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Showing posts with label Easter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Easter. Show all posts

Monday, April 5, 2021

Y.O.L.O.?

Introduction
For our messages over the last couple of months, we’ve been comparing the conventional wisdom of our world with what Christ said. 

Today, we briefly look at a very popular expression in our world right now, and it’s very fitting for Easter Sunday—Y.O.L.O.

"YOLO" is an acronym for "you only live once". Along the same lines as the Latin carpe diem ('seize the day'), it is a call to live life to its fullest extent, even embracing behavior which carries inherent risk. It became a popular internet slang term in 2012.[i]

On the one hand, YOLO could motivate some people to push themselves to make the most of their time.  The thinking is, if you only live once, you better use your time wisely and make the most of your limited life.  You’ve only got one shot at this, so make it count.

On the other hand, YOLO can also be fatalistic.  If this life is all you ever get, why waste your limited time serving others or doing good.  Why not simply “Eat, drink, and be merry” because tomorrow (or one day) you will die and it will all come to nothing.

But what did Jesus say about YOLO?

John 11:25
Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.

Jesus utterly rejects the concept of YOLO.  He says anyone who believes in Him will live again.  You will not only live once.  You will live again.  This life is not all there is.  There is something after—an afterlife.

YOLO is a popular modern acronym that expresses an old idea.  Going all the way back to the ancients, there have been people who believed this life we can see is all there is.  But thankfully on Easter Sunday, we celebrate that YOLO is utterly untrue.  Jesus said He is the resurrection and the life.  Anyone who believes in Him will live, even after dying!

Well, it is one thing to say it.  That’s the problem isn’t it?  We may want to believe in life after death, but this life is all most people ever see.  We can’t see beyond the veil of death.

But Jesus didn’t just say “You Will Live Again.”  On Easter, we celebrate He actually did it!  He died on on the cross and His lifeless body was placed in a tomb, but on the 3rd day He lived again!

Y.W.L.A.
The Disciples saw Jesus die and the witnessed Him alive again.  The women who were closest to Jesus saw it too.  Many of His followers--as many as 500 people--also claimed to have seen the ressurected Jesus.  They saw Him, talked with Him, ate with Him, and touched Him.  They were utterly convinced.  The disciples really believed Jesus was resurrected and it completely changed their lives.  

Some might wonder if the disciples were just deluded.  If only one or two of them had believed Jesus was alive, you might be able to make a case for delusion.  However, it's much harder to believe that all the disciples, all the women, and all the other followers who saw Jesus alive were deluded.  

Furthermore, there is the very real difference the resurrection made for these grieving people.  If you've ever lost someone you love, you know the grief and pain it brings.  Our grief does not go away over night.  It stays with you a long time--perhaps forever.  Jesus' followers had more cause for grief than anyone.  Jesus was their everything.  Many of them had given up everything to follow Him.  Though Jesus was completely innocent, He was wrongfully accused, treated shamefully, and cruelly beaten and crucified.  You can't imagine the deep grief these followers bore.  The reality of Christ’s resurrection transformed them instantly from an utterly broken, grieving, defeated group into a inspired, motivated, joyful people on a mission to tell the world about their risen Lord.  That doesn't happen because of a lie or a delusion.  That kind of transformation could only occur because they knew Christ was indeed alive again.  

The Disciples and early followers of Christ spent the rest of their lives on a mission to tell the world that Jesus was alive.  They went their graves believing and preaching that Jesus is the Risen Lord and believing in they would also be resurrected to eternal life because of their faith in Jesus.

The Church’s faith in an actual resurrected Christ ultimately transformed the Roman empire who crucified Jesus into a Christian Empire.

Conclusion
YOLO just isn’t true.  It’s a dangerous philosophy that could have devastating consequences for the way you live, leading you hurt yourself and others.  Believing or acting as if You Only Live Once could have eternal consequences, because you will live again.  Jesus clearly said this and proved this.  So, you will either live with Jesus if you have faith in Him and accept Him as Lord (Heaven) or you will live eternally separated from Jesus if you reject Him (and that is the very definition of Hell).

