Donate to Support

Support the church that supports this blog. Donate at - www.PleasantGrove.cc Click the donate button in the upper righthand corner.
Showing posts with label Resurrection. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Resurrection. Show all posts

Monday, October 3, 2022

What Are You Afraid Of?

Introduction
Halloween is just around the corner. It's a day we make fun of our fears. Many dress up as monsters--not to celebrate monsters, but to make light of them. There's no such thing as actual vampires, werewolves, or zombies. These are figment of our imagination that serve to personify our fears.

Our fear is real. But until we understand our fear, fear morphs into the monsters of our imagination that paralyze us. We cannot move forward in God's mission for us because we fear the imaginary monsters that lurk around the next corner.

This is the first in a series about Conquering Your Fears. Today, I want you to consider: what are you afraid of?

God’s people have always had to face their fears.  God gives us the ability to overcome when we trust God more than our fears.  The Hebrew slaves who left Egypt had to conquer their fears before they could conquer the Promised Land.  Moses sent twelve scouts to check on the Promised Land and report bac their findings.  Listen to part of their story. 

Numbers 13:17-33
17 
Moses gave the men these instructions as he sent them out to explore the land: “Go north through the Negev into the hill country. 18 See what the land is like, and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many. 19 See what kind of land they live in. Is it good or bad? Do their towns have walls, or are they unprotected like open camps? 20 Is the soil fertile or poor? Are there many trees? Do your best to bring back samples of the crops you see.” (It happened to be the season for harvesting the first ripe grapes.)

21 So they went up and explored the land from the wilderness of Zin as far as Rehob, near Lebo-hamath. 22 Going north, they passed through the Negev and arrived at Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai—all descendants of Anak—lived. (The ancient town of Hebron was founded seven years before the Egyptian city of Zoan.) 23 When they came to the valley of Eshcol, they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes so large that it took two of them to carry it on a pole between them! They also brought back samples of the pomegranates and figs. 24 That place was called the valley of Eshcol (which means “cluster”), because of the cluster of grapes the Israelite men cut there.

25 After exploring the land for forty days, the men returned 26 to Moses, Aaron, and the whole community of Israel at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran. They reported to the whole community what they had seen and showed them the fruit they had taken from the land. 27 This was their report to Moses: “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. 28 But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak! 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev, and the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country. The Canaanites live along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan Valley.”

30 But Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses. “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said. “We can certainly conquer it!”

31 But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!” 32 So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites: “The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. 33 We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!”

Naming Our Fears
The Israelite scouts reported the bounty of the land.  It was a good land, a great land!  However, the land was also full of strong people living in fortified cities and there were even giants living in the land!

Ten out of twelve of Hebrew scouts were too afraid to enter the Promised Land.  Their fear was greater than their faith in God.  Two of the scouts—Joshua and Caleb—new the Lord God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt was more than capable of conquering the land.  They trusted God.  But the other 10 scouts were afraid and they convinced the rest of the people to listen to their fear instead of trusting in God.  Their lack of faith caused them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.  Their fear paralyzed them.

Our fear can paralyze us too.  We can’t move forward until we overcome our fears. 

What Do You Fear?
What do you fear?  The first step to conquering our fear is to identify exactly what we are afraid of. 
Once we can see the “monsters” we face, we can compare them to the greatness of God.  Make a list of your fears.  When did you first notice that fear? 
Was it triggered by something? What does that fear keep you from accomplishing?  Name your fear so you can start to face it.

Our fears are always scarier when they’re hiding in the dark.  In the shadows, our imaginations run wild and blow our fears up to supernatural proportions.
Once you shine some light on a fear, you may see isn’t as scary as you first thought.  It might still be scary, and still dangerous, but at least you can see it for what it really is.

Now that you can see your fear, you can compare it to God.  Is your fear bigger than God?  We don’t have to face our fears alone.  God promises to be with us.  God doesn’t want your fear to keep you from His promises, but you have to trust Him.

David Conquers Goliath
The Hebrews were afraid to enter the Promised Land because it was inhabit by Giants.  Do you remember another story about a young boy who had to face a giant?

