankful.
Be thankful to God! He loves you. He gave you life. You are his.
Be thankful to Jesus! He loves you. He died for you. He rose for you. You are forgiven.
Be thankful for that person you are angry with!
If it’s a family member or a friend, there are things that you are thankful for about them.
You might not be thinking about it at the moment.
But when you practice thankfulness for that person, unrest starts to fade away.
For example, I just met someone whose mother gave them up when they were an infant.
The story goes that the mother was too addicted to drugs to be a good mother, so she gave her up for adoption.
But do you know what this formerly abandoned infant – now full-grown adult said?
I’m thankful for her.
Thankful she gave me life.
Thankfulness works against unrest.
(3) Digest a Wealth of God’s Word
This is the obligatory part of the sermon where I remind you to study more of God’s Word. But that’s what God’s Word says about God’s Word. Verse 16 says this, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another.”
Think about it.
The more that you know that you have peace with God, the more peaceful you’ll be with others.
Usually I tell you that you that spending time in God’s Word is a blessing for you.
And it is.
But flip the script today – because your time in God’s Word is also a blessing for others.
You won’t be so irritable.
You won’t react to every little thing someone says.
You won’t let the unpeaceful things of others hurt you because you will find peace in your Savior!
In fact, if you’re wondering whether or not you need more of God’s Word, ask yourself if you’re perfectly peaceful with your family.
If the answer is no, then…you need God’s Word.
Check out verse 16: “Teach And admonish one another with Psalm, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts towards God.” (v.16)
Did you know that God tells us to sing? Because music is a special gift from God. A special gift that can bring peace on its own. It’s why they science tells you that beautiful melodies of classical music can put your brainwaves at ease and help you study more peacefully and efficiently.
Now combine the peace of music with God’s Word.
Joy to the world the Lord has come! I have no reason to be mad at you.
Silent Night! Holy Night! It’s ok, I lost my place in line.
Oh Come, Oh come Emmanuel! Help me stay calm with my brother…Mel!
It’s a real thing though.
Music brings peace.
Music used to teach us the great things our God has done for us – divine peace.
(5) Act in Jesus’ Name
Check out verse 17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Because that’s really the whole point.
We are acting in Jesus’ name.
And if you are going around being a non-peaceful jerk, who’s going to believe that you have the message of peace?
On the other hand, if you’re able to stay calm, stay peaceful, stay joyful.
You’ll bring peace.
They’ll want peace.
You get to show them peace.
That’s really the whole point.
You have an incredible opportunity this season to share the peace of Jesus.
May God give us peace to do so. Amen.
If I were to ask you to sum up your life in a word or phrase…especially this time of year… I’m going to just hazard a guess that “peaceful” was not the word that came to mind. “Hectic” perhaps. “Controlled chaos” maybe. Or perhaps it’s a little darker. “Oppressive”, “Grim”, “Painful”.
But peaceful? No, no not really.
And yet, why not? How often do we say the word “peace” in our readings, our songs, our liturgies? Isn’t peace one of the most prolific gifts that God brings us? Why do we so often seem to utter lack this promised blessing?
If you’re not feeling the peace this holiday season, then perhaps Advent is exactly what you need.
Let me just unpack that for a minute for the uninitiated. The seasons of our church year revolve around the life of Jesus. His birth, life, death, resurrection, and spread of his church thereafter. We just wrapped up the season of End Times and we’re starting the church year anew with Advent today. Advent is a neat little wrapper of the church year because it overlaps both ends. It focuses on the coming of Jesus. It’s at the same time a look back to anticipate celebrating the first coming of Jesus at Christmas, and a look ahead to celebrate the time when Jesus will come again to end this world.
So, Advent is all about God coming here. Whichever way you look at it. God coming to be with us. That should help bring some peace, right?
Should I be happy that God is coming here? Any one of us could spend all day listing examples of ways we don’t put God first, don’t trust him first, and basically don’t make him our God. Every day is littered with the choices I make, deliberately, to not have God as my true god. I break God’s commands. I sin. And God is literally at war with sin. St Paul tells us elsewhere the sinful mind is hostile to God. Our default state is to be enemies of God. And what a dumb thing to do! Yes, let’s pick a fight with the ruler of the universe, that will end well. If he’s coming here, that is not something to look forward to so much, it’s more on the end of terrifying. Maybe it’s no wonder I can’t find any peace in my life.
But let’s not forget the double meaning of Advent. It’s not just about Jesus coming again, it’s about his first coming as well. I think we’re all pretty familiar with the holiday “Christmas”. But look past the trees and lights and presents and cookies and parties and remember the manger. God came to this earth before and he didn’t come to terrify us or judge us then. He came to restore peace between God and his creation.
Our sin is a debt we owe God. Our lives are not the perfect lives that God demands of us. But Jesus is our payment. Jesus is our perfect life. And all this before anything we do. Which is good… cause we would mess it up! Paul writes here:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
While we were enemies, while we fought God, while we had nothing to offer and wanted nothing to do with him…God lived and died for us. Jesus, God, came here and died as one of us so that your sins could be paid for, so that his perfect life could be counted as yours and he sent the Holy Spirit to you to change your heart, teach you this truth, and make you someone who loves God as much as he loves you. Because of his work, we are not enemies of God anymore. God looks at you and sees someone who always did what he asked, always loved him, and did everything right. There’s no reason to fight.
God loves you. And because he loves you so much, he literally took your place so he wouldn’t have to punish you. He lived, died, and rose for you. As Paul says here:
[Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…
The God who rules over this world is not your enemy anymore. He is your loving Father. Imagine all that power, wisdom, and goodwill all applied for your benefit. Not only does the all-powerful God of creation no longer consider you an enemy, but he actively is interested in your well-being and when this life ends he will come to take you to paradise. What greater peace is there to know that whatever happens to you, you have God behind it all helping you out?
When God comes here to judge the world, we don’t have to look at that with fear but rather we can look up and say, “finally!” We can set down our hard labor and rest with our God forever. Yes, he’s coming to judge, but because of Jesus, the judgment is going to be, “Not guilty!” And God will say, “Come home. Be with me. I’ll care for you forever. No suffering, pain, or trouble ever again.” And we will live in perfect peace and harmony with God forever.
That’s really good news. The peace between you and God brings a profound internal peace to our lives, come what may. But there is still a problem. See, I doubt I said anything new to most of you. These are all things you know. And yet when I asked the question of you at the start, again, I’d guess “peaceful” is not how you would describe yourself. Maybe now, being reminded of it all, you’re feeling the peace. Maybe you’re feeling relaxed and ready to go back out and face life, knowing God is on your side now and for eternity.
But…how long do you suppose that feeling is going to last you this week? How long until you hit the first roadblock, problem, tough choice, impossible to-do list, bad news, or whatever it is that steals this peace away from you? Maybe all the current troubles you’ve got right now are keeping you from even feeling at peace right here and now!
Why? Why does that happen? God has called a truce! And we didn’t do anything to make it happen, he did all the work! He lived, died, and rose before we even wanted anything to do with him. Why… are we still not at peace?
Well…engage with me in a little bit of logical deduction with me, if you will. God is… God. He’s perfect. He’s perfectly wise, perfectly loving, and all-powerful. He does everything he does without mistake. So, if that’s who has worked this peace between us and him… and we’re still not feeling the peace…
Well, it’s not a huge logical leap to guess where the problem is. It’s not with God.
It’s because even though God has done everything that he has for you and declared peace between you both… you are still fighting him.
Either we’re fighting him through our active choices or we’re fighting him because we won’t accept his will in our lives. Both rob us of peace that we should have in him. Not that this life will ever be smooth sailing, nor should it be, but we can be at peace because of the peace we have with our God and what that means for everything else.
So how do we fight God? We fight him whenever we refuse to do what he commands. God is our good Father. He does not impose his will arbitrarily. Like a good parent, he only commands his children whatever is best for them! How many of you remember the times you didn’t listen to your parents because they told you to do something you didn’t want to do or didn’t understand why you should? I do…and one whole bag of Oreos later, I did understand why that was a bad idea.
Don’t touch the stove. Don’t run into the street. Don’t play with the outlet. We don’t tell children these things to stop them having fun, we say these things to protect them.
Every single one of God’s commands is designed to protect you. And when we ignore him, when we defy him, or even worse, when we don’t even bother to learn or study his rules… we hurt ourselves. We suffer unnecessarily. It’s fighting God after he’s declared peace and it only hurts ourselves. So, take the time to study his will, study his word and learn what he wants from you so you can live that will in your lives. The more we listen to our Father and stay at peace with him, the more trouble we will avoid, and the more we stay at peace.
But that still does not guarantee a trouble-free life. God actually promises us trouble. That’s a good thing. Remember last week how we talked about the lukewarm church that had it too easy? Too many creature comforts? They forgot how much they needed God. They forgot the point of this life was to look forward to the next. We need God to send us trouble so we don’t forget we need him. Paul tells us here for that very reason we glory in our suffering.
When trouble finds us, do we let it shatter our peace? Do we even try to blame God? The correct, eternal, godly perspective can help us stay at peace no matter what happens to us here. But we fight God when we live only to be satisfied now instead of living for him forever. God keeps us from getting too comfortable so we don’t forget.
When suffering comes, don’t fight God over it. Instead, say “Thank you, Father.”
When a job is lost, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me you are the one who provides all I have.”
When an illness is diagnosed, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me that my life, my strength, and all my abilities are in your hands.”
When we lose things or people leave us, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me that you are all I truly need to be content.”