So, if you are not truly celebrating the resurrection of Christ—believing it with all your heart—you may need to do some soul searching  Do you really believe You Only Live Once?  Is this life all there is? 

Or do you believe Jesus when He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.

Invitation
Today, I invite to decide in your heart to believe Jesus and to trust Him to save you.  I invite you to join with the Disciples and choose to follow Jesus as your Lord.  Become part of His ressurection people.  Let the truth of Christ rising change you forever and guide everything about your life from this day forward.  Because Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!



[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YOLO_(aphorism)

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Who Will Roll the Stone Away?

Introduction
One thing I always like about these sunrise services is how they happen right at this pivotal time between the darkness of night and the dawning of a new day.  That was precisely at this time of day when the story of Jesus’ resurrection takes place.  The sounds you hear this morning, the chill on your skin from the cool morning air, the dew on the grass, the dim light growing steadily brighter—all these were part of the women’s experience as they walked toward the tomb.  One difference we cannot recreate is the overwhelming grief and numbness they must have felt.  Looking back, we know they were walking toward an empty tomb and a marvelous discovery.  They did not know and could not anticipate the glory that lie ahead.  They could only imagine a lifeless tomb blocked up by a cold, immovable stone.  Let’s hear the story again.

Mark 16:1-7
16 
Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside.

When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”

Just Mundane Things
Something struck me as read this.  It’s how these women were just doing the mundane, ordinary things of life.  When life is awful, sometimes all you can do is just go through the motions and do the routines your accustomed to do.  For the women, this meant putting burial spices on the body of their Lord.  Because Jesus died on the afternoon just before the Sabbath and now work was allowed on the Sabbath, they had been rushed to place Jesus body in the tomb before sunset.  And all day on Saturday, the work of properly preparing Jesus’ body had been off limits.  So on Sunday, the ladies were finally able to come do their duty.

The burial customs of ancient Judeans may seem foreign to us.  But we have our own funeral customs.  I think of the things that normally happen when someone in our congregation dies.  Ladies from the bereavement committee are busy coming and going from the church, dropping off and delivering food for the family.  Flowers are being delivered to the church or the funeral home.  People are gathering to visit.  Many tears are being shed. 

Sometimes, when your lost in grief—like Jesus’ closest followers must have been—it’s just nice to have something to do, something to keep you occupied. 

Miracles are too much for us.  Earthly, human tasks are our forte.  Cooking, cleaning, praying, singing. Sending a card to a friend.  Delivering flowers.  Saying a kind word. 

But faith reminds us that while we are busy with our ordinary human things, our supernatural God is working ahead of us.  The women walked toward the tomb, wondering who would roll the stone away.  They arrived to find, God had already solved that problem ahead of them.  The stone was already rolled away.  Jesus was not there.  He was alive!  And God—anticipating their confusion—even left a messenger, as a courtesy, to tell the women why Jesus wasn’t there and to give them instructions so they wouldn’t be utterly confused.  (Even then, it was so overwhelming it took quite a bit of time for Christ’s followers to process it all.)

So as you deal with the overwhelming troubles of life—a whatever they are and whenever they come—let the story of these women encourage you.  Just keep doing what you know you need to do.  Miracles are not your forte.  You don’t have to understand how it will happen or when, but God will act with His supernatural power.  In fact, God is probably already at work ahead of you in ways you cannot know or understand—rolling away stones, commissioning angels, bringing healing, opening doors, resurrecting life.  So just keep doing what you know you need to do.  And trust the Lord is doing His thing.

And so now, Sunday has come.  This is the Lord’s Day! 
We call it “The Lord’s Day” because it is the day He rose from the grave. 
It is the Day He conquered Sin and Death.
From the Day Christ rose, A new High Holy Day was instituted into our week.
Formerly Saturday was the Sabbath—the holiest day of the week—a day for rest.
Now Sunday has become our Holiest Day—the Lord’s Day.  Every Sunday is Easter!
For Christ is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!  

And through His resurrection, Jesus even changed funerals. 
What was formerly a only an occasion of grief and loss,
has now been forever infused with the fragrance of hope.
For at every Christian funeral since the women went to Jesus’ tomb and found it empty,
has the smell of resurrection all over it.  For we know that our loved ones who die in Christ are not really dead, but alive in Him.  We believe we will see them again,
just as the Disciples saw their Lord.

