RESURRECTION: DON’T LOSE HOPE, DON’T GIVE IN TO DISAPPOINTMENT

heaven

In our everyday life experience, we may feel far removed from the resurrection of Jesus. We may feel like it has nothing to do with us, like from now on we just have to get on with life as best we can. But Jesus is walking right next to us. Feeling or no feeling, whether we can perceive it somehow or not, the Resurrection of Jesus was real, and the resurrection life that he offers us is just as real. Don’t settle for anything less than Him, and his Resurrection Life.

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Download Easter 2018

EASTER SUNDAY, 2018.

Luke 24:13-35; John 14:1-7; John 16:33

It’s always a challenge for me to preach about the Resurrection of Jesus. It is the central truth of our faith. Jesus physically rose from death; you either believe it or you don’t. In the past I have offered many facts and logical arguments that tell us it is reasonable to believe it. But this year I want to look at the difference it makes in our lives. It makes a huge difference in eternity, of course – the difference between heaven and hell. But it starts to make a difference right now, in the choices we make, and in how we deal with disappoint and grief here in this life.

Please read Luke 14:13-35. This is not the usual story you hear on Easter, but it is one of the Resurrection appearances that Jesus made the very same day he rose. I want you to hear the confusion of these disciples: Cleopas, and his unnamed friend. Things didn’t turn out the way they thought. They were processing, but it sounds like they were about to give up hope.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Cast Away starring Tom Hanks. Hanks’ character, named “Chuck,” is on the verge of proposing to his girlfriend Kelly, the love of his life. But he has to take a business trip first. Over the Pacific Ocean, his plane goes down. He survives the next four years completely alone on a deserted island. Finally, he is rescued. But four years with no word is a long time. When he returns, he finds that everyone had given up on him, and considered him dead. Even his true love Kelly, had mourned him, and then moved on. She is now married, with a toddler.

Naturally, when Chuck returns – from the dead, so to speak – it is traumatic to both of them. Chuck drives to see Kelly at her house in the middle of the night, as the rain pours down. They both say goodbye in a heartbreaking scene, where much is left unsaid. Then, as Chuck pulls down the driveway, Kelly comes running out in the rain, calling his name. They stand in the rain, hugging and kissing. Then Kelly says:

“I always knew you were alive, I knew it. But everybody said I had to stop saying that, that I had to let you go.” Kelly pauses while they stare at each other. “I love you. You’re the love of my life.”

After another long pause while they look at each other, Chuck says, “I love you too Kelly, more than you’ll ever know.”

They get into Chuck’s car and sit in silence. But they both know that Kelly has to go back home, that it is too late for them to ever be together like that again. And so he drives her back up the driveway, and leaves her there.

There is a lot of tragedy in this scene that is simply the result of circumstances that neither one of them could control. But there is also the tragedy that Kelly gave up on Chuck, even when deep in her heart, she knew that she shouldn’t stop hoping. So she settled for life as best as she could get it. She quit working on her dream to be a professor. She married a decent man (not her true love) and had a child. And so when Chuck came back – the true love of her life – it was too late. She had already made another life for herself, and there was no place for Chuck in it anymore.

This is heartbreaking, but it is, after all, just a movie. Even so, I think this part of the movie taps into a spiritual truth. It reveals the struggle of faith that we have sometimes as Christians. Our Lover – Jesus – has  been gone for a long time now. All around us, voices tell us to give up, to move on, to settle for life as best as we can get it. But if we do that, we find, like Kelly, that when Jesus returns, we have no room for him in our lives anymore.

Jesus’ very first disciples struggled with this. They traveled with Jesus, watched his miracles and heard him preach. They came to believe that he was God’s chosen Messiah – true God in the flesh, their only true hope for salvation and real life. And then he was killed. Now they didn’t know what to do with all their hopes and dreams. It was all over. So, on the third day after his death, Cleopas and his friend went on a short journey. A stranger joined them as they walked and asked them why they seemed so sad. They told the stranger about Jesus and all he had done and said, and then they told him how Jesus had been handed over and killed. They end with a brief and poignant expression of their loss and confusion:

“But we were hoping that he was the one who was about to redeem Israel.”

You can almost hear the pain in their words. Things didn’t turn out the way they planned. They were sure they were following God. They were sure they had it right, and that their future was bright with their savior. They were hurt and lost. They had put their hope in Jesus, and now Jesus wasn’t there anymore.

Only he was.

He was right next to them. He was the very stranger that they were talking to. This is extremely important. In our everyday life experience, we may feel far removed from the resurrection of Jesus. We may feel like it has nothing to do with us, like from now on we just have to get on with life as best we can. But Jesus is walking right next to us. Feeling or no feeling, whether we can perceive it somehow or not, the Resurrection of Jesus was real, and the resurrection life that he offers us is just as real.

The disciples’ lack of faith is surprising. Jesus told them exactly what was going to happen. He said several times that he would be taken captive by the authorities and executed, and then that he would rise from death on the third day. They didn’t want to believe the part about him dying, until they had no choice. They wouldn’t accept what he was saying. Peter told him not to have such a negative outlook. The others heard too, but it bounced off their skulls like water off a duck. They simply didn’t get it. And then when he did die, they still didn’t believe the part where he told them he would rise again physically. So the death of Jesus destroyed them mentally and emotionally. They were completely lost.

Sometimes, we are like those disciples. Jesus told us exactly what is going to happen. He said we would have trouble in this world (John 16:33), but he also told us not to let our hearts be troubled (John 14:1). Living in a world of sin, we will experience sorrow and grief. But living in faith in Jesus Christ, those sorrows and griefs are not the final word. They are not as real as the great reality that is coming for those who trust Jesus. The pain and severe disappointment experienced by those disciples walking along the road was real. But the man walking beside them was real too, and he had already overcome their grief, even before they were aware of it. The reality of his resurrection was greater than the reality of their sorrow, whether they knew it or not.

I think the danger we face as believers in the risen Messiah is that, like those other disciples, we forget the promises of Jesus, or we think he is not close, not next to us. And so, in the meantime, we try to just go on and get some kind of life and hope for ourselves.

There is another poignant scene in the film Cast Away. For four years alone on the island, Chuck had no companion. So he began to talk to a volleyball that had a face-shaped bloodstain on it. He called it Wilson. In a strange way, he grew to care for the volleyball and became deeply attached to it. When he is sailing to try and find help, the volleyball comes loose from where it is tied. Chuck tries to swim after it but he is held back by a rope that attaches him to the raft. He finally needs to make a choice whether to hold on to raft, which is his only chance at living and seeing Kelly again – or swimming after the volleyball, and drowning with it in his arms.

He reluctantly chooses life, but he cries his heart out at the loss of Wilson. It may be just a stupid volleyball, but it is all he has had for four long years. It is hard to blame Chuck for being so broken up after he lets Wilson go. We can understand it and even feel some of his pain. In the context of the whole movie, it is actually a very moving scene. And yet even though it is perfectly understandable, we know (and even the character Chuck knows) that ultimately, it is just a volleyball. It isn’t a real person. It isn’t worth giving your life for.

Sometimes I think we spend half our lives like Chuck in that scene, tugging on the end of the rope, not quite sure whether we are going to give up the raft, or give up the volleyball. Chuck’s problem was that after four years alone, part of him actually believed that Wilson was a real person. He wasn’t sure of the truth. He may not have been fully convinced that the raft would really bring him back to civilization and real people. Because of his experience, Wilson seemed more real, more important than the raft.

We are like that sometimes. This life sometimes seems so much more real than the Resurrection Life that Jesus told us about. The things we can have here tempt us to believe the lie that they are more real and more important than our eternal future. This is understandable. It is understandable also to have a hard time giving them up, just like Chuck had difficulty letting go of Wilson. But even though we understand, and it is hard, the choice is perfectly and completely clear. There is nothing in this life that is worth holding on to if it keeps us from the real Life that Jesus offers us.

