Final Sermon as Family Pastor at Bergen Church

Did you know that today is Christ the King Sunday? It is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time before Advent on the Christian Calendar. It was instituted in 1925 because of the increasing denial of Christ as king and the rise of secularism throughout much of Europe. At the time, many Christians began to doubt Christ’s authority and existence, as well as the Church’s power to continue Christ’s authority.

Although it was instituted by the Catholic Church, it is worth pondering as we prepare for the Advent season. Do we still hold up Jesus Christ as our King? Or have we succummed to the popular belief that we are autonomous beings, able to choose our own fate and eternal destiny?

There is a prayer that accomanies this Sunday, and I’d like to say it now before I continue. King of kings and glorious Lord, you are above all. You rule, and the whole universe is your kingdom. Have the supremacy in all things and draw more and more to the freedom of your reign. Be first in my life, now and always. Amen.

This is a continuation of last weeks message. I’ll do a brief recap and then I want to read from 1 Corinthians chapter 1.
The majority of last week’s message was the letter I wrote to you as a congregation, announcing my resignation. There are copies of it still available at the back.

I said last week that the strength of the church must not depend on the human leaders. The gospel of Jesus Christ in the hearts and minds of each person is the strength of the church. I want to emphisize this today and add to it. My goal is for you to know, without a doubt, what I believe is most critical to living a life of faith and holiness.

Follow along in your Bible as I read from 1 Cor. 1:10-31.

I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters. Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.”

Has Christ been divided into factions? Was I, Paul, crucified for you? Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul? Of course not! I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, for now no one can say they were baptized in my name. (Oh yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas, but I don’t remember baptizing anyone else.) For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News—and not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power.

The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”

So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.
Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you.

Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.
God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.” (1 Co 1:10–31)

I am preaching from this passage, with a particular message in mind, because this has been the core of all my preaching and how I tried to live as a pastor. It is how I desire to live my entire life.

This is a message about our identity as people of the cross. What does that mean? How does it change us? These are questions I will seek to answer.

I love a good question. I will have some more in a bit. A good question can open our minds up to thinking in ways we may not have previously thought. Maybe you will have some questions after this message. I would love to hear them and talk about them with you.

In this passage, Paul is concerned about the health of the Corinthian church. He was concerned that they keep to the core of what will keep them healthy and strong as a congregation.

He mentioned unity. There will always be differences in how people relate to the gospel and how it affects them. But the local church must be unified in order to demonstrate the power of the Spirit of God. This means moving forward together, not because everyone does everything the same way or with the same passion. But because the vision and the purpose of the people is the same.

Paul also mentioned that the word of the cross is power and wisdom. This means that we do not compromise the importance and centrality of the cross just because it seems irrelevant to today’s audience. We do not create relevant strategies to attract people to church and at the same time ignore the offensive nature of our saviour being crucified.

Christ crucified is our mantra, our banner, our calling card. When people come to church, they come to a people who have been bought through the gruesome death of God’s Son. We wave that banner with pride, boasting in it as our only hope!
That leads me to the final point in this passage, which I will spend the rest of the message on. Paul said in verse 31, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

What is it that you boast about? What makes you proud? How do you value life, or from what do you get your value? What sort of things give you satisfaction, or make you excited in life?

I don’t want to tell you that you need to somehow sadistically reject all things in life that are enjoyable, yet unspiritual. I want you to be able to stand up in times of trouble, uncertainty, persecution, and be completely confident in who you are and what is important in life.

There is one thing that will remain. Some of you are further on in life and know this better than any of us. When death comes knocking at your door, there is only one thing that will give you confidence to answer that door. Jesus Christ crucified means that you are happy to answer that door.

This changes everything! It means we can quit trying to make something of ourselves. Whatever ambitions we have in life are held up to the light of Jesus Christ crucified. And we are forced to ask, of what value is this? It doesn’t mean we throw it away. It means that if it is taken from us, we are not devastated!

Hold up your life to the cross of Jesus Christ, and ask yourself, what could you possibly have that compares to the value of that cross?

As a congregation, hold up this church, the building, the programs, the budget. Hold it up to the cross, and ask, of what value is it unless it produces in you a deeper love and appreciation for Jesus Christ crucified.

Beware of boasting in what is only here to be but a vessel of God’s grace through the cross. The vessel is not our boast. Jesus Christ is our boast. It is good and fun and worth our efforts to do the best we can when we gather to worship God.

But all this could be taken away, and God would still be pleased with us, because we are recipients of his grace, not by our methods of worship, but by the work of Jesus Christ in giving us purification of sins and adoption into his family.

When God delivered the Israelites from Egypt, he told them to observe the Sabbath. He did this not so that they would become his nation, but because they were his nation.

I am challenging you today, treasure the cross of Jesus Christ not because that is the way to become God’s children. Do it because you are God’s children, and it is Christ crucified that made you his children.

All throughout the history of God’s people, there have been prophets who have commanded them: never forget! And I am here, urging you, never forget the cross!

When you lie down at night, thank God for the cross. When you wake up, remember the cross. When you eat, remind one another about the cross. When you work, when you play, when you rest and when you gather together, remember the cross!

Immerse yourself in this profound concentration of what it means to be a Christian: Christ Crucified! Ponder it, study it, discuss it, pray and ask God to give you a greater vision for what it means. You will not reach the end of knowing and experiencing the depths of Christ Crucified.

And as you enter further, deeper, more saturated in the experience of Christ crucified, you will find no reason to boast except in knowing Christ crucified.

I say all this knowing that some of you will find this unattractive. Jesus said it himself that people will be offended by this message. But if this is my last time preaching here, I can do nothing except present to you the very essence of the Christian faith.

If this is offensive to you, I pray God’s Spirit would soften your heart. Do not allow the wisdom of this world to cloud your judgement. Trust in the truth of Scripture and allow your world to be turned upside down.

It will result in radical generosity and extravagant risk-taking. It will cause you to give your heart away to those in need, knowing that they may never be able to return the love and care you have given. It will mean deep sorrow but also incomparable joy.

