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Showing posts with label Hope. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hope. Show all posts

Monday, January 18, 2021

You Can Do Anything!

Introduction
The world is a crazy place.  If you follow the ways of this world, you will end up in a crazy place.  Jesus gave us a better way.  Jesus’ way most often contradicts the ways of the world.  But I choose Jesus’ way.  I hope you will too.  In this series, I want to point out some of the contrasts between the ways of the world’s way and Jesus’ way.  I hope you will notice them and always choose Jesus’ way.

Our Scripture today is Matthew 19:23-26.

Matthew 19:23-26

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 24 I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

25 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.

26 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”

In Jesus' day, people believed you needed to earn God's blessings.  Most people were very poor and had a hard time doing good deeds; they were too busy just trying to survive from day to day.  People looked up to those with great wealth thinking they were blessed by God--that's why they had so much.  Furthermore, the wealthy had disposable income and could hep the poor or give money to the Temple.  Thus, Jesus words astounded his disciples: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God!"  The disciples thought that if a rich person couldn't earn their way into heaven then there was surely no hope at all for the poor.  

Thankfully, we don't have to earn our way into heaven because Jesus already paid the price in full when he gave his life on the cross.  

A Mother’s Wisdom – “You Can Do Anything You Put Your Mind To!”
We didn’t have a lot when I was growing up.  We were part of what I would call the lower middle class.  Then, things got even worse after my parents divorced.  We scraped by on what little my dedicated determined mom was able to earn by herself.  But one thing she gave me was far more valuable than anything money could buy.  She told me again and again: “You can do anything you put your mind to.” 

And I believed her.  No matter what challenge I faced, I believed I could overcome if put my mind to it and was willing to work hard.  My mother’s wisdom motivated me to surmount some great hurdles in life.  While most of the people I grew up remained trapped in Macon, a town with little opportunity descending into poverty and crime and corruption, I went away to college.  I didn’t have any money to pay for college, but I worked and found financial aid and paid for it anyway.  I was determined to make a better life than the one I grew up in and I did. 

I always assumed everyone had the benefit of a mother who told them, “You can do anything if you put your mind to it!”  I was wrong.  Story about the people of Highland UMC in a mill town…

So if you’ve never been encouraged, I want to encourage you today.  You are capable of great things—far more than you may realize.  But I want to do even better than my mother’s wisdom.  I want to give you Jesus' wisdom.

Jesus’ Wisdom

Jesus wisdom is similar to my mother’s wisdom, but even better.  Jesus said in Matthew 19:26, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”  Jesus recognized that there are some things that aren’t possible for us.

At 46 years old, I can’t play professional football.  It's just not going to happen no matter how hard I work or put my mind to it.  And even if I really put my mind to it, I can’t walk on water; the laws of nature will not allow it.  And I can't earn God's love or salvation.  It can't be done.  Thankfully, I don' have to because Jesus already made salvation possible and I experience God's full and unconditional love through faith in Christ.


Jesus also has the wisdom to know there are somethings you are capable of doing, but you shouldn’t do them because they aren’t God’s will for you.  When I was a child--like many other boys--I wanted to be a professional football player.  And maybe, if I had really put my mind to it and worked really hard, I could have accomplished that dream. However, eve if I did, I would not be as happy or as fulfilled or healthy as I am today because it was not God's plan for me to be a professional football player.  When I was in college, my goal was to be a textile engineer and I did graduate with a degree in that field and start that career.  However, God showed me that was not His plan for me either and I am much happier and fulfilled serving as a pastor no because that was God's purpose for me.  We are always better off doing what God wants us to do, even if we are capable of doing something else.

