Sermons

‘Peace To You’ – John 20:19-23 – October 4th, 2020

If you would, please turn with me in your Bibles to John 20:19-23. John says:

“In the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were gathered together with the doors locked because of their fear of the Jews. Then Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!”

20 Having said this, He showed them His hands and His side. So the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 After saying this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

This is the word of the Lord. Let’s pray.

Father we thank you that even as we are temporarily forced to change some of what we do because of COVID-19, you are greater than COVID-19. Not one of us wouldn’t rather be inside that building, sitting in the pews, catching up with the folks who usually sit next us face-to-face instead of simply over the phone. And yet, You are greater than our inconvenience. We thank you for the way that you are with us even in the midst of our social distancing, that you are near us even in the midst of our isolation, and that even as we try to serve our neighbors by distancing ourselves to try and mitigate the spread of the virus, you have given us the profound blessing of being able to look closely at your word together, to learn from it, to be changed by it, and be edified through it.

We pray these things in Jesus’s name, Amen.

*

As our passage opens, the disciples are scared.

John tells us that “In the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were gathered together with the doors locked because of their fear of the Jews.”

So, they’re playing a game of “Hide and Seek,” except without the “Seek” part. They’re hiding from the Sanhedrin. They’re hiding from the chief priests. They’re hiding from some of the Sadducees and some of the Pharisees. They’re hiding from the folks who railroaded the execution of Jesus through the legal system without cause and who might be on the hunt for them, too. They’re playing “Hide and Seek,” but if the “Seek” part happens, they’re dead.

So they’re afraid. Because they should be. Afraid is the right thing to feel when the man you’ve been joined at the hip with for the last three plus years is executed by the leadership in your community and you have every reason to believe that you might be next. That’ll make you afraid.

But more than that, they’re probably afraid because, suddenly, the future doesn’t exist anymore.

For three years they’ve been following a man who taught that all of this was heading somewhere. Who taught that their oppression under Rome was not the end of the story. That their abject poverty was not the sum total of what they can expect from the universe. Who taught that God had not abandoned them. And that God was moving, as we speak, to restore the world, to right every wrong, to make everything good again, and to welcome his lost sheep back into his home, his family, his arms. That was the future Jesus pointed them towards.

But it’s really hard to make that future happen when you’re dead. You can’t be the Messiah when there isn’t a you anymore. And that’s where things stood.

Jesus was supposed to overcome the darkness of the world, but instead the world crucified him. So it seemed like the last three years had been a wash. Like the future Jesus pointed towards was just another naïve hope that evaporated once the pressure set in. That’s what you would think if you were in their shoes at that particular moment.

And if that’s where your headspace was, you’d be afraid. Because it’d seem an awful lot like there was nothing to live for. It would seem like everything you thought was true had amounted to nothing. Like the story that you’ve told yourself since you were too young to walk was a lie. Like all of this was pointless. Like there was no future, because there was no story, and so there is no hope.

That’s what it must have felt like to live through those three days between the cross and the resurrection. /

(Pause)

But that might be in the ballpark of what you’re feeling, too. Maybe you can relate to the disciples, here. Maybe you’re feeling something like what they felt yesterday, today.

I don’t know about you, but the last several years have been unbelievably disorienting, at least for me. When I was younger and dumber, I thought I kind of understood how the world worked. Mostly that just boiled down to the fact that I was young, therefore I was dumb, therefore I overestimated my ability to understand things and underestimated how complex everything on planet earth is all the time, but I think there’s more to it than that. And maybe it’s the same for you.

Maybe without even realizing it, you’ve been slowly coming unglued, yourself. Maybe your hinges are starting to rust and turn brittle so you’re constantly agitated, constantly on the defense, constantly looking for new outlets for your rage or anxiety or disdain.

Maybe you feel like the world is imploding and there must be a villain that you can point to, and it can’t be you, and it can’t be your group – your team – because that would be way too painful to accept emotionally, so you spend your time unconsciously looking for Big Bad Wolves that you can throw fists at because so long as you’re in attack mode, you don’t have to deal with the fact that your world and your life and your experience don’t make any sense anymore and you have no idea how to make it all okay again. /

Maybe that’s you.

Maybe you’re that kind of afraid.

And if it is, so you feel like I’ve been talking directly to you for the last couple minutes, the good news – or bad news, depending on how you look at it – is that it’s probably you and everybody else. Your struggle is not unique. This is what most of us are feeling, most of the time, because this is what it’s like to be alive right now.

It feels like there’s no future. It feels like there’s no truth. It feels like there’s no point, no use, no hope. That what it feels like. So if you’re afraid or angry, of course you are.

You would be.

You’re in the “Upper Room,” so to speak.

You’re hiding behind the bolted door because you’re terrified, not just of some group you think might be out to get you, like the Sanhedrin or the Pharisees, but of the horrifying reality you find yourself existing in at this very moment. You could call that “Upper Room Syndrome.”

Nowadays, quite a few of us have “Upper Room Syndrome.” /

But there is very good news for those of us with “Upper Room Syndrome.”

Because as the disciples were cowering in the upper room, paralyzed in fear, John says that, suddenly, “Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” /

(Pause)

You know, this story is so familiar that we typically forget to be shocked at the shocking parts.

(Pause)

This is one of the shocking parts.

Jesus just walked through the door. Alive. An extremely not dead Jesus just showed up in the living room and said, “Peace to you.” Not to overstate, but that means the universe just changed again.

Because one verse ago, we were huddled together behind a padlocked door because the Lord Jesus was dead and gone, and the future was a thing of the past, and our hope was dead in the water, and the world was cruel and existing was pointless and none of this was heading anywhere and nothing we did was adding up to anything – and on top of everything the Synagogue leaders wanted to hunt us down and taxidermy our children.

Things couldn’t be grimmer.

And yet, one sentence later, everything we just talked about stopped being true.

The fact that Jesus just walked into the Upper Room with blood in his veins and air in his lungs and a pulse quite literally changed everything about what the universe is about. The fact that Jesus is risen changes what the story of existence means. I know we’re speaking in really abstract terms, here, but this is serious.

We were plunged into the depths of absolute despair, but then Hope himself broke through the padlocks of despair and greeted us, saying “Peace to you.”

Jesus wasn’t dead. He was risen. He was back. And that meant that everything he’d ever promised would come true. /

I’m gonna say that again: Jesus is risen, and that means that everything he’s ever promised will come true. /

That’s where we are now.

Christ is risen. The grave has been overcome. The execution that he suffered through has been overturned. His death has been undone. And that means that all the promises of God will come true in Jesus Christ. So he says, “Peace to you.” /

Now, “Peace to you” is a pretty standard greeting. Kind of like how we say, “How ya’ doing?” When you say that, you don’t actually mean “How are you doing?” most of the time. You mean “Hello.”

When you say “How ya’ doing?” and somebody responds with their whole life story you make a mental note and say, “Okay, next time just say ‘Hi’.”

“Peace to you” was like that. You’d see your friend and say, “Peace to you.”

You’d enter the Synagogue and say, “Peace to you.”

You’d run into your neighbor at Food Lion as you both try to enter the same aisle at the same time and neither of you wanna give up the right of way, and you’d say ‘Peace to you,’ even though you’re thinking of a very different sentence that ends with ‘_____ you.”

“Peace to you” was a typical greeting. Except here it wasn’t.

Christ said, “Peace to you,” and he meant it.

Because Christ didn’t come with empty pleasantries. He came with peace. He came bringing peace. He came into an Upper Room filled with men and women who had no peace to cling to, either within themselves or outside of themselves, and he came bringing peace. Because he was peace.

Because he is peace.

Because Christ is peace.

But when we say that, it’s not just a slogan. Whe we says that “Christ is peace,” we mean something specific.  

We’re not talking about the fake peace you get when you pretend everything’s okay even when things are very clearly not okay, we’re talking about the supernatural peace that comes with clinging to Christ in the middle of the overwhelming waves of Not Okay-ness that batter you on a daily basis. You know what I’m talking about?

We’re talking about the kind of peace Jesus talks about in John 16:33. He says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

That’s a pretty staggeringly important sentence. “In this world, you will have tribulation.” You will have trials. This life will dish out beating after beating to you – even if you’re one of the lucky folks who has a pretty easy go of it overall – and yet, “Christ has overcome this world.”

Think about all the things that means for you: It means that Christ has overcome the things that cause your suffering. It means that Christ has overcome every one of your burdens. It means that  Christ has overcome every one of the obstacles that keeps you from being at peace. It means the chains that hold you have been broken and your captors are bleeding out in the corner of your cell.

It means you can have peace.

That’s why the prophet Isaiah rejoices in Isaiah 26:3. He says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” /

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

That’s Isaiah 26:3.

Now, you might remember that Isaiah was not a happy-go-lucky type. He wasn’t a Joel Osteen type with a fake smile permanently botoxed onto his face. He was Isaiah.

He was a guy who spent most of his adult life on the run from a government trying to kill him. Who watched foreign armies invade his country and ship away his friends and family. Who got run out of town nearly every time he preached the word of God. That’s what his life was like.

And yet, amidst all of this, Isaiah has peace.

Specifically, he has a genuine peace. He has the peace that Christ actually offers. In other words, his peace is not naivete in the face of the difficulty of existing. It’s not denial about the dire situations that he found himself in. The peace of Christ didn’t turn Isaiah into a Pollyanna type. His peace looked like grit.

The peace that Christ offers to us looks less like flowery, upbeat Everything Is Okay-ism than it looks like nerves of steel. It looks like what the scriptures call, “steadfastness.” It looks like backbone. The peace of Christ is empowering.

It strengthens us. It thickens our resolve. It holds us steady. It turns us into people who can walk upright while the beatings keep coming. It changes our relationship to suffering. It enables us to stand firm and carry on amidst trials and suffering and loss and pain and grief. That’s the peace of Christ. /

(Pause)

Now, it’s important to be clear about what we don’t mean, here.

We do not mean that because you know Jesus, everything is just going to roll off you. We do not mean that because you know Jesus, you are just always going to be perfectly stable. That every tragedy will be manageable, because of your BFF Jesus.

That’s not what we’re saying, because it’s not true, and you know that’s not true, because you exist.

You live here. You’ve been on planet earth, so you know that there is no shortcut too emotional stability. There is no shortcut to mental health. There is no shortcut to getting into a good place, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually. We’re not about to drop a bunch of “Jesus can solve all your problems” mumbo jumbo, because lying is a sin.

The truth is that things are going to happen to you that are going to devastate you, Jesus or no Jesus. When difficult things happen, you don’t just say, “That’s OK, ’cause I have Jesus.” You don’t just say, “It doesn’t matter, ’cause the Lord is my friend.”

All those things are true, but none of those things change the fact that painful things are painful. Hard things are hard. Scary things are scary. And we are caught in the crossfire of all of it. None of this changes that.

And yet what absolutely does change is the position that we’re in when it hits us.

Because there’s a universe of difference between suffering with Jesus, and just suffering. There’s a difference between getting battered by the world, because “That’s just how the world works,” and getting battered by the world, but knowing that Jesus has overcome the world.

That the batterings are going to end. That ultimately you will come out the other side of this victorious, that one day you will not be trampled underfoot anymore, one day you won’t have two black eyes, one day everything that’s wrong will be made right. One day, Christ will un-break everything. And that includes your situation.

He will undo the death that your family member just died.

He will bandage the wounds from the betrayals that you have faced.

He will nurse the bruises from the job that you lost.

He will sew up the breaches in your heart from the abuse that you were put through.

The list goes on.

That’s not a naive peace. That’s not a peace that comes from ignoring the ugly truth. That’s a peace that comes from looking directly at it, seeing it with clear eyes and a sober mind, and then looking further.

Looking beyond it. Looking at the rest of the story. Looking at the rest of the truth. Seeing that the story doesn’t end there. It ends with “a new heaven and a new earth,” and the Lamb of God seated on the throne, in a world that isn’t brutal anymore.

We have that kind of peace.

(Pause)

But we can’t quite stop there and leave it at that. Because if we do, we will miss quite a bit of the point.

None of this is meant to be, just a kind of generalized therapeutic typed thing that just, sort of, eases your anxiety and not much else. I hope that all of this makes you feel better, but making you feel better really isn’t the point.

The goal, when you open up the scriptures, really isn’t to give you “Answers To Life’s Tough Questions,” or “Help In Times Of Trouble,” although sometimes it will do both of those things.

It’s to prepare you for the mission Christ has sent you on.

It’s to equip you for the mission that Christ has called you into.

It’s to empower you in the mission that Christ has enlisted you to join.

And that same thing is true about the peace that Christ gives us.

We see that in the very next sentence of our passage. It says, “Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

So he conferred his peace onto them. He gave them a peace that overrode even the chaos that consumed them. But it wasn’t just a “Meditating in the morning can help you achieve a stress-free life” type thing. This was the beginning of a new movement.

This was step one in fulfilling what the Old Testament prophets pointed to when they talked about the “age of peace” that the Messiah would bring. Christ gives us peace, a peace that doesn’t come from ourselves – a peace that isn’t dependent on an easy life, or good luck – and then he sends us out to invite others to share in this peace, too.

This a thread that runs throughout the entirety of scripture. Throughout the Old Testament, one of the things that we notice is that Prophets usually appointed their own successors.

Think Elijah and Elisha.

God would appoint his prophet, and then the Prophet would appoint his successor. We see the same thing here: In his baptism, the Lord sent the Holy Spirit to rest on Jesus, and he called him to be his Prophet. Now, Jesus gives that same call to his own disciples.

He passes the mantle.

He says, “As the Father sent me, now I send you.”

He invites them to pick up where he left off.

And, of course, the same thing is true of us, today.  

We pick up the mission of Jesus where he left of when he ascended back into heaven.

We continue the things that he modeled for us during his ministry.

He healed the sick. We try to do the same thing when we put our money together to cover people’s hospital bills.

He fed the hungry. We try to do the same thing, whether it’s donating to the Baptist Children’s Home, or distributing food and produce to families that need it.

He sought out lost people and brought them back into God’s fold. We try to do the same thing when we evangelize – both by inviting them to church and by personally witnessing to them, with our words.