Will we hold onto something that is ultimately worthless, or will we give it up for real life? To give it up requires faith. It requires us to trust that there is a real resurrection, that real life is still waiting for us. We can see and touch the fake things, like Chuck could touch and see the volleyball Wilson. But those things are not as real and true as what awaits us when we trust in Jesus. Jesus said:

1 “Your heart must not be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also. 4 You know the way to where I am going.”

5 “Lord,” Thomas said, “we don’t know where You’re going. How can we know the way? ” 6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. 7 “If you know Me, you will also know My Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:1-7)

The fact of the resurrection tells us that there is real life waiting for us. There is still true love possible. Our dreams have not been shattered and lost. We just need to recognize that the time is not yet. We are in the dress rehearsal, the practice before the real game begins. We are living in a deserted island in a cave, not in our real home. We are practicing to love, practicing to be great.

One of the things that helped Chuck through, was his hope of the life that existed away from his island. So I want us to dwell for a little bit on the resurrection life that waits for us, away from this little island that we mistakenly call life.

I think a lot Christians have the feeling that the resurrection life will be a never ending worship service. Let me be honest with you. I am a pastor, and that thought does not excite me. Don’t get me wrong, I love to worship the Lord with other believers. But I also love to fish, to hike and come around the corner of ridge to a new vista I’ve never seen before. I love to just hang out and laugh with my family and close friends. I like to write, and read and experience moving stories. I believe amazing worship will be part of our experience of resurrection life. But I think there will also be so much more.

John Eldredge writes that you cannot hope for something you do not desire. The overwhelmingly good news is that resurrection life is where our deepest, strongest, purest desires are fulfilled. The desire for intimacy that sometimes we get confused with a desire for only sex – that intimacy will be fulfilled in resurrection life. The desire to be deeply connected to beauty – the thing that causes us to ache when see a beautiful person, or an awe-inspiring view, or hear uplifting music – that will be fulfilled. The desire to be significant, to be recognized for who you are and for the God-given gifts you have – that will be fulfilled in resurrection life. That thing in you that loves to rise to the occasion and meet challenges – that will find its ultimate expression in resurrection life.

We won’t be ghosts or angels, floating around somewhere. Jesus was not resurrected as a spirit – he had a physical body. On several occasions after he was raised, he sat down and ate with the disciples. He promises us resurrection bodies also (1 Corinthians 15). He promises us a new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21 & 22) where will live and love and do the things we love to do, and be connected to God and to each other without the destruction and cruelty of sin and sorrow.

I will never get the love I am seeking from human beings. I may never be recognized for who I am I this life. My talents might go unappreciated. I might have to toil and spend a lot of time doing things I don’t really want to do. If this life is all there is, that would be tragic. But if all that is fulfilled in the next life, in my resurrection, which Jesus made possible – then what I face here and now is bearable. It isn’t the final word. I’m not getting too old – I’m actually getting closer to the fulfillment of all I want as I age.

I’ve heard an expression: “Some people are so heavenly-minded, they are no earthly good.” I detest that expression. It is entirely false. I have never met anyone who is too heavenly-minded. And the most resurrection-oriented people I know are the ones who have done the most for the Lord and for their fellow human beings here and now. It is only when we lost sight of resurrection that we become focused on making ourselves happy here and now, whatever the cost.

Think back to Kelly, from Cast Away. Deep in her heart, she knew Chuck was alive. But she lost faith. She gave up that hope and settled for what she could get at the moment. Because of that, she missed out forever on the life she might have had with Chuck if she had only held on.

Think about the disciples. Jesus was right at their shoulder during the moment they were ready to give up on him. He is right at your shoulder too. They didn’t sense him, but that didn’t have anything to do with the actual facts of the matter. He was there the whole time. He is here the whole time. Don’t give up. Don’t settle for less than Him, and His resurrection life.

We who are Christians know that Jesus is alive. We know it through faith. We know there is more life, better life waiting for us with him. We know it. But everyone keeps saying we have to move on. Everyone tells us we shouldn’t spend so much time thinking about it. Sometimes it feels like God hasn’t come through. But we know better. Don’t let go of that knowledge. Don’t give up that hope. Don’t fill your life with other things, don’t make yourself a life apart from the one who truly loves you and is coming back for you, no matter how long it seems.

He is Risen!

YOUR BEST LIFE IS NOT NOW

RESURRECTION SUNDAY, 2016

raising laz

 

When people or things in our life die, we want to know why God didn’t prevent it. Perhaps he has something better in mind than fixing this imperfect life here and now.

 

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John 11:1-53

I’ll bet you never guess what I want to talk about this week. That’s right. I’m going to teach about the birth of Jesus. Just kidding of course.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central truth on which all Christian theology depends. If Jesus wasn’t really raised from the dead, then he was a madman or megalomaniac. But if he was truly raised, then what he said was true; and he said he was God the Son, come into the world for our salvation.

I have talked before about the theological implications of the resurrection. I probably will again in the future. I have shared with you substantial evidence that supports the claim that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. I’ll do that again in the future also. But this year, I want to talk about the resurrection in a personal way. To do that, I want to consider a different resurrection: the resurrection of Lazarus, recorded in John chapter 11:1-53. Don’t get me wrong, this is also about the resurrection of Jesus. However, I think by considering what happened in this incident, we can learn some things about Jesus’ resurrection, and the eternal life he offers us.

Jesus was at least two days of traveling from his friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Lazarus became seriously ill, and so the sisters sent word to Jesus. What John says next is pretty strange:

5 Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus. 6 So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.

John connects two things that don’t seem like they should be connected. He says Jesus loved Lazarus, so when he heard Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was. Sometimes it is helpful to pay attention to the connecting words like “so,” and “therefore.” I checked the Greek, and sure enough, “so” is a good translation. But what kind of sense does that make? I can see John writing, “Jesus loved Lazarus, but when he heard he was sick, he stayed where he was anyway.” Or it would make sense to say, “Jesus loved Lazarus, so when he heard he was sick, he hurried to his side.” But John very deliberately connects the fact that Jesus loved Lazarus to the fact that he didn’t go to him, and allowed him to die.

Now, of course, that isn’t the end of the story. Jesus does go eventually back – after Lazarus has died and been in the ground for four days. He speaks to Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary. Martha says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” This is actually a statement, but implied here is a question: “Why did you let him die? Why didn’t you come when we called?”

We know the end of this particular story. Jesus had bigger plans for Lazarus than merely healing him from a deadly disease. He had plans for resurrection. But Martha couldn’t see those plans.

I think that often our deepest struggles with God are like this. We run into trouble because frequently, God is working from an eternal perspective, and we are not. He knows things we can’t know, things we will never know on earth, and maybe not even in eternity. He has purposes that are greater and better than we have thought. And so, what looks like death and tragedy to us looks like an opportunity for resurrection to him.

You can’t fault Martha and Mary and the disciples for failing to see it. It is so much bigger than anything they have thought of hoping for. They are thinking of this life. They are thinking of what seems possible, given their level of interaction with Jesus. But they are not thinking like Jesus.

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:23-27, ESV)

Jesus doesn’t answer her unspoken question. Instead, while their brother is still rotting in the tomb, he asks them to put their faith in him. He asks for faith before they have any reason to give it.

I identify with Martha and the others. I usually hope for what seems somewhat realistic. Considering how they had themselves seen Jesus heal people, it was reasonable for them to hope for healing. But resurrection was outside their experience. It was outside their paradigm. So often, we are like that. We want healing and continuation of this life. Jesus wants to give us resurrection. We want what seems possible, even if unlikely. Jesus wants to give us what we haven’t even thought of yet. We want to restore things as they were. Jesus wants to let things “as they were” die, so that he can resurrect something better in its place.

I have a very old Mercedes-Benz. Because the car is so old, a number of things don’t work correctly. I can’t control the side mirrors. The horn doesn’t work either. A few of the dashboard lights don’t function as they are supposed to. Water leaks into the trunk in heavy rain. The only way to lock and unlock the car is through the trunk. Don’t get me wrong, I love the car and the way it drives – still drives like a Mercedes. It just has its little foibles.