If you have chosen to follow Jesus and trust in Him, this is the life you are called to live. I will close with this passage from 2 Corinthians 4. I encourage you to memorize it, as it will be a constant reminder of who we are and what is most important in life:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Closing prayer:

Show us your beauty. Reveal to us the eternal weight of glory that is beyond all comparison. May we develop an appetite for that which is eternal: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. All things will pass away, but these things will remain. Keep Bergen Church unified in their love for your Son, and in their love for one another, and in their love for their neighbours. Keep them strong by your Spirit, make them steadfast under trial and temptation. Empower them to teach the little children your ways, telling one another stories of your goodness and faithfulness through the generations. Bless them, Father, with all your spiritual blessings through Jesus. Amen.

Benediction:

You may have learned that I do not allow a Sunday to pass when I am preaching without saying a prayer of benediction, a prayer of blessing, at the end. This is not a practice reserved just for the end of a worship service. Take this blessing into your homes and workplaces.

This blessing we are about to read was given to God through Moses, to Aaron and his sons, the priests of Israel. It is found in Numbers 6:24–26. We, as fellow heirs with Christ Jesus, have become priests, and so we bless one another with this priestly blessing.

May the Lord bless you
and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor
and give you his peace.

Resignation Letter and Message

This morning I want to remind us all of the centrality of Jesus Christ and His crucifixion. The message will continue into next week, when I want to challenge you to be a people of the cross.

When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, New Living Translation)

Paul is emphasizing here the importance of trusting not in the wisdom of people, and in their ability to teach, or lead or explain things. Rather, trust in the power of the Spirit of God. For it is not human ability that gives strength to the church or its members. It is the power of God that gives you strength.

I have chosen this passage for a particular reason. I will share with you that reason, and then I want to continue with the message in hopes that you will find this to be a very meaningful and important message.

On October 31, 2013, I came to Bergen Church for the first time to meet with the pastoral search committee. I wrote in my journal after that meeting that I came away feeling a sense that Bergen Church really could be a place for our family to settle into for a while. To this day, I still feel the same way. And so it is with great difficulty to tell you that I have decided to resign from my position as Family Pastor here at Bergen.

I said from the start, and I have said it many times since then: I came to a place here in Bergen where God has been working long before I got here. And he will continue to work here long after I’m gone.

Although it was always my desire to be in this position for many years, I have never thought about myself as irreplaceable. I believe that the role of pastor is vital to the health of a local church, but the person who fills that role is only temporary.

As long as the Lord’s will is being pursued, it will be His Spirit that keeps the family healthy and strong for many generations.

Paul wrote this message to the Corinthian church in order to remind them of who they have placed their faith in. The message, not the messenger, is the key. Your faith is not in Rob or myself. Your faith is in the gospel of Jesus Christ: his death, which has purified you and brought peace between you and God.

During my time here, I have been a servant of God. I was brought to this particular place for a particular time. I have tried to do my best, but ultimately it is only the power of God that has been at work to transform you and this community.

This work will continue for many years to come, and not because you will have great pastors, but because you are constantly reminding one another of the power of God at work among you.

With this passage in 2 Corinthians, Paul was raising a banner over the people, a banner that declared that they belonged to God. And it was by the power of God that they would be able to stay strong and faithful.

The strength of the church must not depend on her human leaders. Training and skill are indeed valuable in a leader, but without the power of God, no amount of skill can help a church in bringing the presence of Jesus to our communities, to our neighbours and into our workplaces.

Next week I want to talk more about our identity as people of the cross, what that means for our daily lives. But I just want to say that each one of you who has declared him or herself a follower of Jesus, you all are able and commanded to be ministers of the gospel. This is not an option!

The pastors are here to equip you to this end, and to pray with you. But the real work of the gospel will only be done when each member takes responsibility for bringing the message of Jesus Christ and his crucifixion to your neighbours.

During my time here, I have seen many of you do this. But it is only done when the message has become life to your soul. And so this morning I want to share with you this simple message of Jesus Christ and his crucifixion. This is not my last sermon, only the first part of my last sermon. Next week, and possibly the week after, I will continue.

I acknowledge that some of you are having a difficult time focussing on this message, thinking about what I have just announced. Although this has been a conversation with Rob and the Board for a little while now, you all are probably quite surprised. After I have wrapped up my message, I will explain the reason for my resignation, and then Rob will come up and pray. After the service, I will stay as long as necessary so that anyone who wants to talk will have the opportunity to do so.

In the mean time, I hope you will hear this message. If I were to only have one opportunity to preach here, this is the message I would preach. It is not a new message, and if you have heard me preach more than once, you have heard this from me before. I want to read to you the Apostles Creed, and using that as an outline, go through the gospel message in its most basic form.

I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried
The third day he rose again from the dead
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty
From there he shall come to judge the living and the dead
I believe in the Holy Spirit
the holy universal church
the communion of saints
the forgiveness of sins
the resurrection of the body
and life everlasting
Amen.

Paul wrote that he considers everything worthless when compared to knowing Jesus Christ. This is what the gospel demands. If you have heard the gospel before, but you are not willing to give up everything in trade for knowing Jesus, you need to hear this message again. And I hope that God will work in your heart, to bring you to repentance and to true faith in him as your only hope and greatest treasure.

God exists in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is the maker of all things seen and unseen. Jesus Christ, the Son, came to the earth by means of a supernatural pregnancy. Mary, who was engaged to Joseph, was a virgin, and became pregnant by the Spirit of God.

While Jesus lived on earth in human form, he lived a sinless life, declared himself one with the Father, and the promised Messiah. He was condemned to die by Pontius Pilate, who gave him the charge, King of the Jews. Jesus’ death was by crucifixion, after he was beaten and whipped until he could hardly walk. This punishment was undeserved, but necessary, for it is only through the shedding of pure blood that anyone can receive forgiveness for sins.

After Jesus died, and was buried, he rose from the dead, defeating death and giving true life to all who believe in him. Because of his death we have forgiveness. Because of his resurrection, we can have eternal life and fellowship with God.

