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.

The Book of Judges and the Christian Life

The book of Judges begins with the death of Joshua. The Israelites have settled in the land of Canaan and were a strong military force. However, as we will see, they became complacent and failed to complete the mission God gave to them. Instead of driving out all the inhabitants of the land they had conquered, they allowed some of the people to live among them as slaves. This was outright disobedience to the Lord’s commands, which resulted in severe consequences.

As you read the following study on Judges, think about how this story compares to the Christian life. What has God called Jesus followers to do? What is the mission of the church? How have we failed to complete this mission? And, what are the consequences of our disobedience to Christ’s commands?

Judges 1:28: When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely.

Judges 2:1-3: “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”

In the land of Canaan at the time of the book of Judges, there was a common understanding that someone would typically have three different gods. There was a national god, which was passed down through generations and worshipped by the entire nation. This god was called upon in times of war or national crisis. There was a family god, which was passed down and worshipped through the family, and called upon in times of need among the family members. And then each person would choose their own god for themselves, who would be called upon for personal success. The way someone might choose a personal god would commonly be during a time of sickness or trouble. An individual would go to various shrines to make a food offering, and wait to be delivered. If deliverance wasn’t provided, he would go to the next shrine and offer a sacrifice to a different idol. If deliverance was experienced, he would assume this particular god found favour in the sacrifice, and so the individual would choose this idol as his personal god and continue to bring sacrifices to it.

Yahweh was viewed by the Israelites as their national God, but because of the influence of the other nations, the Israelites believed that they were free to choose for themselves a family and a personal god. The Israelites found idolatry attractive because it was guaranteed, it was materialistic, it was easy and convenient, it was socially acceptable among the other nations. It was strange for the other nations to think that the Israelites could worship an invisible God who was believed to be able to do everything, as they worshiped gods that were represented by images made of wood and stone, and they understood that each god performed a different task. Idolatry was also pleasing to the senses because of the use of iconography and craftsmanship, it was indulgent and it was erotic, satisfying their desire for a lifestyle of constant eating, drinking and sexual promiscuity. Idolatry became natural for the Israelites because they were surrounded by it. The warnings God provided prior to entering Canaan was coming true: they did not drive out the other nations, and so the Israelites were getting themselves into trouble through idol worship.

However, every time there was oppression from other nations, the Israelites called upon their national God, Yahweh, for deliverance. But, each time God delivered them, it wasn’t long before they slipped back into idol worship, conforming to the ways of the nations. Instead of relying on Yahweh for provision, they sacrificed to a Baal or a fertility-god. This caused God to again give the Israelites over to the surrounding nations, and thus we see a cycle among God’s people of idol worship and crying out for deliverance.

Judges 2:11-23 provides an overview of what happened among the Israelites during this time, and the following passages show how Israel was disobedience over and over again during the time of the Judges:

3:7: And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.

3:12: And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the Lord.

4:1: And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud died.

6:1: The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years.

8:33: As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god.

10:6: The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him.

13:1: And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.

21:22: In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

As you can see, Israel failed to obey God. As you read earlier, God warned the Israelites that because they failed to complete the mission, the people of Canaan would become a thorn in their sides, and their gods would be a snare to them. God, of course, was right. The Israelites fell victim to the lures of the Canaanite idol worship. The constant exposure to the way of life in that land caused the Israelites to participate in these evil practices.

As I was studying the book of Judges, I realized that I am the same as the Israelites. When God called me out of a life of slavery to sin, he commanded me to drive everything out of my life that could become a snare to me as I follow Christ. But I have not obeyed God. I find that I constantly allow small, seemingly harmless, aspects of my old self to remain. The Israelites thought they had conquered the land, and keeping a few of the local people around as slaves would not be such a bad thing. But God knew that even a small population of idol worshippers could cause problems among the Israelites. God told them to get rid of every last one, but out of pride, they refused. And out of pride, I have refused to get rid of every last remnant of my old self. So, I ask, what is left of in your life that should be driven out?

God gave the Israelites plenty of chances to get rid of the Canaanites. He provided Judges to lead them out of bondage, but as soon as they had a sense of relief from oppression, they fell back into idol worship instead of pressing on to further victory.