One day, our car wouldn’t start. Kari and I were pretty disappointed. We had a lot of driving to do the next day, and we both had to go different places. I called a man in our church who is a talented as a mechanic. He came and got it to start. We’re thrilled to have it back. None of the other things got fixed. I still can’t control the side mirrors or use the horn or see the time and temperature. I still have to use the trunk to lock it up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful to our friend and very grateful to have the car working again. But it is still the same car.

But now, suppose for a moment that my friend the mechanic was very rich and generous. Imagine that when he heard the trouble I was having, he decided to buy me a brand new Mercedes-Benz. So, imagine that when I asked him to come fix my old car, he said, “No, Tom, I’m not going to do that,” all the while planning to give me a new car, a car in which everything works. I might be disappointed in my friend, not knowing his plan for me. I would be focused on getting my old car back. He would be focused on giving me something much better. I think sometimes this is how we are with Jesus. Our vision is small.

Our vision is for a nice life in this imperfect world. We want “our best life now.” Jesus promises that our best life will never be now, on this earth, and we should be glad of it. His vision for us is for something much more glorious, more real, something far better than anything that has occurred to us.

 

There is something else about this story that strikes me. In order for resurrection to occur, death must occur first. In other words, Jesus cannot resurrect something unless it dies first. To go back to the point I made earlier: Jesus loved Lazarus, therefore he let him die.

This isn’t necessarily a pleasant thought. Usually, we want to skip the dying part, and go right to the resurrection; but death is a part of the equation. Jesus said:

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24, ESV)

This is an obvious truth when it comes to seeds. When you plant a seed, you destroy it, as a seed. But the destruction of a seed results in something new and wonderful, something that is actually much greater than seed was.

It is true also with the caterpillar. When the caterpillar goes into the chrysalis, for all intents and purposes, its life as a caterpillar is over. It will never again crawl on the ground or eat leaves. But instead, it will fly, and drink sweet nectar from flowers.

In the same way, resurrection requires death. This truth is all over the bible:

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matt 16:24-26, ESV)

When Jesus says “take up his cross” he means quite simply, “be willing to die.”

2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col 3:2-3, ESV)

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20, ESV)

Ultimately, this means our physical death. It means that death is not something to fear. It leads to resurrection. But even now, before physical death, there are things that Jesus would like us to let go. There are ambitions, hopes, values, material things, perhaps even relationships, that we need to allow to die. [By the way, when I say “relationships” I don’t mean marriages. As always, we need to consider the whole scripture, and the Lord has made it clear that he considers marriages to be permanent in this life. Please do not interpret this message in any way that contradicts some part of the bible]. We might feel like letting go of our rights, or our dreams or material things is a terrible thing. And it might indeed be very difficult and traumatic. But there is a resurrection waiting, and sometimes the only thing holding up the glorious new life is the death that must come first.

So anyway, if you haven’t heard the story before, Jesus went ahead and raised Lazarus from death. But there is something about this resurrection I that always struck me as odd. Where is Lazarus today? Dead, of course. Jesus ascended to heaven. But Lazarus grew old and died again. In other words, the resurrection of Lazarus was a temporary thing. The real thing didn’t happen until Jesus died on the cross, and became the first one to be raised to eternal life.

I think this is a message for us also. We want Jesus to raise things that will just have to die again anyway. We get so focused on this life, and the things in it. But the resurrection Jesus offers isn’t just the restoration of our old bodies with our flaws and problems.

Resurrection is not just a restoration of what we have right now. That was Lazarus’ resurrection, but it is not the resurrection that Jesus promises, and ultimately that Jesus himself had. Paul returns to the seed analogy:

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain… (1 Cor 15:35-37)

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. ( 1 Cor 15:42-44)

So, in light of these things, let me ask you a few questions:

Are you wanting to fix something workable, but which the Lord wants to die? Perhaps what you are dealing with has already died, or begun to. Do the actions of Jesus puzzle you? Are you wondering why he won’t just fix it? Is your vision too small? Do you want God to do too little for you?

Are you looking for temporary resurrection – something that lasts only this world?

Are you looking for real resurrection, but you want to skip the “death part?”

Ultimately, I want us to deal directly with what Jesus says to Martha:

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Do you believe this? Do you believe that the resurrection is found only in Jesus? Do you believe that true life is only in him?

If you marry someone who has a vast fortune, that fortune belongs to you, through your spouse. You can use it and enjoy it. But you have it only through your relationship with your spouse. To the extent that you have your spouse, you have that fortune. If your relationship is genuine, then you live as one-flesh, and what you have, you have together.

The resurrection is in Jesus. It comes only through relationship with Him. If you have Jesus, you have the resurrection. It is as simple, and as difficult as that. You can’t get it through religious activity. You can’t get it through being good, or deep meditation. If you want Jesus, he will have you, if only you humble yourself enough to confess your needs, and to ask.

That involves repenting of your sins, and also of your inward sin – that commitment you have to being king or queen of your own life. And then we simply invite Jesus in, and trust him to take over. If you would like, do that right now.

THE COSTLY, FREE GIFT

marriage-proposal

God’s grace is free to us, but it was not free to Him. It was very costly. It is free in the same sense that a diamond is free to the girl who is getting engaged. It is freely given, but it cost the giver a great deal. And like the diamond engagement ring, it is offered not just as a trinket, but as an invitation into a lifelong relationship that will change the course of our future forever.

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EASTER 2015

LIFE FROM DEATH

 

On Good Friday, we remember the crucifixion of Jesus – how we was killed by torture on a Roman cross. On Easter Sunday, we celebrate his resurrection – the fact that he physically came alive again and appeared to many of his followers. But the truth is, the two go together. If we had a crucifixion with no resurrection, the result would be simply despair. It would mean that Jesus was not who he said he was, and there would be no hope for us for forgiveness or eternal life. But a resurrection without the crucifixion first would also be meaningless. Jesus wouldn’t be dead in the first place, so there would be no need for one. But if Jesus simply revealed his full glory, and then went back to heaven, it would be great for him, and everything he said would be proven true…but we would still have no way of receiving forgiveness or eternal life.

Mostly, each year on Easter Sunday, I preach on the resurrection. Go figure. But the resurrection is only one half of a two-part equation. So, in order to set the resurrection in its proper context, I want to spend most of my time this Easter, talking about Jesus’ death – the other, indispensable half of the story.

Jesus was killed by torture. There is really no other way to say it. It began with three beatings during the course of about eighteen hours. First, Jesus was taken to the high priest’s house – and you can bet they weren’t gentle in the taking. Most likely they pushed him and perhaps even struck him on their way there. Once there, he was surrounded by an angry mob, and beaten with fists (Matthew 26:67-68; Mark 14:65; Luke 22:63-64). At least some of the blows were to his head. This kind of beating alone would probably put most of us in the hospital, at least overnight. Picture an LA street gang finding the member of a rival gang alone, and deciding to teach him a lesson. You can imagine several people holding the poor man up, while others took turns punching him. It is possible that Jesus sustained a concussion from this, and certainly he received multiple bruises; possibly even broken ribs or teeth. Remember, there was no pain medication in those days.

After a mock trial from the Jewish religious leaders, they took him to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who did not live in Jerusalem, but was there to try and keep the peace during the Passover festival. A standard Roman response to suspected trouble makers was to have them “scourged.” Pilate had this done to Jesus. In common language, this means he was whipped – not horse-whipped, but beaten with an instrument designed to inflict pain on human beings. Instead of one “tail” to the whip, it had several strips leather. At the end of each strip was fastened rocks or bits of glass or even pieces of lead. So each strike of the whip caused multiple gashes, laying open the flesh, and bruising the muscles as well. Most probably Jesus was given the 39 lashes, which had been known to kill people occasionally. Remember, Jesus had been beaten up by a mob, just hours earlier. In addition to his other injuries, Jesus certainly lost a lot of blood from the whipping, and perhaps sustained more broken ribs. Between these two beatings, the overall physical shock to his body was enormous. Coming so close together, there is no doubt that many men would have died from the combination of these two traumas.

