I was in Arizona this past week for a wedding and then we had a chance to do some sight-seeing in Sedona, AZ. Ever been there? There are these beautiful Red Rock mountains that overlook the city. It’s absolutely gorgeous. (I put a picture up on the PowerPoint, just to prove to you that I was actually there…not just playing hooky at home).
But we didn’t just hang out at the mountains. We also had a chance to shop the city. And while we were doing so, I noticed a sign on one of the restaurants: It said: Greatest view in Sedona!
And at first, I was pretty excited! But over time, I noticed the same sign on the next restaurant. And the next bar. And the next pub. In fact, all of the places on that strip had very similar signs. Such that, my reaction went from: “Look at that. It’s got a view. It’s the best place in town,” to “Look at that. It’s got a view. Like every place in town.”
Religious messages can be kind of like that.
They all seem to be about the same.
Do these things to be saved.
Do those things to be saved.
Today we want to look at the message of Jesus and we will see three ways in which it is entirely different than any other religious message that you’ll ever hear. Reasons that the message of Jesus is a new kind of message. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story
Our lesson starts in a small room with the doors locked.
Bolted shut; bar latched; a chair in front of the door…locked.
The disciples are afraid.
They have just seen Jesus…murdered (crucified).
How much longer until the soldiers did the same thing to them?
How much longer until the leaders demanded their own executions?
How much longer until they too were killed?
Suddenly, a knock at the door.
Andrew put his finger to his lips – and motioned for Philip to look out the window.
Simon moved slowly. He lifted up the curtain. He peered out the window and smiled. “We know them.”
They unbolted the bolt.
Unlocked the lock.
Moved the chair out of the way and let in a few of their friends.
“We saw him. We saw him. Jesus is alive! We saw him. He not dead. He’s alive.”
“We went to the grave and we thought he’d be dead, but the stone was moved!”
“An angel. A brilliantly bright angel. He saw us and spoke to us and said Jesus was alive.”
“We thought that was amazing enough, but then when we started come back…we saw Him. Jesus. He’s alive!”
As the women kept talking, the disciples’ expressions went from frightened to pitying.
These poor delusional women. They were wrong. They were hallucinating. They were thinking they saw something that could never be.
As James had them both sit down with some tea, another knock. It was Peter and John. They too had been to the tomb. And…they could confirm: the women were right. At least partly. The stone had been rolled away and Jesus’ body was not there.
That was strange. Something must have happened…but…
Another knock. This time it was Cleopas and his friend. He had said they were going on holiday, but. They had seen him. On their way, they had talked to him. He had comforted them. Then, he showed them! He was alive!
At this point, the quiet little room was a buzz with noise.
Excitement. Mystery. Questions.
What was going on?
What do you think happened?
Could it be true?
In fact, everyone was so distracted that they did not hear the next guest enter the room.
Granted --- he didn’t knock.
He just appeared.
While they were…talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (v.37)
And the disciples…Have anything but peace!?!
Is that a ghost?
Is he here to get us?
Is he going to begin haunting me for abandoning him? I knew this would happen.
But Jesus notices the tension, so he continues. “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (v.38)
One by one…the disciples look at each other. Touch him? Touch the ghost? But…that’s impossible. They’re spirits.
Finally, Peter volunteers his brother Andrew…and pushes him forward.
He lifts up his hand.
He places it on Jesus’ hand…and…
The other disciples quickly come over.
They feel the bumps on his skin.
They feel the hairs on his arms.
They touched the holes near his hands.
But just to confirm. “Do you have anything here to eat?” (v.42)
Nathanael ran over to the table. He grabbed the piece of bread that fish sandwich that he had been gnawing on nervously and took it to Jesus. He half expected it to fall to the floor.
Jesus ate it in their presence. (v.43)
It didn’t fall to the floor.
It went down his tongue.
Into his throat
Into his belly.
Like it does with any living human being.
Then, Jesus gave them something else.
Something beyond visual proof.
Something beyond physical proof.
Proof that had been around for centuries:
He said to them, “This is what I said would happen. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in Old Testament.” (v.44)
I had to die.
And I had to rise.
And I did.
And I am.
Just as it was written.
And now…the next part that is written. It involves you. It involves you and this new kind of message.
Preach the message of forgiveness of sins to all nations. (v.46)
II. A NEW Message
This is the message of Jesus. It comes not via the mailman, not via email, not via text message, but from the lips of a man who had died three days earlier.
But it’s not just the delivery that’s unique. The message itself is also very distinct. It is a message unlike any other religious message in history. Here are a few things about Jesus’ message than are unlike any other.
1. Real Life After Death
The first difference has to do with Jesus’ approach to death. To be fair, other religions had tackled the topic before, but they tended to talk in platitude. They tended to talk about spiritual afterlife or just general life in the sense that “your spirit lives on.”
Have you seen the movie Coco yet? It’s the newest Pixar film and like most Pixar films it’s fun for kids and adults. Although – the topic is a bit grimmer. It takes place on the Dia de Muerta or the Day of the Dead. In the movie, the young hero enters the city of the dead and visits all of his dead relatives (as seen by all the skeleton characters here.) The young man learns that it is important to remember those who die, to keep their memory alive or else, they literally fade away into oblivion. He goes back to the land of the living with renewed focus on remembering his ancestors.
Now the movie certainly underscores the importance of making relationships in this life and remembering the good things about people who have passed away. That’s great.