And when death comes for you or your loved ones, say, “Thank you, Father, for reminding me I don’t belong here, that what is waiting for me is so much better, I have no reason to cling desperately to this life, I can let go in peace knowing you have me.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you can’t use your abilities and gifts to correct trouble or alleviate pain. But there’s no reason the trouble needs to steal our peace at all. And if we can’t fix the trouble, whatever it is, we are still at peace with God.
There will be trouble. But we can be at peace with God through the troubles. He allows the troubles to help you. Don’t fight him. Let the troubles bring you closer to him.
In all these things it is the strength of God and not our own strength that lets us keep this attitude. He promises to give you the power you need to carry out his will in this life and stay at peace with him. He promises to give you this power through the Holy Spirit working in study of his word. Read and study his word to stay in his power and keep the peace with him. And for the times we fail, which will not stop happening here, there is always the forgiveness of Jesus to bring us back to peace.
Brothers and Sisters, through Jesus you have peace with God. He has given you a new life in him. You are forgiven and perfect in his eyes. God has established the peace. And through his Word he provides the power of the Holy Spirit to you so that you can keep the peace on your end. Even this is his power working through you.
Stay in and study God’s Word and God’s will for you. By the power of his spirit, don’t fight him anymore. Look to him for everything good now and forever, and know the peace that he has established.
We are in the middle of our Eyewitness sermon series and so far, we have heard Eyewitness reports from Mary Magdalene and from the Emmaus Disciples (Named? Cleopas and the other guy). In addition, we heard there’s a group of at least three other women (Mary the mother of James, Joanna and others—Lk. 24:10) who saw Jesus alive as well. That means by evening on Easter Sunday there are 5 people who have witnessed Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
The unlikely story is building credibility.
DNA testing was introduced into our court system in the early 90s. Did you know that hundreds of people who were previously convicted by eyewitness reports have been found not-guilty thanks to the DNA Testing? In 70% of those cases, the reason for conviction was the eyewitness testimony of one or two people.
John Wixted, a psychologist for the University of California, San Diego – wanted to see how useful eyewitness testimony was. He conducted an experiment with police that focused on 348 robberies in 2013 that involved an eyewitness and a single suspect. He showed the eyewitness a group of 5 photos in which one was the convicted robber. The eyewitnesses got the correct suspect 1/3 of the time.
But…in addition to quizzing eyewitnesses on the correct suspect, he also asked them about their certainty – whether they were unsure, certain, or very certain.
Of the people who were very certain? They correctly identified the suspect 75% of the time.
And when there was even one other supporting eyewitness, the rate of correct identification shot up to 90%.
By evening on the very first Easter, Jesus was identified as risen by at least 5 eyewitnesses.
And their confidence? It was through the roof! They didn’t see Jesus running away or from a distance, but up close and personal.
But…they aren’t even the beginning of the eyewitness accounts.
Today we’ll look an eyewitness account that probably quadruples the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. The goal? Gain your confidence that Jesus is alive. Before we begin, 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 Eyewitness Account
The eyewitness account is recorded in both the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Luke. We’re going be in both, starting with John. It says, “On the evening of that first day of the week...the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders…” (Jn. 20:19)
The section starts by describing a group of disciples together. The Gospel of Luke helps us better define who the group was gathered together.
A few notes:
It doesn’t involve Judas – he betrayed Judas and took his life because of the guilt.
It doesn’t involve Thomas – take note – we’ll talk more about that next week.
It does involve the Emmaus disciples – Cleopas and what’s-his-name show up to tell them all about their eyewitness experience.
It involves the women – Mary Magdalene, other Mary and Joanna, the other woman – who had seen Jesus rise from the dead.
And…maybe even a few others.
In short, the group is somewhere around 15-20 people.
And the doors were locked. It’s almost a horror film like setting. The disciples have the doors locked, latched, barred, with a couple pieces of furniture stacked against the door – all because they are afraid of the Jewish leaders.
The Jewish leaders just killed Jesus.
They crucified him.
They acted like a mob, wrongfully arrested him, falsely accused him, illegally convicted him, and forced Pilate’s hand to have him crucified.
What if the leaders did the same to them?
What if they had 12 more crosses just waiting to be filled with 12 more disciples?
What if any encounter with a Jewish leader would end the same way that Jesus’ encounter did…death?
And so, they hid.
And…all day long people had been entering the room with really weird accounts.
“We went to the grave and we thought he’d be dead, but the stone was moved!”
“An angel. A brilliantly bright angel. He saw us and spoke to us and said Jesus was alive.”
“It’s true. We listened to Mary. We ran to look. There wasn’t a body in the tomb.”
“I came back later and saw Jesus himself! I know it…because I heard his voice. A voice that healed me from demons.”
“We walked on the road with him. We talked with him. Would we have come all the way back here from Emmaus – a 7-mile sprint? – if we hadn’t really seen something?”
And to be fair – the reports brought excitement.
They brought mystery.
They brought questions.
But mostly…they brought fear.
Lots and lots of fear.
Because this fear of the Jews – had obviously caused their friends – delusions….
…their mind was playing tricks on them!
…a slow descent into madness.
How long until it hit them?
In the midst of the fear, confusion and hushed conversations…
Another guest appeared into the room.
Everyone was so distracted that they did not hear him enter.
Granted --- he didn’t knock.
He just appeared.
While they were…talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36-37)
And the disciples…have anything but peace!
It’s the ghost!
He’s seeking vengeance.
He’s back to haunt us.
Jesus lifted up his hands.
The disciples braced themselves for the inevitable plasma-ball to come out and consume them.
Jesus said this, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (v.38)
One by one…the disciples looked at each other.
“Touch him? Touch the ghost?”
“You do it.”
“No, you do it.”
“I’m not touching the ghost!”
Finally, Peter pushes his brother Andrew forward.
He lifts up his hand.
He places it on Jesus’ hand…and…
“Whoa…Guys. It’s real.”
The other disciples quickly come over.
They feel the bumps on his skin.
They feel the hairs on his arms.
They touched the holes near his hands.
He has flesh and bone – just like any other living human has.
Jesus asks, “Do you have anything here to eat?” (v.42)
One of them hands over the fish sandwich.
They pass it to Jesus.
It’ll probably fall to the floor – he’s a spirit.
Jesus ate it in their presence. (v.43)
It went into his mouth.
Chewed by his teeth.
Tasted by his tongue.
Into his throat
Into his belly.
Just like it does with any living human being.
Then, Jesus gave them something else.
He said to them, “This is what I said would happen. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Old Testament.” (v.44)
I had to die.
And I had to rise.
Just as it was written:
“God, you will not abandon my soul to the grave, nor let your Holy One see decay.” (Psalm 16:10)
“After he has suffered, the Messiah will see the light of life…” (Isaiah 53:11)
“Just as Jonah was three days and night in the belly of a fish, so the Son of man will be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth.” (Mt. 12:40)
Friends I am alive.
Jesus’ words echoed…
And the disciples came to a realization.
This wasn’t a hallucination.
This wasn’t a vision.
This wasn’t even a ghost.
This was something much worse.
This was real.
And it couldn’t be more terrifying!
Because the last time most of them saw Jesus?
It was in a garden, late at night, running away as he got arrested.
They had abandoned him.
They had denied him.
They had watched…without doing anything…as he died a slow, painful death on the cross.
They sinned against him…
Now he was back.
Proof that He was who He said He was.
Proof that He was God Almighty who controlled hurricanes, volcanoes and flash floods.
Proof that He was real --- and He was back – and He was back for one reason only:
One by one by the disciples looked towards the grounds.
They knew they were sinners and they were awaiting their sin-hating God to utterly destroy them.
Instead he repeated:
“Peace be with you.”
I am God.
I am alive.
I have the power of life and death.
But I am not angry. (Isaiah 27:4)
I am not here to get you.
I am not here for revenge.
I am here because we won.
Because your sins are forgiven.
Because we are at peace.
II. Resurrection Truth
There it is. The biggest, most populated eyewitness account that we’ve encountered to date.
It’s filled with reasons for confidence.
It’s filled with truth.
What is that truth? Three things:
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Yep. Third time that it’s come up as a truth to learn from the eyewitness account.
Think about it. Jesus goes out of his way to prove that His physical, tangible body is in working order again.
His digestive system works.
His joints work.
His skin works.
He even invites the disciples – all 20-some of them – to do a full, thorough investigation.
Don’t you think they did everything possible to determine if it really was real or not?
Some tapped him.
Someone pinched him.
I gotta imagine someone might have even tried to pluck his arm hair out.
And Jesus allows it! Because it’s real.
And, it’s not just any old tangible working body, but his own working body.
He’s had the nail marks in his hands to prove it.
He’s had holes in his feet to prove it.
He had a big, old slit in his side to prove it.
If this was all one big ruse, then Jesus would have had to convince someone, “Hey, do you mind posing as me after I die on the cross? Really? Cool. Now…I know it sounds crazy, but would you be willing to shove nails into your hands, a stake through your feet and a spear into your side? We’re gonna need those wounds to heal up in order to convince people that it’s really me.”
It didn’t happen.
What did happen?
Jesus really, absolutely, complete rose from the dead.
And that’s important.
Because that means…
(2) We Have Peace
It’s a phrase that Jesus repeats a few times.
“Peace be with you.”
“Peace be with you.”
Because as hard as it might be to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, it might be harder to believe that we have peace with God.
Because we have guilt.
We have sinned.
We have shame.