After that, Jesus was turned over to the Roman cohort for crucifixion. Before they did their job, however, the entire cohort had fun mocking him. This involved about 600 brutal, hardened soldiers. They jammed a crown made of thorns on his head. They took a staff most likely made out of a cane stem (something like bamboo, but smaller in diameter) and gave it to him, and then took it away and used it to beat him over the head. This cane rod would probably not have created any serious injury, unless it was used to strike Jesus on the face, and thus open up cuts on his cheeks. Even so, they were likely hitting the crown of thorns, driving thorns into his head, and the direct blows themselves would have been very painful.

But all that stuff – physical punishment which could easily have killed many men – was only preliminary to the suffering which killed the Son of God. After these severe beatings, they strapped a big beam to his back and made him carry it a mile or two. The beam was likely equivalent to a 4”x4”, perhaps six or eight feet long. Considering what he had been through, it was no wonder he needed help. When they got to the place, they put metal spikes through his hands, into the crosspiece. Though tradition pictures these as going through the palms of the hands, it is more likely that they put the spikes through his wrists between the two bones of the forearm, so that the flesh would not tear away and drop him from the cross. Either way, that alone would have been painful beyond belief. His legs were slightly bent, and then they pressed his feet, one on top of the other, and drove a spike through them into the upright beam of the cross. Tradition pictures a kind of triangular piece of wood for his feet to rest on, but this is doubtful. Then they raised it up.

At this point, Jesus had two choices. He could let the weight of his body hang from his wrists, tearing away at the flesh, and rubbing on bare bone. Or he could straighten his legs, and push up against the spike driven through his feet, inflaming the wounds there, and grinding against broken metatarsals and tendons. Each movement probably drove splinters into his raw, lacerated back. If he had an itch, he couldn’t even scratch it. If he had to go to the bathroom, it would be right there in front of everyone.

Over time, victims of crucifixion spend more and more time hanging from their arms, since pushing up on the spike through the feet was intensely painful, and required effort. As Jesus’ body weight pulled on his arms, and kept them above shoulder-level, his lungs gradually began to fill with fluid, and breathing became difficult. The only relief for this came from thrusting against the spike in the feet. By pushing himself up this way, he could straighten his body and breathe more freely. But the pain was such that no one could endure this for long. It also required strength and energy. He was undoubtedly weakened by his beatings to start with, and as his body grew weaker through this torture, he got less and less air. In this position, fluid also collected around his heart, putting pressure on it. As a result the organs slowly got less blood and oxygen.

Incidentally, this was why, late in the day, they broke the legs of the other men who were crucified alongside Jesus. By breaking their legs, it became impossible for them to straighten up and get air, and so they died more rapidly.

Jesus was taken to the Roman governor early in the morning. He was put up on the cross before noon, possibly as early as eight or nine in the morning. He endured this suffering until it killed him, about eight hours later. It killed him, either by filling his lungs with fluid and suffocating him, or by the pressure of the fluids surrounding his heart, which could have caused it to stop.

This was actually a relatively short time for death by crucifixion. When we read the gospels, we find that Pilate was surprised when he heard that Jesus had died by late afternoon. But then, most people being crucified were not beaten three times within hours before they were put on the cross. Jesus’ suffering began not when he was put on the cross, but in the early hours of the morning, with the first beating.

But the suffering wasn’t only physical. He also went through emotional and spiritual agony.

First, he endured the anticipation of suffering. He knew, long before what happened, what was waiting for him. When I have some special event approaching in the future, anticipation is almost half the joy of it. I enjoy the feeling of looking forward to a good thing coming. But the reverse is also true. If you know about something you dread that is coming up, part of the negative experience is anticipating what you don’t want to go through. It is clear that Jesus knew about his approaching suffering, and that he dreaded it. That is why he said hours before he experienced any physical torment:

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 26:36-39)

He also experienced humiliation. He was the King of the Universe, the very One whom everyone around him professed to worship. And yet, in order to accomplish his purpose, he had to allow them to mock him, to spit on him, to humiliate him as if they were right and he was wrong. There was a physical aspect to the humiliation as well. It is a terrible experience to be a man, and be struck, and yet not be able to strike back. In addition, they almost certainly stripped him completely naked when the put him on the cross.

In addition, Jesus experienced abandonment. All his followers ran away and left him to his fate. His faithful lieutenant, Peter, denied him publicly. But even worse, he was abandoned by God. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says this:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

God the Father abandoned Jesus the Son in a way that he has never abandoned any human being, ever, nor ever will. The bible teaches us that if we choose to reject God’s grace through Jesus, then ultimately God allows us to do that. In other words, God doesn’t reject us, but he gives us the freedom to reject Him. If we choose that, we will experience what it is like to be without God – but it will be our doing not His. He does not willingly forsake us. But in the case of Jesus on the cross, it was the opposite. Jesus never turned away from the Father. He followed him obediently, and perfectly to the end. But when the Father made Jesus into sin – for our sake – He turned away and abandoned him. He had to, if Jesus indeed took our sin on himself.

Now, I want us to consider something. When I think about the horrible suffering that Jesus experienced, it’s hard to contemplate. But there are many other things in this life that are hard to contemplate as well. For instance, it is hard to contemplate the horror of rape. It is hard to truly grasp the awfulness of murder. We don’t like to think this way, but even the sins which we think aren’t so bad are so far removed from God’s holiness that they are as fully horrific to God as the suffering Jesus experienced. The extremity of Jesus’ suffering shows us the extremity of our sin. All this is the depth of God’s love for us. This is picture of the true horror of our sin. This crucifixion is the gulf that would exist between us and God if Jesus had not taken our place.

The cross is also justice for sin. This is what makes forgiveness possible. We can’t just wave our hands and say “it doesn’t matter.” When we hurt others, it matters. When we offend God, it makes a difference. There are a lot of people who like to say, “It’s OK to do whatever you like, as long as you don’t hurt anyone.” But what if you hurt God? He has told us, in the bible what matters to Him, what drives a wedge between us and him. Why is it OK to hurt him, but not anyone else? A sin that is only against God is just as much a sin as something which hurts another person.

Jesus, by his suffering, has endured what sin deserves – all sin. I can forgive the person who did something horrible to me because there was punishment and suffering for the evil that was done. It was made right, and justice was done for that sin.

No other faith takes sin or forgiveness seriously enough. You can’t just wave your hand and say, “it doesn’t matter,” as Buddhism does. One reason Buddhist monks dedicate their lives to separation from the world and to meditation is that you have to concentrate very hard and remain very isolated to believe that the suffering caused by sin in this world doesn’t matter.

You can’t say, “You’ll make it up next time you’re re-incarnated,” as Hinduism does. Since nobody is perfect, all you would do is rack up more “karma-debt” with each new life. Even Islam and Judaism say “Well, you do your best, and God forgives the rest.” But why? On what basis can God allow un-holiness into his holy presence? If he could do such a thing, it means that God isn’t really holy, and therefore that moral standards are not actually real; in short, that anything goes. We like “anything goes” if it means we can do whatever we want, but it becomes intolerable when someone else can do whatever they like to us with no consequences. If there is no moral standard, we live a world of senseless brutality, and all kindness and love mean nothing. Even what think of as moral good is meaningless. If nothing is evil, nothing is good either.

That is why it was necessary for sin to be accounted for. Justice must be done. Sin must have consequences. If not, there is no such thing as goodness or grace. If not, we cannot survive in the presence of a holy God. It is only through this extreme suffering of Jesus that sin could be dealt with. The Lord has made a way to take away the power of sin, and still allow goodness and grace and love to flourish.

There is one more thing about the cross. Scripture tells us that there is a mysterious spiritual truth: when we trust that Jesus did this for us, it was not only he who died there. We too, died with Jesus to sin.

Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life. For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin’s claims. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him, because we know that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again. Death no longer rules over Him. For in light of the fact that He died, He died to sin once for all; but in light of the fact that He lives, He lives to God. So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:3-11, HCSB)

This cross that killed Jesus also killed our sin. This is now also our death. This is why we can be free from guilt – our sins were punished with this severe and just punishment. Just last night I was speaking with a murderer. I mean it, this man was just released from prison after doing time for murder. He was marveling at the fact that he could be forgiven. It was this horrible crucifixion death that punished his terrible sin of murder, and he is putting his faith in Jesus that this is so. He doesn’t need to feel guilt anymore, because his murder was paid for – not by his ten years of prison time, but by the death of Jesus. I think when we feel guilt, it is usually because we have not considered how fully our sin was punished on the cross. The extreme suffering of the Perfect Man was enough for you, for me, for the world.

And now, the new resurrection life that Jesus has can also fill our spirits with eternal life. You see, sin had to die, yes. But what then? If our sin is dead, and we are dead, that takes care of the problem…except that we are dead.

But Jesus didn’t stay dead. And just as he invites us to place our sins on him, and die with him, so he invites us to put our faith in him, to live resurrection life with him.

Jesus’ resurrection proved that his suffering was not in vain. It means that it truly was all on our behalf, and not for his own sake. It means that death is no longer the end, or just the dark doorway into into an evil eternity of suffering or oblivion, but rather just a portal that we pass through into eternal life and joy. As the writer of Hebrews says:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

As we consider all this, I want us to be very aware of one thing. God’s grace is free to us, but it was not free to Him. It was very costly. It is free in the same sense that a diamond is free to the girl who is getting engaged. It is freely given, but it cost the giver a great deal. And like the diamond engagement ring, it is offered not just as a trinket, but as an invitation into a lifelong relationship that will change the course of our future forever. A single woman doesn’t accept a diamond ring from the man she loves and then go on in her life without him, except for maybe occasionally remembering him fondly. No, the diamond is not just a gift – it is an invitation to a new life. When she accepts that gift, she also accepts that invitation, and enters a new relationship, a relationship that is strengthened and reaffirmed daily as they make their lives together. The acceptance of that gift is life-changing.

What Jesus did for us on the cross – the grace that God offer us – is far more precious than any diamond ring that ever has, or ever will, exist. It should not be received any less casually than a marriage proposal. To receive this gift is also to accept the invitation to a new life. It is to give your life to Jesus, to commit to Him for forever, to live in a daily relationship with him. It is life-transforming.

If you’ve never received that gift, never really accepted that invitation to a new life, now is the time. Pause and do it now. There are no special words, just your willingness and acceptance and surrender to God’s love.

Let us thank him for that gift today!

He is risen!

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

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RESURRECTION LIFE: ARE YOUR DREAMS SHATTERED?

How do you react to broken dreams? Do you seek life in things and people apart from Jesus, or do you recognize that True Life is only in him. We have movie clips this, so enjoy the message!

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It’s always a challenge for me to preach about the Resurrection of Jesus. It is the central truth of our faith. Jesus physically rose from death; you either believe it or you don’t. In the past I have offered many facts and logical arguments that tell us it is reasonable to believe it. But this year I want to look at the difference it makes in our lives. It makes a huge difference in eternity, of course – the difference between heaven and hell. But it starts to make a difference right now, in the choices we make, and in how we deal with disappoint and grief here in this life.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Cast Away starring Tom Hanks. Hanks’ character, named “Chuck,” is on the verge of proposing to his girlfriend Kelly, the love of his life. But he has to take a business trip first. Over the Pacific Ocean, his plane goes down. He survives the next four years completely alone on a deserted island. Finally, he is rescued. But four years with no word is a long time. When he returns, he finds that everyone had given up on him, and considered him dead. Even his true love Kelly, had mourned him, and then moved on. She is now married, with a toddler.

Naturally, when Chuck returns – from the dead, so to speak – it is traumatic to both of them. Chuck drives to see Kelly at her house in the middle of the night, as the rain pours down. They both say goodbye in a heartbreaking scene, where much is left unsaid. Then, as Chuck pulls down the driveway, Kelly comes running out in the rain, calling his name. They stand in the rain, hugging and kissing. Then Kelly says:

“I always knew you were alive, I knew it. But everybody said I had to stop saying that, that I had to let you go.” Kelly pauses while they stare at each other. “I love you. You’re the love of my life.”

After another long pause while they look at each other, Chuck says, “I love you too Kelly, more than you’ll ever know.”

They get into Chuck’s car and sit in silence. But they both know that Kelly has to go back home, that it is too late for them to ever be together like that again. And so he drives her back up the driveway, and leaves her there.

There is a lot of tragedy in this scene that is simply the result of circumstances that neither one of them could control. But there is also the tragedy that Kelly gave up on Chuck, even when deep in her heart, she knew that she shouldn’t stop hoping. So she settled for life as best as she could get it. She quit working on her dream to be a professor. She married a decent man and had a child. And so when Chuck came back, it was too late. She had already made another life for herself, and there was no place for Chuck in it anymore.

This is heartbreaking, but it is, after all, just a movie. Even so, I think this part of the movie taps into a spiritual truth. It reveals the struggle of faith that we have sometimes as Christians. Our Lover – Jesus – has been gone for a long time now. All around us, voices tell us to give up, to move on, to settle for life as best as we can get it. But if we do that, we find, like Kelly, that when Jesus returns, we have no room for him in our lives anymore.

Jesus’ very first disciples struggled with this. They traveled with Jesus, watched his miracles and heard him preach. They came to believe that he was God’s chosen Messiah – true God in the flesh, their only true hope for salvation and real life. And then he was killed. Now they didn’t know what to do with all their hopes and dreams. It was all over. On the third day after his death, some of these disciples went on a short journey. A stranger joined them as they walked and asked them why they seemed so sad. They told the stranger about Jesus and all he had done and said, and then they told him how Jesus had been handed over and killed. They end with a brief and poignant expression of their loss and confusion:

“But we were hoping that he was the one who was about to redeem Israel.”

You can almost hear the pain in their words. Things didn’t turn out the way they planned. They were sure they were following God. They were sure they had it right, and that their future was bright with their savior. They are hurt and lost. They had put their hope in Jesus, and now Jesus wasn’t there anymore.

Only he was.

He was right next to them. He was the very stranger that they were talking to. This is extremely important. In our everyday life experience, we may feel far removed from the resurrection of Jesus. We may feel like it has nothing to do with us, like from now on we just have to get on with life as best we can. But Jesus is walking right next to us. Feeling or no feeling, whether we can perceive it somehow or not, the Resurrection of Jesus was real, and the resurrection life that he offers us is just as real.

The disciples’ lack of faith is surprising. Jesus told them exactly what was going to happen. He said several times that he would be taken captive by the authorities and executed, and then that he would rise from death on the third day. They didn’t want to believe the part about him dying, until they had no choice. They wouldn’t accept what he was saying. Peter told him not to have such a negative outlook. The others heard too, but it bounced off their skulls like water off a duck. They simply didn’t get it. And then when he did die, they still didn’t believe the part where he told them he would rise again physically. So the death of Jesus destroyed them mentally and emotionally. They were completely lost.

Sometimes, we are like those disciples. Jesus told us exactly what is going to happen. He said we would have trouble in this world (John 16:33), but he also told us not to let our hearts be troubled (John 14:1). Living in a world of sin, we will experience sorrow and grief. But living in faith in Jesus Christ, those sorrows and griefs are not the final word. They are not as real as the great reality that is coming for those who trust Jesus. The pain and severe disappointment experienced by those disciples walking along the road was real. But the man walking beside them was real too, and he had already overcome their grief, even before they were aware of it. The reality of his resurrection was greater than the reality of their sorrow, whether they knew it or not.

I think the danger we face as believers in the risen Messiah is that, like those other disciples, we forget the promises of Jesus, or we think he is not close, not next to us. And so, in the meantime, we try to just go on and get some kind of life and hope for ourselves.