The greatest encouragement of all is knowing God has a special purpose for your life. Your purpose is important. It means your life has meaning beyond just your own personal fulfillment.  And your life will have an eternal impact on the world.  Even the small things you do when you do them within God's will are more important and lasting that impressive things you do outside of God's will.  Furthermore, God will help you do whatever He calls you to do.  Even if it seems impossible to fulfill your purpose, it is possible with God’s help. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” (Matthew 17:20)

Nothing is impossible with God.  Consider, Peter walked on water even thought the laws of nature say that's impossible.  The apostle Paul traveled the world telling people about Jesus even though people everywhere were trying to stop him.  Martin Luther King Jr. helped defeat segregation and win civil rights for African Americans.  What great thing might God want to accomplish through you?  Humanly speaking, it may be impossible, but all things are possible with God's help.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can just sit on your butt and let God do all the work.  Once you know what God’s purpose is for you, you’ve got to have faith in God and be totally committed.  You’ve got to work for it and never give up.  Faith can move mountains, but don’t be surprised if God gives you a shovel.

 

Know God’s Will for You
Perhaps, the hardest part of life for some is finding out God’s purpose for them.  People share how they struggle with this all the time.  I know it can be hard and I won’t minimize that struggle.  But perhaps I can share some wisdom that might help.  First of all, let’s start with what we know about your purpose.


God clearly told us some concrete things about your purpose.  First of all, we know God’s purpose is to save you for eternal life.  John 3:16 "For God so love the world that He gave His one and only son so that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life."  That purpose is for you.  We also know God wanted to save you for a relationship with Him.  You are to walk with God every day.  We also know that you’ve got to surrender unconditionally to God through Jesus Christ in order to start living in a relationship with God.  You've got to recognize that your life is not your own to live any way you please.  You were made to love God and love for Him.

Once you start walking with God, there are more things you know you should do.  As you read God's Word in the Bible, you know it’s God’s will for you to love your neighbors, control your tongues, act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. You know God doesn’t want you to steal, murder cheat, lie, slander, gossip, or boast.  You know this because God tells us in the Bible.  When you are obedient and do what you know God wants you to do, He is more likely to reveal what you don’t know—like His specific purpose for your life.  So start by doing what you do know and have faith the rest will be revealed.


I love Psalm 119:105 where it says, "Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path."  Now a lamp doesn't shine hundreds of feet ahead of you.  It shines on your path allowing you to see what a few steps ahead so you can walk safely without tripping.  That's a fitting illustration for the life of Christian faith.  God's Word shows us the next few steps and as we walk those steps, God will reveal more.  Eventually, we find we've walked quite a ways down the road God is leading us on, but you have to have faith and you have to take the steps God gives you.

 

That’s the way it worked for me.  I started out as a kid with my mother’s wisdom—"You can do anything you put your mind to.”  But then a particular failure in my teenage years brought me to my knees and I turned to God.  I started out small—simply walking with God by reading one chapter of the Bible every day before I went to sleep.  Then, I started going to church when my wife when we started dating.  Next, I tried to live the way I knew God wanted me to live.  I started serving in the ways I felt God was asking me to serve—first volunteering to help our youth director with the youth group, then singing in the choir.  From there, God began to reveal more and more about His will for my life.  Eventually, I heard Him calling me into full-time ministry and I left my career as a textile engineer to become a pastor.  My journey isn’t over yet.  I still have to walk the path God puts before me.  As I do, He reveals more of His purpose for me and I try to do it.

 

Do You Very Best

Whatever God calls you to do, do it with all your heart.  Colossians 3:23 says, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”  Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

 

Closing

The more you live for God, the more God reveals His purposes for you and the more people will notice there’s something special about you will open doors that lead you into the future God has for you.


It all starts with a simple choice and commitment to surrender your life to God and follow His will for you.  Humanly speaking, it is impossible.  But with God, everything is possible.

 

 

 

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Epochs of Israel - The Messianic Hope

Introduction
This year, because of COVID, people may have to curtail many of their usual Christmas traditions.  Some are even forgoing visits with relatives that they may only see during Christmas.  Who would have thought last Christmas that this Christmas would be so strange?

And yet, Advent—the weeks leading up to Christmas—is a season of hope.  We hope that the number COVID cases will go back down.  We hope the new vaccines will be safe, effective, and available.  We hope that life will soon return to normal. 