David was just a young boy when a giant named Goliath challenged the Israelite army, spouting blasphemies against the God of Israel.  David was so small, he couldn’t even wear armor or swing a proper sword.  However, David had something special.  He trust God.  David knew God was with him and so David fought Goliath with only a sling and some stones and God defeated Goliath through David’s faith.

God can defeat all the giants and monsters in your life too, but you’ve got to trust Him.

Isaiah 41:10 says, "Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.  Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand."

Don't you know that if you are a Christian, God is with you?  He will never leave you.  And if you are actively following Jesus and and doing His work, He will strengthen and help you.  He will hold you up with His victorious right hand!

I challenge you this week to to make a list of your fears and also write down when you first notice that fear?  Was it triggered by something?  What does that fear keep you from accomplishing?

Whenever Christians celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion, we remember the last meal Jesus shares with His disciples.  I'm sure the Disciples were afraid as they sat around the table.  They could sense that Jesus was in danger and they were in danger because they were His disciples.  Maybe they were afraid they'd put their trust in the wrong person—that despite his many miracles, Jesus was not as powerful as the Roman government or their religious leaders in Israel.  Maybe they were afraid of the trials, persecution, and death they faced because they’d chosen Jesus as Lord.  Maybe they were afraid of what might happen to Jesus, who they loved, simply because He spoke the truth in a time when truth was not appreciate and was dangerous.   

Jesus knew their fear.  He knew the reality of the danger they faced.  Jesus knew the "cup of suffering" He was about to drink, but Jesus also knew the power of God that wins the ultimate victory and so Jesus shared one last meal with His disciples before He was crucified.  It was a meal that revealed the real suffering and death He was about to endure for our sake, but also a meal to give His followers strength, and help us to remember what He did for us.  I invite you to find a church where you can share Holy Communion regularly with other Christians, because it is a special way Jesus has given you to remember who He is and what He did for you and to find God's grace to strengthen and encourage you to face your fears, knowing that God is even more powerful than death.  He raised Jesus back to life on the third day and God will resurrect all Christians to eternal life after death.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Beautiful Scars - Easter Sunday

Introduction
For Easter, Our choir shared a beautiful Easter Cantata (which you can watch here).  They used music and narration to share the story of Jesus' resurrection so beautifully.  Now I want to share one ramification of that resurrection.  But first, let me read Paul’s words about the resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:19-26
19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.

24 After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. 25 For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. 26 And the last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Incredible Hope
Christians have incredible hope.  We believe our hope transcends what happens in this life.  The fact is, some of the problems in this life aren’t going to be put right in this life.  There is no greater example of this that what happened to Jesus.

Here was an absolutely innocent man–the very best kind of man who ever lived–who was humble and yet full of incredible power to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and open the ears of the deaf.  Jesus only ever loved and helped people, yet he was arrested on trumped up charges and tortured and executed–the greatest injustice ever wrought on earth.

If that was the end of the story, then it would be the most tragic story ever told.

It wasn’t the end of the story.  Easter is a Sunday that is traditionally the most well attended day of church the whole year, because we celebrate Christ’ resurrection. 
And resurrection means death is not the end.

This life–with all its troubles, many of which are never resolved in this life–is not the end of the story.  Christians believe that what is not resolved in this life, God will make it right in Eternity.

First Fruit
The Bible calls Jesus the “first fruit” of a great harvest.  What this means is His resurrection is the example of what will happen to all His followers.

Many people--including me--started gardening during the pandemic.  Perhaps this is because the pandemic began near the beginning of spring and we couldn't go anywhere or do anything except go outside.  Plus, there were concerns about food shortages.  So we took to our gardens.  And this is the time of year you plant things like tomatoes.  There's nothing like a homegrown tomato.

So you plant a tomato after Easter, after the danger of frost has past.  Then you car for the plant for several months, dreaming of those fresh tomatoes.  And then it happens. you get that first tomato.  It starts out green, and slowly ripens.  So you pick it and take it inside.  It looks great, but how will it taste.  You slice it and taste it.  And you are so pleased when it is delicious!  But the greatest things is knowing that tomato won't be the only one.  It is an example of how all the other tomatoes will taste.  If you've been successful, you will have many more tomatoes just like the first one.