Truth is – you might be believing that God is so angry with you.
Because of past sins.
Because of BIG past sins.
Because of repeated sins.
Because of unbelief.
Because of not following Jesus.
Because you haven’t been whom God called you to be!
And so…you don’t believe.
And the biggest reason you don’t believe in the resurrection is not be a lack of evidence.
But your biggest reason for not believing in the resurrection is the ramifications.
I am a sinner and lo, God hates me!
But…if Jesus rose.
Then, sin has been defeated.
And…if Jesus rose,
Your sin has been paid for.
And…if your sin has been paid for. Completely. 100% perfectly.
Then, God’s wrath has subsided.
And if God’s wrath has subsided.
Then, you have no reason to be afraid.
Hear Jesus’ words to you:
“Peace be with you.”
Understand. It isn’t because your sin isn’t a big deal – it’s a huge deal.
It isn’t because God doesn’t hate sin and evil – He absolutely does.
It isn’t because you’ve done enough to make up for it – you can’t, and you won’t.
It’s because of Jesus.
Unbelievable as it is – it’s true.
About as unbelievable as a resurrection – also true.
The visible nature of the resurrection provides tangible proof of the invisible truth of reconciliation with God. (Romans 4:25)
The resurrection is the visible proof of the invisible truth:
You have peace with God.
Which leads to our final truth:
(3) You have been Sent
To end his encounter with the disciples, Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Do you get it?
God sent Jesus to bring us back to peace with Him.
And He sent risen Jesus to His disciples to confirm that peace with Him.
And He is sending us to share that peace with others.
He is sending YOU to share that peace with others.
Because there are people out there who are far apart from God.
Who are entangled in sin.
Who are covered in guilt.
Who are like those disciples huddled in that room afraid to face the world because they have no peace.
You give them that peace.
You tell them about Jesus.
And there aren’t any qualifications!
He doesn’t say, “If you have Seminary Certification then you have been sent.” Nope.
Qualifications for sharing Jesus include:
(1) Believing in Jesus.
(2) Hearing his call to “Go” and “Be sent.”
Which you just heard…
SO…this means you!
If you’ve known about Jesus since you were a child? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you’ve known about Jesus since this last Easter. Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are a 40 plus year member of this church? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you aren’t even a member yet? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are going home to a retirement community? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are going home to hang out in your playroom? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a master’s degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a bachelor’s degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a high school degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you don’t have any degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live near people who look and act like you? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you live near people who don’t look and don’t act like you? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a Republican? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a Democrat? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a political agnostic? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Raleigh? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Durham? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Wake Forest? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
IF you live in Chapel Hill? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Cary, Zebulon, Fuquay Varina, Rolesville, Louisburg…or any other villle or burg that I’m forgetting to mention here:
Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are a someone or an anyone who knows about Jesus…
(And friends – Jesus is talking to you)
You have been sent. Go and tell about Jesus.
And the Holy Spirit will be with you. Amen.
I'm excited to get the chance to talk to you all this morning. I know I'm not Pastor Phil, but I spent a lot of time getting today's message ready for you, and I really hope you find it just as beneficial as his.
Did that sound believable?
Honestly, I'm not that concerned about it, moreso that I wanted to demonstrate just how hollow our use of the word “hope” can be. Have you noticed that? I mean, it's a word that's meant to elicit – well – hope! But when you think about how we use the word, about what our typical hope really is... hope is not much comfort.
Think about how you use the word. Most of the time we're actually using it to express the idea that we don't really think something will happen, or that we don't really believe what we've been told.
“The party is going to be a blast. Sure, hope my cousin remembered to reserve the venue.”
“Just got my hair done, sure hope it doesn't rain.” (I wouldn't know about that one.)
I mean, what are we really saying when we use that word "hope"? Seems to me it's just a way of expressing that this is the outcome I would prefer but I have no actual reason to believe that it's going to go my way. It's what I'd like – but my wishes aren't going to influence the outcome. It's basically an empty word of wishing. In fact, sometimes we even use the word to indicate we don't actually expect the outcome!
“Dad says we're finally getting together for dinner tonight!” “Really? Well, I sure hope so.”
This can get a little more bleak when we get to more serious examples of when we throw this word around and then start to realize exactly how hollow it rings.
“I hope I have enough money to pay the bills this month.”
“I hope this relationship works out.”
“I hope my health improves.”
How are those kinds of sentiments any better than just outright wishing and the horses they would conjure? Let's be honest, they're not. And yet we cling to these empty "hopes" so tightly, invest so much in them that what happens when they're crushed? When we don't get what we're hoping for (which, depending on how good you are at tempering expectations, can happen a lot)… when we don't get that outcome we're hoping for... what happens?
Fear? This was how I pictured my life. This was the only way I saw my life proceeding normally. Now, I can't pay these bills. Now, I won't have that someone I think I need in my life. Now, I won't be in this life much longer. I thought, wished, hoped life would be one way and now it's not going to be. What is going to happen? It's not alright the way it should have been so what is going to happen?? I can't handle the uncertainty of this road I did not plan for.
Disappointment? This was to be my life. That was the only way I thought I would live. And any alternative isn't worth bothering with. I might as well sit here and just pine after what should have been. I don't know how to deal with this.
Anger? I deserved this. This is what is owed me. It should have been this way! And now it's not. It's someone's fault. I don't know whose but I'll figure it out and I'll blame everyone I can along the way until I get what was coming to me.
And all that leads me to this extremely dangerous conversation that I am sure you have heard before and probably even spoken part of in your life. When trouble or difficulty hits, when bad stuff happens that we struggle to react to:
“It's going to be okay.”
“I hope so.”
If we're trying to offer hope in bleak circumstances, what could possibly ring more hollow than some kind of statement like that without anything behind it? “It's going to be okay.” By what authority, proof, or truth can you state that? And the response is just as hollow. “I hope so.” Sure would be nice but on what basis do you even hope that it will be? And when that is crushed too? Then what?
What if instead of all that muck and mire of empty hope that's no better than wishing, what if instead there was a different kind of hope that was guaranteed? What if I could say, “It's going to be okay,” and that were a fact not an empty platitude? We can, because of the NEW kind of hope that Jesus offers us through Easter.
And that's where this new kind of hope actually begins. In the grave. I mean, that's the real problem, isn't it? Looming out there beyond all the other things in life that could go wrong, and all the problems we might face here for a time is the one that we can't avoid and the one that can cause the most fear, anger or sadness: death.
What will happen when I die? What will happen to me after I die? Will it be good? Bad? We can hem and haw and fret about everything that happens in the meantime, about every wish or hope we have for this life but in the end they all add up to zero and conclude at this one question, same for you or me or anyone else.
In Jesus, this one all-consuming question is answered, and it is answered definitively. Though St. Paul speaks from the negative, this is his conclusion for us. Listen again to his words to the Corinthians:
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
I don't want to get too far into it, but the problem in Corinth was that some people had started saying we wouldn't actually be raised from the dead. But, Paul, says, you didn't think that through! If no one is raised from the dead, guess who else wasn't raised from the dead? Jesus! Jesus was a new kind of raised from the dead, you know. He wasn't just brought back to life like some of the miracles he did: Lazarus or Jairus' daughter or the like. Those people came back to life, lived a normal life and then... well they died again at the end of it.
Jesus was a new kind of being raised. He was raised forever. He lived a normal life, he died, and then he came back to life forever. And he did that not just because he is God, he did it to model for us what would happen to us now. He was the prototype, the first, the firstfruits as Paul calls him here. His journey is what we all follow.
So, Paul says here, if you're saying that no one is raised from the dead like that, well then neither was Jesus. And if Jesus was not raised from the dead...you're in serious trouble. Because Jesus being raised from the dead was like a promise to us. A promise that because he did what he did, that is what would happen to us too.
Jesus lived as a human. He never doubted the love of the Father, he never questioned the will of his Father, and he always obeyed his Father perfectly. Kind of exactly not like us. But for us. In your place. And then, as we watched just a little over a week ago, he walked willingly to death for you. He took your place in hell and handed you the perfect life he lived. And he died.
If he had stayed dead, all of this would have meant nothing. He would've been a liar. His sacrifice would've been rejected by God. And we would still be trapped in our debt to God. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. You are forgiven. Your debt is paid. Jesus was and did everything he said. His resurrection is proof.
And again, more than proof of what his death means, it's proof of where you're going. It's proof that you will rise. He is the firstfruits from the dead. He is the first one to die and be alive forever and ever but he is just the first. All who sleep in him will follow that path. Which includes you!
So you want a new kind of hope? Here it is. Everyone who dies will rise. Everyone who dies in Jesus will rise with Jesus, like Jesus, to eternal life in Jesus. Not a well-wish, not a daydream, not a “sure would be nice”. This is a fact. If you're ever troubled by doubt look to the cross and ask yourself, “Did Jesus die?” Look to the grave and ask, “Did Jesus rise?” The answers are yes. And so the answer to the biggest question of “how will this all end?” is: in the best possible way.
In the end, everything from this life will be left behind. Whatever hurts between now and then will be washed away and forgotten, it is temporary. You'll be alive forever in eternal glory and perfection. That is real hope. It's a fact of a better future that cannot fade or be taken away and will never end when you get there. It doesn't get better than that.
And the beauty of that hope is that combined with God's promises, this changes our perspective on all hope throughout the rest of this life. God promises you this end. And on top of that promise, he promises that everything he allows or causes in this life is designed to get you to that end safely.
I want you to think about that.