Ultimate, as Christians, we have a great hope that Christ will soon come to bring His perfect Kingdom on earth—a kingdom where there will be no more suffering or sickness, no more tears of sorrow, and no more hurting or death.  For as Isaiah 9:6-7 says, “The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.”

This is the great hope of biblical Christianity.  It started way back with Israel in the Old Testament and developed through each epoch of Israel.  An epoch is a period in history, typically one marked by notable events or characteristics.  There were 4 major epochs in the history of Israel in the Bible.  Each stage was part of God’s ultimate plan to save humanity.  In my church congregation yesterday, we used a the following responsive reading to review the epochs of Israel. 

Responsive Reading Review
Pastor:  The Lord our God is mighty to save! His plan of salvation spans the whole course of human history.  The Lord rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. 

People: His faithful love endures forever!

Pastor:  In Epoch 1, the Lord He led the Israelites to conquer the Promised Land.

People: His faithful love endures forever!

Pastor:  In Epoch 2, the Lord raised up judges to rescue Israel from her enemies.

People: His faithful love endures forever!

Pastor:  In Epoch 3, the Lord established the house David to rule as kings of Israel.

People: His faithful love endures forever!

 Pastor:  But the people of Israel and their kings were not faithful to God. Finally, The Lord had to punish Israel.

People:  Babylon attacked and destroyed Jerusalem and took Israel away into exile.

Pastor:  But the Lord promised to bring Israel home.  A Messiah would come to save Israel.

People:  The Promised One would rule on David’s throne forever. This was Israel’s hope.

 All:  And so the Fourth Epoch of Israel begins—The Messianic Hope.

Isaiah 49:5-7

5 And now the Lord speaks—
    the one who formed me in my mother’s womb to be his servant,
    who commissioned me to bring Israel back to him.
The Lord has honored me,
    and my God has given me strength.
He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me.
    I will make you a light to the Gentiles,
    and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

The Lord, the Redeemer
    and Holy One of Israel,
says to the one who is despised and rejected by the nations,
    to the one who is the servant of rulers:
“Kings will stand at attention when you pass by.
    Princes will also bow low
because of the Lord, the faithful one,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Israel’s Hope
This Christmas, we remember the story of Christ’s birth.  Everything about the birth of Christ is soaked in the Israel’s hope for a Messiah.  Remember how the angels announced to the shepherds, “For behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is [the Messiah], the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

By the time Jesus was born, Israel was a conquered nation.  The Roman empire occupied the land and extorting the people, forcing them to pay exorbitant taxes, to provide soldiers for the Roman army, to bring glory and success to Rome at the expense of Israel and her people. 

This was not how it was supposed to be.  Israel was God’s chosen people.  They were to be royal priests who enjoyed God’s special favor.  But the Romans treated them like dogs and there was nothing they could do.  Nothing but hope—hope for a Messiah to save them.  And it was into this great hope and longing that Jesus was born. 

God’s Hope
People usually can’t see beyond their own personal situation—their own hopes and dreams, their own suffering and pain.  God’s vision is infinite.  He sees the whole picture.  So while Israel only hoped for a Messiah to alleviate their personal suffering and political turmoil, God’s vision was to save the whole world.  In Isaiah 49:6 “He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me.    I will make you a light to the Gentiles,    and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.””

Imagine a Greater Hope
And so, as we draw nigh to Christmas, and as we hope for relief from COVID-19 (or whatever major struggle you face), I pray we will dare to tap more and more into God’s grander vision.  Can we go beyond our little hopes and dreams and embrace God’s greater hope?

Can we go further than merely hoping for healing from COVID-19?  Can we go further to hope for healing from all our brokenness?  Do we really want to go back to the way things were before the pandemic? Wouldn’t it be better to go forward to something new and better?