There is another poignant scene in the film Cast Away. For four years alone on the island, Chuck had no companion. So he began to talk to a volleyball that had a face-shaped bloodstain on it. He called it Wilson. In a strange way, he grew to care for the volleyball and became deeply attached to it. When he is sailing to try and find help, the volleyball comes loose from where it is tied. Chuck tries to swim after it but he is held back by a rope that attaches him to the raft. He finally needs to make a choice whether to hold on to raft, which is his only chance at living and seeing Kelly again – or swimming after the volleyball, and drowning with it in his arms.

He reluctantly chooses life, but he cries his heart out at the loss of Wilson. It may be just a stupid volleyball, but it is all he has had for four long years. It is hard to blame Chuck for being so broken up after he lets Wilson go. We can understand it and even feel some of his pain. In the context of the whole movie, it is actually a very moving scene. And yet even though it is perfectly understandable, we know (and even the character Chuck knows) that ultimately, it is just a volleyball. It isn’t a real person. It isn’t worth giving your life for.

Sometimes I think we spend half our lives like Chuck in that scene, tugging on the end of the rope, not quite sure whether we are going to give up the raft, or give up the volleyball. Chuck’s problem was that after four years alone, part of him actually believed that Wilson was a real person. He wasn’t sure of the truth. He may not have been fully convinced that the raft would really bring him back to civilization and real people. Because of his experience, Wilson seemed more real, more important than the raft.

We are like that sometimes. This life sometimes seems so much more real than the Resurrection Life that Jesus told us about. The things we can have here tempt us to believe the lie that they are more real and more important than our eternal future. This is understandable. It is understandable also to have a hard time giving them up, just like Chuck had difficulty letting go of Wilson. But even though we understand, and it is hard, the choice is perfectly and completely clear. There is nothing in this life that is worth holding on to if it keep us from the real Life that Jesus offers us.

Will we hold onto something that is ultimately worthless, or will we give it up for real life? To give it up requires faith. It requires us to trust that there is a real resurrection, that real life is still waiting for us. We can see and touch the fake things, like Chuck could touch and see the volleyball Wilson. But those things are not as real and true as what awaits us when we trust in Jesus. Jesus said:

1 “Your heart must not be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also. 4 You know the way to where I am going.”

5 “Lord,” Thomas said, “we don’t know where You’re going. How can we know the way? ” 6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. 7 “If you know Me, you will also know My Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:1-7)

The fact of the resurrection tells us that there is real life waiting for us. There is still true love possible. Our dreams have not been shattered and lost. We just need to recognize that the time is not yet. We are in the dress rehearsal, the practice before the real game begins. We are camping in a tent, not living in our home. We are practicing to love, practicing to be great.

One of the things that helped Chuck through, was his hope of the life that existed away from his island. So I want us to dwell for a little bit on the resurrection life that waits for us, away from this little island that we mistakenly call life.

I think a lot Christians have the feeling that the resurrection life will be a never ending worship service. Let me be honest with you. I am a pastor, and that thought does not excite me. Don’t get me wrong, I love to worship the Lord with other believers. But I also love to fish, to hike and come around the corner of ridge to a new vista I’ve never seen before. I love to just hang out and laugh with my family and close friends. I like to write, and read and experience moving stories. I believe amazing worship will be part of our experience of resurrection life. But I think there will also be so much more.

John Eldredge writes that you cannot hope for something you do not desire. The overwhelmingly good news is that resurrection life is where our deepest, strongest, purest desires are fulfilled. The desire for intimacy that sometimes we get confused with a desire for only sex – that intimacy will be fulfilled in resurrection life. The desire to be deeply connected to beauty – the thing that causes us to ache when see a beautiful person, or an awe-inspiring view, or hear uplifting music – that will be fulfilled. The desire to be significant, to be recognized for who you are and for the God-given gifts you have – that will be fulfilled in resurrection life. That thing in your that loves to rise to the occasion and meet challenges – that will find its ultimate expression in resurrection life.

We won’t be ghosts or angels, floating around somewhere. Jesus was not resurrected as a spirit – he had a physical body. On several occasions after he was raised, he sat down and ate with the disciples. He promises us resurrection bodies also (1 Corinthians 15). He promises us a new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21 & 22) where will live and love and do the things we love to do, and be connected to God and to each other without the destruction and cruelty of sin and sorrow.

I will never get the love I am seeking from human beings. I may never be recognized for who I am I this life. My talents might go unappreciated. I might have to toil and spend a lot of time doing things I don’t really want to do. If this life is all there is, that would be tragic. But if all that is fulfilled in the next life, in my resurrection, which Jesus made possible – then what I face here and now is bearable. It isn’t the final word. I’m not getting too old – I’m actually getting closer to the fulfillment of all I want as I age.

I’ve heard an expression: “Some people are so heavenly-minded, they are no earthly good.” I detest that expression. It is entirely false. I have never met anyone who is too heavenly-minded. And the most resurrection-oriented people I know are the ones who have done the most for the Lord and for their fellow human beings here and now. It is only when we lost sight of resurrection that we become focused on making ourselves happy here and now, whatever the cost.

Think back to Kelly, from Cast Away. Deep in her heart, she knew Chuck was alive. But she lost faith. She gave up that hope and settled for what she could get at the moment. Because of that, she missed out forever on the life she might have had with Chuck if she had only held on.

We who are Christians know that Jesus is alive. We know it through faith. We know there is more life, better life waiting for us with him. We know it. But everyone keeps saying we have to move on. Everyone tells us we shouldn’t spend so much time thinking about it. Sometimes it feels like God hasn’t come through. But we know better. Don’t let go of that knowledge. Don’t give up that hope. Don’t fill your life with other things, don’t make yourself a life apart from the one who truly loves you and is coming back for you, no matter how long it seems.

He is Risen!

WHOSE AGENDA?

before_palm_sunday

Sometimes the big crowd is all excited about Jesus, but for the wrong reasons. We aren’t aware of, or we don’t accept Jesus’ real agenda.

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Palm Sunday, 2012 (Luke 19:28-44)

Most of us are familiar with the story of Palm Sunday: Jesus sends his disciples to get a mysteriously available young donkey. He gets on the donkey and rides to Jerusalem. As he does so, people start throwing down cloaks and branches to create a kind of “red carpet” as he goes along, and they all start cheering and praising him.

But have you ever wondered, why? What was the point of it all? Why is this story preserved for us in the Bible? First of all, we haven’t named it well. It isn’t “palm” Sunday at all – palm trees don’t even grow near Jerusalem, so the branches they cut were from other kinds of plants. But most importantly – why did Jesus do it? What was it all about?

One startling thought was that maybe Jesus wanted to ride the donkey because he was tired. Jesus and the disciples walked everywhere they went (except when they were in Galilee, where they occasionally rode in boats). Maybe he wanted to sit down and experience the entry into Jerusalem without thinking how much his feet hurt. This isn’t as flippant as it sounds. Jesus was God in human flesh, true. But he did have a human body too – just like yours and mine until his resurrection. Sometimes we forget that, but I guarantee you, he didn’t.

I think it goes beyond that, however. Jesus must have been familiar with the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 which says:

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you,

righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

I don’t know if he was going out of his way to fulfill this prophecy or not. He certainly had no control over whether the crowd shouted, or what they said. But in any case, this procession into Jerusalem fulfilled a prediction about the messiah.

The symbolism of the donkey is somewhat important too. In that culture, when a leader entered a city as a conqueror or military hero, he rode a horse or in a chariot. When a leader came on a donkey it was an indication of peace and mercy for the people. Riding a donkey conveyed a promise of graciousness and mercy from a ruler. It was not a challenge or a military assertion.

So, he was tired. He was fulfilling prophecy. He was also conveying his intention to offer people grace and mercy. But I think there is also one more thing going on here. If you are familiar with other parts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you may remember that often times, when Jesus did miracles, he told people to keep it quiet (for example, the leper in Mark 1:44). He was reluctant to turn water into wine (John 3). When Peter said that Jesus was the messiah, the Son of God, Jesus told them all not to tell anyone else (Matt 16:20). When he fed the 5,000, the people wanted to make him king, but he slipped away. He always seems so modest and humble, like he wants to keep his power and his identity a secret. But now suddenly, he is perfectly willing to be the cause of a big uproar at the beginning of the most crowed week of the year in Jerusalem, the capital of the region. It seems almost out of character. He spends three years, mostly away from Jerusalem, almost like he is hiding, and now in one day he blows his cover.