It is a promise that because Jesus died and rose, you are going to heaven. Your end is the best possible end that anyone could ever imagine. And it is a promise that everything in between is managed by God to get you there. That means everything's covered. That's a certain hope that lasts from now until forever.
Gone are the symptoms of false hope because we don't need them anymore.
Fear? Fear is a result of not knowing what's coming. You know what's coming and how it will end. Look to the promise of the empty tomb and fear evaporates.
Disappointment? That comes because what we have doesn't measure up to what we think or expect we should have. But the promise God makes to us – it literally cannot be better than that. Eternity in heaven with our Creator. You can't go higher and it won't fail you.
Anger? At what? You might feel like circumstances in your life are unjust and the things that happen to you, the things that people do to you or others demand an angry response... but God allowed them to happen to accomplish his promise – to see you safely home to heaven. Can you really get angry at that?
Brothers and sisters let's replace this meaningless and stale conversation with something far better, with something that means something. Something based on truth that cannot change. Something that reminds us of real hope.
“It's going to be okay.”
“I know it will. Because of Jesus.”
Guest preacher, Pastor Doug Lange shares with us a message about Judas - that we're more like him than we want to admit to. We may not formally betray someone, but every time we sin, we betray Jesus. Thankfully, Jesus never betrays us and in Him (only Him) is there forgiveness and peace from our sins.
Tonight, we take a closer look at Judas. What comes to mind when you hear the name Judas? Betrayer? Thief? Good for nothing backstabber? Knowing what we know about Judas and what he did, these names seem to fit well. But was this always the case? Remember, Judas was chosen by Jesus to be one of those twelve disciples. These were guys who had the privilege of being in Jesus’ inner circle. They talked with him and witnessed all of the miracles he performed. Jesus led them, guided them and trained them.
Outwardly, Judas seemed to be just one of the twelve, but inwardly there was a problem. His greedy heart had turned cold to Jesus’ true mission. As it became more and more apparent that Jesus never intended to establish a kingdom on earth that Judas would benefit from, he turned away from Jesus. As Jesus talked about suffering and death, Judas saw the writing on the wall. He began to plan how he could salvage something from what he thought was a dead-end street.
From that point on, Judas’ spiritual life went downhill. He stole from the small treasury the disciples had. He got angry when a woman showed her love for Jesus by pouring expensive perfume on his feet. Finally, he willingly assisted in the murderous plot of Jesus’ enemies and betrayed Jesus for the going rate one would pay for a slave, a messily 30 coins. Judas had plunged head first into the depths of hell itself. Luke tells us, “Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. 4 And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5 They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 6 He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.”
As you know, Judas never got to enjoy that money. Tormented by what he had done, he tried to return it. However, he refused to look to Jesus for help and forgiveness. Sadly, hell had claimed Judas and even before Jesus was crucified for his sins, he plunged into eternity at the end of a rope.
What a tragic end to this one-time disciple of Jesus! Jesus offered Judas everything: friendship, a place among the twelve, forgiveness of sins and a place in God’s family forever. Even when he came to betray Jesus in the Garden, Jesus reached out to him one more time to reclaim him as his child. Sadly, Judas plugged his ears and closed his heart to Jesus’ offer of forgiveness and life.
As we consider the story of Judas, maybe we wonder, why? Didn’t Jesus know what Judas would become? Why would Jesus have chosen Judas, the greedy thief and potential traitor and welcome him into his midst? Our answer is Jesus’ love. Jesus came to save sinners. That included Judas, you and me.
You see, we have more in common with Judas than we want to admit. When we listen to these Bible stories about Jesus’ followers, we don’t mind being compared to Peter, the bold one, or Matthew, the grateful to be forgiven tax collector. But Judas? No way, we are not like him!
Yet, haven’t we, too, acted just like him? How often don’t we let our selfish ambitions get the better of us? How often don’t we seek the things of the world as he did? Like Judas, we are by nature sinful, and, as sinners, we all too often fix our eyes on our own earthly welfare. Truth be told, every time we sin we are really no different than Judas. Every selfish action we take, every dirty thought we have, every cutting word spoken to another, every time we neglect his words and do our own thing, we betray our Savior and deserve only his punishment now and forever. Because of our sins, Jesus should damn us right here and now!
Yet, by God’s grace this is where you and I differ from Judas. Jesus searched out Judas to the very end. He offered him forgiveness. Judas didn’t have to kill himself in despair and unbelief. But he did because he refused what Jesus came to do for him.
If you have made a mess of your life and want to know if Jesus still loves you, look to his cross and know he does. When you are confronted with your own sins and see how they have betrayed, Jesus don’t run away from him in despair as Judas. Instead, look at your Savior. See him suffering for you. Look at the cross and see how far he was willing to go to forgive you all your sins. Then listen to your Savior who has searched you out and found you say, “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine!” Amen.
I have three sisters in my family. Every year since I was young we have drawn names for Christmas. This means that whatever name you draw out of a hat you are in charge of getting gifts for that person. It’s a pretty good “Christmas-gift-getting-system.” The reality is that the simple magnitude of gifts – one – allowed us to stress a lot less and focus on other things. It also works well as spouses etc. added. Rather than have to add to the gift count – the spouse enters the rotation and the number of gifts needed to be bought remains the same: ONE.
This past year one of my sisters had the bright idea that everybody should get gifts for everybody! A gift for each sister – a gift for each spouse – a gift for every child – even a gift for every canine. (Which is way more doggie gifts than there should be.)
Not gonna lie; I started to panic. Because suddenly I had a lot of presents that I needed to GET!
Get one for my wife.
Get one for sister 1, one for sister 2, one for sister 3.
Get one for brother in law.
Get one for dog in law.
Not to mention get one for all of Julianna’s family too!
And for me – Christmas ‘stress’ is born in the word “getting.”
I doubt I’m alone.
We need to “GET” the right gifts.
We need to “GET” the lights up.
We need to “GET” the cookies right.
We need to “GET” the right Hatchimal that the commercial told us.
We need to “GET” a second credit card.
We want to “GET” a Christmas bonus.
We want to “GET” a new sweater.
We want to “GET” a peaceful time with family.
And all this focus on GETTING means all we end up GETTING is heartburn.
There must be a better way.
Today we are starting a 3 weeks sermon series on GIVING. Our goal is to look at the original Christmas story and see how it is all about GIVING. Today we will start learning about giving by GIVING A SECOND LOOK at the manger in order to really grasp the incredible gift that God gave to us that first Christmas. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Second Look at What’s in the Manger
In order to take our second look, I want you to go back about 2000 years to a place called Bethlehem. It’s pretty busy. Not because of Christmas – but because of the census. “Caesar Augustus has issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to their home town to register.” (Luke 2 v.1)
And busy it was. Long lost sons. Married and relocated daughters. Grandsons. Granddaughters. Even crazy Uncle Lou have all returned in order to be counted in Caesar’s mandated census.
And most make it there. They arrive during the day. Their relatives put them up. They fill up all of the Motel 6’s.
Except for one couple.
Meet Mary and Joseph, they’re a bit late.
To be fair – it was a long journey. From Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 100 miles – whether you take the shorter mountainous trade route or the longer flat route by the Jordan River – it would have taken the top Ironmen about 8 days.
Joseph wasn’t an Ironman.
And Mary was about 8 ½ months pregnant.
So, they trudge into Bethlehem after two weeks of donkey travel, two weeks of sleeping under trees, two weeks of “Ugh Joseph. We need to slow down.” Two weeks of “Do they have any chocolate-covered pickle trees in this wilderness?”
When they finally saw it, Bethlehem must have been like an oasis to them. Firelight burning from the windows -- visible about a half mile off.
Joseph. We need to hurry. My water broke.
Suddenly there is no peace.
They need to GET to town!
They need to GET to a hotel.
They need to GET a room!
I’m sorry. There isn’t any vacancy here.
Dude, you should have gotten here sooner, we’re all booked.
Get off my lawn already – the other guests are trying to sleep!
Until Joseph --- Can’t you please put us up for a night!?! My wife is in labor. We traveled for two weeks and the other six inns are full! I need to GET her a spot for the baby to be born!
The innkeeper holds up his hands.
He adjusts his tie.
And he says, “Well…we do have a spot in the barn…”
And they head around.
And Joseph helps Mary off of the donkey.
And Mary rests on a pile of hay.
And Joseph runs for a bucket of water.
And Mary cries out in pain.
And the nearby cattle begin mooing at the commotion disturbing their sleep.
Which causes the neighbors dog to bark.
Which causes the neighbors’ neighbor’s dog to bark.
Until all that noise and commotion is replaced by the gentle cry of a baby.
“And she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a feeding trough, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Lk. 2:7)
And that…is the manger scene.
What do you see when you look at it? I think there are a couple different perspectives.
(1) The Nativity Perspective. Maybe you’re a nativity-ist? You see a quiet, gentle baby in a quiet, gentle scene, where even the cows are smiling. Mary isn’t sitting. Somehow she’s kneeling moments after birth. Joseph is calmly looking on – not like his hand is in pain because of how hard Mary was squeezing it.
If that’s what you see – you get a gentle, comforting feeling. It lasts for a bit. Until your own children start fighting about who gets to open the first gift…
(2) The Realist Perspective. This one happens when you think about it for a bit. You see a chaotic birth followed by a baby, wrapped in strips of old cloth, laying down next to the slobber filled hay – a scene that would have the Sanitation Department on Lockdown!