Following His resurrection, Jesus spent some time with his disciples, reminding them of the coming Holy Spirit, who would help them as they continue the mission Jesus came to declare. This mission was to make disciples of all people, to teach them to observe the teachings of Jesus, and to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus then ascended into heaven in human form, where he now lives as ruler with the Father, interceding for us until he returns to judge all the peoples of the earth. He will judge rightly and according to his wisdom.

Those who trust in Him for salvation will be judged as righteous and allowed entrance into the kingdom of God. And those who do not trust in Him for salvation will be condemned to Hell, where there will be separation from God and suffering beyond measure.

Although Jesus is absent in human form, he is present in Spirit. His presence is within all who trust in him, and his mission is being carried out all over the world by the church.

All people who trust in Jesus are commissioned by Jesus to proclaim the forgiveness of sins, and to invite them to join in our mission as we follow Jesus and obey his teachings.

It is this message I have just proclaimed to you that you are being sent by Jesus to proclaim. I do not send you, it is Jesus who sends you and invites you to participate with him as he gives you power and faith to carry out the mission.

There is much more to the gospel message. It is a message that will continue to challenge you all the days of your life. But it is also a message that will give you life and joy and peace even though you may face persecution and trouble.

Having heard this message, you now have a responsibility. You cannot receive this message only as a good thing to agree with. Jesus does not allow for a mediocre response. He demands a decision. Will you or will you not trust him?

Over the last four years I hope you have heard this message more than once. And I hope you have decided to trust Jesus. That is my only desire. I cannot offer you anything more than this: Jesus Christ and the hope of his salvation.

If you want to respond right now to this message, either because you have never made a decision to trust him, or because you need to renew your commitment to trust him, I urge you to talk to someone about it. If you feel the need to come forward and make a public declaration of your faith, please come while I pray, and stay here at the front until the service is over so that someone can come and talk with you.

Now, I would like to say a few more words in regards to my resignation.

I want to thank the Board for their leadership of our church. There doesn’t exist in the world a perfect leadership team. But, because of their trust in the Lord and their desire to love and serve this family, their leadership is unmatched. I can’t thank them enough for that.

And I want to thank all of you. Any pastor would be blessed to serve such a wonderful group of people. Over the last four years, Bergen Church has become our family. We have adopted older men and women as mentors for ourselves, and as aunts and uncles and grandparents for our children. This family is rich with character and an honest desire to faithfully follow Jesus.

As new people have begun attending during our time here, I have seen them welcomed not only with open arms, but with a sincere hope that each person would feel like they are a part of our family. This is one of the great testimonies to our community of the love and acceptance of Jesus.

It is important that you know the particulars of why I have come to the decision to resign. There is much to the story of what I have gone through in the last number of months, and beyond. At the outset, I want to emphasize that Bergen Church and the leadership are not to blame. This decision has not come out of conflict or a difficult working environment.

I do not claim that our time has been without struggle. But when it came down to the decision to resign, it was really about my own sense that my time here has come to an end.

In his book titled Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper recommends that from time to time we stop, and go away for a few days to pray and think about how our particular time and place in life fits into the great purpose of God.

Lynn and I did that in August, and things really began to become clear for us. Part of that retreat was a series of self-assessment workshops and conversations with the directors of Kerith Creek retreat centre.

We were given language that helped us understand ourselves and our calling. It has been this process of discovery that has brought us to this point. I am resigning not because Bergen Church has failed me or because anyone has done anything wrong. I am resigning in order to live with integrity.

If I were to stay in this position I would be lying to myself and to the church about whether or not I believe I should remain a paid pastor at Bergen Church.

John Piper goes on to say that every year he reexamined his life as a pastor at his church. He would look at what he was doing in the light of God’s global purpose. He asked himself, “Is this the most strategic investment of my life for the sake of God’s purpose to make the nations glad in him?” He asked his wife, “Are you sensing any tugs to move closer to the front lines of the unreached peoples?” Finally, he asked himself if he could stand before God and say that he stayed at his church because he believed he could be most instrumental there in accomplishing God’s purpose. If he could no longer say yes to that question, then his time at his church would be done. He stayed there for 33 years. I praise God for John Piper’s ministry, but it is only God who gave life to that church, and he continues to do so long after John Piper’s resignation from that position.

My resignation is an act of obedience and an act of faith. Through a lengthy time of reflection and difficult questions, I can no longer say that I am most effective in accomplishing God’s purpose by staying here. Lynn feels the same way; we are united in this decision.

We do not have complete clarity on what the next stage of our life will look like. But, we have a vision based on what we have learned about ourselves and how God has equipped us.

Right now, we are planning to move back home to Winkler, Manitoba. The kids would like to be with their cousins and grandparents. We do not know how long we will be in Winkler, but wherever we go and whatever we find ourselves doing, one thing is clear: both Lynn and I will find ourselves searching for creative ways to empower people to thrive as unique and gifted individuals.

We have learned about ourselves that we work best in an environment where there are constantly new challenges that require unconventional problem solving. We deal well with change and a dynamic atmosphere in which we are expected to provide creative leadership as we explore new territory. We hope to eventually find ourselves in a place where our unique personalities and gifts and leadership styles are functioning at an optimum level.

We have decided that my final Sunday here will be December 17. We will go to Manitoba for the holidays and spend some time with our families. What happens after that depends on the sale of our house. There is a possibility we may stay in the community for a while longer, or we may not return after Christmas.

In the next month I will continue to fulfill my regular responsibilities with the youth group, as well as preaching next week and possibly the week after, as Rob recovers from surgery.

If you would like to meet with me sometime over the next few weeks, I will make sure to keep plenty of time open for conversations. Please do not hesitate to contact me and arrange a time to meet. I will be very happy to talk.

The Easter Message I Didn’t Preach

Last Sunday I was scheduled to preach, so I prepared a short Resurrection Sunday message. But then I became ill and was unable to preach that sermon. So, I thought, I may as well share what I prepared here.

Hebrews 13:20-21:
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

What is this passage?

It is primarily a prayer of blessing, a benediction, for those who have faith in Jesus Christ. The author is closing his book with a prayer that can be easily memorized and is packed full of deep theology, information about the identity and work of God, Jesus and the blessings we receive when we believe in Jesus.