We tell people that God created us, and that he created us to know him, like Romans 1:20 tells us. But that we’ve all fallen short of the goodness God created us for, like Romans 3:23 tells us. And that, in fact, our sin is serious enough to merit our death, Romans 6:23. But that the good news is that even while we were still sinners Christ died to save us from sin and death. And therefore, Romans 10:9, if we throw ourselves on the mercy of Jesus, he will save us rather than condemn us.

We meet people with that message.

We share that gospel with people.

And when they respond to that gospel by placing their faith in Jesus Christ, we proclaim God’s forgiveness over them, like Jesus tells us in verse 23. He says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” When people respond to the gospel by placing their faith in Jesus Christ, we proclaim God’s forgiveness over them.

Why? Because Jesus began an earthly ministry during his years on earth, and now he continues it through us.

But as always, we run into a problem, here. We hit a wall. What I should say, actually, is that we are the wall. We run into ourselves. We trip over our own stupid.

We see exactly that throughout the gospels:

The disciples absolutely were not up to the work that Jesus set out for them. One story after another shows the disciples utterly incapable of being Christ’s witnesses because of their incompetence and immaturity.

You might remember the story in Luke chapter 9 where Jesus passes through a village of Samaritans, but the people of the village reject him. So James and John get mad and ask, “Lord, do You want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” And Jesus says, “Shut up. We’re moving on.”

That’s just one case in point, but there’s a whole slew of stories we could point to:

Peter drawing his sword  and cuts a guy’s ear off to try and stop the arrest of Jesus. John losing his mind because another group starts casting out demons in the name of Jesus. Mary anointing Jesus with expensive perfume and all the disciples getting angry and lambasting her for not giving it to the poor instead.

The list goes on.

And like the disciples, we are constantly sabotaged in our attempts to do the work of Jesus by our incompetence and our immaturity. We are called to continue Christ’s ministry today, but we usually don’t, and the reason is that we don’t want to.

Right?

Like, I don’t wanna do the work of Jesus. I wanna “do what makes me happy.”

Actually, that’s the wrong way to put it, too. Because I don’t even actually do what makes me happy. Because the stuff I do instead of doing the work of Jesus doesn’t even kind of make me happy. You know what I’m talking about?

I’m not doing what makes me happy, I’m compulsively doing the same stupid nonsense I’ve always done, even though it makes me unbelievably unhappy to do it.

The truth is that surrendering to the call of Jesus brings joy, but almost nobody ever does it. Instead, we do whatever it was that we were already gonna do and then find a way to tell ourselves that God told us to do it.

You know what I’m talking about?

Like, Christ called you to carry on his mission, and you decided that what he was actually asking you to do was share an angry Facebook post complaining about “The Youth.”

Or Christ called you to carry on his mission, and you decided that what he was actually asking you to do was be rude to your waiter because you don’t like his neck tattoo.

The list goes on.

It’s like we have a Press Secretary living inside of us who’ll spin whatever we want, whatever we do, whatever we think into something that sounds good, and sounds Christian, and sounds devout, and sounds faithful. But don’t be fooled. Don’t believe your own nonsense. Don’t accept the bait-and-switch that your heart holds out to you, because your heart and my heart will do practically anything to get out of carrying on the ministry of Jesus.

That just comes with the territory of our sinful human nature. /

(Pause)

So we have a problem. We’ve been sent on a mission that our sinful hearts have no intention of obeying. He has called us to a mission that we are not up to the task of completing. That’s the bad new shoving a spoke in the wheel of the good news. /

(Pause)

And yet, for that very reason, God has stacked the deck for us. John says that “After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

You hear that? 

“Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Maybe this sounds painfully simple, but Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit. He breathes his Holy Spirit on us. And that Holy Spirit carries us along in the work the Lord gives us in a way that overcomes our incompetence and our rebelliousness and our fear and immaturity. /

So, as a point of application, go. Spread the peace of Jesus Christ. And do it confidently. Don’t worry about the fact that you are not up to the task. Don’t worry about the fact that you’re not sure what to do. Don’t worry about the fact that you’re not good enough. That your life isn’t perfect. That you’re not smart enough to answer every objection people might throw at you.

You don’t have to be good enough or smart enough, or likeable enough, or any of that to spread the peace of Jesus Christ, all you have to do is actually try to do it – and don’t be a jerkwad.

Invite people into the peace that Christ has offered us, and then let the chips fall where they fall. And if you do that, you’ll see the Spirit overcome your shortcomings and stir up a revival in your community through you.

This is the point in the service where, typically, I would give something that we refer to as an “altar call,” but that’s not quite possible this morning, for obvious reasons. What we’re doing instead, is that as we respond to the Lord through song, we invite you to text or email me with your prayer requests, or decisions, or burdens, and we can set a time to sit down over the phone sometime the week and talk or pray through whatever is on your heart.

Let’s pray.

‘Mary & The Gardener’ – John 20:11-18 – September 27th, 2020

If you would, please turn with me in your Bibles to John 20:11-18. John says:

But Mary stood outside facing the tomb, crying. As she was crying, she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 She saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet, where Jesus’ body had been lying. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“Because they’ve taken away my Lord,” she told them, “and I don’t know where they’ve put Him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not know it was Jesus.

15 “Woman,” Jesus said to her, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Supposing He was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you’ve removed Him, tell me where you’ve put Him, and I will take Him away.”

16 Jesus said, “Mary.”

Turning around, she said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!”—which means “Teacher.”

17 “Don’t cling to Me,” Jesus told her, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to My brothers and tell them that I am ascending to My Father and your Father—to My God and your God.”

18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them what He had said to her.

This is the word of the Lord. Let’s pray.

Father we thank you that even as we are temporarily forced to change some of what we do because of COVID-19, you are greater than COVID-19. Not one of us wouldn’t rather be inside that building, sitting in the pews, catching up with the folks who usually sit next us face-to-face instead of simply over the phone. And yet, You are greater than our inconvenience. We thank you for the way that you are with us even in the midst of our social distancing, that you are near us even in the midst of our isolation, and that even as we try to serve our neighbors by distancing ourselves to try and mitigate the spread of the virus, you have given us the profound blessing of being able to look closely at your word together, to learn from it, to be changed by it, and be edified through it.

We pray these things in Jesus’s name, Amen.

*

Well, once again, we are in a very familiar passage of scripture.

We are in the second half of the Resurrection story. Last week we talked a whole lot about why we believe that the resurrection of Jesus really did happen. He actually died, and then he actually rose from the dead. Like, his body rose from the dead. He didn’t just go into the ground and then his ghost floated back up and make a few appearances on The Late Show, he died – like died died – and then he rose from the dead, and we mean that as literally as we can possibly mean it. There’s no figurative language here. It’s not a poetic embellishment that John threw in there because he’s kind of a head-in-the-clouds artsy type. We mean he went into a grave dead, and then he came out of the grave Not Dead.

But now that we’ve covered that, we’re not going back to it. We want to move past defending the resurrection and move into preaching the resurrection. Today we are going to graduate past defending the reality of the resurrection of Jesus, and move into teaching the implications of the resurrection of Jesus. And so the question that we will be answering throughout the rest of our time in the Gospel of John is not “Did the resurrection happen?” It’s very simply, “Since the resurrection happened, now what?”

What does the resurrection mean for us? What does the resurrection do? Why does the resurrection matter? What is different, about us, about the world, about the future, because of the Resurrection?

And, as cliche as it sounds up front, the answer is everything. Everything is different because of the resurrection of Jesus.

So let’s take a look, beginning in verse 11. As our passage this morning begins, John says:

Mary stood outside facing the tomb, crying. As she was crying, she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 She saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet, where Jesus’ body had been lying. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “Because they’ve taken away my Lord,” she told them, “and I don’t know where they’ve put Him.”

So the first thing we notice is that Mary is relatable.

I read through the gospel of John 3 times a year, and every time I get to this chapter I tear up a little bit. Because I really feel this.

Even though I live a comparatively easy life, even for today’s standards, I feel kind of a kinship with Mary Magdalene here. I think we could identify pretty closely with Mary in our passage this morning, because like Mary, we live in a world of tears.

You know what I’m talking about?

We live in a world of tears.

Just within the confines of our church, we have an unbearable amount of sickness. We have people who are terminally ill. We’ve had miscarriages. We’ve had broken relationships, marriages that imploded, abuse, poverty. This past week, we lost Ricky Powell.

That’s a world of tears.

Less than a year ago, two middle school students in Wake County went out for a swim and didn’t come back. That’s a world of tears.

A few weeks ago, Bob Allen, the publisher of the Wake Weekly, passed away. His last ever editorial column went to press the same morning that his life left his body. He’s in a better place now, but for the folks left behind in his absence, that’s a world of tears. That’s misery. That’s an empty chair at a table that used to seat him. That’s a grandpa that’s gone from the lives of his grandchildren.

And that’s just scratching the surface, but the point is clear: We live in a world of tears.

And while it is absolutely true that the world has gotten steadily less violent, steadily less brutal, steadily less difficult, poverty has absolutely plummeted over the last hundred years, new technology has made everyone’s lives significantly easier and considerably better, all of those things are true, but none of those things erase the fact that life is absolutely filled with suffering. We live in a world of tears. /

(Pause)

But we live in a world of tears for a reason.

It’s filled with suffering for a reason.

We believe it’s filled with suffering because of something we call The Fall.

You know the story, from Genesis chapter 3: The one with the talking snake, and the fruit, and the curses that come over us because of it. Take an afternoon, read through the first 11 chapters of Genesis, and it will really give you a bit of perspective about why the world is the way it is.

In Genesis, we see a good God creating a good world, then giving us a good role, a good vocation, a good job.

Our job was to tend to the world that he placed us over. Our job was to take care of it. Our job was to serve the World by ruling over it obediently and justly. But what we find, in Genesis chapter 3, is that instead of doing that, we do something very different.

The snake tells us, essentially, “God told you not to eat from that tree, because God knows that if you eat from that tree, you’ll become like him.” In other words, “If you eat from that tree, you can Dethrone God. You can fire him. You can stage a coup with the shareholders, eject him and take his job. You can be running this place.”

So we did.

Kind of.

We thought.

We rebelled against God, we took the fruit. But we didn’t become like God. We didn’t become stronger. We didn’t become better. We didn’t become wiser.

We became stupid. We became weak and ineffectual. We became broken and cruel. We became the kind of folk who find new ways to break the world every day, and then do it.

I know that sounds kinda melodramatic. But it’s true.

Just to illustrate how serious our problem is, Paul goes as far as to describe us as dead people. He doesn’t just say we’re “bad people.” He says, “we’re dead people.” That’s Ephesians chapter 2. He says, and I quote:

“Once, you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.”

Why do we live in a world of tears?

Because this is the world we built. We made this. We are why the world is the way it is. We were dead in our trespasses and sins, and dead people build dead worlds. /

I’ve told the story before, but one of my favorite authors is the British journalist G.K. Chesterton, from the early nineteen hundreds, and one time he wrote a book called What’s Wrong With The World, and the beginning, middle, and end of the book very simply says, “I am.”

What’s wrong with the world? I am.

I’m what’s wrong with the world.

Ryan Ellington is what is wrong with the world. And when you multiply Ryan Ellington times about seven billion, you get a world that looks like ours. A world filled with people who are basically like me. Who are basically jacked up like I’m jacked up. Who run towards brokenness like I run towards brokenness. Who reject God’s good will like I reject God’s good will, and chase after their own jacked up desires and ambitions and appetites like I do. That’s why we live in a world of tears.

We live in a world of tears because we are dead in our trespasses and sins, and dead people build dead worlds. /

(Pause)

So, that’s dark. But don’t get so caught up on how dark this is that you forget to ask the right questions.

Because the right question to ask at this particular point would be, “What does it take to fix a dead world?”

And the answer, apparently, is that it takes a Resurrection.

We were dead in our trespasses and sins, and the only solution to our deadness in sin is to “raise us up with Jesus,” like Paul says in Colossians chapter 3.

And that’s exactly what we see happening in our passage this morning. Take a look, beginning at verse 14. It says:

“Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not know it was Jesus. 15 “Woman,” Jesus said to her, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Supposing He was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you’ve removed Him, tell me where you’ve put Him, and I will take Him away.” 16 Jesus said, “Mary.” Turning around, she said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!”—which means “Teacher.” 17 “Don’t cling to Me,” Jesus told her, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to My brothers and tell them that I am ascending to My Father and your Father—to My God and your God.”

So, Jesus is risen. He’s back from the grave. “He is not here, he is risen,” as the angel says in Matthew 28. This story doesn’t end with the crucifixion. It doesn’t end with the “crucified God.” And it doesn’t end with our tears./

Because as we see in our passage this morning, eventually Jesus arrives to wipe our tears away. This is the second way that we are like Mary Magdalene this morning. Because like Mary, our tears are coming to an end.

Specifically, our tears are coming to an end because of the Resurrection.

But how, exactly does that work?

How, exactly, does the resurrection of a dead Palestinian carpenter from 2000 years ago do anything to bring our tears to an end?

Your first reaction, here, might be to say, “If a guy came back to life one time two millennia ago, that’s cool, but I’m not sure what that’s got to do with me.” And if that’s your reaction, I get that. But I would have to answer back that it has everything in the world to do with you.

Because, as strange as it sounds, the resurrection of this dead Palestinian carpenter 2000 years ago was the turning point of your life. Full stop.

Try to bear with me, here.

Because looking back at Genesis chapter 3, we see exactly why this is the turning point of your life. It says the Lord turns to the serpent – the devil, the one who encouraged us to rebel against God in the first place, and he says:

“Because you have done this, you are cursed more than any livestock and more than any wild animal. You will move on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life. I will put hostility between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Now, that’s a weird couple of sentences. That’s written in kind of bizarre poetic language. But the point is pretty clear.

It’s saying that one day, the Lord will send a messiah, and the Messiah will be struck, the Messiah will be crushed. But even as he is crushed, even as he is struck, he will crush the head of the devil.

Does that sound a little bit familiar?

If it sounds like the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, it’s because it should. Jesus is born of a woman, Mary. He spends his life demonstrating that he is the Messiah that the Lord sent and that the Old Testament prophesied about. And then he was struck. He was crucified. He was “crushed for our iniquities,” Isaiah says. But then, 3 days later, he rose again. /

Why is a 2000 year old resurrection the turning point of your life? Because that’s when Jesus crushed the serpent that was coiled around your neck. That’s when the darkness that we invited into the world in the Fall and that’ve sabotaged every aspect of your life since the day you were born sank its fangs into the heel of Jesus and Jesus responded by stomping his foot on its head till there wasn’t a head anymore. The resurrection was the day Christ claimed victory over everything – over sin, over death, over darkness, over the devil himself. Now the serpent is bleeding out on the pavement, and this world of tears is fading away. /

Your world of tears is fading away.