Listen, I will tell you a mystery!
We will not all die, but we will all be changed.
For this perishable body must put on imperishability,
and this mortal body must put on immortality.
Then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O Death, is your sing?”
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 15:51, 53, 54-55, 57)

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure.  (Psalm 16:9)
For Christ is Risen!  He is Risen Indeed!  

Thursday, April 16, 2020

I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life

Introduction
The glorious Good News of Easter is that Jesus rose from the grave.  The evil powers of the world threw everything they had at Jesus.  The arrested him, tried him in the middle of the night before a kangaroo court, tortured him, and crucified him.  Judas betrayed him.  His disciples deserted him. Peter denied him.  They threw him in a tomb and thought it was over.  The darkness came.  It lasted all through Saturday and into the early hours of Sunday morning.  But then, then the Light of the World rose up out of the grave!  The shadows were shot through with Light.  Darkness can never over come the Light!  Jesus said, I AM the resurrection and the Life. And he proved it.  Lots of people talk a big talk, but Jesus is the only one who said the big words, "I am the resurrection and the life..." and then also backed those words up with action.

Christians are an Easter people.   Just as Jesus overcame the grave, Christians find hope and resurrection in all circumstances (with God’s help). Though this is not the way we would choose to celebrate Easter, we celebrate it anyway.  And it is a celebration!  Jesus is alive!  Christians are an Easter people and we always find a way to have hope, and life, and joy and peace when none of these things should be possible.  And it drives the Devil crazy!

For nearly 2,000 years, people have speculated about Jesus.  Who was he?  How did he have such a tremendous impact on our world?  How can the people who call themselves by His name be so determined and so able to rise up above the disasters of this life?  How can following this man--a man who was not educated or powerful or wealthy or of a high standing--lead people to find light in the darkest times?  Who is this man and how is he still relevant today?

And so people in our world, non-believers--have try to rationalize it or explain Jesus and the Christian movement away.  They have speculated this or that about Jesus.  However, if we really want to know about Jesus, perhaps we should listen to what he said about himself.  He told us exactly who he is and why he came and why it matters.  Using seven statements in the Gospel of John, Jesus said:

I AM the bread of life.  In other words, I am the only one who truly satisfies our soul.
I AM the light of the world, the one who overcomes darkness.
I AM the gate, the only way into God’s sheltering presence.
I AM the good shepherd, the one who knows everything about us and takes care of us and even lays              down his life for us.
I AM the true vine, the One who makes our life fruitful and sweet.
I AM the resurrection and the life, the one who rises from the grave and gives us eternal life.

Today, I want to share the last “I Am” statement Jesus made.  And this is a very important message to which you need to listen and take to heart.

John 14:6
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me."

Living in a Pluralistic Society
First, I want to look at the last part of Jesus’ statement, because we must come to grips with this first.  It is very important.  Jesus said, “No one can come to the Father except thought me.”  That is a hard statement for many to accept. 

America is very diverse and that can be a very good thing.  I love food, all kinds of food, and I am grateful in America I can enjoy Mexican food, Italian food, Chinese food, Japanese food, and many other varieties as well.  (You can tell I love to eat!)  And it's not just food.  We have benefited greatly in our country from a variety of ideas, points of view, backgrounds and histories, and philosophies.  And since there is so much variety, we have learned to be a tolerant people who are gracious and allow people the freedom to think and act and even worship in a variety of ways.  This is all good and we should cherish it.
However, along with diversity there comes a danger.  There is the danger that we begin to think, in our quest for tolerance, that all ways are equal and that truth is relative.  In our quest to to get along with everyone, we may begin to believe that everyone is right about everything (for to say someone is wrong would be to offend them or to say some ideas are wrong would be "intolerant").  Is the truth relative?  Does every individual get to decide for themselves what is truly true?  Can my Truth be different from your truth?