There are two parts to this passage that I want to examine: 1. God raised Jesus from the dead 2. God equips us through Jesus to do his will

God raised Jesus from the dead

Verse 20 can be paraphrased this way: The God of peace, through the blood of the eternal covenant, brought again from the dead Jesus Christ who is the great shepherd of the sheep. Or: By the blood of the eternal covenant God raised Jesus from the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus is central to Christian faith and the Abrahamic blessing, passed on to those who would come after him for thousands of years. The resurrection of Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise and blessing of God through Abraham. Here is a brief history on that promise and blessing.

Recorded in Genesis 12, God made a promise to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation, to bless the world through him. This promise, called a covenant, was passed down to his son and grandson, Isaac and Jacob. Jacob and his family moved to Egypt to find refuge during a severe famine. While in Egypt, Jacob’s descendants became a large nation called Israel, and were driven to slavery by Pharaoh. There they lived under oppression of slavery for 400 years.

The Israelites cried out to God for relief from slavery, so God rescued them with Moses as their leader, as God’s representative to His people. Moses led them out into the wilderness East of Egypt, and brought them to a mountain called Sinai. There God told the Israelites about his plan. He gave them instructions on how to live as a nation, and asked them to enter into a covenant with Him as their God.

They agreed to the terms of the covenant and God told them he would bless them as long as they were obedient. But if they were disobedient, the blessings would turn into curses. With God as their guide, the Israelites began to make their way to a land promised by God to be their inheritance, a gift for God’s people.

Along the way, the Israelites repeatedly broke the terms of their covenant with God. Due to disobedience, God increased the time it took to get to the promised land from three weeks to forty years, so that the generation that grew up in Egypt, and were prone to complaining and desiring to go back to slavery in Egypt, would all be dead before entering the land.

When the time came to enter the promised land, Israel renewed their commitment to live within the covenant between them and God, and God promised them success in conquering the land as long as they obeyed his instructions.

The nation of Israel entered the land and after some initial success, they once again became disobedient to God. The temptations of this new land was more attractive to them than obedience to God. They began worshipping other gods and behaving in a way that brought shame and dishonour to the covenant that God established.

This pattern continued for hundreds of years as Israel struggled to stay together as a nation. All throughout the history of the nation of Israel, God raised up leaders—judges, prophets, kings—to represent God to the nation, and most of them failed to lead with integrity and obedience to God.

One prophet, named Jeremiah, was given the following words from God regarding his plans for his people. This prophecy was recorded in Jeremiah 31 and in Hebrews 8:

The day is coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to my covenant, so I turned my back on them, says the Lord. But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already. And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.

The really short version of this story is that God wants to establish a kingdom of people under his rule, a people who will worship him and honour him. A people who will love one another and enjoy the benefits and blessings of being a part of God’s kingdom.
But, thousands of years of history have shown that humanity is hopeless in our efforts to be the sort of people God requires. We, having the darkness of sin in our hearts, reject obedience to God in exchange for the pleasures found in creation.

God has never broke his promises. He has kept his covenant. The old covenant was for God’s people to live in the land promised to them under his rule, kept pure and holy through the sacrificial system and through his laws. But the nation of Israel was unable to keep their end of the covenant. And so, through Jesus, God has established a new covenant.

This new covenant still includes laws and sacrifice. It still requires God’s people to be pure and holy. But there is an important difference. And the difference between the old and the new covenants rests in the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus was conceived by God’s Spirit, and was born as a human but also as God. He was not born with the sinful nature as we are, yet he lived with the limitations of humanity, including temptation, pain, sorrow and death.

Jesus obeyed God’s laws and kept the old covenant perfectly. He showed us how God has always wanted his people to live. But he came not only to show us how to live, but to offer himself as a sacrifice, an offering to God for the sins of all humanity. His blood was shed and his body was broken to pay for our sins.

God did this because he knew that humans would never be able to keep a covenant with him. We would never be able to purify ourselves and live a holy life. And so, God has not only kept his end of the covenant, but he, through Jesus, has also kept our end of the covenant! We can become God’s holy people merely through accepting an invitation by God. This was accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus. God did this. He raised Jesus from the dead. He did it for us.

Because he is raised from the dead, Jesus is not only the sacrifice for our sins which purify us, but he has also become our eternal shepherd priest, someone who takes care of us and teaches us and equips us.

God equips us to do his will

This leads us to the second verse in this passage:
May the God of peace… equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.

Through Jesus Christ, we are being equipped to behave like the sort of people who are ruled by God. It is important to keep in mind the order here: first, we are made holy and pure by the death of Jesus. Then, we are given what we need by God through Jesus, who was raised from death.

We become citizens of the kingdom of God when we accept the free invitation of God. Then we begin to act as people who belong to this kingdom. This is important for those of us who know what a wreck we are. Jesus was killed and was raised from the dead so that you and I can freely receive forgiveness from God, be purified and cleansed, be made into a new person, be given new life, be given eternal hope and unending joy, even, and ESPECIALLY if your life is a complete disaster!

God will receive you as his child, make you into a new person and give you a new heart with new desires and as you continue in your relationship with him, he will teach you, take care of you, equip you, and guide you as you seek to live as his child.
If this is new to you, if this is for the first time good news to you, and if your heart has been stirred as you’ve been reading this, I encourage you to respond in prayer.

Thank God for keeping his end of the covenant for thousands of years, even though humanity has failed him. Thank God that he has never changed his standard of holiness, that he is completely worthy of our worship. Thank God that he has provided a way for us to be his people even through our failures. Thank God that he will forgive us through Jesus and that he will equip us to live as people who belong to his kingdom. Ask God to transform your life and to give you a heart that seeks him.

The Resurrection Part 2 – John 20:19-31

The following is a sermon manuscript from November 27, 2015.

As we enter the season of Advent, I just wanted to mention briefly the meaning of the word “Advent,” and why the church started this tradition, because it has a lot to do with the text we will be looking at.