Jesus is the first fruit.  Just like Christ died, we will all die.  But hang on.  It also means that just as He rose to new and eternal life, so will we (if we truly follow Him). So if we want to know what’s in store for us after this life, we just have to look at Jesus.  He shows us what it will be like.

Living with the Scars
One of the unexpected things that strikes me about the resurrected Jesus is this:  He had scars.

One of the ways the early disciples knew they were actually talking to the resurrected Jesus and not some one else pretending to be Jesus, was Jesus’ scars.  Remember, he was nailed to a cross until He died, and a soldier pierced His side with a spear to make sure He was in fact dead.  So one of the ways Jesus authenticated His identity after the resurrection was to point out His scars.  He said, “Look at my hands and feet.  Look at my side.” 

And I want to point out that these scars were not gross or festering wounds.  These scars were fully healed, but they were not erased  And they were also somehow beautiful.  These scars were a badge of honor.

Do any of you have physical scars that you received earlier in your life? Maybe you have a great story that goes along with your scar.  I got a scar once doing something really stupid.  (My friends told, "Don't tell people you got that scar doing that.  Tell them you got it fighting a bear or something.")

I have a friend who likes to tell people he doesn’t have a belly button.  It's true.  Apparently, he had a surgery when he was very young and it somehow erased his belly button.  So he likes to introduce himself saying, "Hi, I'm Dave and I don't have a belly button"  It's quite memoriable! 

Jesus’ scars tell the story of a man who was the absolutely perfect Son of God, worthy of all glory and honor and praise.  And yet, “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippian 2:6-8) 

“He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) 

“He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.” (Romans 4:25) 

So, when Christ shows His scars, they are the highest badge of honor that can ever be traced upon human skin. 

And that got me thinking about what scars we have now–scars that we’ve received from our own personal tragedies–whether physical or emotional.  And perhaps they won’t be completely gone when we enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Maybe they will be like Jesus’ scars.  They will be there to remind us–and remind others–who we are and what we’ve been through.  But they will also not be horrific reminders.  They will be like Jesus’ scars–beautiful badges of honor that God has miraculously transformed so that we will gladly show them to people and say, “Look at my scars!  Touch them.  It’s really me!  But Praise be to God!  My wounds have been healed by the blood of the Lamb!” 

What would that mean for you?  What wounds have you received?  What scars do you bear now?

The Apostle Paul who wrote so brilliantly about the Good News of Christ, shared his own struggles.  In 2 Corinthians 12:7, he said, “...to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.” 

People have speculated as to what was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”, but we don’t know for sure what it is.  There’s no record left as to specifically identify the "thorn in his flesh ".  Some have said it was a temptation he struggled with throughout his life.  Others have said it was a speech impediment, which for a man whose passion was to preach the Gospel would have been awful (because no matter how brilliant this arguments, there would always be some people who paid more attention to his impediment than the force of his arguments).   Others have said Paul had a crippling ailment like arthritis, a chronic eye problem, malaria, migraines, or epilepsy.  It could also have been a wound that wouldn’t heal, perhaps something he sustained in one of his meaning beatings, imprisonments, or the time he was nearly stoned to death.  Those tribulations had to leave their marks. 

And Paul was just like us when we have a painful and nagging problem.  He wanted to be free of it.  He wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 - “8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

Sometimes God brings healing from our physical, spiritual, and emotional wounds in this lifetime.  When He does, it brings glory to His name.

Sometimes, we must bear up under our wounds–with God’s help–until God heals us in eternity.  

When we endure our hardships, it brings Him even more glory.  But I believe there will be a great reward in this too.  For the wounds and scars we’ve carried throughout this life will not be anything for which we will be ashamed in eternity.  Perhaps, they will be like Jesus' scars that He gladly shows.  Perhaps they will be our beautiful badges of honor in the next life.  We will be able to show them to the people we love and say, "Look at my scars!  It really is me!  Remember how I carried that burden all through my life?  But I made it!  I thought I was carrying it alone, but I wasn't.  Christ was there carrying it with me!  Remember when my loved one died and it nearly killed me too?  I didn't know how I could get out of bed and keep going.  But Jesus brought me through!  Remember how I survived that divorce (or devastation, or tragedy, or trauma, etc.)?  Jesus brought me through it and here I am and all my former hurts and wounds and scars are now fully redeemed!  Look at the scars that tell my story and the story of how Jesus set me free!" 