But the theology of life after death is incorrect.
If life after death simply means that people will remember you, in all honestly, that’s not that encouraging.
Because those are just memories.
The people are still dead.
But with Jesus? Alive means alive.
He stood before the disciples in real flesh.
Real blood cells.
Real hair follicles.
And his promise to all who believe in him in this: Whoever believes in me will live even though he dies; whoever lives and believes in me will never die. (Jn. 13)
Meaning there is life after death.
There is real, life after death.
It means we have to pay attention.
It means this stuff is important.
It means we really need to be concerned about where we will be when that happens.
2. The Messiah Has Come (and Won)
The second thing that makes this message different has to do with the Messiah. Messiah is a Hebrew word that means “Anointed One.” In the Old Testament, anointing was very common. The people would anoint the heads of their leaders with oil. They would anoint the heads of kings, priests, and prophet.
But throughout the Old Testament there are references to “THE Anointed One.” The Messiah. This One would be anointed to save us from sin, death and hell.
And for millennia, whenever things looked bleak…
Whenever things looked sad…
Whenever things looked abysmal…
The Old Testament Israelites would calm one another with this promise:
“The Messiah is coming.”
But when things looked bleak to the disciples…
When they looked sad…
When they looked abysmal.
Jesus said something a bit different: “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in Old Testament.” (v.44)
Do you see it?
Instead of “the Messiah will come,” Jesus said, “The Messiah already came (and Won).”
That’s an important message. Because too often in this life – as 21st centurion Raleighians – we keep thinking that the Messiah will come.
If only I get this job, I’ll be saved.
If only I get more money, I’ll be saved.
If only this health product works…
If only this person gets elected…
If only I keep the commandments better…
If only I find the right person…
If only I try a bit harder…I’ll be saved.
But those things aren’t your Messiah.
Your Messiah already came.
And he won.
3. Repentance for Forgiveness
This leads to the final difference in Jesus’ message: Forgiveness.
At the time of Jesus, that’s exactly what the Pharisees taught that forgiveness came from what you did --- aka what they did.
Wear religious jewelry for forgiveness.
Cut your beards at regulation length for forgiveness.
Give 1/10th of your flour to God.
Only take 1000 steps on any Saturday.
And never, ever, ever cook a vegetable meal in a pot that previously housed a meat meal for forgiveness.
But Jesus doesn’t preach that.
He preached: “Repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (v.45)
Repentance means to do a 180 degree turn.
It means to turn from sin; to turn to God.
To turn from unbelief; to turn to Jesus.
In short, it means believe.
Believe you are sinner.
Believe that you need a Savior.
Believe that you have a Savior in Jesus.
Believe in Jesus for forgiveness and you will have forgiveness.
This is drastically different from any other religious message back then.
And drastically different from any religious message now.
It’s no longer about what you NEED to do for God.
But what Jesus already has done for you.
III. What Now?
This. Is. Our. Message.
We are to share this message that there is life after death, that Jesus is the Messiah who came and brings forgiveness to all who believe in him.
This is our message.
So, what now? Two things:
1. Don’t Change the Teaching
Ever played Telephone? You come up with a phrase, you whisper it into a friend’s ear. Then, they whisper it to the next person. And so on and so forth. Eventually, the message gets to the end of the semi-circle. The last person reveals the message and almost always it is incorrect. Whether it’s accidently or purposefully, the message has been changed. It started out with “My house is the shape of a square” and changed to “My pastor doesn’t have a lot of hair.”
Sometimes that happens with God’s Message. Sometimes we feel like we need it to better.
Maybe we have a friend who hasn’t lived a very good life or a coworker who has been anti God for years. And finally, they reach out to us.
Their marriage blows up in their face.
They receive a dire diagnosis.
They are feeling guilty.
And they ask you for help.
And your response is: “Well…you’re going to have to do better. You’re going to have to try harder. I imagine if you turn your life around, then God might possibly forgive you.”
No. The message has been lost in translation.
Jesus’ message is about grace.
It’s about Him being the Messiah.
It’s about Him accomplishing our salvation.
It’s about forgiveness being totally based on Him.
Teach that message! Not your own.
2. Teach It to ALL Nations
Because that’s where Jesus wanted the message to go. “To all nations.”
Not to the people who look like you.
Not to the people who act like you.
Not to the people who have the same culture as you.
To all nations.
Jesus preached not just to the Pharisees.
He preached not just to the religious leaders.
He preached to the prostitutes.
He preached to the drunkards.
He preached to the homeless.
He preached to the terminally ill.
He preached to the people that no one else thought even deserved a religious message.
Jesus gave them the most incredible message of all time – one that changes life.
One that we are to use to change lives.
The other day I was talking with a friend who was doing Bible study with me. At once point of the Bible study, she revealed her background. She said that she grew up in a “Christian” church. One that taught about Jesus. One that taught about Christianity. One that taught the Bible. One that had crosses all over the church.
But…she didn’t know of forgiveness.
She didn’t know this NEW Message of complete forgiveness.
She knew of how she failed.
She knew of how she had to do better.
She knew of how God threatened wrath if she didn’t do better.
But then…then she heard something different.
She heard of God’s grace.
She heard of her Savior who already came.
She heard of the very real eternal life won by Jesus.
And it transformed her.
Now? No other message will do.
No other message but the incredible NEW message of Jesus. Amen.