In his classic distopian book 1984, George Orwell’s tackled this question when the lead character, Winston Smith, is arrested for thought crimes by the thought police.  The interrogate, O'Brien, tells Wintson Big Brother controls what is true.  Winston argues that 2+2=4.  This is true.  It cannot change.  O'Brien says disagrees.  He argues that if Big Brother says 2+2=5 and society gets enough people to believe it then that becomes the truth.  What do you think?  Does can the truth be changed?  Can 2+2 eve equal 5?

With some things there are is more than one way to skin a cat.  However, not with your soul, not with God, not with the purpose of life, and not with eternity.  Jesus is either the only way, the only truth, and the only life or he is not.  You must decide.  Regardless of whether you accept it or not, Jesus is still the way, the truth, and the life.  Your assent or disagreement to this truth does not change the truth of it in any way.  You do not determine the truth about Jesus.  He is the Great I Am.  He is who He is regardless of what you believe.

Jesus is The Way
You cannot be a Christian by default.  What I mean is, you are not a Christian merely because you were born into to a Christian family or live in a Christian community.  Nor is being a Christian simply adhering to a certain set of beliefs.  Following Jesus is a lifestyle. 

In the very beginning, Christians were not even called Christians.  The term “Christian” was not used until later.  At first, people who followed Jesus and believed he rose from the grave were called members of “The Way” because Jesus said, “I Am the Way…”

The Christian life is a life of action.  Jesus and His disciples lived the Kingdom of God.  Everywhere they went, the brought healing and hope and love.  This is what it means to be a Christian.  We live the way Jesus lived.  We love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and we love our neighbor as our selves.  We listen to guidance of God’s Holy Spirit and do and say as He leads.  Just as Jesus only did what the Father told him to do, so we seek only to follow God’s will for us as well.

And this is the way it is supposed to be.  It brings God’s perfect Kingdom to earth, more and more.  And as we live this way we find healing and hope and incredible fulfillment because it is the very purpose for which we were created.  There cannot be another way.  Jesus is the way.

Jesus is The Truth
Now it could be possible to do all the right things, but to do them for the wrong reasons.  There are many in our world today who have accepted that you are to be kind and loving and a good neighbor and a good citizen.  There are many who even volunteer or give generously to charity.  Some do all these things without believing in Jesus.  (Every person—whether Christian or not—should be eternally grateful that Jesus so fully ushered in the principle of “Love Thy Neighbor” that even those who are not Christian still accept this beautiful Christian principle as true.)

However, it is a dangerous thing to divorce the Way of Christian living from the Truth of Christian living.  For when you separate the Way from the Truth (the way you live from the reason why you live that way), your best virtues slowly erode away.  It is not long before you start asking, “Well, why should I care if COVID 19 kills some old person or someone with asthma or diabetes? I am young and healthy and the coronavirus won’t hurt me.  Why do I need to practice social distancing?”  Or you might think, “Why should I obey the law if I’m cunning enough to break the law and get away with it and not get caught, I will have an advantage over everyone else and I will get ahead.”  I mean, if there is no God and we are just animals and it’s just survival of the fittest, why should a person accept the foolish notions Jesus taught—things like “love your neighbor as yourself” and “the greatest love is shown when someone lays down their life for someone else”.  If you don’t accept that Jesus is the Truth, then why would you follow Jesus' way?  It might all start to look like just a bunch of foolish nonsense.

Jesus is the Truth!  His truths have been admired by people from all religions throughout all time.  These are not the words of a madman or liar.  They are the words of someone more divinely inspired than any  spiritual leader who ever lived.  Could it be, they are the words of the Son of God himself.  That is what Jesus claimed.  He said, "The Father and I are one." (John 10:30)

So if you accept that Jesus us the way, you must also search to know the Truth He taught and the Truth He still want to teach you today.  “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), for it is a tremendously powerful force when you live the right way and you know why you are living that way.

Jesus is The Life
For those who follow the way of Jesus because of the Truth of Jesus, Jesus is also the life.   He is eternal life, for when these bodies we inhabit eventually wear out, we will be given a new body and live in a new heaven and a new earth God will create.  Just as Jesus rose from the grave, we will rise too!  It is an amazing and liberating understanding that there is more to life than just the few years we live in this world.  There is life after death!  And the promise of God is that all the wrongs and decay and suffering and sickness and sorrow of life in this broken world will be wiped away.  What a wonderful, glorious hope we have!