That’s what the power of Christ’s resurrection does.  It has the power to transform death into life.  Look at the cross.  It started out as a symbol of the cruelest, most shameful form of execution known to man.  Easter transformed the cross into the greatest symbol of hope and love we have.

Christ resurrection changed the most evil act humanity could do–murdering the Son of God–into the greatest act of grace and salvation God could offer.

Jesus was the first fruit.  He is the example of what we will experience if we follow him.

We can’t imagine how our resurrection to eternal life will completely transform us–even transforming our scars.  So as you go through this life and face whatever trials and sorrows and burdens you must bear, find hope in the Resurrection.  The Resurrection changes everything! 

And the Resurrection can change you–both now and for eternity.  I pray God will open your eyes today to see things as Jesus sees them.  See your wounds as future glory of God’s triumphant grace.

Invitation
So now, I invite you to repent of your sins, turn to God through Jesus, and follow Him so you can experience the Ressurection to eternal life.  Won't you?

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 20, 2017

Jesus Rises from the Grave

Introduction
Where do you find ultimate meaning in life?  Do you even think such a thing exists?  That is the subject of today’s message.  The Christian faith promotes a relationship with Jesus as the way to ultimate meaning in life.  The Disciples thought they had found ultimate meaning, but then they suffered the great disappointment of Jesus' arrest, crucifixion, and death.  Suddenly, their faith was called into question.  On that first Easter morning, they were still in shock, trying to figure out what was going on.   

Slides – Luke 24:1-12
1But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.

The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

Then they remembered that he had said this. So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. 11 But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it. 12 However, Peter jumped up and ran to the tomb to look. Stooping, he peered in and saw the empty linen wrappings; then he went home again, wondering what had happened.

The Empty Tomb
At Easter, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the grave.  But in this Easter reading, Jesus does not yet appear.  The women went to put spices on the dead body of Jesus; but when they arrive at the tomb, Jesus is not there.  Peter rushes to the tomb to see the body, but Jesus is not there—dead or otherwise.
Usually when I think of Easter, I think of the radiant, resurrected Christ smiling and saying, “I told you so!  I told you I would come back to life!”  But here in this passage, we have only an empty grave and a pile linen.  It is the absence of Jesus in the passage that strikes me.  For those of us who know the way the story ends—we want to jump right to the point of acknowledging that Jesus is alive.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  
            As I pondered this passage, it occurred to me that these twelve verses illustrate three common attitudes people have toward spirituality.  First we have the women—Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James.  They didn’t come seeking the risen Jesus.  Such a thing never occurred to them as a possibility.  They were looking only for the dead body of Jesus.  It was customary in that day to put fragrant spices on the body of the dead as a way of honoring those who had passed—much the way we place flowers on the graves of our deceased loved ones today.  We don’t go to our deceased grandma’s grave with flowers expecting to see her risen to life.  We go to remember the dead.  And so it was for the women in this passage.  They sought only to remember a dead Christ, not to see one risen in power and glory.

Dead
It strikes me how much that attitude prevails in church people these days.  These women came to the tomb in grief and sorrow.  They were looking for a dead man’s body.  They are like people who go through the motions at church, but aren’t truly seeking the living Christ.  They say and do the right things, but they only come to pay tribute to a dead man.  Their lives do not display the power and glory of the risen Christ and they do not reach their full spiritual potential.  It doesn’t matter how many flowers or spices they use to make it look or smell good, it’s still just dead and lifeless.  No wonder people turn away from a church that worships God like that.  

Alive
But then, the women in our story saw something amazing that dramatically altered their state of mind.  They saw two men in dazzling clothes that appeared and told them the good news—Jesus is not dead!  He has risen from the dead, just as he said he would!  This sight seized their attention and they forgot all about their religious duty to put spices on a dead body.  Suddenly, they were filled with excitement and hope and they rushed off to share this astonishing story with the Disciples.
I have known quite a few church-goers who for years just went through the motions. They really didn’t come to church expecting anything exceptional. They were—in a sense—just seeking a dead man’s body. But then something shook them from their spiritual slumber and they forgot about their dead religion and started seeking the risen Christ. And suddenly, they began to worship and live with a new passion. They even begin to tell others about their wonderful new experience of life. 