To be fair this scene provides a bit more comfort. You get to see the human spirit in action! You say, “Look at those odds that the couple faced! They got past the donkey travel, they got past the lack of vacancy, they made it to a spot where they could have a child – and if they can do that, I can get these stocking stuffers wrapped too.”
(3) The Divine Perspective.
But if that’s all you see in that scene…I need you to look closer.
Because the Bible tells us that there was more going on.
“The grace of God has appeared…” (Titus 2:11)
This is an interesting statement. Because grace is a concept. It’s an abstract object. It’s not tangible.
Grace is something that you give. It’s something that you get. It’s something that you receive.
And grace is something that humans do very poorly…even at Christmas:
You gave me what? Mental note to get them a $5 gift next year.
These cookies are off…That is NOT how grandma made them.
OK. That’s enough! You kids are too loud and Christmas. Is. Cancelled!
But when the Bible talks about grace.
It means grace.
Not “human defined grace” …But God’s grace.
And who can bring pure GRACE but the God of GRACE Himself?
Which is why when you look closely in that manger. You see GRACE.
GRACE who came out of the luxuries of heaven itself; to a stinky, sweaty, animal excrement filled barn.
GRACE who had been rubbing shoulders with holy, perfect angels; now on earth with crude sin-filled peasants, prostitutes and drunkards.
GRACE who owed us absolutely nothing; but who came to earth to GIVE us everything.
Understand this – when you look into the eyes of that little child, you are looking into the eyes of God himself.
II. What the ONE in the Manger Gives
That’s important to know.
Because if that’s God in the manger, he’s going to be bringing a plethora of good gifts.
He’s like that one uncle….The one who comes around Christmastime and bring all kinds of junk food. Tootsie Roll, cookies, a few of your favorite toys – maybe even the one Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle that your mom told him NOT to buy because you have too many TMNT toys.
He’s the kind of person that when you see him, you know you’re going to get a plethora of good gifts.
God’s just like that – only eternally better. Take a look at the gifts that he brings: “The grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14)
There’s a lot of awesomeness in this passage. Let’s break down the gifts.
Because we get it:
Wrong doing deserves punishment.
We get it so well that it is a part of our Christmas celebration – there’s this Santa Claus guy who gives gifts if you are good, but gives coal if you’ve done bad. It’s a punishment. The punishment of not receiving the good gifts and getting coal.
We all agree that naughty is not good.
And sin deserves punishment.
We just disagree on what level of naughty is deserves what level of punishment.
I was watching the Santa Claus 2 this past week. Have you seen it? It stars Tim Allen as Santa Claus and the premise is that he needs to find a Mrs. Clause before Christmas or he can no longer be Santa Claus. As a result, he has to leave the North Pole in order to find himself a date. The problem? Christmas is his busy time. He’s needed at the North Pole. So, they make a robotic Santa Claus that looks similar to him and leave him in charge of the workshop while Tim Allen goes in search of a wife.
And at first, it’s funny and cute. But soon the Santa robot starts reading the Christmas handbook. He learns that naughty kids are supposed to get coal. And when he looks at the lives of the kids from the past year, the Santa robot determines all of the kids are bad and they all deserve coal!
Here’s the thing: Santa Robot is obviously presented as the bad guy in that movie! But – he’s not wrong! The kids had done wrong and deserved coal.
The Bible speaks similarly “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 6:23) We are all sinners!
And, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 3:23) We all deserve punishment.
And God does not threaten coal for those who did wrong.
God threatens the eternal fires of hell itself.
Pastor, why are you talking about hell on Christmas? That’s kind of a downer.
Question: If you found out that you were $1000 short on rent this month and for Christmas, someone gave you $1000 that would be an AWESOME gift.
Or if you had been praying for a baby for years and find out on Christmas Day that you are pregnant, AWESOME gift.
Or if you have had cancer, but get a called from radiology on December 23rd that the cancer…is…gone. There is nothing more incredible than that.
To understand how incredible the gift of the manger is, we need to understand exactly our problem.
We needed salvation.
We needed a Savior.
We needed someone to save us from the impending punishment that we have inflicted on ourselves.
Jesus is exactly that.
He lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
He died innocently in our place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of our sins.
In short, it’s like the name tags on two presents were switched.
Jesus earned heaven. We earned hell.
He got hell on the cross; we get heaven as his promise!
Now maybe you’re thinking – this couldn’t be for me. I’m too guilty. I’m too far gone. I’m too far apart from God.
But notice – it’s for all people!
It’s for the poor and the rich.
For the young and the old.
For the white and the black.
For the Asian and Latino.
For the Tarheel fans and the Duke fans.
For people with all kinds of backgrounds and all different kinds of sins an all different kinds of guilt – Jesus died for you.
(2) Gift of “No”
But salvation is not the only gift of Jesus. Look at the next part, “He teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions.” (Titus 2:12)
One year my mom got me the Super Mario Brothers 3 game for the NES. It was exactly what I wanted! I was very excited to get callouses on my fingers and watch Mario smoosh walking mushrooms. When I got it – I remember thanking mom a bunch. I remember making her a breakfast of “pop tarts” in bed. I remember working hard on telling my sisters to “play nice.” I was so thankful for her gift that I wanted to do nice things for her.
It’s the same with salvation. When we grasp what God has done for us, the natural result – we can’t wait to do what he wants!
We say “No” to the wrong.
We say “Yes” to God.
Which means living for God isn’t a gift we do out of fear.
It’s a gift we give out of his grace -- out of his Gift for us!
Think about it at Christmas:
God’s given you everything; that teaches you to say “NO” to commercialism.
God’s has given you all you need; it teaches you to say, “You grab the last BonBon.”
God loves you dearly: it teaches you to say, “I will show love to you even when you’re being so negative right now.”
(3) Blessed Hope
Gift three is not a gift that we get right away.
Ever had a gift like that? Maybe it’s tickets to a show coming up or a playoff game or an investment into a college fund. Those gifts are nice. Even if you don’t have the gift yet, you do get the gift of looking forward to it.
It’s the same thing with God. While we don’t have heaven yet, this promise gives us something right now:
And that’s a big deal.
Because you might be hoping for a nice Christmas.
You might be hoping for some new kitchen utensils.
You might be hoping for your kids to get along.
You might be hoping that your visit with your parents goes well.
But that hope – is kind of a wishy-washy hope – because “Who knows?”
But with God there is certainty:
He was born just as He said.
He died just as He said.
He rose just as He said.
And He will take you to be with Him just as He said.
In God there is HOPE.
III. What NOW?
(1) Give the Manger a 3rd, 4th and 5th Look
Because the more you look at a well thought out gift the more you are filled with gratitude.
This happens often with ornaments. You pull one out of your ornament box -- Maybe it’s a macaroni spray painted gold ornament with a picture of your kid when he was 6. What happens? Every year when you decorate the tree you see the ornament and you are filled with gratitude and love.
How much greater that truth when we focus on our Savior Jesus?
God’s love fills our hearts and the bad news, the scars of this past year, the anxieties of this life is pushed out.
So, don’t just look at the manger right now.
Look later tonight. Read Luke 2. Watch The Nativity on Netflix. Come back to worship tomorrow. Make a plan for worshipping repetitively throughout the New Year.
Give the manger a second look so that God’s love can flow to you and through you.
(2) Do Good “in the NOW”
Titus says this, “God’s grace teaches us to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” In the Greek language (the original language of the Bible for this section) it literally says, “in the NOW age.”
Meaning – not tomorrow.
Do good this evening with your family.
Be the one to clean up the wrapping paper.
Make sure people’s drinks are filled.
Pass out hugs and smiles like they are going out of style.
And GIVE His message of love.
Because Christmas was always about GIVING.
What God GAVE to us.
What God is GIVING to us.
What God will GIVE to us.
And what God will have us GIVE to others.
May God bless your giving this Christmas and always. Amen.
My brothers and sisters in Christ,
God’s word that I would like to take time to study with you today comes from the book of Exodus in chapter 34. And before we begin, allow me a moment to read through it with you:
29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the LORD had given him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the LORD’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD.
Now, I would love to take the time to pull back and give you the long version of our context here, of how we came to the point of this reading, but I think most of you want to be home before dinner time. Exodus is a great read, I suggest picking it up when you get home if you’re unfamiliar with it, but there’s really no way I can do the previous 33 chapters justice right now.
Suffice to say at this point, Moses is returning from the mountaintop to bring the laws to God’s people. This is his second trip. The last time he tried this, the people gave him up for dead after he was gone a few weeks, they abandoned God and turned to worshipping a golden calf. But not this time. And this time, Moses, unaware, had a face that shone with the glory of the Lord he had seen. The shining glory was not his own, it was a reflection, an after-effect of what he had seen. He had been in the presence of God Almighty and that showed to the Israelites when he returned. We have no frame of reference to even imagine what it was like, but we can certainly say it was a divine glory that these people were not used to seeing. So, what did they think of this? Were there lines outside Moses’ tent to go in and see it? Did the people come up to congratulate him, “Wow Moses, that’s so cool to see something like that!” No. They were afraid to even come near him.
Should that surprise us? No, it shouldn’t. Find one instance in the Bible, one time in recorded history where God’s glory shone to human beings, even in a limited capacity, and the person or people in question did not cower in fear. From God walking in the garden after the fall to find Adam and Eve, to the angel visitors who announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, to the disciples we read about at the mount of transfiguration, being confronted with the shining glory of God himself makes us afraid. Why? You may say, well it’s supernatural, we’re not used to it, naturally we’re afraid of the unknown. But there’s more to it than that. That doesn’t account for the kind of terror we read about when people see the glory of God. Why such fear?