Get a good look at our world, with its brokenness. Because it will not last. Our dead world is passing away, and a resurrected world is replacing it. /

And, to be as clear as possible, that’s barely a metaphor. We’re not talking about a bunch of empty flowery language that sounds high and lofty but doesn’t mean anything. You rarely hear about much of any of this, because us preachers really preach about it, but the resurrection changes everything.

The resurrection causes things to happen that wouldn’t happen otherwise. The future is different, now, because of the resurrection of Jesus.

More than anything, what’s different is that now the story of the universe is a story of victory. The story of history is a story of victory. Don’t listen to the doomsayers on TV & the internet, they profit off of making you scared, so they are always gonna try and make you think the sky is falling. The story that you are living through right now is a story of victory.

If you don’t believe me, read your Bible.

Amos chapter 9 tells us that a day is coming when “The mountains will drip with sweet wine, and all the hills will flow with it.” People will “rebuild and occupy ruined cities, plant vineyards and drink their wine, make gardens and eat their produce” and “never again be uprooted.”

You hear that?

There will be a day when everyone on planet earth will have enough to eat. Everyone will have somewhere safe to live. It says, we will rebuild and occupy ruined cities and never again be uprooted.

That’s coming. That’s real. That’s where all of this is headed. That’s where everything that is currently happening is eventually headed. Why? Because Christ has risen in victory, and so he will fix what’s broken in our dead world.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Isaiah 11 tells us that a day is coming when “None will harm or destroy another on the Lord’s entire holy mountain, for the land will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the sea is filled with water.”

You hear that? It’s hard to imagine, but one day, violence will be a thing of the past. It says, “No one will harm each other.” Full stop. That sounds a heck of a lot like “world peace.”

We see the same thing in Isaiah chapter 2. It tells us that a day is coming when “All nations will stream to the Lord’s mountain,” and “many peoples will come and say, “let us go up to the mountain of the Lord’ and ‘He will teach us about His ways
so that we may walk in His paths.” It says that one day the Lord will “settle disputes among the nations and provide arbitration for many peoples.” And because of the Lord’s instruction, all the peoples of the earth will “hammer their swords into plows
and their spears into pruning knives.” Because of the instruction of the Lord, “Nations will not take up the sword against other nations, and they will never again train for war.”

You hear that?

Now, those of you who know me know that I am not a bleeding heart type. I’m not particularly touchy-feely. I will never want to sit in some kind of hippie circle you and sing John Lennon songs with a peace sign hanging around my neck.

And yet, Isaiah says what he says. This is coming. It’s gonna happen. This is not some kind of 1960s anti-war-protester-pipe-dream, this is actually where all of this is headed. Why? Because the Prince of Peace paid dearly for it. Because Christ has risen in victory, and so he will bring the peace that he paid for in the cross. Period.

So look forward to that. I know we see “wars, and rumors of wars” all around us, but peace is coming.

But maybe more shocking than anything is what we learn in Isaiah 52. It tells us that a day is coming when “The Lord displays His holy arm in the sight of all the nations” and “all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” You hear that? The Lord will display his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, to the point that “all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of the Lord.”

You hear that?

One day the gospel will reach every single corner of the earth, every single patch of land, every single tribe, every single language, every single people group. And, apparently, it’ll take hold. Every tribe, tongue, and nation will respond to the gospel, not by rejecting it, not by ignoring, not by opposing it, but by embracing it.

We don’t see that today. But it’s coming. We don’t know when it’s coming. We don’t know how it’s coming. But we know plenty well that it’s coming. It says “the Lord will display his holy arm in the sight of all the nations,” so that “all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of the Lord.”

And when you take all of these things together, you get something like the vision John points us to in Revelation chapter 7. He says:

After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

Salvation belongs to our God,
who is seated on the throne,
and to the Lamb!”

You hear that?

All of this ends with Christ on his throne, surrounded by his people, in a world made good again.

Why? Because Christ has risen in victory, and so he will gather his people to enjoy his world together for all of eternity.

The resurrection of Jesus changes everything. /

The British pastor and apologist N.T. Wright likes to point out that when Mary first sees Jesus, here, she thinks he’s the gardener. It’s a mistake, obviously. But Wright says, “That’s exactly the right mistake to make.” Because Jesus is not a the hired han d responsible for maintaining the garden outsides the tomb. But he is very much the gardener.

Because Jesus is the God of the universe. He was the God we lived with in the Garden of Eden. He is the God we rebelled against when we took the fruit and broke the world.

And now, He’s the God who has risen from the grave to fix everything we’ve broken in this world of tears.

In other words, Jesus is the gardener.

Because through his resurrection, he is gardening, so to speak. He is planting a new world in the dead ground of the old world, that will one day overtake and replace this one. A new heavens and a new earth. Jesus is the Great Gardener.

*

I’d love to leave it there, and go home on a high.

But there’s one more question that we have to ask.

 And that is that, now, knowing what we know, what do we do?

Once again, I think the answer is: The same thing Jesus told Mary to do. It says, “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them what He had said to her.”

Like Mary, we have been given the message of Christ’s resurrection, and everything that comes with it, to spread to every corner of the earth.

You know the famous Bible verses that talk about our mission as the people of God.

You know Matthew 28, where Jesus says:

 “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

You know Luke chapter 10, where Jesus says:

“The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest. Now go; I’m sending you out like lambs among wolves.”

We could do this all day. As you read through the gospels, Jesus hammers it into our heads that this is our mission. This is what we exist for. As people who have been redeemed through the cross and are being transformed through the Resurrection, we are on this earth today to recruit new laborers for the Lord’s harvest.

It’s like the parable from Matthew 20, when Jesus says:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the workers on one denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine in the morning, he saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. To those men he said, ‘You also go to my vineyard, and I’ll give you whatever is right.’ So off they went. About noon and at three, he went out again and did the same thing. Then about five he went and found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?’ “Because no one hired us,’ they said to him. “‘You also go to my vineyard,’ he told them.”

We exist on this earth to gather in new workers, and to train them to join our work. To “Make disciples” and to “teach them to obey everything Christ has commanded us.”

And, apparently, as we faithfully carry out the work that Jesus has given us, we start to see the glorious vision that god has given us of his kingdom becoming a reality. That’s why Jesus says in Matthew 13 that:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It’s the smallest of all the seeds, but when grown, it’s taller than the vegetables and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches.”

Like a mustard seed, the kingdom grows, in some sense. So slowly we usually don’t even notice. But as we carry out the Great Commission, to make disciples of all nations and teach them to obey everything that Jesus has commanded us, apparently we’ll start to see these things come true.

Through our evangelism and our service, we can expect that one day we’ll live in a world where nobody is lost, where everyone knows the Lord because they’ve seen his holy arm and embraced his salvation.

Through our evangelism and our service, we can expect that one day we’ll live in a world where violence has vanished. Where war has vanished. Where nations no longer take up arms against each other.

Through our evangelism and our service, we can expect that one day we’ll live in a world where everyone can be fed, everyone can find a place to live, no one has to starve, and no one has to be uprooted.

All of these things sound like pipe dreams. And they would be, if our world of tears was the only world there was. But it’s not. Because Christ has risen in victory, and so he will restore everything that we have broken. To crib a phrase from the prophet Joel, “The Lord will restore the years the locust have eaten.”

This is the point in the service where, typically, I would give something that we refer to as an “altar call,” but that’s not quite possible this morning, for obvious reasons. What we’re doing instead, is that as we respond to the Lord through song, we invite you to text or email me with your prayer requests, or decisions, or burdens, and we can set a time to sit down over the phone sometime the week and talk or pray through whatever is on your heart.

Let’s pray.

‘The Empty Tomb’ – John 20:1-10 – September 20th

Good morning, people of Mount Zion! Thank you for joining us for this week’s Drive-In church service. We are very glad that you are here.

If you would, please turn with me in your Bibles to John 20:1-10. John says:

On the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark. She saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran to Simon Peter and to the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him!”

At that, Peter and the other disciple went out, heading for the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and got to the tomb first. Stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying there, yet he did not go in. Then, following him, Simon Peter came also. He entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. The wrapping that had been on His head was not lying with the linen cloths but was folded up in a separate place by itself. The other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, then entered the tomb, saw, and believed. For they still did not understand the Scripture that He must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went home again.

This is the word of the Lord. Let’s pray.

Father we thank you that even as we are temporarily forced to change some of what we do because of COVID-19, you are greater than COVID-19. Not one of us wouldn’t rather be inside that building, sitting in the pews, catching up with the folks who usually sit next us face-to-face instead of simply over the phone. And yet, You are greater than our inconvenience. We thank you for the way that you are with us even in the midst of our social distancing, that you are near us even in the midst of our isolation, and that even as we try to serve our neighbors by distancing ourselves to try and mitigate the spread of the virus, you have given us the profound blessing of being able to look closely at your word together, to learn from it, to be changed by it, and be edified through it.

We pray these things in Jesus’s name, Amen.

*

Well, as you noticed, this is only about half of the Resurrection story. Typically, when you think of the Resurrection story, you think of a little bit more than just this. You think of the story of Jesus approaching Mary, Mary thinking he’s the gardener, until he says her name, and then she recognizes him. You think of Thomas, putting his fingers into Jesus’s wounds. You think of the Angels, saying “He is not here, he is risen.” /

We will get to all of that.

But this week, we want to focus on the very beginning of John’s account of the Resurrection. Because, like almost everything else in John’s gospel, it’s kinda weird.

John starts off with, kind of, a scene out of a sitcom, or something. The women get there to pay their respects, but there’s nobody to pay their respects to. There’s nobody in the tomb. It’s a “case of the missing corpse” type thing. It could be an Abbott and Costello bit.

So she goes and tells the men, “There’s nobody in the Tomb.” And so the men run, to go see if there’s actually a problem at the burial site or if the women are all just riled up cuz there’s nothing on TV that morning.

So they go running, and they can’t even do that normally, they’ve gotta turn it into a race, and so John goes out of his way to make sure everybody knows that he beat Peter there, which is like, “Great job, you want a sticker for your chart, or something?”

And so he gets there, and the women are right. There is nobody in the tomb. And John goes out of his way to say, “We didn’t know what to do with it, because we didn’t pay attention in Sunday School.” He says, “We did not remember the scriptures that told us this was coming.”

That’s what I like about John, and it might be what you hate about John, he’s always very colorful. The Bible is weird, but it absolutely is not boring.

But as strange and colorful as our passage this morning is, even before we get to the more recognizable parts of the Resurrection story next week, there is a wealth of things that we can learn from all of this.

And we want to take a look at 3 major things that our passage tells us this morning.

First things first, we should notice that up until our passage, Jesus was actually dead.

I know that seems like pointing out the obvious, but it’s important to point that out for a couple reasons. Jesus was actually dead. He was in a tomb. He was dead and buried. You’ll remember from last week’s passage that John says

“They requested that Pilate have the men’s legs broken and that their bodies be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man and of the other one who had been crucified with Him. 33 But when they came to Jesus, they did not break His legs since they saw that He was already dead. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.”

That’s from last week’s passage. And those are things that do not happen unless you are dead. They didn’t even have to break his legs to finish the job. They jammed a spear into his side in both blood and water came out.

You know how you get that to happen? You die.

If you’ve been hanging on a cross for hours and they puncture your body and blood and water comes out, it means your number’s up. It means that’s all she wrote. It means you’re not breathing anymore.

That’s where Jesus was. That’s what happened to Jesus. He was hung on a cross until he died, and then that was it, he was dead.

So, then, what?

In itself, the fact that a guy like Jesus got crucified isn’t actually very noteworthy. Rome executed troublesome peasants every day, and while every single death is a tragedy, it probably wouldn’t even have made the news 20 miles outside of Jerusalem.

But this was not just the execution of a troublesome peasant.

Because what Rome didn’t understand and what the Sanhedrin refused to believe is that the man on the cross was the God of the universe. We serve a crucified God.

You ever think about it in those terms? You worship a crucified God.

A God who left the glory of heaven to take on the dirt and grime and cares and troubles and difficulties and uncertainties and weakness and humility of our world.

You serve a very big God who became very small for us. A very strong God who became very weak for us. To use Paul’s language in Philippians, we serve a God who “emptied himself” for us. A God who became nothing for us. Who, “though he was rich, yet became poor for us.” We serve a crucified God.

And, as it turns out, the crucified God is the only God there is.

Think about that.

A lot of “world religions” scholars – like, “comparative religion” scholars – will talk about how unique the Christian gospel is on that point, but they’ll talk about it like it’s just, sort of, a fascinating piece of trivia.

They’ll point out that most of the gods, in most cultures, at nearly every point in time throughout history, look and act more like your angry ex-husband than anybody who ought to be running the universe.

They’ll point out that the gods that most humans believed in were essentially chest-beating thugs, kind of like the bad guys from a Rambo movie, or something. That’s not an insult, that’s just how they described themselves. Kind of like a “My god could beat up your god” type thing.

And they’ll point out that in a world that saw the gods as playground bullies with superpowers, suddenly here came Jesus.

The crucified God. The God who came to Earth to die. Who came to trade himself for his people.

And that’s definitely interesting no matter which way you slice it, but it’s not just a fascinating piece of trivia. It’s not just an interesting tidbit that you can bring up if you want to make friends with a nerd. That is the reality that the entire universe is based around. The universe exists because of this crucified God, and the universe exists for this crucified God.

Including you.

You belong to a crucified God. How often do you think about the fact that you belong specifically to a God who died for your sins? You belong specifically to a God who decided to die in your place.

I know that this language is really weird, but think about what it means.

This is very good news.

Because, among other things, it means that the God of the universe really isn’t cruel. It means that the God of the universe really isn’t petty. You are not an object to the God of the universe. You are not just a chess piece that he moves around. This is not a game to him. You are not just a player on a stage that he uses to amuse or entertain himself.

It’s the opposite.