However, we are not just waiting to die so we can go to heaven and start real life. No. When Jesus is the way and the truth to us, he is also the life right now.  We begin the new life as soon as we start tof follow the way and truth of Christ.  And to the extend we surrender to His Truth and live out HIs Way, we begin to experience the abundant life He has planned, right now.  There is nothing more fulfilling in this life than living out the ways and truths of Jesus, for that is the purpose for which our Creator designed us.

Invitation
I want to invite you to claim Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life for you right now.  Would you allow me to pray for you?

Dear Father in Heaven, please help the person reading this today to claim Jesus as their Way, their Truth, and their Life right now.  Help them to surrender all that they are and all that they have to You right now.  Forgive them of their sins.  Save their soul.  Renew a right heart with in them--one that truly desires to follow You completely and obediently.  Help them to know how much You love them so they will love You completely and seek to love their neighbor.  For I ask these things in Jesus name. Amen.

Closing
Cling to the hope of the resurrection.  Even in darkness, even in social isolation, even with fears and anxiety looming around, even in sickness, even in the face of death itself, the glorious hope of Easter is that Jesus rose from the grave and we will rise with Him!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

I AM the Resurrection and the Life


Introduction
I preached this message at the Easter Sunrise Service last Sunday.  It was early in the morning and the sun was just rising.  It is the first service of Easter.  It recalls the dawning realization for the first disciples that the crucified Jesus was no longer dead or in the grave. He is risen and alive.  Such news is so wonderful and extraordinary, it takes time to comprehend.

John 20:1-16
Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.
11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.
“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”
16 “Mary!” Jesus said.
She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

A Sunrise Moment
Just as the sunrise dawns new light on the day, Mary finally saw the light the moment the resurrected Jesus spoke her name.  It took a few moments.  No wonder.  No one expects to visit a grave to remember and honor the dead and then find they are not dead, but alive.  Mary is overwhelmed with grief and depression.  All she can think of is how they murdered her beloved Lord.  She assumes the someone has taken the body.  She doesn't notice the "men" she speaks to inside the tomb are angels.  She assumes the man she sees outside the tomb is the gardener; she doesn't realize it is Jesus.  That is, not until he speaks her name.  But in speaking her name, Jesus, the Light of the world, sheds light on the darkness that engulfs Mary.  She immediately recognized her Lord, Jesus.

Do you remember the words Jesus spoke to Mary’s sister, Martha, when Jesus raised their brother, Lazarus, from the tomb?  Jesus did not come when Lazarus was sick and Lazarus died.  When Jesus finally arrived and Mary and Martha were grieving, they said, "If only you had come, Lazarus would not have died."  But Jesus consoled them, saying in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying."  Let's look at his word to themclosely.

I AM… 
These are the same words God said to Moses when Moses asked to know God's name.  God told Moses from a burning bush, "Tell the people 'I Am' has sent you.  This is the name you shall know me by for all generations."  The name is mysterious, but recalls the unchanging character of God.  He is who He is.  He is not defined by our beliefs or doubts.  He simply is and He is the one who defines reality.  And Jesus says, "I AM".  Jesus is God.

I AM the Resurrection… 
Because Jesus is God and rose from the grave, we have the hope of eternal life.  John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."  Just as Jesus rose from the grave, we too can rise to new life--even after this life is over.

I AM the Resurrection and the Life… 
However, we aren’t just waiting to die so that we can start our real life.  When we follow Jesus as Lord, we start real life now.  For we were created by God to worship and serve God.  And we live fully to the extent we do that in this life, even as we long for and hope for the Day we shall be set free from this broken world to live eternally with God when He creates a new heaven and a new earth.  You are never more fully alive than when you live your divine purpose. 

Anyone who believes… 
We must believe in Jesus and trust him.  Our resurrection and life does not happen automatically.  It happens as a result of God's grace and our faith.  Therefore, trust in Christ and start living today and hoping for resurrection.

Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying… 
 We all die, but there is eternal life for those believe in Christ. However, there is a second sense to what Jesus is says. Remember, Jesus also said, "If anyone wants to follow me, he must take up his cross every day and follow me." And he also said, "If you cling to your life, you will lose it. But if you lay down your life, you will truly live." So, we must deny ourselves and let our own selfish ambitions die so that we can come alive in Christ and begin to truly live. Christ's way is infinitely better than you own plans. You must trust him and follow him, even when it means dying.

Conclusion
So, let’s cling to the hope we have because of the resurrection because Jesus said, "I AM the resurrection and the life."




Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Veil is Torn in Two - The Truth As Far As I Can Tell...

The Truth As Far As I Can Tell…

Mark 15:37-39 – Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. And the  curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God

Can you imagine being a Jewish priest in the Temple on the day Jesus died on the cross?  I think it would make an interesting story told from their perspective.  One day, you’re tending the Holy Temple and the curtain separating the Holiest Place in the Temple—the place that was supposed to be the earthly dwelling place of God’s presence—is torn in two, from top to bottom.  The curtain (also called a veil) symbolized how people were separated from God by sin.  Only the High Priest was allowed to pass beyond the veil, and only once a year on the Day of Atonement to make a sacrifice for humanity’s sin.  Can you imagine being a priest in the Temple and seeing that sacred parament mysteriously torn completely in two before your eyes?

The significance is this.  Sin no longer has to separate us from God.  Jesus was the perfect Lamb of God and his sacrifice on the cross atoned completely for our sins.  Before Jesus, no one could go fully into the presence of God; only the high priest, once a year after very carefully spiritual preparation, could go in to make a sacrifice and beg God for mercy and forgiveness.  But then Jesus died on the cross and paid the price for our sins in full!  Now, there is absolutely no need for a curtain to separate us anymore! 

Everything has changed.  Gone are the days of spiritual elitism where only a select few are allowed access to God.  Everyone can come to Him now.  In fact, the Bible says everyone who trusts and follows Jesus is a holy priest.  We don’t have to tip toe around God, fearful that He may strike us dead for the least transgression.  Now, grace abounds and we can relate to God as Jesus did—as children with a gracious and loving father. 

There is power in the blood of Christ to forgive all our sins.  His Holy Spirit no longer resides in a temple behind a current.  Now His Spirit resides in us!  We are His Holy Temple and He empowers us to live holy lives where we love God and love our neighbor.  Isn’t that amazing?  I think it is and I think it changes everything!  Of course, I’m no expert and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the Truth as far as I can tell…

Remember, God loves you and so do I!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Good Friday & Holy Saturday - Between Two Theives

Everybody Has Trash
            I had the privileged of visiting many unique places--Guatemala, El Salvador, and even Israel. When you travel, you usually want to visit the most interesting, notable places in a region--the Grand Canyon, the Eiffel Tower, etc. Nobody I know makes a point to visit the cities landfill. And yet, every place in the world--and this is true for people from all places and times--have a place where people take their trash. Even archaeologists studying pre-historic people often find the villages trash pile (which can be quite a find, with significant historic value). It doesn't matter who you are or where you live, we all have trash we just want to get rid of.
            And it is in just such a place that the religious leaders of Jesus' day, with the help of the Romans, took Jesus, the Son of God, the savior of the world, the Lord of lords and king of kings, to be crucified--discarded as unwanted, useless junk. They just wanted to get rid of him. And this was the ultimate insult. It was as if they said, you are no more to us than useless waste, trash to be thrown away on the garbage heap. And he was crucified between 2 criminals.

Luke 23:32-43
32 Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. 33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.
34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.

35 The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. 37 They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 A sign was fastened above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”