The English word “Advent” is from the Latin adventus, which means “coming.” It was originally created to help prepare for the celebration of Christmas Day, the day we remember the first coming of Jesus Christ. It is also a reminder that we await the return of our King.

This morning we celebrate the hope we have as believers. We have hope because we know that while we are sinners and are undeserving of fellowship with our Creator, we also have a King who came to make amends between us and our Eternal Father.
We have hope because no matter the darkness around us, we have within us the light of eternal life.

I am so pleased that as we enter the Advent season, we are wrapping up our study in John. It is very appropriate that we talk about the resurrection and final days of Jesus’ life on earth as we remember the first coming of Christ and as we bring to focus the future return of Christ.

This morning we will continue from last week, when I asked the question, “what would be different without the resurrection?” Last week was all about our eternal hope.

God sent Jesus to earth not only to die as payment for our sin, but he also sent him to rise from the dead. Forgiveness of sin alone was not the plan. Ultimately, God’s plan was to restore fellowship between himself and us. So, Jesus came not only to offer forgiveness, but he came to defeat death so that we could enjoy eternal life and fellowship with God.

This morning, I want to answer that question, what would be different without the resurrection, by looking at what Jesus wants us to do in response to belief in him.

Jesus makes some statements in this passage about his followers. These are statements about the new nature of God’s people, who we are and what we are doing here. There is a reason Jesus did not take his followers with him when he left earth. And there is a reason he didn’t stay to rule the new eternal kingdom. He has work for us to do until he comes again.

All of this is dependant on whether or not we will believe. John says in verse 31, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ.” Jesus said to Thomas, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

There are three statements we will look at from this passage, but I want us to remember that these are things that come after belief in Jesus. Many of us will say that we believe in Jesus because it simply has seemed like the right thing to do. But I want to challenge all of us to question what it is we actually believe in.

If you have been with us for the last 15 months, you have heard the Gospel of John preached straight through. In a couple weeks, we will wrap up our John series and you will have heard the entire account of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. You will have heard about the things that Jesus taught and did, the miracles he performed and his explanations of some of the things he did.

If you have heard these things, and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. If you believe that when Jesus died he paid the penalty for your sin. If you believe that when Jesus rose from the dead, he secured an eternal hope for your life. If you believe that Jesus is who the Scriptures say he is, then you will respond by asking, “so, what does Jesus want me to do?”
These three statements help us answer that question. These are the three statements he makes to his disciples that we can take as promises or commands.

“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”
“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.

The first question regarding this statement is, how has the Father sent Jesus?
This is a loaded statement. In order to understand what Jesus meant, we need to review the entire life and mission of Jesus. What did Jesus say about why he came to earth? Actually, the question probably needs to take a different form. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me…”

There is more to this statement than just, “what did Jesus come to do?” I’m going to sit on this for longer than I normally would on a statement like this. The reason is because we need to be careful about skipping over something here.
In our Google, Wikipedia, instant answer society, we tend to jump from a question to an answer very quickly. Sometimes in the process we misunderstand the question.

Also, we are generally very quick to try and figure out what needs to be done. But Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me…” The way this is worded, it cannot mean, “I am sending you to do the things that the Father sent me to do.” So we cannot respond by figuring out merely what we are to do.

Jesus is sending his disciples to go out into the world in the same way Jesus was sent by the Father to go into the world. Here are some passages to help us:

John 1:11-12 “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

John 3:17 “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

John 5:19, 36 “Truly, truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing… the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.”

John 6:38, 40 “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me… this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

John 8:26, 28-29 “he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him… when you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.”

There are many more passages that could help us out here. But I want to just say that there is a pattern. Jesus came in a manner of obedience to the Father. That is the most common statement Jesus said about his mission to earth. The underlying theme and message for why Jesus came was to obey the Father.

Jesus said to his disciples, I am sending you the way the Father sent me: to obey the Father and to bear witness to Jesus, the Son of God.

This leads us to the next statement, which is actually two statements, but they are connected.

Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.

Another loaded statement. Jesus said to the disciples earlier that he would leave them, but the Father will send them a helper, a Paraclete. This is the Holy Spirit.

You have probably heard me say that the church is the manifest presence of God on earth. When Jesus came, God was alive on this planet. He left, and sent the Holy Spirit to live in and work among the followers of Jesus, the church.

This is how we are the manifest presence of God on earth. We carry with us, wherever we go, the presence of God. If you say you are a believer in Jesus, you represent him and it is your responsibility to be his presence to others.

Just as the previous statement says, you are in the world in the same way Jesus is in the world. Your behaviour tells other people something about who Jesus is. Let me ask you: what do people know about Jesus by the way you behave?

This is a life-changing question. It’s worth repeating. What do people know about Jesus by the way you behave?

I could end the sermon here and you would go home with enough to think about. The Christian life is not just about doing things. The Christian life is about being the sort of person that demonstrates the truth about who Jesus is.

And this does not only apply to us as individuals. This is something we need to consider as a church family. What do people know about Jesus by the way we treat one another?

This is a lot of pressure. You might be wondering if it is actually this serious. Some of you might be wondering if Jesus really meant for us to represent him in such a way. But let’s read the rest of this statement.

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.

There is nothing more serious to humanity than the forgiveness of sins. Without forgiveness, we do not experience eternal life and fellowship with the Father. We are doomed without forgiveness.

And Jesus is saying that he is giving his followers the responsibility to offer forgiveness to others. How is this possible?
Like everything else in this passage, this is a loaded idea. I am sad to say that the church has got this terribly wrong in the past.

So, I encourage you to explore in Scripture what I am saying here. Test it and discover what I am saying for yourself.

When we present the gospel, the testimony and witness of Jesus, to others, we are presenting to them the opportunity to receive forgiveness. We are offering to them the truth about who they are as enemies of God and how to have their relationship with God restored.

Part of offering the gospel to others is showing them the love and grace of God just as it has been shown to us. If we withhold forgiveness to others, we are not presenting the true gospel to them. If we do not forgive them, they are not shown the truth.