This is not about to turn into one of those goofy motivational speaker things, but you actually, really, seriously, honestly are the center of God’s attention. He sees you. He knows you. He cares about you. And he put real weight behind his claims to see and know and care about and love you by sacrificing everything, even his own life, on the cross.

This is the God that actually exists. The crucified God. The God who actually exists is the crucified God. And the crucified God is glorious. 

That’s our first point. The Bible tells us that the God that actually exists is the God who gave himself for us fully, and freely, and forever. /

(Pause)

Now, that would be remarkable enough, even if that was the end of it.

But that isn’t the end of it. Not by a longshot. Because before verse 1 is even over, we learn that three days later, the tomb was empty. It says:

“She saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran to Simon Peter and to the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put Him!”

Mary’s at the tomb, and Jesus isn’t there. That’s not normal.

We see the same thing again beginning in verse 5. It says:

“Stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying there, yet he did not go in. Then, following him, Simon Peter came also. He entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. The wrapping that had been on His head was not lying with the linen cloths but was folded up in a separate place by itself.”

Now the disciples are at the tomb, and Jesus isn’t here. We need to talk about that. On the third day after Jesus was very decisively done in, and then permanently sealed into a rock tomb with a massive stone pressed against it, suddenly the tomb was empty and his corpse was nowhere to be found.

That’s what you would call a question mark, because it poses a question. What happened? Where’d the body go? And why?

We know what John’s gonna tell us: That the tomb was empty because the Lord rose from the dead.

But for 2000 years, people have been looking for a different explanation.

People have been looking for ways to explain away the empty tomb. Throughout history, different folks have looked for alternative explanations for why the tomb was empty on the third day, explanations that don’t involve a dead guy coming back to life. And we wanna talk about a few that have gained the most traction through the years.

The first “alternative explanation” that really gained traction in history was the “stolen body” theory. And it says pretty much what you would expect. It says that the body of Jesus was stolen. Not long after the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the same Pharisees and Saducees we see causing trouble throughout the gospels and the book of Acts apparently started spreading rumors to discredit the disciples, and a lot of those rumors and propaganda are collected today in an ancient book called Toledot Yeshu.It says that Jesus was an illegitimate child, and that he grew up to be a sorcerer, and that after he was executed, the disciples stole his body from the tomb and then made up stories saying that he came back to life.

That was, probably, the earliest “alternative explanation” that people put forward to explain away the empty tomb.

But it’s certainly not the only one.

In recent years, one very common “alternative explanation” is what’s called the “Swoon theory.” It says that Jesus never actually died when they crucified him. It says that while was being crucified, that he went into a comatose state of some sort, and was buried, but that he regained consciousness while in the tomb and then escaped, which led his fanatical followers to believe that he must have risen from the dead.

I’m gonna run through that one again. The “Swoon Theory” says that Jesus was crucified, and then buried, but that he never actually died in the process. That he just went unconscious. That he went comatose because of his injuries. And then he was mistakenly buried, then woke up, and made his way out of the tomb, so that people saw him alive again and assumed he must have risen from the dead.

Now, I probably don’t have to tell you this, but that is ridiculous. That’s what you would call “a theory so ridiculous that only a scholar would believe it.”

I apologize, this might get a little gruesome – which is inevitable, because we’re talking about a Crucifixion – but, imagine with me that somebody drove a set of nails that were nearly a foot long through your wrists and your ankles. Which would have broken both your wrists and your ankles and maybe even separated them from the bone. Then they left you on a cross for hours. A cross where, because of the angling of your body, you can’t breathe.

You can try to take a breath in, but no air is going to enter your lungs. So you have to use every ounce of your strength to lift yourself up so that you can inhale, before collapsing back down into not being able to breathe again. Over that process, fluids from your body start to enter into your lungs and pool up at the bottom. As the hours go by it pools up even higher.

You are drowning. On the cross, you are literally drowning.

You lift yourself up again to take another breath, but you can only take half a breath because half of your lungs are filled with fluids. As the hours go you get more tired. Your body starts to give out. You dip in and out of consciousness. The fluid raises higher in your lungs. Eventually you can’t breathe and your lungs are filled with fluid and your muscles don’t work anymore and your bones are chafing against each other and there is just no more life in your body.

That’s what happens when you get crucified.

Even if you don’t die from that, you are never walking again. You’re probably never moving again. You’re functionally paralyzed. You are done. Your wounds are infected. Your lungs are useless. Your muscles are jelly. The only way for you to get from point A to point B would be for somebody to cart you around on a furniture dolly, or something. That’s the state that Jesus would have been after a few hours on the cross.

And so even if he didn’t die, which he almost certainly did, there is no way that he is getting up three days later, pushing a gigantic stone out of the way of the rock tomb by himself, and then walking to the house of the disciples, opening the front door, sitting down, and having dinner. That is not going to happen.

More than that there’s no way that he’s going to make his way out to the beach, and join his disciples around the campfire like we see in John 21.

And, even more, there is no way that he is going to spend a month teaching small crowds of people, like the gospels tell us.

There is absolutely no version of this where that is even remotely within the realm of possibility. There is nothing realistic about the theory that says that Jesus survived the cross and then made his way out of the tomb. It’s almost insultingly stupid.

And the same issues are there with that first theory – the “stolen body” theory – the one that says that the disciples came and stole the body of Jesus so that it would seem like he had been resurrected.

This one sounds good but falls apart pretty quick. Because if that’s what happened, then so much of the suffering that they went through because of their faith in the Resurrection was totally unnecessary. Because, like, if the disciples stole his body, then they know the Resurrection was fake. Right?

They know it. And if they knew the Resurrection was fake, why did they subject themselves to constant, absolutely unthinkable degrees of torture and abuse as they trying to spread the message of the Resurrection?

We see throughout the book of Acts, the disciples will go from town to town preaching the Resurrection of Jesus, the crowds will go nuts, and they’ll stone them, or beat them to a bloody pulp, or worse. John, the author of this gospel, was literally boiled in a pot for hours. Like, they made John soup. That’s a thing that apparently happened. Specifically, because he preached the Resurrection of Jesus.

So if the Resurrection was fake, if John stole the body of Jesus and then lied about it, he really didn’t need to get boiled. They really didn’t need to get beaten black and blue in one town after another, they didn’t have to have large rocks thrown at them until they died, because they could have just dropped the act.

They could have just said, “You know what, you’re right, Jesus died, and then we stole his body.” And that would have been the end of it. They would have put away their water boarding equipment and either thrown them in jail or sent them home.

But they didn’t. Instead, they went through sufferings we can’t even Imagine because they continued preached the Resurrection. And why did they continue to preach the Resurrection even as The Roman government and the chief priests ratcheted up the persecution again and again?

Because they actually believed it.

And they actually believed it because they saw it.

They saw him. They witnessed a very dead Jesus become a very not dead Jesus. They put their fingers into the wounds of his resurrected body. They watched him eat. They went fishing with him. They spent a whole month with him after he rose from the grave. They preached the Resurrection because they witnessed the Resurrection, because they know it was true. And so absolutely nothing could get them to drop it stop proclaiming it.

These are just three of the ways that people try to explain the Resurrection away, we won’t dive into anymore because this is a sermon, not an apologetics conference, but you could do a similar thing with basically every other theory that people have put forth to explain away the Resurrection. Whether you believe in the Resurrection or not, one of the things that you will find if you seriously look at the alternatives is that none of them even come close to working./

And so what we have, then, is an empty tomb that is difficult to explain without diving into the supernatural. So we are in a position that is basically like the position the disciples find themselves in our passage this morning.

Picking up in verse 8, it says:

“The other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, then entered the tomb, saw, and believed. For they still did not understand the Scripture that He must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went home again.”

Like the disciples, we have an empty tomb we don’t really know what to do with. We can ignore it, but that doesn’t get us anywhere. The empty tomb is staring in our faces as a question mark, and we gotta put some answer to it. We don’t know what it means. But we know it means something.

And yet, in my experience, it seems like where you land on this issue actually has less to do with what your brain determines is true than it does with what your heart decides it wants.

I’m gonna say that again: Where you land on this issue has less to do with what your brain determines is true than it does with what your heart decides it wants.

To quote the old, dead German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg – he is not an evangelical by any stretch of the imagination – he very famously said:

“The evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: First, it is a very unusual event. And second, if you believe it happened, you have to change the way you live.”

That’s pretty candid. Right?

Like, 90% of the time, we don’t say what we mean. Most of the time, we dress up what we actually mean with euphemisms and reasonable sounding excuses and so on and so forth, but every once in awhile, we accidentally slip up and say the quiet part out loud. Wolfhart Pannenberg says the evidence for the Resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for the fact that if you believe that it happened, you have to change the way you live.

(Pause)

I think that’s about right.

I saw exactly that with a friend of mine, named Stephen.

One time we were talking a couple of years ago, and he was talking about why he left the Christian faith when he was younger. There were a lot of reasons. But I noticed that he didn’t say anything about the miracles in the Bible. I thought that was kinda strange, because usually people bring that up pretty quick.

They’ll say, “The Bible is full of talking donkeys, talking snakes, miraculous healings, virgin births, and a Resurrection. And those are things that don’t happen.” I hear a lot of that from people when I talk to them about faith. So I’ve just kind of come to expect it most of the time when I’m sharing the gospel.

But I didn’t hear it from Stephen that day. He had plenty of objections to other parts of the Christian faith. He didn’t like what the Bible says about sex. He didn’t like what the Bible says about marriage. He didn’t like what the Bible says about how we’re supposed to use our money. The list goes on. But the Resurrection didn’t really come up.

So I asked him if he still believed in the Resurrection.

And he said, “No, not really.”

So I asked him why, specifically.

And he didn’t really have an answer.

He said he just kind of stopped believing it along with the rest of the faith, which makes sense. I think that’s really usually how it goes.

And so I asked, “Just outta curiosity, if Jesus said, ‘Thou shalt do whatever sex stuff you want, with whoever you want, whenever you want,’ would you still be this confident that the Christian faith is fiction?”

And he said, “Probably not.”

He probably wouldn’t doubt the Resurrection so much if believing it didn’t require him to change his life. /

I think that’s what Wolfhart Pannenberg is talking about. The evidence for the Resurrection is so strong that we probably wouldn’t question it except for the fact that if we believe that it happened, we have to change the way we live.

So if you are sitting in the audience today, and you’re not so sure about the Resurrection of Jesus, or you’re not so sure about the Virgin birth, or you’re not so sure about any of the other miracles. Or, in general, you’re just not so sure about the divine inspiration of the Bible. Or you’re not so sure about the existence of God. Or any number of other issues that you might have with the faith, just out of curiosity, would you still feel this way if the Bible didn’t require you to change the way you live?

Maybe you would. Maybe your doubts about the faith come from a very genuine place. Frankly, a lot of folks who leave the church leave the church because they were abused in or by the church. Or they leave because they saw an unbearable degree of extreme hypocrisy in the people in the church. And frankly I get that.

I don’t fault them for that. That could end up being any of us one day.

And yet, assuming that’s not the case with you, ask yourself, “How much of my doubt boils down to the fact that I don’t want to be told that I have to change the way I live?”

I’m not gonna push that train of thought any further down the tracks, ’cause we gotta move on, but I do want you to think about that. Because no matter how we slice it what we have is an empty tomb that we have to do something with.

But I think that there are very good reasons to believe that the empty tomb that we see in John chapter 20 really is the result of the Resurrection that we see in John chapter 21.

And one of the reasons is that this is exactly the kind of thing the Old Testament told us to be looking for.

In Isaiah 53, Isaiah prophesies about the coming Messiah. He says:

It was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. 11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.”

That’s just one example, but the scriptures testified that a Messiah was coming, that the Messiah would be killed, and that the Messiah would rise again.

Next week we will talk in depth about what that means for us. But this week I just want to get us on the starting line.

I want you to look at Jesus, look at his death, look at the prophecies about the Messiah to come, whom God told us was going to die and then rise again in order to heal and forgive us, and then look at the empty tomb.

Because when you take everything together, what you find is that Jesus is the Messiah.

Specifically, Jesus is your Messiah. Jesus is the one who came to “bear your iniquities,” the scriptures say. He’s the one who came to be “wounded for your transgression.” He’s the one who came to take every last bit of your sin and unworthiness and crucify it in himself. And then, he rose again. He buried your sin in a garden tomb and then rose from the grave and brought you back with him.

That is the truth about Jesus. And that is the truth about you.

This is the point in the service where, typically, I would give something that we refer to as an “altar call,” but that’s not quite possible this morning, for obvious reasons. What we’re doing instead, is that as we respond to the Lord through song, we invite you to text or email me with your prayer requests, or decisions, or burdens, and we can set a time to sit down over the phone sometime the week and talk or pray through whatever is on your heart.

Let’s pray.

‘The Crucified King’ – John 19:16-42 – September 13th, 2020

If you would, please turn with me in your Bibles to John 19:16-42. John says:

Therefore they took Jesus away. 17 Carrying His own cross, He went out to what is called Skull Place, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified Him and two others with Him, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle. 19 Pilate also had a sign lettered and put on the cross. The inscription was:

JESUS THE NAZARENE

THE KING OF THE JEWS.

20 Many of the Jews read this sign, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Don’t write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that He said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’”

22 Pilate replied, “What I have written, I have written.”

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took His clothes and divided them into four parts, a part for each soldier. They also took the tunic, which was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24 So they said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it, to see who gets it.” They did this to fulfill the Scripture that says: They divided My clothes among themselves, and they cast lots for My clothing. And this is what the soldiers did.

25 Standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple He loved standing there, He said to His mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then He said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

28 After this, when Jesus knew that everything was now accomplished that the Scripture might be fulfilled, He said, “I’m thirsty!” 29 A jar full of sour wine was sitting there; so they fixed a sponge full of sour wine on hyssop and held it up to His mouth.

30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!”Then bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.

31 Since it was the preparation day, the Jews did not want the bodiesto remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a special day). They requested that Pilate have the men’s legs broken and that their bodies be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man and of the other one who had been crucified with Him. 33 When they came to Jesus, they did not break His legs since they saw that He was already dead. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once blood and watercame out. 35 He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows he is telling the truth.36 For these things happened so that the Scripture would be fulfilled:Not one of His bones will be broken. 37 Also, another Scripture says: They will look at the One they pierced.