I’m going to answer that question, but first let me turn this around. Because once you understand it, it’s actually not so amazing that people confronted with God are so afraid. What’s amazing is that people aren’t that terrified all the time. What do I mean? Let me explain to you a little bit about how our God has wired us. You see, God has stamped our hearts with his law, by nature he has placed in all of us a (somewhat) reliable standard of what is right and what is wrong. And when we do wrong, that voice inside us lets us know. That voice speaks up and stings us with the guilt of what we did and more to the point, fear of the consequences. The conscience is a terrifying thing.
Because we can’t live up to it. It is always there accusing us of something new we did wrong today or something we should have done that we ignored because it was convenient. Lost my temper on the freeway again. That same sinful indulgence I swore I’d never do again, did it again today. The perfectly reasonable excuse I made to get out of helping someone in need. It’s always there, every time, telling us we don’t measure up. We can’t keep it quiet because we can’t be good enough. If you don’t believe me, really listen to it for a day. Just a day. You can’t keep it quiet by what you do.
So, why aren’t we terrified all the time? How do people live with this terrifying voice inside them? We ignore it, we distract it, we turn away from listening to it just so we can have a moment’s peace where we’re not afraid of it. We’ve gotten really good at doing this over the centuries. We hum little rhymes of needless distractions, we focus on petty and inane things and pretend it’s not there, or worst of all we take up the morality of our culture and use that to sand the edges off it so it until it’s just a dull prod instead of a sharp sting.
Does that help? Yes, but no. The pain of the conscience exists for a reason and ignoring it is very dangerous. Like physical pain exists to warn us that something is wrong with our body, the conscience is there to warn us that something is wrong with our soul. Drowning out the conscience, ignoring it, that’s like taking painkillers to deal with a gunshot. It might make you comfy, but it’s not going to end well. Ignoring the conscience doesn’t change what it’s trying to tell us. It doesn’t change the fact that we are not good enough and we deserve punishment from God for it. The conscience is not there to be ignored, it’s there to convince you of that truth. You are not good enough. I hate to be a downer, but that is a fact. Ignoring or refusing it doesn’t change it. In fact, the sooner we accept that truth, the sooner there is hope for us. Because when we give up on ourselves, that’s when we go to find a solution elsewhere, outside ourselves. The conscience exists to convince you that you need God to save you.
But because we’re so good at ignoring our conscience, God sometimes has to stir it back up so we listen. Nothing does that quite like the literal glory of God in your sight. There’s a truth you can’t deny. Here’s holiness and perfection and wisdom and power and compared to what I am – well that’s an eye opener that can only leave you terrified. But we need that before there can be hope.
Do you see why, out of love for us, God might have to put the literal “fear of God” in us? If we don’t think we need him, if we think we can make it on our own, that’s dangerous. And so because he loves you, God will take steps to reignite that fear of him, he will make you afraid of him – not because he likes seeing you cower before his might! – he will make you afraid so that he can come at take that fear away.
So God comes to us and reminds us of who he is, and who we are. God, who only ever gives of himself to us. Who only has ever given to us what is best for us. God who has always shown you perfect love, always modeled to you perfect love. Nothing in your life has happened without God saying, “This exists because it is best for you, because I love you.” This God is the one we have torn at in our selfishness. This God is the one we’ve shouted at in anger because he didn’t do what we want. This God is the one we’ve ignored because it suited our interest and comfort that particular day. This God is the one we’ve had the ridiculous audacity to defiantly yell at him that he is doing it wrong and that we know better than him.
Back up a second and look at that shining glory again – who is it again you’re acting like this towards? God almighty who called the universe into being with mere words. God who brought you to life, gave you a soul and made you who you are. God who directs the events of this world every day. God who has the power to stop armies with a word and bring down nations with a thought. Who can open the earth to swallow whole those who defy him or choose to bring the dead to life. This God, with infinite power, with no authority over him, this God is the one you’ve defied and angered. It’s terrifying to look at this truth, but necessary. This fear of God is the beginning of hope. It seems counter-intuitive, I know, but the more fully we see our God’s true glory and holiness, the more fully we understand just how utterly we fail – the better off we are. Because once we’ve given up on ourselves, then we’re ready to be saved.
Aaron and the other leaders were afraid at Sinai… but that’s not all we get from God’s shining glory. What about the other mountain we read about today? Is that the reaction the disciples had on the mount of Transfiguration? Well, yes – but what did Jesus say right after? “Do not be afraid.” Fear was not the purpose of this trip. Jesus went up on the mountain with his closest disciples and gave them a glimpse behind the curtain of his humanity so they would have a truth to hold onto in the dark days ahead. This event was given to them by Jesus to be a comfort. They saw who he really was. They saw his glory and power. Soon it wouldn’t look like that anymore. Soon he would be arrested. He would be brutally beaten. He would be executed. It would look bad. But guys, put two and two together! The sheer power and glory radiating from this mountaintop – these things that happened – surely the God who revealed himself on the mountain could stop them any time. If these things happened, then it had to be because this is what Jesus wanted. He chose this dark end because of what it would do for you.
I want you to understand this – it was about you. He had you in mind as he endured and as he died. He didn’t save you just because you came with the package. He didn’t say to himself, “Well, I might as well do this, it’ll take care of everyone at once and be done with it.” If it was just you, only you, if you were the only sinner in all of history who needed him, he still would have done it. Because it was the only way to rescue you from yourself. Your crimes deserve death. His death for you frees you. The holiness and power of God should terrify you by nature, but we know that power and perfection stood up for us. And that very holiness that covers you now, that ensures you don’t ever need to be afraid of God again. His holiness does not stand against you, it is given to you by faith, and it is yours to wear freely. You are forgiven. The conscience exists to remind us of this fatal wound in our soul. Jesus has healed it, by his death. Completely in him, the conscience does not hold any fear for us again.
The shining glory of the Lord does this all for us. It needs to terrify us so we give up on ourselves and turn to him. And that same God with the same shining perfection and power freely gives us this truth, “I’ve got it covered,” he says. “What you did wrong, I fixed. I forgive you, and I grant you eternal life with me.” That voice is almighty and perfect. It does not lie. It does not make mistakes. There’s peace in that glory that we could never have on our own.
Of course, you and I don’t see the Lord’s glory face to face much these days, do we? But does that really change anything? Perhaps the Lord doesn’t physically appear in his glory so much anymore as he did to Moses or the disciples. But he still shines. He shines through his Word. Our Bibles, the scriptures are still our connection to him. What an amazing blessing we have, to have that glory on hand wherever we go. To be able to look into the face of that glory and remember just how badly we need him and how he in turn has filled that need perfectly. Make no mistake, in a very real way we still see our God face to face when we study his Word. And what’s more, we still reflect his glory into the world just as Moses did. The longer and more often we are exposed to him in the Scriptures regularly, the brighter that glory will shine by the Holy Spirit’s power. And that reflected glory will have an effect on the people around us.
You shine the reflected glory of God no differently than Moses when you reflect God’s Word in your life. Whenever choose his way over your way. When we don’t follow the crowd at work or home just because it’s easier. When we respond with love and forgiveness to those who try to hurt us, even when they don’t want it. When we try to help those who hate us. When we say “yes” for our God, even when the whole world is telling us that “no” is the right answer. Powered by our God, our godly words and actions shine the glory of the Lord at the world to remind them to be afraid. The glory we reflect stirs up in them the reminder that they don’t measure up and they need help. By shining the love of God at them, we want them to know the truth. They need a savior. And once they understand the need, we have that same Savior to offer them.
Brothers and Sisters, I want you to understand the importance of the task God asks of you in your life here. A life lived for Christ isn’t only a nice thing to do for God as a thank you to his love. It’s not only something you do to make your life better, knowing his ways are best. A life lived for Christ is the most pivotal way that we can shine with the reflected glory of our Lord into the world. Through those words and actions we reach out to try to save everyone around us. Start at the source of his glory. Soak it in through his Word. Take every opportunity to connect with the God you are not good enough for but the God who has made you good by his mercy and power. Look to the glory he reveals to you, and reflect that glory into your lives. Amen.
Have you seen that meme from the movie ELF? I saw it back on December 26th last year -- where Will Ferrell’s character is panicking with excitement because "There’s only 363 more days until Christmas!?!"
But now it’s not funny anymore. Now we are into the holiday stretch. Now we’re on the clock.
And there’s a lot of things that will be vying for your attention this Christmas season.
Macys’ will be wanting you to shop their sales.
Amazon will be wanting you to surf the net.
ABC Family will be wanting you to watch Christmas movies.
Your friends at work will be wanting you to attending an Ugly Sweater party.
Church will be wanting you to do “churchy” Christmas things.
And you’ll be wanting to wrap presents, drink some spiked egg nog, and curl up to some Bing Crosby at around 5pm.
There’s a lot of ways to prepare for Christmas. But are all of them good?
And I checked – you can find all kinds of Google articles on the “10 Most important Christmas things to spend time on” this holiday season.
But as cool and awesome as the internet is – maybe there’s somewhere else we can look for guidance on the holiday season.
Something that’s been around a lot longer.
Something that’s been around for every Christmas ever celebrated – and even a few before Christmas even happened.
Today we are going to start our series from God’s Word called Old Fashioned Christmas. We are going to look at how people prepared for Christmas – before there was Christmas! As we take a look at these Old Testament (before Jesus) Scripture readings, we’re going to get some divine guidance on our holiday season. Before we do that today, please join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Time Without God?