As for me, I hope for the coming of Christ and His great hope.  I join in the great Advent hymn with all my heart singing:

Come, thou long expected Jesus
Born to set thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in thee

Israel's strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart

Born thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a king
Born to reign in us forever
Now thy gracious kingdom bring

By thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By thine own sufficient merit
Raise us to thy glorious throne

Whatever worry or struggle with, I pray your hopes will be greater than to just "Go back to the way things were.  God's hopes for you--for all of us--are greater than to just "go back."  God hopes for us all to "go forward" into something new and better.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Jesus' Power Gives Us Hope


Introduction
Vacation Bible School is a fun time for kids (and adults) to learn about the Bible and Christian faith.  As my church prepares for Vacation Bible School, July 12-16, we are studying the themes and passages from each day of VBS.  The title of our VBS is the Rocky Railway.   We will pretend to be riding through VBS on a train.  Our theme is “Jesus’ Power Pulls Us Through!” A train locomotive is a powerful engine that pulls a long train of cars filled with tons and tons of cargo or passengers.  Jesus is the powerful Son of God who can pull us through anything.

Last week, we learned:  Jesus Power Helps Us Do Hard Things.
Today, we learn:  Jesus Power Gives Us Hope!    

Background for the Story
Last week I shared the story of Saul and Ananias.  Saul was an enemy of Christians, going from town to town having them arrested, tortured, and even killed.  Jesus appeared to Saul and (with Ananias' help) Saul converted to Christianity.  Jesus changed Saul's life so drastically, he changed his name to Paul.

Paul went from town to town preaching the Gospel Truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died on the cross to pay the price for our sins so we can be reconciled to God through grace when we put our faith in Christ.  Paul was a great evangelist and so many people turned to Jesus because of his missionary work. 

However, many of Paul's former friends who opposed Christianity were very upset that Paul was now a Christian.  They feared his message would change their way of life in ways they did not want.  In Jerusalem, Paul's enemies started a riot destroying property and causing civil unrest.  They falsely accuse Paul of teaching lies and causing the trouble.  Paul was arrested and put in prison and endured a broken justice system.  If you think the American justice system has problems today, you can't imagine the way it was in Paul's day.  You couldn't get a fair trial.  You weren't presumed innocent until proven guilty.  And the authorities would often hold you until you paid bribes--so that inocent people were often punished while guilty people with money went free.

Finally, Paul was granted a hearing before Caesar in Rome (which would kind of be like going before the Supreme Court for us).  But in order to appear before Caesar, Paul has to travel on a ship from Israel to Rome, Italy.  It is a long and treacherous trip across the Mediterranean Sea.

Acts 27:20-44
20 The terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone.
21 No one had eaten for a long time. Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, “Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Crete. You would have avoided all this damage and loss. 22 But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. 23 For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, 24 and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ 25 So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. 26 But we will be shipwrecked on an island.”

27 About midnight on the fourteenth night of the storm, as we were being driven across the Sea of Adria, the sailors sensed land was near. 28 They dropped a weighted line and found that the water was 120 feet deep. But a little later they measured again and found it was only 90 feet deep. 29 At this rate they were afraid we would soon be driven against the rocks along the shore, so they threw out four anchors from the back of the ship and prayed for daylight.
30 Then the sailors tried to abandon the ship; they lowered the lifeboat as though they were going to put out anchors from the front of the ship. 31 But Paul said to the commanding officer and the soldiers, “You will all die unless the sailors stay aboard.” 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes to the lifeboat and let it drift away.
33 Just as day was dawning, Paul urged everyone to eat. “You have been so worried that you haven’t touched food for two weeks,” he said. 34 “Please eat something now for your own good. For not a hair of your heads will perish.” 35 Then he took some bread, gave thanks to God before them all, and broke off a piece and ate it. 36 Then everyone was encouraged and began to eat— 37 all 276 of us who were on board. 38 After eating, the crew lightened the ship further by throwing the cargo of wheat overboard.
39 When morning dawned, they didn’t recognize the coastline, but they saw a bay with a beach and wondered if they could get to shore by running the ship aground. 40 So they cut off the anchors and left them in the sea. Then they lowered the rudders, raised the foresail, and headed toward shore. 41 But they hit a shoal and ran the ship aground too soon. The bow of the ship stuck fast, while the stern was repeatedly smashed by the force of the waves and began to break apart.
42 The soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners to make sure they didn’t swim ashore and escape. 43 But the commanding officer wanted to spare Paul, so he didn’t let them carry out their plan. Then he ordered all who could swim to jump overboard first and make for land. 44 The others held on to planks or debris from the broken ship. So everyone escaped safely to shore.