38 After this, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus—but secretly because of his fear of the Jews—asked Pilate that he might remove Jesus’ body. Pilate gave him permission, so he came and took His body away. 39 Nicodemus (who had previously come to Him at night) also came, bringing a mixture of about 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes. 40 Then they took Jesus’ body and wrapped it in linen cloths with the aromatic spices, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 There was a garden in the place where He was crucified. A new tomb was in the garden; no one had yet been placed in it. 42 They placed Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation and since the tomb was nearby.

This is the word of the Lord. Let’s pray.

Father we thank you that even as we are temporarily forced to change some of what we do because of COVID-19, you are greater than COVID-19. Not one of us wouldn’t rather be inside that building, sitting in the pews, catching up with the folks who usually sit next us face-to-face instead of simply over the phone. And yet, You are greater than our inconvenience. We thank you for the way that you are with us even in the midst of our social distancing, that you are near us even in the midst of our isolation, and that even as we try to serve our neighbors by distancing ourselves to try and mitigate the spread of the virus, you have given us the profound blessing of being able to look closely at your word together, to learn from it, to be changed by it, and be edified through it.

We pray these things in Jesus’s name, Amen.

*

Well, we’ve arrived. We’re here.

We have been inching towards the crucifixion for most of this year. We started John at the beginning of January, it’s now the beginning of September, and we have arrived at the cross.

One year ago today, we were in the process of preaching through Galatians. A few months before that, we were walking through the Book of Ruth. Before that, we went through the letter of First John. And before that, we went through James. All of that has been leading to this. The familiar story of the God who came down from heaven to be nailed to a cross.

My hope is that over the last 2 years, as we have worked our way through a pretty large amount of the Bible together, what has happened is that you have been able to see things that you maybe couldn’t see before. That with the familiarity that we have built up with more, and more, and more of the story that God tells us in scripture, we are able to draw connections now that bring familiar stories like this to life when they used to go in one ear and out the other. That we can see the gospel more clearly than ever, because we can see more than ever how deep, and how wide, and how vast the love and strength and goodness and power of God is.

So as we step into the story of the crucifixion of Jesus this morning, rather than trying to say everything that we could possibly say about it, we just want to relax, take a breath, and look at these three things that jump out at us more clearly than anything else in light of the rest of what John has shown us throughout this gospel.

And so looking at our passage this morning, the first thing we notice is the irony.

Take a look beginning at verse 19. John says:

“Pilate also had a sign lettered and put on the cross. The inscription was: JESUS THE NAZARENE. THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Don’t write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that He said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate replied, “What I have written, I have written.”

I said the first thing we notice is the irony, because Pilate thinks he’s joking.

He writes “Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews.” And he thinks it’s an insult. He thinks he’s taking a jab at the guy hanging on the cross. He thinks he’s mocking him.

More than that, he thinks he’s mocking the Jews in general. The sign on the cross could mean a whole lot of different things, but more than anything, Pilate is saying, “This is what happens to people who claim to be king.” “This is what happens to people who rebel against Caesar.”

Like we talked about two weeks ago, the rallying cry in Rome was “No King but Caesar.”

That was how Rome operated.

They went around the world, conquering tribes and kingdoms, and subjecting them to their own rule. At its peak, Rome had conquered the bulk of the known world. Which meant that if you used to have a country of your own, you don’t anymore. You’re a subject of Rome now. You used to have a king, but you don’t anymore, because “there was no King but Caesar.” If you’re looking for your old King, his head probably on a pike somewhere. That was Rome’s Mantra. “No King but Caesar.”

And as he crucifies Jesus in our passage this morning, Pilate is trying to use him as an example, to ward off anybody else who might claim to be the king.

He said, “Here lies Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews – and this is what happens to kings on Caesar’s watch.” He’s saying, “If you want to be the king of the Jews, this will happen to you too.”

It’s a taunt. It’s a jab. And it’s a threat.

And yet, it’s also the truth.

This is Jesus of Nazareth, and he is absolutely the king of the Jews. Jesus is the king of the Jews, yesterday, today, and forever. And he’s more than that. Because Jesus is the king of the everything.

He’s everybody’s King.

Like, Hebrews 1:8 says that when the Old Testament says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom,” it’s talking about Jesus. And, again, Philippians 2:9-11 says that “God has highly exalted Jesus and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” – Jesus Christ is king – “to the glory of God the Father.”

Jesus is the king in a way that Caesar could only ever hope to be.

The kingship of Jesus transcends and overwhelms all earthly rulers, authorities, and power. Caesar doesn’t even know it, but he’s hanging over the fire by a thread held by Jesus, and the only reason he hasn’t plunged into the flames is because Jesus hasn’t dropped him yet. That’s where he stands. That’s where Pilate stands. And, frankly, that’s where you stand.

Nowadays we don’t really like to talk about God or ourselves in those terms, because that takes a bat to the knee-cap of your pride, right? But it’s true.

Jesus is your king, whether you acknowledge Him or not, whether you want him or not, whether you believe in him or not, whether you recognize him or not, and as your king, he’s not just King over you in theory.

He’s not just King in the sense that he has authority over you, he is King in the sense that he has absolute power over every molecule in your body. He’s King over the blood in your veins, he is King over the breath in your lungs, he is King over every neuron firing through your brain, however all that stuff works.

Hebrews 1:3 says that “Christ is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” And Colossians 1:17 says that “Christ is before all things, and in [Christ] all things hold together.” And 1 Corinthians 8:6 says that we exist through Jesus, and that everything that exists exists through Jesus.” The point is clear enough: Jesus keeps you running like clockwork. If you are breathing right now, it’s because King Jesus is still sustaining you.

In other words, the man on the cross didn’t have to be on a cross. He could have been on a throne. He could have pulled some Avengers: Endgame type stuff and snapped his fingers and made Pilate, Caesar, and every Roman soldier in a 20 mile radius vanish into dust, because that was very much within his power, but he didn’t.

And he didn’t for a reason.

And that carries us into our second point, which is that his crucifixion was according to plan.

The crucifixion that we read about today was according to plan.

It was the single greatest injustice in the history of the world, no doubt. But it was also part of God’s sovereign plan for the universe.

The crucifixion didn’t take Jesus by surprise. It was part of what he came here for.

Take a look, beginning at verse 23. John says:

“When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took His clothes and divided them into four parts, a part for each soldier. They also took the tunic, which was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24 So they said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it, to see who gets it.” They did this to fulfill the Scripture that says: They divided My clothes among themselves, and they cast lots for My clothing. And this is what the soldiers did.

Even the abuse that the soldiers hurl onto Jesus ultimately fulfills what the scriptures prophesied.

We see the same thing again, beginning at verse 36. John says:

“For these things happened so that the Scripture would be fulfilled: Not one of His bones will be broken. 37 Also, another Scripture says: They will look at the One they pierced.

 John reminds us that these things occurred “to fulfill what was stated in the scriptures.” These things happened to fulfill what was foretold in the scriptures. None of these things were plot twists. None of these things happened for shock value. The crucifixion of Jesus is not like finding out that Bruce Willis is a ghost in The Sixth Sense. If you haven’t seen that already, and I ruined it for you, that sucks for you, that movie is 25 years old, you have had plenty of time to see it. 

Instead this is like when the Titanic sinks at the end of the Titanic movie. This is the only ending any of this could ever possibly have led to. The Lord has been pointing us towards this since the very beginning of the scriptures. This was God’s plan from before the foundation of the world, to redeem us from our sin through the cross.

God’s plan from before the foundation of the world to redeem you through the cross.

We see that most clearly in Ephesians chapter 1. Paul says:

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved.”

The Lord has been planning to redeem you since before the foundation of the world.

That’s a common thread that runs through the Bible.

In 2 Timothy 1:9, Paul rejoices that “God has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.”

And Matthew 25:34, Jesus says that one day he’ll turn to those who belong to him and say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Now, I am not going to dive into the debate about “free will” or “predestination.” Because that is not the point and it’s frankly a waste of time.

You will notice as you read the scriptures for yourself that none of the biblical authors seem to care even a little bit about philosophical debates about “free will,” or “fate,” or “predestination,” or whatever.

What they care about is preaching the gospel – specifically the gospel that you have been called out in Christ from before you were born.

You have been called forth in Jesus Christ from before you were conceived. You have been called out in Christ from before there was a you, and from before there was anything. The Lord chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world. He predestined you to be adopted as sons along with him.

And so, when the time came, he came to Earth, and he did everything he had to do to make you into sons of God: Jesus went to the cross in order to adopt you. He went to the cross in order to make you into a coheir along with him. He went to the cross in order to turn you from an enemy of God into a friend of God. He went to the cross in order to bring you home like the Prodigal Son.

That’s why we are reading about a crucifixion, here, instead of a coronation. That’s why we see Jesus being lifted up onto a torture device instead of lifted up onto a throne. Jesus went to the cross because the cross was the center of his eternal plan.

The plan to redeem you.

The plan to adopt you as his own.

And that brings us to our third and final point, and that is that the finished work of Jesus really has brought you salvation.

The finished work of Jesus on the cross has brought you salvation.

The finished work of Jesus that we read about in our passage this morning has brought you the salvation that Christ has chosen for you from before the foundation of the world.

Take a look at verse 30. John says: “When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” Then bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ this morning, those three words – “It is finished” – are the truest thing about you.

“It is finished.”

Now, when I say that that’s the truest thing about you, what I mean is that that’s the truest thing about you.

I mean that that’s truer than any of the other things that might define you.

It is truer, even, than any of the things that you are ashamed of.

Like, look, you have problems. I get it. That’s a fact.

We’re not going to sugarcoat it, and say, “You’re not perfect,” because of course you’re not perfect. Duh, you’re not perfect. Like, I would be doing a disservice to you if all I said here was, “You’re not perfect,” because you know that it is so much deeper than that, right?

You know that “Not Perfect” doesn’t even begin to define what’s wrong with you. Like, I’m not just “Not Perfect,” I’m jacked up. There’s something wrong with me. Half the time, I am in a tailspin. You know what I’m talking about? I can barely breathe sometimes. I have barely got my head above water.

And 90% of the time, it is 100% my fault.

I have problems, and I am my problems. And if you are a human being on planet Earth, that is probably the truth about you too.

Case-in-point, if you have family problems, it could be that there’s something wrong with your family, but it is also entirely possible that you are your family problems. Right?

Or, if you have money problems? I won’t deny the reality that there are plenty of economic issues or injustices that can cause you to have financial issues that are not your fault, but a lot of the time, if you have money problems, it’s because you are your money problems. Nobody made you buy a boat instead of save. Nobody made you trade in your perfectly fine 2004 Toyota Camry for a brand new car you couldn’t afford. Nobody made you pass by job after job after job because they didn’t fit your ever-changing standards.

But those are just a couple of examples. In the same vein, you can’t get along with your co-workers, it might be that there is something wildly wrong with the culture of your workplace, but if it’s you against all of them, take a look at what the common denominator is. Your problem with your co-workers is probably you.

If you can’t get along with the people at your church? Same principle probably applies.

If you’re estranged from your family? It might be that your family is abusive and you need to get the heck away from them – in which case right on, get away from them, and know that you are not doing anything wrong, you don’t owe them anything. But if you’re estranged from your family, and you can’t get along with your coworkers, and you keep burning bridges with the folks at your church, and you can’t seem to manage your money – it is entirely possible that the common denominator, here, is your own sin.

We could do this all day.

I have problems, and 90% of the time I am those problems. I am my problems. I am the thorn in my side. I am the one who is sabotaging my life.

And there’s something very liberating about being able to admit that, because that’s usually the first step toward actually changing what you do. That’s usually the first step towards no longer sabotaging yourself, right? Respecting yourself enough to say, “I am what is wrong with this picture, and I need to change me.”

Accept the reality of your own sin, and resist the urge to downplay it, or get defensive, or look for people who will tell you what you want to hear about yourself. Allow reality to be your guide, resist the endless deceit Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that your heart will heap onto you, and acknowledge the reality of your sin.

All of that is true. I don’t want to deny any of that.

And yet, having said all of that, it is equally important to recognize that all of those things, however true they might be about you, are not the truest thing about you.

Because all of those things are swept up together in the shadow of the cross, and washed away in the blood of Jesus Christ. 

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not walking back any of the stuff we just talked about.

Your sin is real. Your bad decisions are real. Your addictions are real. Your neuroses are real. The havoc that you wreak on yourself and on others is absolutely real. And yet part of the reason that you really can be free from those things is the fact that you are not defined by them. Because over and above every single one of those horrible realities is the much deeper, wider, and vaster reality that it is finished.

“It is finished.”

The guilt for all of your wrongs and mistakes and negligence have been swept away in Jesus Christ.

It is finished.

Everything that you have ever done has been dealt with in the cross.

Every wrong that you have ever been culpable for has been dealt with in the cross.

If you feel a continual storm cloud hanging over you because of the things that you have done throughout your life, the fact is that the storm cloud is a liar. The storm cloud is wrong. The storm cloud is writing a bad check. The storm cloud is you lying to you about you, because who you are today is not “a sinner, condemned, unclean,” who you are today is a child of God who has been washed in the blood of Jesus, made clean, and given an inheritance in heaven because of the death of Jesus Christ on your behalf.

This is who you are.

In a deeper sense than your sin could ever sink its hooks in.

And so, to your guilt, Christ said, “It is finished.”

To your endless feelings of inadequacy, Christ said, “It is finished.”

To your crushing sense of worthlessness, Christ said, “It is finished.”

Because it is.

Because it actually is finished.

The debt has actually been paid. The chains have actually been broken off. Your captivity to the devil has actually been overturned.

The jail door is open. Your grave is empty. The balance book has been cast into the ocean and sunk to the bottom where nobody is ever going to retrieve it again.

There is no place for you in hell.

There’s not one.

There’s not a vacancy.

There’s not a room with your name on it.

There’s not a seat at hell’s table for you.

There is no room at the inn of damnation for you to check into, because it is finished.

You have been redeemed.

The ending to your story has been written, and it’s a happy one.

You will be with God forever through Jesus Christ, just like he’s been planning since before you were born, before you were conceived, and before the foundation of the world.

You are free.

You are saved.

It is finished. 