God gives us the power to overcome the oppression of sin in our lives. The Holy Spirit is with us and is able to strengthen us to victory. However, as soon as a small victory is won, we think we are safe. We think we can stop fighting, meanwhile small remnants of sin remain and grow in their influence over us. It isn’t long before we are calling out to God for deliverance once more.

Generous Sacrifices: Hebrews 13:12-16 – Sermon from March 23, 2014

Note in this passage that those who identify themselves with Christ are not at home in the world, and so we should live in a way that is generous to God and generous to others. If what we have and where we live are not permanent, then we have no need to hold on to them tightly. Listen for that theme in this passage.

10 We have an altar from which the priests in the Tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. 12 So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood. 13 So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore. 14 For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. 15 Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. 16 And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God. (Hebrews 13:10-16, NLT)

There are two sacrifices we are reminded to offer in response to our identification with Christ: proclamation sacrifice and sharing sacrifice.

Proclamation Sacrifice

One of the most profound revelations I encountered in studying this passage is that Jesus Christ is the worship leader in the church. This may not be new to you, but maybe this is a new way of thinking about it. Verse 15 says that through Jesus we offer a sacrifice of praise to God.

What does Hebrews 7:25 say about what Jesus does forever on our behalf?

…he [Jesus] is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.

Look also at Hebrews 2:11-12:

So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. For he said to God, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people.”

The only way we get to God is through Jesus, and Jesus is always interceding for us. Jesus is singing along with us! Not only that, Jesus is providing a way for us to praise God. Why is this such a big deal? Let’s look at the content of our proclamation…

What does it say in Hebrews 13:15? It says that we are to give thanks, or acknowledge or profess the name of God. What is really being said here is that our praise flows out of knowing God. When Scripture refers to someone’s name, it is usually encompassing all that makes up a person.

When we offer praise to God, we do it out of our knowledge of who He is. Implied here is a call to know God and out of that knowledge, through Jesus Christ, we praise Him. Proclamation sacrifice is not just the act of singing praise to God, but it also includes knowing God. This is not just knowing about God, it’s really knowing him.

Here’s an example. I love pie. The other day I was sitting in Country Cappuccino, and I overheard someone say that they really enjoyed the lemon meringue pie they just ate. In that moment, I knew that the pie was good. Why? Because someone said so. But, it’s not good enough to just hear that the pie is good. I want to experience the goodness of the pie. So, I did. I went and bought a piece of pie. I ate it. It was good. In fact, it was better than I expected. But, I unless I ate the pie, I would have never known just how good it was. And now that I have had a piece, I am overflowing with praise about how good that pie was.

You see? We can’t just know about God’s goodness. We need to taste it. Our praise of God will overflow out of the experience of God’s goodness, not just knowledge about God’s goodness, and not just out of our own experiences, but also the experiences of others. Let’s face it, if we base our praise of God only on our own experiences, we will fail to praise God continually, because our experiences are not continually good.

But if our praise is based on the goodness of God that we have tasted and seen within the community of his people, it will be continuous because God is always doing things in the community of his people that we can give him praise for, even if it is the hard things.

Let’s look at the second sacrifice mentioned in this passage…

Sharing Sacrifice

Imagine you are getting things packed up for a family vacation to Paris. Among the clothes, snacks and toiletries you pack, there is one thing you will not want to forget: your camera. Why is it that we feel the need to take pictures of our vacations? Think about it… if you want pictures of Paris, you can just go online and find millions of pictures, and the pictures you’ll find online will probably be much better quality than yours.

Most people would say that we take pictures because we want to remember our experiences. That’s true. But there is deeper reason, and this reason has become particularly evident in the last several years with the development and growth of online photo sharing networks. Prior to the development of digital cameras in the 90’s, approximately 2,500 photos were taken around the world per second. It is estimated that in 2011, we were taking about 11 thousand photos per second. By the fall of 2013, Facebook users had uploaded more than 250 billion photos to the site, and averaged about 350 million uploads per day, which is about 4000 photos each second. That is staggering!