The Most Vulnerable People
I think this story is really going to resonate with the kids at VBS.  It’s a story that really resonates with the most vulnerable people.  You can’t get much more vulnerable than being on a boat in the middle of a terrible storm in the 1st century.  The used sail boats made out of wood and ropes that were at the mercy of the wind and were very fragile in rough seas.  (And there was no coast guard to come save you!)

How would you feel to be on a flimsy sailing vessel in the middle of a storm that lasted two weeks and the boat is about to sink?  How would you feel to be Paul—to be on that boat, but to also be in chains?  How would you feel to be surrounded by Roman soldiers who had orders not to let any prisoner escape.  It was said that if a prisoner escaped, the soldiers guarding them had to take the prisoner’s place!  So Paul is in chains on a boat that’s about to sink with frightened soldiers standing around him with swords debating whether they should kill him so he can’t escape!  He was totally helpless, but God was on Paul’s side and that gave Paul hope.  Paul shared that hope with everyone--even the ones who wanted to kill him.

Now, think about the kids that will be at our VBS.  They’re the most vulnerable people of all.  There’s a lot of dangerous, scary things happening in our world.  But they are also kids.  They are the most vulnerable people in the world.  They have very little choice in what happens to them.  Kind of like Paul, who was a prisoner who had to do whatever his captures told him, kids have to do what they’re told to do.  Their parents and teachers tell them what to do and they have to do it—even if it’s scary or hurts or they don’t want to do it.

Do you ever feel vulnerable like that?  Do you ever feel like everyone else is telling you what to do and you just feel like you have to do it even if you don’t like it or don’t agree?  Do you feel helpless and vulnerable?  If that's you, I hope you hear the message of this story from God's Word.

Jesus’ Power Gives Us Hope
Jesus had a purpose for Paul – to preach the Good News about Jesus everywhere and eventually in Rome.  If the Gospel could be preached in Rome, the hope of Christ could spread all over the world.  Nothing was going to stop this from happening. Jesus sent an angel to reassure Paul.

Jesus has a purpose for the kids who will attend our VBS. We have the privilege to help them discover their purpose as children of God--to know that God loves them, to learn that Jesus saves and they can have a life of meaning and purpose, and ultimately eternal life when this life is over.

Jesus has a purpose for your life too. Jesus is not going to let anything stop you from fulfilling your purpose. Take courage! Even when your purpose in this life is over, Jesus offers you eternal life with God the Father where there will be no more sickness or death or suffering or injustice.  Jesus loves you so much he died for you. If Jesus cared enough to die for you on the cross, he’s not going to abandon you now. Trust him and put your hope in Jesus!  Psalm 31:24 says, "So be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the Lord!"  Are you putting your hope in the Lord today?

Prayer from Philippians 1:9-11
Jesus, I pray for the kids who will be coming to our VBS.  Watch over them and prepare them for the blessings You have for them this summer.  And help us all to overflow with love more and more.  Help us to keep growing in knowledge and understanding. Lord, I want everyone reading this to understand what really matters, so that they may live pure and blameless lives until the day You return. I know you will return in our lifetimes--whether you come for us all at once in the clouds or whether you come for us individually when we die.  Help us to be ready.  Fill us with the fruit of salvation—the righteous character you want to produce in each of us—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.  Jesus, I also pray all the volunteers who will be helping with VBS this year.  Please guide us to teach them well, and help them to have eyes to see and ears to hear and a heart full of love.  Amen.

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!