I believe Jesus allowed the crowd to go wild, in order to create the pressure on the Jewish leaders that would ultimately lead to his crucifixion. What I mean is this: Before, the time was not right. He was still training his disciples, and it wasn’t yet time for him to die. But now, this week, this “palm” Sunday, he is coming to Jerusalem in order to die. In fact, his mission on earth would fail if he does not die. So he allows the Jewish and Roman leaders to be confronted with who he really is – knowing full well that they will do what they can to eliminate him as a threat to their power. In other words, by riding in a royal procession, surrounded by a cheering crowd, he is deliberately provoking the leadership of Jerusalem into having him executed.

Luke gives us a few verses that shed a little bit of light on Jesus’ attitude toward this triumphant procession.

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:39-44)

I think we can learn two things about Jesus’ attitude from this. First, he fully accepts that it is good and right for the people to praise him the way they were doing. You see if Jesus really was God (as Christians believe he was and is) then it was not wrong or blasphemous for people to praise him and worship him. He didn’t stop them. He never stopped anyone from worshiping him before either, but on previous occasions he tried to keep his identity quiet. So at this time, he feels that the cheering crowd is entirely appropriate. In fact, he implies that as Lord of creation, even the rocks owe him their worship.

Second, even while the crowd is doing the right thing (praising Jesus), Jesus can see that they are doing it for the wrong reasons. What he says indicates that they do not understand what is going on, or what he is all about. He says Jerusalem will be destroyed “because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” So even though they are praising him and that is good and proper, they do not understand his mission, or why he is there, or what it means. And they don’t accept it.

So at the one level, his triumphant entry is good and right – he is the messiah, after all, God in human flesh – and he deserves the adulation of the crowd. But at another level, the cheering crowd really doesn’t connect with why Jesus is there. They don’t accept that he has come to defeat sin and the devil – they are more concerned about food in their bellies and freedom from Rome. They want victory and excitement, but they know nothing about the coming crucifixion, and would be repulsed by it if they had known it. They certainly didn’t hang around the cross when Friday came.

What does all this mean for us, two-thousand years later? Well, maybe we just need to be reminded that Jesus experienced the same things we experience as human beings. It might be a comfort to know that he got tired and had sore feet sometimes. Or perhaps you needed to hear how Jesus fulfilled a four-hundred year old prophecy when he rode down the path on that donkey with people shouting and singing all around him.

For me, one of the big applications is how the crowd was doing the right thing, praising God for Jesus, and yet they totally missed the priorities and goals that Jesus had. By coming on a donkey, he was implying that he came in peace – but they ignored that, and still wanted him to militarily overthrow the Romans. Even more telling, they were caught up in excitement and busyness and noise, and because of that, they missed out on how God was really working. The whole, time, what Jesus was really doing was coming to die. They missed that in all the activity.

I think we can miss the point of Jesus sometimes also. Jesus does want to fulfill us, because he made us to be vessels of his grace and glory, and when are fulfilled in him, it brings glory to him. And maybe we get excited and praise God for the things he can do for us, to make our lives more comfortable right now. But he also wants to crucify our flesh. We often forget that. The real reason to praise God is because he has delivered us from ourselves, from sin, our fallen flesh and the devil. And sometimes, he is riding in to town so that the parts of us that are still in rebellion to God can be crucified. Let’s not miss that point, like most of the crowd did that day. We need to be in tune with His mission, not our own goals or comforts.

There’s another temptation for churches and Christians in America today. If we can create lots of busyness and excitement and action, it appears that we are really participating in the kingdom of God. But I think when we gravitate to action and excitement, for the sake of those things in themselves, we often miss out on what God is really doing. I think sometimes he works more through the quiet, unrecognized ways than through the really splashy programs. He’s often at work when a few friends get together for breakfast or coffee to pray and read the Bible. He’s at work when we talk to our kids, and the friends of our kids, about Jesus. He’s at work when take time to make a phone call and see how we can encourage someone else in faith, or when we spend a minute or two praying for someone else. He works in our small groups.

So, it’s good and right to praise Jesus. It’s even better to praise him for the right reasons, and accept that his mission is far greater than our temporary comfort on earth. I’m not saying he won’t do anything for you in the here and now. But when Good Friday and the cross came, this crowd didn’t understand, and for the most part, gave up their hope in Jesus. But for Jesus, the cross was the whole point of the thing in the first place. So let’s remember that, and praise God while accepting His mission in our life is to crucify our flesh, use us to glorify Himself and bring us to eternal, joyful life in the coming new creation.

RESURRECTION–PART 2

1 CORINTHIANS #27. (1 COR 15:12-34)

 

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Sermon from Tom Hilpert on Vimeo.

I want to clear up a little possible confusion about this passage. In our English translations, Paul keeps talking about the resurrection from “the dead.” This makes it sound almost like resurrection from the “world of the dead.” In fact, in Greek, they had a term for that world – they called it Hades. Some people may assume that what Paul is saying is that we aren’t left in “the world of the dead” – Jesus saves us from Hades or hell. This makes the whole thing sound like just a “spiritual” resurrection. We might have the idea that resurrection means we become happy ghosts. But all throughout this passage Paul uses a very specific term for “dead.” The word he uses is pronounced “nekros.” We still use this term in science and medicine – necrosis is the death of living tissue. Necrotic tissue is flesh that has died. So Paul is not talking here about rescue from Hades. He is talking about bringing dead and rotten flesh to life.

We so often misunderstand what the Bible teaches about resurrection. Is there a spiritual resurrection as well? The short answer is, yes, there is also a spiritual resurrection – and if you trust in Jesus, you have already received it. Your spirit will remain alive for eternity. It is already made perfect by Jesus. There is a direction and flow to resurrection – it starts with the spirit, and flows into the soul; ultimately, it is supposed to show up in the way we live our lives.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor 5;17)

20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:20)

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, 5 made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! 6 Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens (Ephesians 2:4-6)

We get all tied up looking for the transformation of the physical. And I think that is why we fail so often to live like Christians. We are starting with the wrong end. God’s plan is ultimately to kill the flesh – to let the whole body become necrotic – so that he can raise it again with a perfection that matches the perfection we already have in spirit. That is the resurrection Paul is talking about here. He has already spoken of the spiritual resurrection earlier. In fact, if you remember, he began the entire letter by talking about how in Christ they were already complete. In Christ, their spirits were already raised in perfection. Their problem has always been that they are not letting that fact dominate their lives. So now Paul ends by speaking about how that perfection will ultimately come to our body as well.

The two resurrections – the spiritual and the physical are connected. Paul’s point here is that the physical resurrection of Jesus proves both of them. If Jesus wasn’t physically raised, then he was just like anyone else. He died, not for our sins, but for his own. He was not vindicated by God. If Jesus wasn’t raised physically then there is no physical resurrection, and there is no spiritual resurrection either.

Paul says two things in this passage that really catch my attention. First, he says this:

If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. (15:19)

And yet, Christian churches and leaders in the United States are increasingly emphasizing this life over and above our eternal future. I understand some of this. Faith is not simply buying a ticket to heaven that we don’t have any use for until we die. Forgiveness of sins starts now. Right now, we are free from condemnation. Right now, we can receive power to live the way were made to, to be fulfilled in our purpose for life. Right now, we have a purpose for this life – to help the Lord in his disciple-making quest. Right now, the power of God is available to us to heal our bodies, our emotions and our relationships. Right now, God answers prayer and works in us and in the world.

But none of it means anything unless there is indeed a resurrection waiting, and an eternal future where both our spirits and our bodies are pure, uncorrupted and indestructible. This life is just the prelude. It is the count-in before the song starts, the ads before the movie, the opening ceremonies before the game. It isn’t the real thing. It is part of it, but it is not the main event.