Back to Paris. Why do we want to take pictures of Paris, when we can find millions of better pictures online? Here’s why: we love to share our experiences. God has created us to be sharing people. In fact, I’ve heard it said that no experience in life is complete until it has been shared with someone else. Of course, there are exceptions. But, it’s amazing how true it is! Think about the last time you saw a beautiful sunset. It is wonderful to just sit and watch the sun go down, but the experience is so much better when I can share it with someone else.

The desire to share, however, is different when we believe that sharing means losing. When we think that sharing something means giving it up, we tend to hold back. Although we are created as sharing people, our desire to share vanishes upon the realization that sharing may mean losing what we love.

Every parent here knows that when you buy a child a toy, that toy is usually only enjoyed for a short time… That is, until another child is found to be enjoying it. Isn’t it true? Why do you think that is? A toy can quickly become boring, but as soon as another child finds it to be fun and interesting, it suddenly becomes fun and interesting to every other child in the room. This is a natural inclination we all have toward wanting what other people are enjoying. The sin known in the Ten Commandments as covetousness is a distorted version of a God-given human characteristic we all have.

There is something to be had in the act of sharing that is far more valuable to the well-being of our souls than keeping a prized possession to ourselves. Think again about our children with the toys. When a child wants a toy that another child is enjoying, what he is really desiring is not the toy, but the joy that the other child has. This is why TV commercials rarely tell you about the products they are selling. Rather, they show you how much another person is enjoying their product. They sell you on the positive experience of using the product, not the actual product itself.

Back to Paris one more time. You are not taking pictures to show people where you’ve been. Everyone has seen pictures of the Eiffel Tower. You are taking pictures because you want to share the experience of being there.  When we are sharing our pictures, we are not doing it with hopes that others will see what we have seen, but to enjoy what we have enjoyed. The God-given desire we all have that has been distorted by sin is the desire to share what our hearts find most fulfilling. And, the desire to have what gives others deep fulfillment.

Let’s take a moment and reflect back to the first part of the message. I said that praising God flows up out of our tasting the goodness of God. Bring that idea into this current idea. Remember how our experience of God is finally fulfilled… By sharing our joy with God himself in the act of praise. It is also experienced by sharing our joy with others.

But, without Christ, we can’t do either. So, see how significant our identity with Christ is?

Verse 15 says that it is through Christ that we can praise God. It is only through Christ that we can experience the full joy of the goodness of God. Amazing! And it is through Christ’s Spirit that we can praise God together, not only through singing, but through sharing in the blessings he has given us.

This brings me to the main point of verse 16. Let’s look at it again:

…don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.

Every one of us has something to offer other people, even if it is something seemingly insignificant.  This passage is telling us to not forget to share what we have with others. This is good not only because it will benefit others, but because in our act of sharing, we find a greater fulfilment than if we keep things to ourselves. God made us to be sharing people.

There is also a hard part to this command. We are not only meant to share the positive experiences and gifts in life, but we are also meant to share in the difficult times and the burdens of life. Look at verse 13: “let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore.”

Because we are identified with Christ as his followers, we must share in the shame that Christ experienced in his crucifixion. I’ve heard this same principle explained this way: when we have someone to share life with, our joys are increased and our burdens are decreased. This is usually stated in the context of a wedding, but I think it applies to the entire community of God’s people. We are meant to share our joys and burdens with one another, not in order to become more holy, but in order to have a deeper, more satisfying experience.

This message is kind of funny in a way. We all know that we are supposed to share; we learn this lesson as children. However, sometimes we need to hear a simple message, in a new way, so that this simple truth will grow deeper roots and bear more fruit in our lives together. I hope that is the case with this message.

I want to close by explaining how it’s possible to practice these acts of sacrifice. Because we all know that sacrifice is easier said than done.

The entire way of life for Christians is based on the fact that we are not permanent residents of earth. We have something better coming. Based on that, we really have nothing to lose on this planet. Verse 14 says that on earth we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

Everything we are searching for on earth is ultimately found in heaven. We can have the strength to share in our joy and our pain, our celebrations and our burdens. We can empty ourselves of everything we have because we have something far better on the way.

While we are here, we share with one another our joy and our difficulties. We share our gifts, our abundance, and even what little we have. Not because we expect more in return here on earth, but because we have more than we can imagine coming our way when this life passes on and we make our move to our true home.