This is the point in the service where, typically, I would give something that we refer to as an “altar call,” but that’s not quite possible this morning, for obvious reasons. What we’re doing instead, is that as we respond to the Lord through song, we invite you to text or email me with your prayer requests, or decisions, or burdens, and we can set a time to sit down over the phone sometime the week and talk or pray through whatever is on your heart.

Let’s pray.  

‘Jesus Is King’ – John 18:28-19:16 – August 30th

If you would, please turn with me in your Bibles to John 18:28-19:16. John says:

Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They did not enter the headquarters themselves; otherwise they would be defiled and unable to eat the Passover.

29 Then Pilate came out to them and said, “What charge do you bring against this man?”

30 They answered him, “If this man weren’t a criminal, we wouldn’t have handed Him over to you.”

31 So Pilate told them, “Take Him yourselves and judge Him according to your law.”

“It’s not legal for us to put anyone to death,” the Jews declared. 32 They said this so that Jesus’ words might be fulfilled signifying what kind of death He was going to die.

33 Then Pilate went back into the headquarters, summoned Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”

34 Jesus answered, “Are you asking this on your own, or have others told you about Me?”

35 “I’m not a Jew, am I?” Pilate replied. “Your own nation and the chief priests handed You over to me. What have You done?”

36 “My kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus. “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here.”

37 “You are a king then?” Pilate asked.

“You say that I’m a king,” Jesus replied. “I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.”

38 “What is truth?” said Pilate.

After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no grounds for charging Him. 39 You have a custom that I release one prisoner to you at the Passover. So, do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?”

40 They shouted back, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.

19 Then Pilate took Jesus and had Him flogged. The soldiers also twisted together a crown of thorns, put it on His head, and threw a purple robe around Him. And they repeatedly came up to Him and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and were slapping His face.

Pilate went outside again and said to them, “Look, I’m bringing Him outside to you to let you know I find no grounds for charging Him.”

Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

When the chief priests and the temple police saw Him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

Pilate responded, “Take Him and crucify Him yourselves, for I find no grounds for charging Him.”

“We have a law,” the Jews replied to him, “and according to that law He must die, because He made Himself the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this statement, he was more afraid than ever. He went back into the headquarters and asked Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus did not give him an answer. 10 So Pilate said to Him, “You’re not talking to me? Don’t You know that I have the authority to release You and the authority to crucify You?”

11 “You would have no authority over Me at all,” Jesus answered him, “if it hadn’t been given you from above. This is why the one who handed Me over to you has the greater sin.”

12 From that moment Pilate made every effort to release Him. But the Jews shouted, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Anyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar!”

13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside. He sat down on the judge’s bench in a place called the Stone Pavement (but in Hebrew Gabbatha). 14 It was the preparation day for the Passover, and it was about six in the morning. Then he told the Jews, “Here is your king!”

15 But they shouted, “Take Him away! Take Him away! Crucify Him!”

Pilate said to them, “Should I crucify your king?”

“We have no king but Caesar!” the chief priests answered.

16 So then, because of them, he handed Him over to be crucified.

This is the word of the Lord. Let’s pray:

Father we thank you that even as we are temporarily forced to change some of what we do because of COVID-19, you are greater than COVID-19. Not one of us wouldn’t rather be inside that building, sitting in the pews, catching up with the folks who usually sit next us face-to-face instead of simply over the phone. And yet, You are greater than our inconvenience. We thank you for the way that you are with us even in the midst of our social distancing, that you are near us even in the midst of our isolation, and that even as we try to serve our neighbors by distancing ourselves to try and mitigate the spread of the virus, you have given us the profound blessing of being able to look closely at your word together, to learn from it, to be changed by it, and be edified through it.

We pray these things in Jesus’s name, Amen.

*

So, looking through our passage, it’s hard to pick out exactly what we ought to learn from all this.

I heard one sermon where a guy used this as a springboard to talk about how sometimes life isn’t fair. “Sometimes people are going to treat you unfairly. But that’s okay, because God will help you.” He’ll give you strength even when people treat you unfairly.

That’s true. I can’t argue with that.

I have a friend who works for the Innocence Project. They specialize in taking up the cases for people who were falsely convicted. A lot of times, they will give lectures based on this passage, and similar passages from the other four gospels, talking about how “Sometimes even the legal system gets it wrong.”

Can’t argue with that, either. That’s true.

And yet looking at the passage there are two things that are even more basic, even simpler than both of these things that ought to jump out at us and guide us as the people of God. And I want to talk about these two things this morning.

The first thing that we see clearly in our passage this morning is that you are a citizen of a kingdom that is not of this world.

I’m going to say that again. You are a citizen of a kingdom that is not of this world.

From the very beginning, the Bible makes one thing exceedingly clear: God created the universe, and he rules over it as King.

We see exactly that in Psalm 47:6-7, “Sing praises to God . . . Sing praises to our King . . . For God is the King of all the earth!”

And Exodus 15:18, which says, “The Lord will reign forever and ever.”

And Isaiah 37:16, which says, “O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth.”

And what all of that means that if you are a member of God’s people, you serve God as your king.

Throughout the Old Testament, there was absolutely no doubt or debate to be had, God is King. And every other king, regardless of nation, was under the true king, the God-King of the universe, Yahweh.

And yet, looking at the last couple lines of our passage, this morning, we see Pilate, kind of, sarcastically quip, “Should I crucify your king?” And the religious leaders respond, “We have no King but Caesar.” /

That one sentence says a lot. They’re not just making a political statement. They’re not just declaring their allegiance to Rome. That is not like Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, or something like that. This is a religious statement. This is a statement about what they worship. This is a statement about what they serve.

When the Chief priests say, “We have no King but Caesar,” that is a rejection of the faith once delivered by God to his people.

When the Chief Priests say, “We have no King but Caesar,” what they’re saying is, “Caesar is our King, Yahweh is not.” They’re excusing themselves from the membership roll in the people of God. They decide, without a moment’s hesitation, that they want to place their bets on the kingdom of this world.

But, listen to me, Church, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then you are a citizen of a very different kingdom. And you are a servant of a very different King. You are a citizen of a kingdom that is not of this world. You are a citizen of the kingdom of God.

Take a look, back near the beginning of our passage this morning, beginning at chapter 18, verse 33.

Pilate went back into the headquarters, summoned Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” . . . And Jesus responds, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here.”

That’s an interesting thing to say.

“My kingdom is not of this world.” “If my kingdom was of this world, my servants would fight so I wouldn’t be handed over.” But it’s not. So they don’t. In other words, “If my kingdom were of this world, it would work like a worldly Kingdom works.” But it’s not. So it doesn’t.

Because worldly kingdoms are broken. Worldly kingdoms are sinful. Worldly kingdoms are violent. Good rulers can make them significantly less violent, significantly less broken, significantly less problematic than dysfunctional leaders can, so you should seek out good leaders and shun bad leaders, but no matter what, worldly kingdoms work like worldly kingdoms.

But the Kingdom of God is not like that. He says, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

In other words, the kingdom of Christ is a burst of light on a world of darkness. The kingdom of Christ is a glimmer of peace in a world of violence. The kingdom of Christ is a breath of fresh air to our exhausted lungs. The kingdom of God is not of this world.

And yet, that’s where our citizenship is.

To quote Colossians 1:13, “The Lord has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.” You have been rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of Jesus.

And listen to the way that Jesus describes that Kingdom in Matthew 5. He says:

The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Those who mourn are blessed, for they will be comforted. The gentle are blessed, for they will inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, for they will be filled. The merciful are blessed, for they will be shown mercy. The pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God. The peacemakers are blessed, for they will be called sons of God. 10 Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

You are a citizen of that kingdom. You are a citizen the kingdom of God. You are a citizen of a kingdom that is not of this world. You are a citizen of Christ’s kingdom, and that means a handful of things are true about you.

First, it means a handful of comforting things.

It means that none of your wounds are permanent.

None of your sufferings will be eternal.

None of your pain is final.

The struggles that you’ve had to go through will not have the last word.

Instead, you will be victorious, the scriptures tell us.

Your life is not, ultimately, a tragedy, it’s a comedy. In the old sense. In the sense that your life is a story that has a happy ending.

You are a citizen of Christ’s Kingdom, and that means that your story will be a story of victory. A story of healing. A story of redemption. A story of recovery. That’s you./

That’s the first thing.

*

But there’s more than that.

Because, secondly, the fact that you are a citizen of Christ’s kingdom means that you have a vast responsibility.

Have you ever thought about that?

You have been given a massive responsibility, not in spite of the fact that you are saved, but because of the fact that you are saved.

You are a citizen of a kingdom that is not of this world, and that means that you have an unbelievable responsibility to this world.

First things first, you have a responsibility to this world to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

You have a responsibility, like Matthew 28 says, to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything Christ has commanded us.”

That wasn’t just for the disciples. That wasn’t just for the first century. That’s not just for your pastor. That’s for you. You have a responsibility to this world to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is your duty as a citizen of Christ’s Kingdom.

That’s why Article 11 of the Baptist Faith and Message, that’s our church’s official Faith Statement, says:

It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations . . . It is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ.”

That’s written in kinda weird language, but you get the point. Our citizenship in Christ’s kingdom comes with responsibilities, and one of those responsibilities is sharing the gospel verbally with other people.

With your words.

This is the opposite of that quote you see floating around the internet a lot of times – the quote that says, “Preach the gospel, if necessary, use words.”

Ever heard that one?

Like, I get the sentiment, but at the end of the day, if you “preached the gospel without using words,” then you just didn’t preach the gospel.

I don’t understand where anybody got the idea that the churches should be doing less to verbally share the gospel with other people using our words. The reality is that every person in this parking lot has a responsibility to share the gospel with other people using your words, because you are a citizen of Christ’s Kingdom.

That’s a basic duty that comes with your citizenship. I’s a basic responsibility that you have to your neighbors, to your friends, to your family members, and even to your enemies.

But second things second, you are responsible, to some extent, for their well-being.

You’ll notice that throughout the gospels, when Jesus preached the message of Salvation, when he preached the message of the Kingdom, he also healed people.

He also fed people. He didn’t just meet their spiritual needs and then say, “See you later.” He was comprehensive about it. He met their physical needs, too.

He didn’t just tell them about the kingdom. He showed them a little bit of what the kingdom looks like.

That’s part of why, when Jesus kicks off his ministry in Luke chapter 4, he says, “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

You’ll notice that that’s a heck of a lot more than just saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to help people get out of going to hell.”

The kingdom mission that Jesus began during his time on earth had everything in the world to do with meeting the physical needs of the people, not just their spiritual needs.

And that’s why, looking back at Matthew 5, Jesus says, now, “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

That’s just two passages out of a million, but if we kept listing them off we’d be here all day. The point is clear: When Jesus saves you, you become an ambassador to your neighbors. You become a missionary to your neighbors. You become a philanthropist to your neighbors.

These are our duties. These are the duties that come with being a citizen of Christ’s kingdom today.

You are a citizen of a kingdom that is not of this world, living in a kingdom that is very much of this world, and as a result your citizenship in Christ’s Kingdom demands that you devote yourself to the salvation and the well-being of the people around you in this worldly Kingdom. /

*

Now, that was the kind of normal part of today’s sermon. (I know, you’re like, “That was the normal part?) But it’s about to get real weird, real fast.

Because, next, John couches in a really strange detail that ought to catch our attention.

Take a look, beginning at verse 38. John says:

“Pilate went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no grounds for charging Him. 39 You have a custom that I release one prisoner to you at the Passover. So, do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 40 They shouted back, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.”

We have just spent about ten minutes talking about what it looks like to take hold of our citizenship in the Kingdom of God.

But what does it look like when you don’t do that?

We’ve already seen how the Chief Priests rejected Jesus, and refused to follow him into the Kingdom of God. But John shows us another very important example of what it looks like to reject Christ’s Kingdom.

I’m talking about Barabbas.

John says, “The Chief Priests shouted back, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” And “Barabbas was a revolutionary.”

Barabbas was a revolutionary.

Your translation might say, “Robber,” and that’s not exactly wrong, it’s just incomplete. The term “Robber” used to mean “revolutionary.” It used to mean “Insurrectionist.” Today it means you stole somebody’s wallet.

But Barabbas was not being crucified because he robbed somebody. He was being crucified because he was part of a militia that was stockpiling weapons to overthrow the government. Luke 23:19 describes him as “A man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder.”

Barabbas was a domestic terrorist.

I told you this was gonna get weird.

You might have met a Barabbas type at some point in your life. Barabbas would have thought of himself as a freedom fighter. He wanted to “take his country back.” He would’ve heard Jesus say, “When your enemy slaps you, turn the other cheek,” and he would’ve said, “That sounds great, but it doesn’t work.” He heard Jesus say “When a Roman soldier makes you carry his pack 1 mile, carry it 2,” and he said, “I’d rather just chop his head off.”

For Barabbas, non-violent resistance – like the kind that we see Jesus modeling in the Sermon on the Mount – was not enough. Because Barabbas wanted to make Rome bleed. He wanted to fight Rome to the death. He wanted to overthrow the government and take his country back.

So, that brings us to the question, “Why does John bring up Barabbas in the first place?” Knowing what we know about him, I think that answer is clear. It’s because by including Barabbas, John shows us the two very different ways, the two very different paths that lie ahead of every single one us.

There is the path of Jesus, and there’s the path of Barabbas.

There is a path that takes up a cross and follows after Jesus, and there is a path that takes up a sword and follows after Barabbas.

One of them leads to life, and one of them leads to death.

There is a stark contrast between the path of Jesus and the path of Barabbas, and what that means is that you can only pick one.

So it’s worth asking: What does the path of Barabbas look like? What does it look ike to choose the path of Barabbas instead of the path of Jesus?

Fortunately or unfortunately, the last few months and years have given me plenty of examples.

Case-in-point: Just a couple weeks ago, a Mao-ist group – y’know, like Mao Zedong, as in the Father of the Chinese Communist Party – took credit for sparking some of the riots that we have been seeing over the last two months. I strongly doubt that we have anybody at Mount Zion who identifies as a follower of Mao Zedong, but don’t do that. Do not attempt to overthrow the U.S. Government and turn it into China, Jr. That’s bad. That’s “Barabbas Syndrome.”

And that’s just one example.

Because at the same time, for the last 20+ years, extremist groups in Idaho have been openly stockpiling weapons with the express, stated purpose that they are waiting for the day when the U.S. government can be toppled and replaced with a new government.

What kind of new government?