Joseph, the Old Testament Connection
            There is another story from way back in Genesis that has some striking parallels to the crucifixion of Christ. The whole story is in Genesis 40.  Let me summarize it.  There was a Hebrew man named Jacob who had twelve sons.  His favorite was named Joseph and his favoritism made all his other sons extremely jealous.  When he gave his son a very nice, multi-colored coat, it was the last straw for Joseph's brothers.  When they got the chance, they beat him up, stole his coat, and sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt.  Joseph became a slave in a man named Potiphar's house.  And since Joseph was a bright young man and had the favor of God, Joseph did well in Potiphar's house and soon earned his trust and a high position in the household.  But Potiphar's wife was very attracted to Joseph.  She kept hitting on him, even though Joseph--because of his integrity--never gave into her advances.  One day, frustrated yet again by Joseph's refusing to sleep with her, Potiphar's wife accused Joseph of trying to rape her.  Potiphar was livid and had Joseph thrown in the dungeon.
            In prison, Joseph lived with two criminals.  One was Pharaoh's former cupbearer.  The other was Pharaoh's former chief baker.  The baker and the cupbearer was very disturbed one morning because they'd both had weird dreams.  Since Joseph had the gift of God to interpret dreams he listened and then explained what they meant.  To the cupbearer he said, "In three days, you will be brought before Pharaoh and he will forgive you and restore you to your former position."  To the baker he said, "You will also be brought before Pharaoh on the third day, but he will condemn and execute you."  And it happened just as Joseph predicted.
            Is there some connection here between the bread and the wine of holy communion (Jesus body and blood) and these two figures from the Joseph story in Genesis chapter 40?  A cup bearer carries a cup of wine and the chief Baker makes bread?
            There are many similarities between these two stories.  Joseph lived in prison with these two criminals. Jesus hung on a cross between two criminals.  Joseph was to become the savior of Egypt saving them from a devastating famine.  Jesus was the Savior of the world. saving us from sin and death for eternal life.  Joseph is famous for his fabulous coat of many colors.  Jesus also had a famous robe that had no seams, but was one continues piece of fabric.  It was so precious, the soldiers didn't want to cut it in pieces, so they gambled to see who would win the whole thing in one piece.  Perhaps most striking:  both the cup bearer and the chief baker found out their fates on the third day.  Jesus also rose from the grave on the third day.            One of the criminals on the cross beside Jesus mocks him.  We never sense any remorse for his crimes.  On the contrary, he wants to make a bargain to manipulate the Son of God (if that is indeed what Jesus is) to get him out of facing the consequences of his sins.  Presumably, this unrepentant criminal reaped the eternal punishment he deserved--similar to the fate of the chief baker in Joseph's story.  The other criminal on a cross beside Jesus was remorseful.  He didn't try to get out of his fate--as terrible and painful as it was.  Instead, he simply said to Jesus in verse 42, “...remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  And Jesus replied (in verse 43), “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