This is terribly serious. I don’t believe the Christian life needs to be boring or depressing. But, I do believe we need to take this calling seriously. How we live our lives demonstrates to others what sort of God we worship. How we live our lives, how we forgive others and offer to others love and grace is a witness to the person of Jesus Christ.

What do people know about the forgiveness of Jesus by the way you offer forgiveness?

Let’s go on to the final statement.

Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

This statement was made directly to Thomas, who said he needed to see Jesus in person before he would believe that Jesus was alive. We get the term, “doubting Thomas” from this passage.

Although Jesus was talking to Thomas, he was making a statement about belief in him. He said that those who have not seen Jesus are blessed. He is talking here about billions of people over the course of the last two thousand years.

So, how are all of us blessed? None of us have seen the physical human person called Jesus of Nazareth. For those of us who believe, what is our blessing?

I’m going to close with reading from 1 Peter 1. Before I do that, I want you to think again about what has been said this morning. We started with this question, “what would be different without the resurrection?”

It could be summed up using the theme of Advent today: Hope. If there was no resurrection, there would be no hope.
But, because there was a resurrection, we have hope. But we also have responsibility. We have been sent by Jesus to be his witness and presence on earth.

Because there was a resurrection, we can tell people about the hope of forgiveness and the hope of the promise of eternal life.
This Advent season, this season of awaiting our eternal King, I urge you to be a witness to this hope. Start each day by asking yourself, “how can I show people who Jesus today?”

Now, would you stand as I read 1 Peter 1:3-9 from The Message. Receive this as the benediction.

What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.

I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.

You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation.

The Resurrection Part 1 – John 20:1-18

The following is a sermon manuscript from November 20, 2015.

As an introduction, I have a question. What would have happened if Jesus stayed dead?

Would he have still been someone we can put our faith in? Would he have still been our saviour?

Jesus was an amazing person. His life was filled with miracles, with love and compassion. He broke down cultural barriers and taught with tremendous authority. There is no person in all history who compares to Jesus.

When he was killed, it was believed to be the end of the following Jesus created. Despite him being the most wonderful person in history, would there have been any power in his life and death if it wasn’t for the resurrection?

If Jesus stayed dead, we might still have a record of his life and teachings, which are amazing and wonderful, but would there be any real authority or power in reading about it?

If Jesus stayed dead, would we have any more hope than anyone ever has or could have?

This morning and next week we are looking at the resurrection. This is a huge topic and volumes have been written about it. This morning will be focused mainly on the two people mentioned in this passage who responded to Jesus’ resurrection. There was John’s response of believing the Scriptures that Jesus must rise from the dead, and there was Mary’s response of clinging to Jesus. We will also look at Jesus’ mysterious instructions to Mary.

But first, in order to help us get into the minds of these people, I want to provide a brief history of the common understanding of the Messiah and two reasons why people had such a hard time with Jesus fitting that profile.

All throughout the history of the nation of Israel, there was an understanding among them that sacrifice must be made to atone for their sins. Atonement was a common concept among Hebrew people. It means to make amends. They understood that they needed to make amends for their offences against God.

Another common understanding was that a Messiah would one day come and rescue Israel, restoring her as an eternal kingdom under the rule of God. The prophecies about a Messiah referred to an unending rule of a King who would descend from the line of David.

Every generation awaited this ruler, with hopes that he would remove whatever oppression they were facing at the time.
In the first century AD, the nation of Israel was under the oppression of the Roman Empire. Therefore, for that generation, the hope was for the Messiah to remove the Roman oppression.

These two common understandings, that of the need for atonement, and that of the coming of a Messiah, were both ultimately and completely fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. However, not many of the first century Jews saw this for what it was.

They did not consider this man, Jesus, to be particularly helpful to them. They didn’t see him as meeting their most urgent needs.
Atonement, in their minds, was not expected to be ultimately achieved by human sacrifice. This was an offensive idea and was far from their minds. Resurrection was even further from their minds. Although some Jews believed in a future resurrection, they had no system of thought or even a perceived need for an individual human to rise from the dead.

In addition, the Messiah, the coming eternal King, was supposed to provide freedom for the nation of Israel. Jesus did not do that in the way they were expecting. In fact, he died at the hands of the Romans instead of conquering them.

There was very little about Jesus that they considered helpful. He didn’t do the things they wanted him to do. They had no use for a Messiah that came to die. And they had no concept of resurrection or the need for it, especially if the resurrected Messiah would not eventually become the earthly ruler of Israel. The work of Jesus on earth was just too far from what they viewed as helpful.

Now, let’s look at Mary’s response for a bit. When she finally recognized Jesus, what did she do? She clung onto Jesus. She longed for his embrace. But Jesus’ response indicates she was getting it wrong.

The purpose of Jesus resurrecting was not so that his best friends could have his company back. It wasn’t about him being there with them in the flesh. Jesus was saying, don’t cling to me as I am now. I am going to the Father, your Father, and that is the whole plan. There is something better coming!

Mary must have been overjoyed to be with Jesus once again. Can you imagine? The most wonderful person you have ever come to know just died. You spent the last two days mourning his loss. And he suddenly appears, raised to life!

Mary responded how we all would. She is overjoyed because she can once again be with him. Her mourning truly was turned to joy! But, Jesus responded by telling her that the true source of joy is not what she is thinking.

When Jesus healed people and provided food for people and showed mercy and compassion to people I’m sure it brought joy to them. And he asks his followers to do the same things for others.

But, we are wrong to think that Jesus came only to make our lives more comfortable. He died and rose to life so that we can enjoy fellowship with Jesus’ God and Father; our God and our Father.

Whatever comfort and joy we experience on earth is nothing compared to what is offered because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Don’t cling to earthly comfort! Look to God, look our eternal Father and our eternal hope!

For Mary, the resurrection was a reuniting of a dear companion. For the Jews, the Messiah was supposed to rescue them.
But, the real reason for the resurrection of Jesus is so that we all have the opportunity to experience a new source of joy, a new source of satisfaction, a new life.

Think about John’s response. The text says he believed that Jesus needed to be raised from the dead. Up until that point, he knew that Jesus was the Messiah, but he didn’t understand the need for a resurrection.