We’re going to start this week in Isaiah chapters 1 and 2. Isaiah is a prophet who lived about 600 some years before Jesus was ever born. That means – he lived hundreds of years before anyone ever heard of Christmas – thousands of years before Walmart ever put their first Christmas tree display up in July.
At the time of Isaiah, the scene wasn’t exactly the peaceful, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire situation that we think of today.
Look at what Isaiah writes about the state of Israel:
Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged…your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers. Daughter Zion (that’s an ancient phrase meaning “Jerusalem”) is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a hut in a cucumber field…” (1:6-8)
Ever been to a cucumber farm before? Me neither. But I love that illustration. Because during the peak cucumber season, the little cucumber storage huts are completely full. They are filled with vitamins and minerals – and big, plump juicy cucumbers that just can’t wait to be pickles.
But at the end of the harvest – after they’ve all been sold, and the left overs have been given to the local food shelter and the deer have found the mushy remains and eaten them up, there’s not much left. Just dirt. Bugs. A few rotten pieces in the corner. It’s desolate.
That’s how Isaiah describes Israel. They are dirty. They are bug ridden. They are desolate. There isn’t anything nutritious or beneficial about their existence.
But this message would have been strange to the Israelite people.
It says in 1:1 that this was written during the reign of Uzziah. You can learn more about the specifics of his reign in 2 Chronicles 26, but the general impression of his reign is that things weren’t all that bad when he was in charge. In fact, he probably had a good approval rating. He rebuilt Elath – a city that had been destroyed in southern Judah. He defeated the fierce, terrorist like enemies, the Philistines. (v.6) He worked a trade agreement where the Ammonites brought taxes and tribute (v.8) to him. He built towers, and walls, and cisterns (v.9); he had plenty of livestock (v.l0) and he had a well-trained army. (v.11)
The description in 2 Chronicles doesn’t match the description of Isaiah.
But Isaiah wasn’t commenting on the economic state.
He wasn’t commenting on the power of the Israelite drachma.
He wasn’t commenting on the scope of Israelite political power.
He was commenting on Israel’s spiritual condition. Isaiah 1:2 says, “Israel is a sinful nation. They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy one of Israel and turned their backs on Him.”
As in, they didn’t have time for God.
As in, they were too busy.
As in, he was last on their To Do List.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
I think this is a good time to stop and ask that question. How much time are you allotting for God this holiday season? You know – the One who created you, gave you life, has been taking care of you for years and sustains you each day so that you even have enough money and strength to celebrate Christmas in the first place…
How much time are you going to give Him?
An hour a Sunday – because I can use a lot of the service to write down my shopping list plan for the rest of Christmas!
A minute to skim through a Bible passage or two on social media – because it makes me feel better about lingering on angry political posts for an entire lunch break!
Hours at church each week – because To God Be the Glory! And also Me! I hope people see how awesome I am at Christmas – and to Me be the Glory!
We just had Black Friday. Hundreds of thousands in Raleigh hit the shops and the malls -- many of them at 4am! They spent all day shopping and even continued shopping into the night on their computer. Invigorated and excited by the deals that they found online.
But think about it:
4am is no problem for shopping, yet 10:30am on Sunday is too early for God?
An entire day is no problem devoted to parking at Crabtree Mall, but an hour is too long for God?
A weekend of shopping takes months of planning and couponing and mapping out the right area that I should go to at just the right time to get the best deals on the best items at the best times...but I’ll only consider mapping out my time with God, because Pastor said so.
It’s an epidemic in America. It can get us too! Even if you aren’t into shopping. Even if you’re only into Holiday marathons, party planning, wrapping, Christmas concert going, hunting, watching football or just making money to pay the credit card bills in January, it’s so easy to make God the very last One to spend time with.
And that’s where it gets serious. Even though Isaiah was only speaking of the spiritual condition of the Israelites his first prophecy, he was also offering a warning. If the people didn’t have time for God, eventually God wasn’t going to have time for them. And if He didn’t have time for them, then this spiritual destitution, would become very real. It would become very physical.
It would become eternal.
The same warning is true for you. If you don’t have time for God, why should He have time for you?
Eventually – He won’t!
It’s kind of like if you got into a Thanksgiving spat. Ever had one of those? You have some relatives and friends over to your house. You eat some turkey. You talk about the recipe for the dressing. But then, you start talking politics. Suddenly, your good friend is a big enemy. And you argue – crudely and rudely—for the entirety of the Halftime show.
What happens if you don’t apologize and make up before Thanksgiving is over? If they pick up their coat and leave without an apology for you, because you didn’t want to talk to them? Well…The sin festers. The bitterness intensifies. A friendship is ruined.
If you don’t return to God. If you don’t come back to your Savior. If you prepare for Christmas without God, eventually it will be too late.
And He’ll be gone.
II. God’s Time for Us
But don’t think that God wasn’t ever at work for you. Inside these harsh, scary, challenging words of Isaiah is one of the greatest promises of God’s love in the Old Testament:
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (1:18)
I used to be up in Wisconsin. Here’s the thing about living up North—sometimes you don’t get all of the leaves raked up before snow comes. Because -- it snows sometime in early September. Regardless – when that snow melts in mid-March, the ground is a mess. There’s mud, decayed leaves, an old McDonald’s Happy Meal bag, and a brownish, grey apple peel on the grass.
But then – it snows again. The next morning you wake up and there isn’t an inch of grass.
There isn’t a hint of trash.
You can’t see any of the mud.
Just this brilliant, sparkling, scene of fluffy, white snow.
God says that is what he would do for Israel.
God says that is what he would do for you.
Those filthy disgusting sins – the stuff that will ruin a Christmas celebration:
Rude words spoken.
Sex had…and lingering on your heart.
A past filled with yuck! and gross! and God could never love me.
Covered by God’s love.
Covered by divine forgiveness.
Covered by Jesus Christ.
Understand: God was always at work to do this for you. From before you were born – from Ancient times – from times long before the First Christmas ever took place – God was planning to send a Savior. God was spending all of his time working for you. He was keeping a small group of Israel alive from whom the Savior would emerge. He was maintaining promises in His Word. He was working miracle after miracle in the Old Testament to prove that He means his promises and keep faith growing.
At just the right time, He set up a Roman Government that would ask for a census at just the right time to move a young man named Joseph and his bride to be named Mary into the town of Bethlehem – long promised to be the home of the Savior. The Bible says this, "When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law – that’s us – that we might receive the full rights of His Children.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
Talk about incredible! God used all of His time for you.
And when the Savior did finally come…
He dedicated every hour of his life to you.
He dedicated the last moments of his breath to you.
He gave up his time on earth for you!
He rose triumphantly from the grave to offer you an eternity of time with Him in heaven.
III. What now?
(1) Go to His Mountain
The next chapter says this, “In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains…and all nations will flock to it.” (2:2)
That’s because things that are lifted high are easily seen.
Think about it -- how many times have you been driving down I-40 – it’s late in the day. You’re tired. You’re hungry. It’s late. You’re about to pull over and give up, but then, in the distance, you see it: The Golden arches. They mean delicious is on the way.
That’s why churches had steeples. So that no matter what’s going on – no matter where you are – no matter what kind of awful is going on in your life, you can look up and see – a cross. See the place where you can go and find God.
So -- Go to His mountain. Make sure that you have time to be in church this Christmas preparation season. Put it down on your Google calendar as a can’t miss event of the week. In fact, I think you can even lock it into Google calendar as an “unchangeable time.”
But we’re not open all the time. Does that mean God’s mountain is only open on Sundays? Of course not! You can go to God’s mountain without even leaving the comforts of your home. Pick up a Bible. Open it up. Use the Advent reading suggestion that is stuffed into your bulletin this week – Go to God’s mountain.
And please keep in mind that simply having this advent planner, doesn’t mean you’ve actually made it to God’s mountain. That’d be like assuming that once Google Maps is fired up, you’re at your destination. It doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to actually get in the car and drive.
And you’ve got to get into God’s Word to arrive at his mountain.
(2) Walk in His Footsteps
What do you do there? Look at what Isaiah says,
“Let us go to the mountain of the Lord to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths.” (v.3)
Because when you get to God’s mountains, that’s what you see: Footprints! And just like when there’s a fine dusting of snow and you walk outside, see your dad’s footsteps and try to follow them, that’s what we do on God’s mountain. We follow his footsteps. God’s footsteps lead to some incredible truths.
You see his steps throughout history to ready for the coming of the Savior.
You see his steps throughout prophecy to prepare for saving you.
You see his steps toward the cross – to take away all your sins.
You see his steps off the cross – with a tiny hole in each footprint – showing you just how much he loved you!
This means when you’re at God’s mountain – you don’t just chill. You’re active. Actively listening. Actively learning.
Not playing games on your iPhone.
Not looking up fantasy scores.
Not getting distracted by text messages.
Actively coming up with a plan to put God’s Word into your life.
(3) Live in Peace
Isaiah talks about this on God’s mountain: God will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords and make them into gardening tools. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore!
Which is something that happens during the holiday season. Supposedly, people lay down their differences and stop hating on one another.
Then, come December 26th it’s right back to hating on one another.
Calling people racist names on Facebook.
Gossiping about that coworker on the day back to work.
Leaving a nasty message for your parents about why you’ll never go to their house for Christmas again.