Brothers and sisters, let us not treat it as the main event. Let us not get distracted. We have all kinds of grace and many blessing from the Lord in this life. But this life is not all there is. And this life is only an infinitesimally small piece of our eternal future. This life is not the point, not the meaning. And if we seek God primarily because we want his blessings in this life, we are to be pitied more than all people.

There is something else Paul says. He writes: “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.” The idea is this: “Let’s party hard, because it’s all going to end soon.” Our society, by and large lives by this motto. We look for the short term fix, the short term reward, the short term pleasure. We are used to meals in moments, and fruit out of season. We don’t look beyond the next five minutes.

This “party hard, live in the moment” attitude is a symptom. We live this way, because, by and large, we don’t really believe in resurrection. Christianity has always been more readily accepted by people who live in severe poverty or oppression. That is because they don’t have the option of thinking that life is great, and that everything should be about the here and now. People who are near death, also tend to be more open to the message of Jesus. You may have heard the expression “there are no atheists in foxholes.” I might add “or in cancer wards,” or any number of places where death is very real and possibly imminent. Some folks use that phenomenon to suggest that our faith is mere wishful thinking. I think it is exactly the opposite. When you know death is near, you have to confront the fact that this life always ends. No one gets out alive. There is no room for the wishful thinking that we can just have a good time now and not worry about what comes later. The only wishful thinking is the idea that we can ignore death, that we don’t need a resurrection.

Paul tells the Corinthians, “Come to your senses and stop sinning, for some people are ignorant about God. I say this to your shame.”

We need to come to our senses as well. There is so much more to life than this life. Yes, eternal life starts now. Yes God is at work in us and through us and for us right now. But our purpose will not be fulfilled in this life. We are destined for something so much more glorious and amazing. Your physical life began in the womb of your mother. You really were alive there. The way you grew and developed in the womb was important, and it had a profound impact on who you are today. But the womb was just the beginning. Not much of the entire amazing experience that we call “life” can be found inside a uterus.

Today, we are still in the womb. Yes, we are truly alive. Yes, what we do here and the choices we make will shape our future beyond this life. But the real life is still waiting for us out there. Let’s keep our hopes fixed upon Resurrection.

 

RESURRECTION

1 CORINTHIANS #26 (1 Corinthians 14:35-15:11)

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There is something 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 that I want to deal with briefly. Paul writes:

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

We have already covered the overall topic of gender relationships in depth when we looked for two weeks at the first part of chapter 11. If you missed that, please go back and read or listen to those two messages. You won’t get the full understanding by only reading this sermon. Even so, I want to cover this passage briefly, because it causes trouble for many modern readers of the bible, especially in Western culture. It also gives us a good practical example of how to interpret the bible, especially when you don’t understand something, or when the bible appears to contradict itself.

Paul has already acknowledged that is appropriate for women to pray and prophesy in church (1 Corinthians 11:1-16). Now he says they should keep silent. What is going on here? First, when we interpret the bible, we give the Holy Spirit the benefit of the doubt. In any other book we read, we start with the assumption that the author will try not to contradict himself. So in general, if a statement appears contradictory, in order to understand it, we try first to see if there is a way to interpret it that is not at odds with what has already been said. Not only should we give the Holy Spirit a chance, but we ought to also give Paul (the human instrument of the Spirit in this case), some credit for being the obviously intelligent person he is. Is he likely to contradict himself so blatantly just a page or so later in the same letter?

Therefore, plain common sense shows us that “women must keep silent” does not apply to absolutely every situation in church. We already know it doesn’t apply to women prophesying and praying. So there must be some specific context that Paul is talking about here, where women should keep silent. What would that context be? (Men, insert the joke of your choice here, but you laugh at your own risk…)

In all seriousness, the context of this statement is Paul’s description of an orderly worship service. We already know that women can pray and prophesy, so it isn’t the worship service in general where women must keep silent. Paul describes a few different people speaking, and then he says: “let the others evaluate what is said.” Remember, at that time, there was no New Testament yet. So it was a more difficult thing to determine if a prophecy or word was really from the Holy Spirit or not. Therefore, after someone spoke, Paul wanted the Corinthians to discuss what was said, and evaluate whether or not it seemed to really come from the Lord.

Reading this statement in context, it seems that this “evaluation discussion” is where Paul would like the women to keep quiet. From chapter 11 we learned that God created men and women to fulfill different roles: like dancers have different parts in a couples’ dance, or players have different positions on a football team. Paul describes those roles in terms of submission (for women) and headship (for men). We already covered what this means in our study of 1 Corinthians 11, but I simply want to remind us that biblical submission doesn’t mean subservience or devaluation, and biblical headship does not mean domination or control.

Paul connects this idea of women being quiet during the “evaluation discussion” to biblical submission. If you remember from chapter 11, God holds men uniquely accountable for the spiritual direction of their churches and families. Even though Eve was the one who took the apple and committed the first sin, Adam was the one who was held responsible for leading the human race into sin. So, when the church was basically deciding theology, it made sense that the ones who would be held responsible (the men) were the ones who ought to make the decision, and provide the final evaluation. When we also consider the word “to keep silent” might also be translated “hold your peace” our picture is more complete. Women indeed may have something to say about doctrine, but men are the ones who will be held responsible. So when it comes to a discussion of doctrine, women should hold their peace. Paul adds that if they have questions or concerns, they should share them with their husband at home. Once again the picture here is of a gender-dance, or a team. Everyone has something to contribute, but it is all done in order and with a recognition of how God made us to be, and what our roles are.

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Let’s move on now, to chapter fifteen. This is one of the longest sections in the whole letter, and Paul devotes it all to discussing the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Apparently, some of the Christians at Corinth were suggesting that there was no resurrection from the dead. Paul says this in verse 12:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

It isn’t clear exactly what these skeptics were saying. They may not have been denying that Jesus rose – but at the very least they were claiming that there was no resurrection for anyone else. And it is possible that they even scoffed at the idea of Jesus rising from the dead. Remember, these are people who claim to be Christians. Paul spent more time with this church than any other church he started, except in Ephesus. Sometimes when I read his letters to them, I wonder what went wrong.

By the way, this kind of weird heresy has been repeated at various times in history by those who claimed to be Christians. Karl Baarth, one of the most influential Lutheran Theologians of the 20th Century, believed in the resurrection, but claimed it didn’t matter whether or not Jesus was actually raised. His protege, Rudolf Bultman, went the whole way, and claimed that Jesus was not. I always wanted to meet them and ask them, “So why do you call yourself a Christian and what is the point of your faith?”

So Paul goes back to basic Christian doctrine. This is it in a nutshell – Jesus Christ died for our sins. He was buried. And then he was raised from the dead. This is the message given by Paul and all the apostles. It is the bedrock of the Christian faith. Without the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, there is no such thing as Christianity. So he writes to the Corinthians, that this is:

…the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you — unless you believed for no purpose. (verse 1-2)

Paul is writing to them maybe twenty-five or thirty years after Jesus was raised from the dead. Today (in 2011) it would be as if I wrote to you about the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981. Many of us were alive, and we remember hearing about it right after it happened. We could certainly still find and talk to many of the people who were there when it occurred. The man who shot Reagan is still alive. Many of the secret service agents and other government workers who were there, are still alive.

At the time of Paul’s letter, the resurrection of Jesus was similarly recent. Paul says, besides himself, there were more than five hundred people who saw Jesus alive after his death, burial and resurrection. Most of those eye-witnesses to the resurrection were still alive when Paul wrote. The Corinthians had apparently met Peter, who was one of the witnesses.

I think we forget that we have this kind of evidence for the resurrection. Yes, it was a long time ago. But so was Julius Caesar, and Cleopatra, and Alexander the Great – and we believe the events we are told about in their lives.

Jesus’ resurrection changed everything – for us, as well as for those first-century Christians. There is a real hope beyond this world. Our entire faith is based upon it. Any meaning in life depends upon it.