Disbelief
Next in the story are the Disciples.  If we examine them, we also see an attitude that is common in our day and age.  They took the women’s story to be nonsense.  The Greek word Luke uses to describe the women’s story is the same that Greek physicians used to describe the babbling of a fevered and insane mind.[i]  And that is how the disciples took the women’s story—it seemed like nonsense to them.  You can almost hear them saying to the women, “Why, just this morning you were going out the door, carrying all your spices to put on his dead body.  Now you claim he’s alive?!?  You must be sick with grief.  You're not making any sense.”
This is much the same as cynics in our time who say there is no real meaning to life (or that such meaning is unknowable).  They shrug off the stories of those who claim to have had deeply spiritual experiences.  Yes, and many people in our age look at the church and scoff.  They think these stories Christians tell about changed lives and divine power is a bunch of non-sense.  “Why, I’ve seen the way you worship at church,” they say.  “It’s boring and lifeless and dull.  If you ask me, you’re just worshiping a dead man.” They dismiss the church; they dismiss Christ; they refuse to believe. 

Hope
            But then there is Peter.  He hears the women’s story and he rushes out the door to investigate for himself.  And when he arrives, he sees that indeed the stone is rolled away and the tomb is empty.  All that’s left are the empty linen wrappings.
It’s ironic how things turn out.  According to Luke, Peter is the only one who runs to check out the women’s story.  Peter was not a particularly “spiritual” person in the sense we might think.  He was not a monk or priest or holy man of any sort.  He was a fisherman, a sailor, a common worldly man.  (Today, we use the expression, "He cusses like a sailor" for a reason.)  By Peter's own estimation the first time Peter met Jesus in Luke 5:8, Peter exclaimed, “I am too much of a sinner to be around you.” And yet it is Peter who goes to look in the tomb when all the other Disciples dismiss the story.  And it says when Peter saw the tomb was empty, he went away wondering what happened.
Peter reminds me of people in our age who are sincerely looking for meaning in life.  They may or may not consider themselves to be particularly “spiritual” people, but something prompts them to take a deep look at themselves and they recognize, “Huh… Something really important is missing.  I wonder where it is.”  And they start to honestly search.  They might look in quite a few places.  They might look for ultimate meaning in their career.  They might look for it in another person—a spouse or a friend.  They might look for it in a cause or in a family or in some other place.  But everywhere they look, they find only an empty tomb.  Where is that Most Important Thing that they crave? 

Which Are You?
The Christian faith teaches that life’s ultimate meaning is found through a relationship with Jesus Christ.  But some people miss out on the fulfillment that comes from a relationship with Jesus because they are like the women.  They are really only looking for a dead man.  Others are like the Disciples; they think the story of Jesus’ resurrection is a bunch of non-sense.  And still others are like Peter—they hear the good news, investigate for themselves, and discovered that the tomb is indeed empty.  Who do you resemble?
Are you looking for a dead man instead of a risen Savior?  Is your religious devotion helping you experiencing the life changing power of God or are you just trying to put sweet smelling spices and flowers on something dead?
Or maybe you are like the Disciples; you think all this talk about a risen Savior is just a bunch of non-sense.  You think, “There is no Higher Power and people don’t change.”  Maybe you’ve dismissed Christ and the church.  If so, I hope you will listen.  I hope you will take an honest look for yourself.  Maybe then you will see that there are a lot of empty, meaningless tombs in your life.  Maybe then you will say to yourself, “Huh…  Something important is missing in my life.  But maybe it’s out there somewhere.  Maybe what those Christians say is really true.  Maybe Jesus is alive.  And maybe Jesus is what I really need.”   

Dear God,
            Thank You for glorious hope of Easter—Christ is risen, just as he said.  Help us to see the empty tomb.  Jesus is not there.  Help us to see the lifeless parts of ourselves where Jesus cannot be found.  By Your grace, help us to surrender these to You, to let them go so that we can experience the divine, life changing power of the risen Christ living in us.  In Jesus name I pray.  Amen.



[i] William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, the Gospel of Luke, revised edition; page 292