Paul explains the resurrection well, in many passages. I’ll read two:

Romans 6:8-11 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 1:19-23 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

The resurrection provided the means for eternal life. The resurrection of Jesus was the defeat of death, not just for Jesus but for anyone who believes in him. John knew Jesus could do this, because Jesus talked about it often. However, at the moment he realized Jesus had risen from the dead, something clicked. It all became real to him. Jesus truly was going to give people eternal life and he was doing it through the resurrection.

Now, while we await entrance into the full experience of the presence of God, we have a new reason for living. If you read the writings of John, the other writings, not the Gospel, you will see his new reason for living.

Like John, our life is for the purpose of bearing witness to the power of God and the opportunity to have fellowship with him through Jesus. This is what John spent the rest of his life doing: being a witness to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Listen to the words from John’s opening statements in 1 John:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

The church exists today because we carry forward the testimony of the death and resurrection of Jesus, our Messiah and Lord. It is our responsibility and privilege to tell of the power of God to forgive sins and restore fellowship between us and him.
This is our testimony. This is our mission: to reveal the truth about who we are and who Jesus is.

Israel did not see a need for the Messiah to die and be raised to life for them. They wanted a Messiah to take care of their oppression. Mary didn’t see the resurrection as solving the problem of sin. She saw it as a way to be close to a dear friend once again. How did Jesus respond? “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Jesus’ death and resurrection was so that our sins could be atoned for. Jesus is the eternal sacrifice. Having completed that work, he went to be with God the Father. Our hope is not in the earthly wonders of Jesus—although they are indeed wonderful—our hope is in an eternal Kingdom.

Becoming a part of the eternal kingdom of God requires more than just hearing or reading the teachings of Jesus. It is more than just being familiar with him and agreeing with the Bible.

There is true power in believing that Jesus was raised from the dead. It is this belief, the trusting and seeing the true nature of Jesus and what he can do for us, that makes us citizens of God’s kingdom.

Let’s go back to my original question: What would have happened if Jesus was not raised from the dead?

After all, it was his death that was payment for our sins. He made amends with God on our behalf by offering himself as a pure sacrifice. But forgiveness alone was not the plan.

The resurrection means that Jesus is an eternal King, an eternal atonement, an eternal intercessor on our behalf. And because of the resurrection, we are not only forgiven, but we are made citizens of the eternal kingdom.

Because Jesus didn’t stay dead, everything he said about himself has real meaning and produces real authority and power and hope.

Because he didn’t stay dead, we can believe his words when he said he is the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life in the kingdom of God.

Because he didn’t stay dead we have a message of hope, a witness to power, that can be passed on to others. We can say with confidence that there is no trouble or darkness in this world so great that it can extinguish the hope of our eternal security.

Today, trust and believe in the power of the resurrection and receive entry into the eternal Kingdom of God.

Fear Not, For I Am With You

This last week we had about 70 children come through our VBS program, which was called “Weird Animals… where Jesus’ love is one-of-a-kind.” They learned that no matter what happens, Jesus loves them. They might feel left out, or feel different from others, or they may not understand things that happen, or they might have done something wrong. But Jesus loves us even in the hardest times.

The VBS material is actually for 5 days, but we only did 4. So, this morning, you get to join in on the final Bible point of the Weird Animals VBS, which is, “Even when you’re afraid… Jesus Loves You!”

The Bible verse for this lesson is found in Matthew 14:27, where Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid… I am here!” Jesus said this because the disciples were afraid of him when he was walking out to them on the water.

Now, I know we have covered the story of Jesus walking on the water already in John. However, in Matthew, there is part of the story that is not told in John. Let’s read the entire story before we continue.

Read John 14:22-33

The message this morning is about who Jesus is, and why we can trust him with our fears.

Ask yourself, what are the main sources of fear in your life? What causes you to be afraid? What are you afraid of most?

There are many things we are afraid of. Death, injury, loneliness, sickness, poverty, rejection, missing a deadline, sleeping in, spiders, snakes. The list could go on.

Fear is a very common theme in Scripture. God has a whole lot to say about it.

Fear is the first emotion we read about following the first sin committed by Adam and Eve. Genesis 3:10 says, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked and I hid myself.”

Adam was afraid of confrontation with God. For the first time in his life he experienced fear and the reason was that he did something which caused division between him and God. Fear was the direct result of sin.

Once sin entered the world, people experienced fear all the time. Fear motivated Abram to lie about Sarai being his wife, but God said, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield.”

Fear motivated Isaac to lie about Rebekah being his wife, and God said, “Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you.”

Fear motivated Moses to flee Egypt after he killed an Egyptian, and it gripped him when God told him he would be sent to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. God saw that Moses was afraid, and so he said, “I will be with you.”

As the Israelites faced the Promised Land, with Joshua at commanding them into battle, God said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

When God called Gideon to save Israel from the Midianites, he was afraid. But God said, “I will be with you and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”

One of the most central aspects of faith in God is that we need not fear because God is with us. Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

When we read the Bible, we see that there are many, many good reasons to be afraid. Because of sin, we have a very good reason to have fears. Sin causes sickness, death, violence, poverty, hatred, anger, jealousy, and so many other bad things.

God knows that we have many fears. This is why he told people over and over again, “fear not.” Why did God tell people they don’t need to be afraid? What helps us when we are afraid?

It is the presence of God that can settle our fears. God says, “Fear not, I am with you.”
In Matthew 14, we read that the disciples were afraid because when Jesus was walking toward them on the water, they thought he was a ghost!

But, what did Jesus say? He said, “Do not be afraid, I am here!” Jesus told the disciples the same thing God told his people over and over again all throughout history. He said, “Because I, the Lord your God, am with you, you do not need to be afraid.”

There are many things we are afraid of. Think for a moment. What do you do when you’re afraid? What helps to calm your fears?

It often depends on the fear. If it is darkness, we try to find light. If there is a frightening sound, we try to get to a safe place.

Greater fears include a fear of losing our jobs and not having money. We are afraid of being injured, or our children being injured. We are afraid of people being mad at us, or being rejected.