A government that trashes the Constitution and replaces it with the Bible. Literally just the Bible. Like you go to court, and the Judge says, “Turn with me to Leviticus….” That’s also bad. They’ve painted it up in Biblical sounding language, but it’s exactly the same thing. It’s “Barabbas Syndrome” with a makeover.

To bring it a little closer to home, you might have heard of something called QAnon recently.

It’s an internet cult based on what appears to have been an internet prank about three years ago, but then just kind of ballooned out and took on a life of its own. And apparently over the last few years, small groups of the more extreme QAnon followers have gathered together, and in some cases become violent.

In 2019, QAnon was designated as a “Domestic Terrorist Threat,” because there have been several violent terrorist attacks in the name of QAnon. Once again, that is “Barabbas Syndrome” in action.

We could say similar things about any number of other groups, whether it’s Antifa, or Weather Underground, the list goes on.

These are people who have chosen the path of Barabbas instead of Jesus.

And so, to people like this, here’s what God says, in 1 Peter 2. He says:

“Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority 14 or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. 15 For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 As God’s slaves, live as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a way to conceal evil. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.”

To people who choose the path of Barabbas, here’s what God says, in Romans 13. He says:

“Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.”

We could do this all day. God issued these commands to us in the 1st century, living under Roman oppression, amidst a government more corrupt than we can even imagine. Like, if you think things are bad today, you wouldn’t have lasted a minute in Ancient Rome.

And so, listen to me: Run fast, and run far from anybody who tries to talk you into taking the path of Barabbas the insurrectionist. Run fast, and run far from anybody who tries to talk you into taking the path of Barabbas the revolutionary.

Now, obviously, don’t misunderstand me. I am not trying to sell you on some kind of radical pacifism, here. We are not about to turn Mount Zion into a hippie commune.

Because, like we’ve talked about before, Romans 13 makes it clear that the government has the responsibility to keep the peace and maintain order, which means we will always have to have things like a police force and a military, and sometimes punishing especially egregious criminals might call for the death penalty.

There’s no denying that. That is a different thing. Those are necessary things. Those are God-ordained institutions.

The government has a God-ordained responsibility to protect its people, and that means that if you feel a call to become a police officer, or a soldier, or to work as a prison guard, and so on and so forth, then you have a high and holy calling.

That’s a fact.

You have a vital and important job. I say this not to puff up your ego, but to remind you, in case you haven’t heard it in a while, that your calling is good. Your calling is important. Your calling is worthwhile.

We are immensely proud of Jonathan Kluge, who’s starting training to be a State Trooper. We are immensely proud of Johnny Bowers, Jr. We are immensely proud of Becky Thompson. The same goes for David Gray Batton III, Brandon Rodriguez, Brent Harp, the list goes on.

You are carrying out a God-ordained role, you are fulfilling a God-ordained vocation. You have a high and holy calling./

But notice that that is a very different thing than taking the path of Barabbas.

The government’s God-ordained responsibility to protect its people is a million miles away from the “Barabbas syndrome” that we’re talking about, here.

The government’s God-ordained responsibility to maintain relative peace and order is a million miles away from the “Barabbas syndrome” that we’re talking about, here.

And so, just in case you suffer from Barabbas syndrome, I want to be as clear as I can possibly be: God will never send you on a mission to violently overthrow the United States government.

I know this is the weirdest sermon point I have ever hit on, but I want to be exceedingly clear – maybe annoyingly clear – as Christians, we are forbidden from choosing the path of violent extremism. Violent extremism is not an option that Christ has given us.

Once again, I know it’s weird to spend 5-10 minutes talking about Barabbas Syndrome, but Hebrews 13 says that one day I’m gonna have give an account for you – I’m gonna have to give an account for the way I watched over your souls during my time as pastor at Mount Zion Baptist Church. And I’m gonna be really embarrassed if I can’t even make it over the “Nobody From Mount Zion Ever Became A Domestic Terrorist” bar. Right?

And so do not take the path of Barabbas. Do not become a violent extremist. Do not become a revolutionary. Do not become an insurrectionist. Do not take up a sword where Christ has called you to take up a cross. /

*

Now. That was a very long and very unpleasant sub-point.

But there is good news.

We’ve just spent a third of our sermon talking about the fact that we are forbidden as Christians from violent extremism.

But an equally important thing to understand is that we don’t even need it.

We do not need to resort to violent extremism.

We do not need to resort to violent anything.

We do not need violence to accomplish our goals.

We do not need violence to do the work of the Kingdom.

Frankly, we don’t need anything from anyone.

Take a look, beginning at versed 9. John says:

“Pilate asked Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus did not give him an answer. 10 So Pilate said to Him, “You’re not talking to me? Don’t You know that I have the authority to release You and the authority to crucify You?” 11 “You would have no authority over Me at all,” Jesus answered him, “if it hadn’t been given you from above. This is why the one who handed Me over to you has the greater sin.” (vv. 7-11)

Now, I’m not sure there’s anything on planet earth that Jesus could have said that would have deflated Pilate more than that.

Because Pilate thinks he’s doing Jesus a favor. He thinks he’s being extra obliging. He thinks Jesus is at his mercy, so Jesus is lucky that he’s at the mercy of such a patient and understanding governor.

But Jesus is not at the mercy of Pilate.

Jesus is not at the mercy of anyone.

Because, like we talked about, Jesus is the actual King. There is not a square inch on planet earth that Jesus doesn’t already own. There is not a human being on planet earth that Jesus doesn’t already own. That includes you. That includes everyone.

There isn’t a favor in the world that Pilate can do for Jesus, because Jesus isn’t at Pilate’s mercy.

Pilate is at Jesus’s mercy.

Pilate doesn’t even know it, but he’s the one on trial here, not Jesus.

There is zero suspense about how this is gonna go, because Jesus has been planning this from the foundation of the world.

Jesus holds the world in his hands, to the point that the only reason Pilate has authority as governor is because that authority has been given to him from above.

So Jesus doesn’t need to call 10,000 angels to come and fight for him.

He doesn’t need Peter to draw his sword and attack his captors.

He doesn’t need to hit somebody back when they strike him on the cheek.

He doesn’t need to play the stupid game that Barabbas is known for.

Because his purpose will prevail.

Christ’s kingdom will win out.

Period.

End of story. /

(Pause)

You should find that profoundly encouraging.

You should find that profoundly encouraging because that means that none of your efforts are in vain if you actually do them.

To come back to what we talked about earlier: Your evangelism will turn people to Christ in God’s timing and according to God’s will.

In the same way: Your time and effort and generosity will change the lives of the people you serve, in God’s timing and according to God’s will.

You do not need to radicalize like Barabbas. You just need to do the very basic tasks tha God has given us to do as God’s people.

And then keep doing it.

And then keep doing it.

And then keep doing it.

And God’s will will win out.

This is something that remains true even during periods when it all seems like a waste of time.

Because what happens, you’ll notice throughout history, is that even when the Church seems to fade into irrelevance – when it goes 10 years, or 20 years, or 50 years, or 150 years on the margins – when it feels like the fire has flickered out – somehow the Church never disappears.

The flicker turns into a forest fire again.

Revival comes.

I’m ripping off a quote by a guy named Hilaire Belloc, from the early 20th Century. He famously said, “The Church is a perpetually defeated thing that always outlives her conquerors.”

That’s true.

Not because the Church is awesome – because the Church is usually not awesome, right? – let’s not kid ourselves. But because Christ is awesome, and Christ is sustaining us.

He’s holding us in his hands.

And he is overcoming the world in his own timing, and according to his own will.

And that means that Christ’s kingdom will win out. Period.

There is no suspense about that.

And so even if some of the things you see today frighten you, don’t forget to do a reality check.

Christ and his kingdom will outlast all of Christ’s enemies.

And so will you, because Christ is sustaining you. /

So reject the path of Barabbas, and throw yourself into the mission God has actually given you.

Devote yourself to reaching the lost and meeting people’s needs, drawing your strength, your comfort, and your confidence from the fact that Christ’s Kingdom will win out.

This is the point in the service where, typically, I would give something that we refer to as an “altar call,” but that’s not quite possible this morning, for obvious reasons. What we’re doing instead, is that as we respond to the Lord through song, we invite you to text or email me with your prayer requests, or decisions, or burdens, and we can set a time to sit down over the phone sometime the week and talk or pray through whatever is on your heart.

Let’s pray.

‘Before The Rooster Crows’ – John 18:12-27 – August 23rd

If you would, turn with me in your Bibles to John 18:12-27. John says:

Then the company of soldiers, the commander, and the Jewish temple police arrested Jesus and tied Him up. 13 First they led Him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was advantageous that one man should die for the people.

15 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was following Jesus, as was another disciple. That disciple was an acquaintance of the high priest; so he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard. 16 But Peter remained standing outside by the door. So the other disciple, the one known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the girl who was the doorkeeper and brought Peter in.

17 Then the slave girl who was the doorkeeper said to Peter, “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?”

“I am not!” he said. 18 Now the slaves and the temple police had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold. They were standing there warming themselves, and Peter was standing with them, warming himself.

19 The high priest questioned Jesus about His disciples and about His teaching.

20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus answered him. “I have always taught in the synagogue and in the temple complex, where all the Jews congregate, and I haven’t spoken anything in secret.21 Why do you question Me? Question those who heard what I told them. Look, they know what I said.”

22 When He had said these things, one of the temple police standing by slapped Jesus, saying, “Is this the way you answer the high priest?”

23 “If I have spoken wrongly,” Jesus answered him, “give evidence about the wrong; but if rightly, why do you hit Me?”

24 Then Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They said to him, “You aren’t one of His disciples too, are you?”

He denied it and said, “I am not!”

26 One of the high priest’s slaves, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, “Didn’t I see you with Him in the garden?”

27 Peter then denied it again. Immediately a rooster crowed.

This is the word of the Lord. Let’s pray:

Father we thank you that even as we are temporarily forced to change some of what we do because of COVID-19, you are greater than COVID-19. Not one of us wouldn’t rather be inside that building, sitting in the pews, catching up with the folks who usually sit next us face-to-face instead of simply over the phone. And yet, You are greater than our inconvenience. We thank you for the way that you are with us even in the midst of our social distancing, that you are near us even in the midst of our isolation, and that even as we try to serve our neighbors by distancing ourselves to try and mitigate the spread of the virus, you have given us the profound blessing of being able to look closely at your word together, to learn from it, to be changed by it, and be edified through it.

We pray these things in Jesus’s name, Amen.

*

Well, we are back after having to take a week off because of the flash flooding. We weren’t quite sure how it was gonna go, all we knew is that our parking lot is made primarily of grass and it’s pretty steeply sloped downhill, and the weather forecasts were saying that it was entirely possible that there would be another flash flood that morning, and we figured the most reasonable direction to take was to hold off till this week before coming back to do another drive in service.

We all missed each other, but now we’re back, and judging from the conversations I had this week it looks like we haven’t missed a beat since the Sunday before last.

We’ve been dividing up the gospel of John section by section, which his made this whole series kind of funny in a way, because we’ll have a really long passage – like a chapter and a half of stuff, like 50 verses in row – and then we’ll have a passage that’s about 6 verses, then another long passage, then a short passage, and just kinda switch off back to back, so if you’ve been getting whiplash through all this, I apologize.

But the good news is that we’ve got another shorter passage this week.

But because we’ve got a shorter passage this week, we might be tempted to write it off as unimportant. We might be tempted to breeze through it so we can get on to something longer, something that feels a little heavier, feels a little bit more substantial.

But we don’t want to do that. We want to look every bit as closely and carefully as we can at every single section in the gospel of John, so that by the end, we can look back and see as clearly as possible John’s witness to us about his Lord Jesus Christ.

And so, even as short and simple as our passage today is, there are two points that jump out at us with astonishing clarity.

The first thing that John shows us this morning is that absolutely nothing can stop the will of God. That’s our first point. There is absolutely nothing that can stand in the way of God’s will. Even when we can’t see it at first, everything that happens ultimately works out in a way that fulfills God’s will, even against all odds.

We see exactly that beginning in verse 12. John says:

“Then the company of soldiers, the commander, and the Jewish temple police arrested Jesus and tied Him up. 13 First they led Him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was advantageous that one man should die for the people.”

Now, that’s kind of a weird couple sentences, but John is talking about something that he recorded earlier in his gospel. If you look back at John Chapter 11, you see right after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, people start to flock to him something fierce.

Because they would.

Like, if I brought somebody back to life who had been dead for four days, it would probably make the news. They didn’t have the Franklin Times back then, but word still traveled fast, and in this case word did travel fast, and so people started wising up to the fact that this Jesus guy we’ve been reading about was probably the Messiah.

That’s good news of great joy.

And almost everybody who heard it, heard it as good news of great joy that the Messiah had come, and that it was Jesus, from Nazareth.

But there was at least one group that did not hear that as good news of great joy. Looking at John Chapter 11, picking it up in verse 47, we see that:

The chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do since this man does many signs? 48 If we let Him continue in this way, everyone will believe in Him! Then the Romans will come and remove both our place and our nation.”

49 One of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! 50 You’re not considering that it is to your advantage that one man should die for the people rather than the whole nation perish.” 51 He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to unite the scattered children of God.

Once again, that’s a weird couple paragraphs. It’s strangely worded. Even the way that Caiaphas talks is awkwardly phrased. So it’s kind of difficult to understand up front.

And yet we see something really incredible happening, here.

We see God’s will working itself out in real time. We see God’s will demolishing all obstacles on the way to fulfilling itself.

That’s kind of a strange thing to say, given what’s happening on the surface in this passage, right? Because the Sanhedrin is talking about the most efficient way to off Jesus. This is a brainstorming session on how they can get rid of him.

Why are they plotting to kill him? There are plenty of reasons, but among other things, they see Jesus as a threat to the well-being of their nation. They know plenty well that the reality of a Messiah who has come to redeem his people would sound dangerously like “revolutionary activity” to the Roman Empire. Right?

Like, imagine that you were the Roman Empire, and you had fairly recently conquered and then subjugated a whole nation, in this case the nations of Israel and Judah, and then you learn that those nations had been waiting for a very long time for someone who was going to come and liberate them.

Does that sound like the kind of thing you’d let slide? Does that sound like the kind of thing that you would encourage?