It’s funny. Things and stuff and gifts and cookie and garland and mistletoe and Santa – can make you happy, but they can’t bring peace. Deep down – the problems you have before Christmas are still there during Christmas – and still there after Christmas.
But Jesus deals with those problems.
The mountain of God brings peace.
The mountain of God brings you peace with God.
If you’ve got peace with God, it’s a lot easier to have peace with other.
So what do you do this Christmas season?
It just started. You’ve still got plenty of time. Add “Time with God” to your holiday list. Make it the most important part of your list. Listen to the words of Isaiah:
“Come, descendant of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
“Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29)
Last week was Easter! IT WAS AWESOME! The breakfast was delicious. The flowers smelled sweet. The church was full. The dresses were beautiful. The music was inspiring. Most important of all we heard the foundational message of our Christian faith: Christ is Risen! HE is risen indeed!
You went back to work. Your boss filled your desk with things to do. The pollen took over the city of Raleigh. Traffic was hazarodous as always. Coworkers were rude as always. Your family wasn’t very kind as always. The news was filled with more sad stories of humanity’s sinfulness.
Did it appear at all like Easter was a mirage? Did it feel like it’s a nice story, but how could the message of Easter – Christ risen and sins forgiven – be real.
Did you at all start to doubt?
In today’s lesson we’re going to her a story that literally took place one week after Easter. While some of the disciples were undoubtedly still filled with the Easter Gospel, others…at least one, was filled with doubt.
Here's the story of Doubting Thomas.
“Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came." Maybe he was out getting some food. Maybe he was out for an evening walk to clear his head. Maybe he was returning the Old Testament scroll he had been searching for signs of Jesus’ return to the local Hebrew Library.
Whatever the case. Understand this: Thomas missed it! He didn’t get to see Jesus on Easter Sunday. He didn’t get to experience the initial joy of seeing the Lord alive and well with his fellow disciples.
So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
Can you imagine how excited they were to tell him? “So there we were sitting around in doom and gloom, frightened of the Pharisees, and talking about how awful it was Jesus had died, when BAM! There he was. Jesus. He looked just like him. The piercing eyes; the kind smiles; the gentle beckoning. At first, we thought it was real (I mean, I believed it more than Andrew did) but we thought he was a ghost. Then, he had us touch him. His wounds were right where the nails had been. The spear mark was right where John had seen it go into his side. He ate some food for us and it didn’t fall on the floor like it would if it were a ghost. Sure enough – Mary’s best fish recipe disappeared as fast as it does when Peter eats it. Thomas it was amazing! We saw the Lord. He’s alive!”
Instead of believing them. Instead of jumping for joy. Instead of joining in the celebration with his brothers who hours earlier had been as dismal and unbelieving as he had been, Thomas doubted.
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Ever seen a magic trick before? If you’re like me, then the only reason you are watching magic is because you want to turn to your friends and tell them exactly how they did that trick. You want to prove it wrong. So…when Carl the Magician asks some kid to examine an egg and make sure it’s an ordinary egg, before he changes it into a real live baby chick, you start thinking, “If only he had asked me to examine it, then the trick wouldn’t have worked.”
Thomas felt like that. He felt that his friends had been duped. Or that his friends were duping him. He wanted to examine this supposed resurrected Lord of heaven and earth, because he doubted their story. He doubted their sanity.
He doubted Jesus.
He made his demands. He wanted to “See the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and put his finger where the nails were, and put his hand into Jesus’ side, then, (and only then) he promised that he would believe”
Ever felt like Thomas? Not just about a story that your friend told you, but about God’s Word? Ever doubted that Jesus is real? Ever doubted that Jesus didn’t exist? Ever doubted that this is all one big, useless, irreverent, irrelevant, cruel, and useless joke!?! (Everyone is keeping their necks stiff. Don’t want to be caught admitting to doubting Jesus in church.)
I’ll start us off then. I doubt. Yes, the supposed Pastor, the leader of this congregation, the “Professional Christian” struggles with doubt.
“Really? You think in Baptism sins are washed away? It’s just water and a few words. Do you see any sins washing off the child? Can’t see them. I doubt it.” “And Communion. Some bread and wine, yes. But Jesus’ body and blood? You can’t see it. I doubt it.”
“I’ve never actually seen a dead body rise from the dead…how can you tell that poor widow that she will see her husband again?”
Didymus, Thomas’ second name, means twin. Did you know that? Sometimes I feel like Thomas’ long lost cousin. I doubt.
Do you too? Are we triplets?
If so, then join me in panicking, because we are doubting God. The incredible, Almighty, Divine master of the Universe, who never lies, and in fact, cannot lie, and for whom nothing is impossible has been told, “I doubt it,” by measly peons like us.
That’s a terrible thing.
Because what happens when humans doubt each other? What if you saw a story on the news and you tell your friends all about it and they say, “I don’t think so. I doubt that’s what happened.” Don’t you get incredulous? “I saw it with my own two eyes. I swear.” They still doubt. Then you start yelling, “I mean it. I absolutely saw it. How can you doubt me?” Then, we pick up our bags and leave in a huff.
Is that how God will react to us? He should. How many times has he told us this stuff. How many times has he assured usof his love. How many times has he told us the exact truth of what he has done.
And yet we still doubt God!?!
God should shout at us.
He should leave us.
He should let us stew in our unbelief and eternal misery.
But God doesn’t.
He doesn't act as an impatient, angry, sinful human being, but as the loving, compassionate God who came down and died for our sins of doubt. Take a look at what Jesus did for Thomas. A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
Again – it’s the same amazing love as last week. Only this time Thomas isn’t just ignoring all of Jesus’ miracles, all of the Old Testament prophecies, the reports of the women, and Jesus’ own words –Thomas also had ignored his comrades in the ministry.
Jesus should call Thomas out and fire him from the Twelve.
But he doesn’t. He makes a second appears. He makes himself visible to Thomas. He comes in peace.
Then He, the Almighty Risen, taking orders from no one, God of the universe, responds to puny, sinful, Thomas’ three fold request. 27 He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hands and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
And Thomas? Well. He’s convinced. Doubting Thomas – becomes Seeing Thomas becomes Believing Thomas. But not just a “believe that Jesus is alive.” It’s greater than that: Thomas said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
Brothers and sisters – Doubting Thomas was convinced. Are you?
Here’s the deal. God is coming at you. Today. Tomorrow. Everyday. He comes at you again and again patiently, reassuring you. God comes at you again and again –patiently, lovingly, reassuring you.
He wakes us up from our stupor by splashing the water of baptism over us – providing tangible evidence that we’ve been buried and risen with Him. He invites us to stretch out our hands and take and eat, and taste and drink and taste that all of our doubts and fears are groundless. He speaks softly in his Word. He says, “I love you.”
How wondrous that our risen Lord doesn't waste his best strength upbraiding us for littleness of faith. Instead, he pours his best efforts into up-building us: fanning dying embers into a roaring blaze.
It’s as if Jesus comes into the room a second time, a third time, a fifty-seventh time – to tell you yet again: “Yes. It’s true. I died for you. I rose for you. Through faith in me, you are forgiven. Stop, doubting, but believe.”
If you’ve found yourself repeating Thomas in his doubts of Jesus, may God also cause you to join Thomas after seeing Jesus yet again, “My Lord and My God!”
Remember our second lesson for today. James 1:6 says, “Do not doubt, because the one who doubts is like the wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” It’s like being a surfer on a wavy day. You might stay afloat for awhile, but then, you fall in. Maybe you get back up on your own, but you’ll lose your balance again. In fact, if you surf much like I do, then you’ll spend 99% of your time on this great sea of your life, doubting. Drowning.
How do you stop? Wince really hard? Tied a red ribbon on your finger? Lock yourself in your room never to see or run into anyone or anything that might make you doubt?
Scripture says, “Doubting is like being tossed by the wind.” Scripture also says that he who stands on God’s Word – stands on a Rock. (Mt. 7:24) A solid rock. A rock that gives us firm footing. A rock that keeps us afloat. A rock that saves us from drowning.
A rock that gives us confidence.
So. Go to Him. If you have doubts, go to God.
Don’t turn on your smart phone and ask Siri, “How do I know if God is real?” Then, listen to her read to you a capitalized and unpunctuated post from YahooAnswers.com and call it good.
Go to God! Pray to Him for courage. Pray to him for confidence. Run to your Bible and hear his gentle voice – “God loved the world (and you) so much that he gave his only Son that whoever believe in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” Join us in church to hear his powerful Word – “Sanctify them by the truth O Lord. God’s Word is truth!” (Jn. 17:17) Feel the gentle waters of your Baptism --- cooly touching you, gently consoling you -- “Your sins were washed away. You were made holy. You were made right with God…in the name of the Lord Jesus!” (1 Cor. 6:11) Approach the Lord’s Table to hear his confident word, “This is my body given for you. This is my blood given for you.” (1 Cor. 11:24-25) Then, taste his body broken for you. Taste the bitterness of his blood – shed for you. Find God right where he promises to be – in His Word – in his visible tangible word – Baptism and Lord’s Supper – Find God and be confident.
Is your child afraid of the dark? Maybe you too were once afraid of the dark. I was too. But, do you know what helps with that, a lot? Knowing that just down the hall—no matter how many times you run there for help, no matter how many times you scream out of fear, no matter how many times you shed tears because you doubt you’ll make it through the darkness alive…
…your parents – are right there waiting for you. Ready to assure you. Ready to wipe away your doubts.
That’s God. Always there. Always waiting. Always ready to assure you that I’m alive. I saved you. I love you. Amen.