One of the underlying beliefs in our society is that we all have a right to live without fear. Many of the laws we have are created because we are afraid of things. Laws are meant to protect us from harm and keep us safe.

Sometimes fear prompts us to action and helps us make wise decisions. We have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. We have plans for evacuation and natural disasters. We have insurance to help cover the costs of unexpected damage to our possessions or injuries that prevent us from working. Having these safety measures in place help to alleviate our fears.

Fear is a major part of who we are as humans, and we can’t really get away from it.

It is a common belief that religion is born out of fear. We are afraid of death, afraid of hell or some version of hell, and so we create a way to calm our fears. We create a system of beliefs and ways to live that reassures us that we are safe from eternal suffering.

This way of thinking is as old as sin itself. As long as people have been aware of sin, we have tried to come up with a way of dealing with the guilt and the fear of consequence. But when Jesus came, he said, do not be afraid, for I am here. Why does this change things? How does it make a difference?

I want you to think about this question, it’s a question we should be asking because at this point I haven’t really given you a good reason to see why we can find comfort in the fact that Jesus loves us.

I haven’t said anything about why that helps us with our fears. We tell the children, “Even when you’re afraid, Jesus loves you,” but we need to ask, how does this actually help me?

I can see it on the faces of the children when I tell them that Jesus loves them. They just look at me like, so what? I like it when they do that. It makes me dig deeper and explain to them why it matters.

When Jesus came, his solution to fear was completely different than any religion. Every other religion has been created by people as a way to get to God. We humans know deep down that we need to be justified for the things we have done wrong. We fear what will happen if we don’t have some way to escape the judgment of our sins.

Unlike every other religion, and contrary to popular belief, Jesus did not come to be the designer of a new way out of hell. He did not come to give us another step-by-step process for eliminating our guilt.

He came to bring that which will ultimately calm our greatest fears and give us hope and peace that we cannot give ourselves. He came to bring God himself to us. He came to bring us the presence of the one who has said, “fear not, for I am with you.”

The only true way out of fear is an experience with God himself. Let’s explore this through the VBS Bible point. “Even when you’re afraid, Jesus loves you.”

According to this point, the love of Jesus is supposed to somehow make us feel better. Be honest with yourself… do you feel better knowing that Jesus loves you? This is important, because for many of us, we have been told that Jesus loves us, and we’ve never really given much thought to why that should matter.

Yet, the statement is true, that Jesus loves us even when we are afraid. Not only that, but the love of Jesus really does make a difference.

Think about someone in your life who has made a life-changing positive difference for you. Besides my parents, I can think of at least three without spending a lot of time thinking about it. Now, how did those people make a difference in your life?

One person I think about is my wife. As of August 10, Lynn and I have been married twelve years. I can say without a doubt that I am a better person because of her. Why is that?

It should be no surprise that Lynn is a wonderful wife. However, she does not love me perfectly. Not even close. And I don’t love her perfectly. Although we want what is best for each other, we fail all the time. Yet, my life has been completely changed for the better because of her love for me.

When you have been loved by someone who wants what is best for you, and you receive that love in a healthy relationship, you will be changed for the better.

Love, even imperfect love, in the biblical sense, is actively desiring what’s best for others. I’ve talked about this before. The love of Jesus was demonstrated through his obedience to the Father by offering himself as payment for our sins. Jesus’ love is perfect, and it is powerful.

Let’s go back to Matthew 14, and see how the love of Jesus makes a difference for our fears.

What happened in this story? Jesus walks up to the boat on top of the water, and the disciples are frightened. Jesus said, “don’t be afraid, it’s me, Jesus.” Peter isn’t sure, so he calls out to Jesus, “hey, if it’s you, tell me to come out to you. Enable me to walk on the water like you.” So Jesus says, “yes, come.”

Peter steps out, and begins to walk. He’s doing it! What a miracle! No human has ever done this apart from Jesus. But, Peter notices the powerful wind. Fear grips him and he begins to sink.

What does Jesus do?

Just a second. When I was preparing for this message, I asked Lynn a question. You see, I know that Lynn used to be a lifeguard. I know this because we started dating when she was the lifeguard at the camp we both worked at.

I asked her, when she would jump in the water and rescue a drowning child, how did people usually respond? Were people amazed at your love and compassion? Were their lives changed forever? It’s kind of funny to think of that.

People rescue others all the time in the world. We praise the people for their courage, but really, most people would rescue someone in trouble if they were able to.

Now, back to Jesus and Peter. Peter is sinking, and he cries out, “Save me, Lord!” What did Jesus do? He saved him of course! Wow! What amazing love and compassion! He saved someone who was drowning!

Wait a second… why does Jesus get such special treatment for saving someone? anyone would have done that in his situation.

The love of Jesus in this story is not demonstrated by the fact that Jesus rescued Peter from drowning. The love of Jesus is demonstrated by HIS VERY PRESENCE!!! Where was Jesus when he rescued Peter? He was standing on top of the water!

The love of Jesus stills our fears not because he is willing to rescue us. Our fears are stilled because the love of Jesus has power to overcome even the most destructive forces on earth.
Wind, water, sickness, sin, death. Jesus has power over all of it. And his love is backed by all that power.

So, when we tell these children, and when I tell you, that even when you’re afraid, Jesus loves you, your fears are calmed because you know that the love of Jesus is powerful and has overcome all things that seek to do us harm.

A relationship with Jesus, a relationship that involves receiving his love means that whatever we are experiencing, whatever fears we have, are subject to his love. It doesn’t mean fears won’t come. Peter stepped out in faith toward Jesus, and he became afraid and started sinking. But, Jesus was there to pull him up.

We will never be out of the reach and power of Jesus. That is what calms our fears. That is why we can walk confidently on this earth, even when storms rage around us.

Whatever you are afraid of this morning, tell Jesus about it. He’s listening. Maybe you’re afraid of rejection, or sickness, or injury. Maybe you are afraid of facing God because you know you have done wrong.

I invite you to trust Jesus this morning. Trust him with your fears.