Will Jesus Really Remember?
            It is this last exchange that really caught my attention the most.  “Jesus, remember me…”  That’s exactly what Joseph said to the cup bearer when he was released from prison:  “Please remember me and mention me to Pharaoh…”  You will remember that the cupbearer in Joseph's story forgot all about Joseph.  For two years, he forgot about Joseph until Pharaoh had a strange dream and needed someone to interpret it.            Well, these are all fascinating connections, but I'm a pastor and I love studying God's Word. You can call me a Bible nerd or a church nerd.  Of course I love these neat little tidbits.  But do they make any difference at all to you, to your life? Is there any significance for practical life? Yes! I think there's quite a bit of significance.  You see, we are very much like the criminals on the cross!
            Some among us want to make a bargain with Jesus.   If he is who he really says he is, why doesn’t he do something? I mean there are things in this life that just plain suck. Please forgive my language.  There is suffering and death.  People get depressed and kill themselves (or they go crazy and shoot up some school full of kids).
            A good friend of mine, only 56, a United Methodist pastor, Gene Sheffield, got cancer four years ago.  He died last Sunday.  He leaves behind a wife, a daughter, a son, a mother, and many friends and people like me who loved him.  What's worse, I can't be at his funeral because it's at the exact same time as my church's Easter Egg hunt (of which I'm in charge).  And it's not that I don't want to be at the Easter Egg hunt; I do.  I love seeing all the kids have fun and learn about Jesus.  And I love that it's one of the big outreach events we do for our community.  But I'd also like to be at Gene's memorial service--to remember and honor him and be there for his family and my other friends who knew and loved Gene.  But I can't be in two places at once.  So I had to choose.  And I chose the Easter Egg hunt.  And I wish I didn't have to choose.  Really, I wish friends and fathers and husbands didn't have to die too early because of cancer.  But that's the messed up world we live in.
            In a figurative way, we're all hanging on a cross suffering.  And sometimes I want to look over at Jesus cry out, "So you're the Son of God right? You have the power to save us and yourself. Why don't you do something?"             Or maybe, with God's help, we realize it's not his fault.  All this mess is our fault.   Jesus is innocent.  It's not God's fault this mess we're in.  God created the world perfect and us in it.  And in the Garden of Eden, Genesis tells us we walked and talked with God in perfect harmony.  And God gave us only one rule to prove our love was true--don't eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  And Adam and Eve ate it.  And we are all guilty.  For if we're honest, we've all done things we should not do or we have not done things we should.  That is sin.  And that is what makes our world broken.  We’re the ones who sinned and Jesus is innocent.  And maybe, with God's help, were able to say, “Your innocent and we're guilty and just getting what we deserve…”  And maybe, with God's help, we fall on her knees before God and say, “Lord forgive me! Jesus please remember me when you come into your Kingdom!”            This is what the remorseful criminal did as he cried out to Jesus from his cross. “Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  It wasn't long after that that Jesus died.   It doesn't tell us how much longer the thieves lived, but we know they lived on after Jesus died because the story says the soldiers cam to break the condemned legs so they would die faster.  They found Jesus was already dead.  They drove a spear in his side to make sure.  They found he was dead and they didn't need to break his legs.  But then they broke the other criminal's legs because they were still alive.  Breaking their legs prevented them from being able to push up on their nail pierced feet so as to pull more air into their lungs.  And so they would suffocate from the weight of their bodies hanging on the cross faster.  Death (mercifully, I suppose) would come faster.
            This is the situation we find ourselves in, most of us, if we believe in Jesus Christ. He promised he would remember us before his father, but we're still here hanging on a cross waiting… (OK, maybe that's a little dramatic, but do you see the figurative connection?)
            And we sometimes wonder, is Jesus like the cupbearer from Joseph's story?  Will he forget us when he comes into his Kingdom
 
There is Hope on Good Friday

            When you feel like you're in prison, alone and forgotten, remember:  Jesus hasn't forgotten!  When your sin makes you feel like you’re hanging on a cross and everyone’s mocking you, remember:  Jesus hasn't forgotten!  He is before the throne of God, pleading your case!  When you feel like all that’s left for you is a grave, remember: Jesus hasen't forgotten you.  Jesus rose on the Third Day, the first fruit of the resurrection.  He's the first fruit.  That means there's a second and a third and a fourth...  And we are the fruits yet to spring forth!
            Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Son of God, and he died on the cross for youHe’s not like the cup bearer who forgot Joseph in the Old Testament.  Jesus would never forget you.  He’s in his Kingdom right now, thinking of you, telling His father how much He loves you and forgives you.  

            Good Friday is for all of us who are still hanging on the cross dying and wondering if Jesus will indeed remember us. It's a test of our faith as we wait for Easter Sunday.  What situation, what problem, what agony are you suffering right now?  You've begged Jesus to remember you and you're trusting that he will, but in the meantime you still have to hang out here and wait. Will Easter Sunday indeed come? Will the tomb really open? Will you come up out of it into glory as Christ promised?
What do you think?

Yes. You. Will!
Yes!  It’s dark right now.  Yes! The light is fading.Yes!  We blow out the Christ candle at the end of our Good Friday service.
But that’s where faith kicks in! 
That’s where we begin to walk by faith and not by sight!
That’s where we find God’s strength is sufficient in our weakness!
That’s why we call this Friday “Good”!  Because Death cannot conquer our Savior!
“Where, O Death, is your victory?  Where, O Death, is your sting?”
Jesus is going into the grave this Friday, but He’s coming out on Sunday.

 
You’ll go into “graves” in this life too,
      you might hang on some crosses,
             you might even get locked in some prisons                    BUT LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING:
                        This very day, Jesus remembers you in His Kingdom!

And when the Day of the Lord comes,
        Just like Jesus,
                Your’re gonna get up out of that grave!
                       You’re gonna come down off of your cross!
                               You’re gonna walk right out of that prison!
                                        And you’re gonna be with the Lord in Paradise!
 
Amen?  Amen!