Now imagine that you’re the Roman Empire, and you heard that a guy has been traveling around Galilee, then around Judea, then around Jerusalem – so, bigger and bigger and bigger cities and population centers – performing miraculous signs and preaching about something called the Kingdom of God. /

You going to just let that slide?

Probably not.

The way that Rome usually dealt with things like that was by sending in troops, crushing any sign of rebellion, taking away every bit of freedom or autonomy that the people had, and then monitoring them closely from there on out.

The Sanhedrin wants to avoid that.

And, obviously, like we talked about last week, Jesus was not a revolutionary figure. Jesus was not stirring up an insurrection. Paul very specifically forbids us from doing either of those things in Romans 13, and Peter does something similar in 1 Peter chapter 2. Jesus isn’t stirring up a violent revolution. But Rome doesn’t know that.

And even if the Sanhedrin knows that, you’re gonna have a hard time convincing Rome of that. And they decide the best way to avoid that is to kill this guy.

And so Caiaphas says, “Don’t you realize that it is to our benefit that one man would die for his nation.”

You see where this is going?

These men are utterly opposed to Jesus in every possible way, they’re sitting in a closed room plotting how they can murder him and get away with it. These men are conspiring together against the will of God, against the plan of God, against the mission of God.

And yet, reading through this passage this morning, we know something the Sanhedrin doesn’t know.

We know that even as they are conspiring against Jesus together in our passage this morning, they’re in the process of fulfilling God’s plan.

I’m gonna say that again. Even as the Sanhedrin plots together to kill Jesus the Messiah, they are in the process of fulfilling God’s plan.

Even as the Sanhedrin gathers together to brainstorm ways that they can get away with murdering  Jesus, they are still in the process of fulfilling God’s will, even against their own wills.

Because that’s how this works.

That’s how God’s will works. That’s how God’s plan works.

God willed to redeem us by coming to earth, living a human life without sin, and then being crucified in our place. And absolutely nothing in the world could stop that from happening. Not even Christ’s enemies.

If you take nothing else from our passage today, you should take away the fact that God’s purpose will prevail.

God’s plan will succeed.

God’s will is going to come true.

And we know that because even the people who plot against him on purpose ultimately fulfill his plan without even meaning to. Nothing in the world can ever overturn the will of God.

That is, maybe, one of the clearest threads running through scripture.

We see that in Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”

And again, Proverbs 21:30, “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord.”

And Isaiah 14:27, if “the Lord of Hosts Himself has planned it,” then “who can stand in its way?” And if “His hand is outstretched” then “who can turn it back?”

And Paul sums all of this up in Romans 8:28, when he says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” /

That is the truth. It’s the truth about God, and it’s the truth about you.

All things work together for your good because you have been called according to God’s purpose.

That’s a fact. And that means that if things haven’t worked together for your good yet, then you just haven’t reached the end yet. /

I’m gonna get really repetitive here, even more than before, because I really want to drive this home: Everything in the world bends towards fulfilling the will of God.

Everything that has ever happened, has moved towards fulfilling the will of God.

Even more specifically, everything that has ever happened to you has been a building block towards fulfilling the will of God.

Even the terrible things that you don’t want to talk about.

Even the things you can’t think about without crying.

Even the stuff you still haven’t recovered from.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying God approves of the bad things that have happened to you. I’m not saying God did those things to you. But what I am saying is that even the worst things – the things that fly directly in the face of God’s commands, of God’s love, of God’s will, of God’s desires – even the things that directly contradict God’s good desire for you ultimately work towards fulfilling his good will.

Because all things work together for your good, period. Even the boring sermons you have to sit through every week. /

As a case-in-point, that means that your family struggles, as terrible as they are, will ultimately work together for your good. If not today, then tomorrow, if not tomorrow, then next week, if not next week, then next year, and so forth.

In the same way, the tragedies that you have had to suffer through, nauseating as they are, have ultimately been working together for your good. I know that’s not easy to believe with your heart, but if things aren’t working for your good today, that just means that today is still just the middle of the story.

But by the end, it will be clear. By the time the Lord is finished with his work, it will be clear. It’ll be clear how every single thing you’ve ever lived through has been for your good. Everything. Because there is absolutely nothing that can overcome the will of God in the end. Not even the Sanhedrin, gathering together in a backroom, plotting how to murder Jesus. Even Christ’s enemies ultimately fulfill Christ’s will. /

That is extremely good news. It is very good news that the Lord’s unstoppable will is to work everything together for your good.

Because, as you might have noticed during your years on planet earth, you are usually not working for your good. /

Right? Like, let’s not be naïve. We usually do not do things that contribute to our good. We usually do not have our own best interests at heart. When Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death,” it’s not kidding. /

I know that runs against the grain of our “Only You Know What’s Best For You,” “Don’t Let Anybody Tell You What To Do” culture, but it’s true. We rarely know what’s best for us. We are rarely working for our own good. We rarely do what’s in our own best interest. We are almost always on a crash course towards ruining our own lives.

Think about it. Think about your own life. Think about your own history. Think about the pattern of your behavior. How well do you actually fare when you put yourself under the microscope?

My goal here is not to take a hammer to your self-esteem, but to chip away at a dangerous delusion that’s probably already done a number on your self-esteem. And that is the delusion that you are “self-sufficient.” That you are your own guide. That you are your own voice of reason. That you are your own compass. You know what I’m talking about?

Now, theoretically, those are good things. Right? But the problem is that if you are a human being on planet earth, those things are probably not true about you. Because Jeremiah 17:9 says that your heart is deceitful above all things. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Lean not on your own understanding.” In 2 Corinthians 3:5, Paul says, “We are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God.” The pattern is clear: You are not self-sufficient. You are not a trustworthy guide. You are not a voice of reason. You cannot be your own compass.

You do not have the strength or the wisdom or the power to stand on your own two feet.

So if you’ve wrapped up your identity in being self-sufficient, you will be perpetually disappointed.

Every failure, every dumb decision, every mistake will cut you like a sword.

You’ll go home dejected, constantly, because you cannot be the thing that you’ve invested your identity in. /

If you’ve been living under the delusion that you can be good enough for years, chances are it’s already crushing you under its weight. Because most of the time, you are not even acting in your own best interests.

And in the most extreme sense, that takes shape in the fact that if you could damn yourself, you would./

You heard that sentence correctly. One of the things we see in our passage this morning is the fact that if you could damn yourself, you would.

I know we just cranked it to eleven, but bear with me.

Take a look, beginning at verse 17. It says, “Then the slave girl who was the doorkeeper said to Peter, “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” “I am not!” Peter replied.”

See what just happened there?

Peter just denied Jesus. This is the guy who was ready to take on an army regiment and a group of Temple police with a sword about 15 verses earlier. Now he’s denying Jesus to a door girl.

We see the same thing in verse 25. It says, “Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They said to him, “You aren’t one of His disciples too, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not!”

And again, “One of the high priest’s slaves, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, “Didn’t I see you with Him in the garden?” 27 Peter then denied it again. Immediately a rooster crowed.” /

Just as Jesus predicted, Peter has denied Jesus 3 times before the rooster has even crowed.

And, remember, Peter was not an imposter. He wasn’t a “Christian in name only” type. He wasn’t one of the several million went-to-one-revival-said-the-sinner’s-prayer-under-emotional-durress-and-then-went-home-and-lived-the-rest-of-his-life-however-he-wanted-to cases that we see every year in the United States of America.

This is Peter.

This is a guy who’s left everything to follow Jesus.

This is a guy who’s devoted his entire life to Jesus in a way that probably strikes most of us as weird and nonsensical.

The guy who just denied Jesus three times is no slouch.

And so the point that you should carry away from this story is not that Peter was extra stupid and bad and that he was the sorriest fellow out of all the disciples, it’s that Peter has the same condition as you and me, and that is that Peter cannot trust himself. He cannot trust his own heart. He cannot trust himself not to lose his nerve. He cannot trust himself not to lose his faith. He cannot trust himself to obey the Lord when it comes down to it. He cannot trust his character to hold firm in difficult times. He cannot trust his resolve to hold steady when the pressure is on.

That’s not a Peter problem.

That’s a me problem.

That’s a you problem.

That’s a problem we all share, because that’s just what people are like. Right?

This is how people actually work. Our hearts are deceitful. We cannot lean on our own understanding. Our spines are made of flimsy plastic. That’s us. We are not self-sufficient, no matter how tough we seem or feel in our brightest moments. Period.

And because of that, if we could damn ourselves, we would.

If you could condemn yourself, you would.

If you could break off your relationship with the God who rescued you, you would.

But you can’t.

Because Christ has purchased you. And he’s not taking you back to the return desk.

That’s what Jesus means in John 10:28, when he says, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish–ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand.”

He’s saying, “I’ve redeemed my people, and I am not giving them back.”

He’s saying, “I’ve rescued them from the darkness, and I’m never putting them back.” “I’ve snatched them out of the fire, and I’m never tossing them back in.” “I’ve pulled them back from their just condemnation, and I am never cutting them loose again.”

You and I are like Peter. If we could damn ourselves, we would. But we can’t. Because that’s not an option Christ has given us. No one can ever snatch us out of his hand. Not even us./

And what that means is that you need to get used to hearing the words “Feed my sheep.”

You know what I’m talking about?

We touched on this a little bit a few chapters back, and we’ll touch on it in depth a few chapters from now, in John 21. But that’s what Jesus tells Peter as he restores him after Peter denies him.

After his resurrection, the disciples are fishing by the sea of Tiberious, and Jesus appears. And he singles out Peter, and he says:

Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” “Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.” “Then feed My lambs,” He told him. 16 A second time He asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” “Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.” “Then shepherd My sheep,” He told him. 17 He asked him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, “Do you love Me?” He said, “Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You.” “Then feed My sheep,” Jesus said. 

Notice what just happened. In our passage today, Peter denies Jesus 3 times, so in chapter 21, Jesus restores him three times.

Because that’s what Jesus does when his people abandon him.

He restores you.

He invites you back, to feed his sheep. To shepherd his sheep.

He refuses to let your sin separate you from him ever again. He refuses to let your doubt separate you from him ever again. He refuses to let your uncontrollable drive to run away and hide and cower and die in darkness separate you from him again.

Because Christ has purchased you, and he will have the you that he purchased. Because he has paid with his blood to give you life, so he will never give you over to death again. Period.

Over against every ounce of your hard-headedness and foolishness, Christ is working everything together for your good, because you have been called according to his eternal purpose.

That’s why, looking at Romans 8 again, Paul loses his train of thought and just bursts out into song. He just starts, like, sing-writing, a hymn, beginning in verse 31, that says:

“What then are we to say about these things?
If God is for us, who is against us?
32 He did not even spare His own Son
but offered Him up for us all;
how will He not also with Him grant us everything?
33 Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect?
God is the One who justifies.
34 Who is the one who condemns?
Christ Jesus is the One who died,
but even more, has been raised;
He also is at the right hand of God
and intercedes for us.
35 Who can separate us from the love of Christ?
Can affliction or anguish or persecution
or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
36 As it is written:
Because of You
we are being put to death all day long;
we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.
37 But no, in all these things we are more than victorious
through Him who loved us.
38 For I am persuaded that not even death or life,
angels or rulers,
things present or things to come, hostile powers,
39 height or depth, or any other created thing
will have the power to separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

That is the truth about God. And it’s the truth about you. Today.

And so draw your comfort, your rest, and your strength from that truth.

This is the point in the service where, typically, I would give something that we refer to as an “altar call,” but that’s not quite possible this morning, for obvious reasons. What we’re doing instead, is that as we respond to the Lord through song, we invite you to text or email me with your prayer requests, or decisions, or burdens, and we can set a time to sit down over the phone sometime the week and talk or pray through whatever is on your heart.

Let’s pray.

‘Christ in the Garden’ – John 18:1-11 – August 16th

If you would, please turn with me in your Bibles to the Gospel of John, chapter  18, verses 1-11.

After Jesus had said these things, He went out with His disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden, and He and His disciples went into it. Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with His disciples. So Judas took a company of soldiers and some temple police from the chief priests and the Pharisees and came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.

Then Jesus, knowing everything that was about to happen to Him, went out and said to them, “Who is it you’re looking for?”

“Jesus the Nazarene,” they answered.

“I am He,” Jesus told them.

Judas, who betrayed Him, was also standing with them. When He told them, “I am He,” they stepped back and fell to the ground.

Then He asked them again, “Who is it you’re looking for?”

“Jesus the Nazarene,” they said.

“I told you I am He,” Jesus replied. “So if you’re looking for Me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the words He had said: “I have not lost one of those You have given Me.”

10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. (The slave’s name was Malchus.)

11 At that, Jesus said to Peter, “Sheathe your sword! Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given Me?”

This is the word of the Lord. Let’s pray:

Father we thank you that even as we are temporarily forced to change some of what we do because of COVID-19, you are greater than COVID-19. Not one of us wouldn’t rather be inside that building, sitting in the pews, catching up with the folks who usually sit next us face-to-face instead of simply over the phone. And yet, You are greater than our inconvenience. We thank you for the way that you are with us even in the midst of our social distancing, that you are near us even in the midst of our isolation, and that even as we try to serve our neighbors by distancing ourselves to try and mitigate the spread of the virus, you have given us the profound blessing of being able to look closely at your word together, to learn from it, to be changed by it, and be edified through it.

We pray these things in Jesus’s name, Amen.

*

Well, we are really getting down to the brass tacks, here. We are now in chapter 18 of John’s gospel and there are only 21 chapters. There are not that many weeks left in this series before we take a short break and then move into the book of Acts for the following year. We’re getting to the climax of the story. Jesus is now on his way to Golgotha. We can see the cross on the horizon./

And because we are now getting into the climax of the story, there’s a particular temptation that we want to avoid. And that is the temptation to railroad through this so that we can get to the crucifixion, ’cause we all know the crucifixion will preach. Right?

On first glance, it seems like this is just kind of a weird story about Jesus getting arrested in the garden. If you hear about this at all, it’s usually either in a passion play or it’s in a quick throw away comment in a sermon on Easter Sunday, or something like that, that’s really about the crucifixion.

But that’s not the way that John wrote this story. That’s not the way that John wrote this gospel. He wrote this as a section of its own. He included this story because he wanted us to hear it. He wanted us to listen to it. He wanted us to understand it. He wanted us to savor it.

And so we are gonna do exactly that, this morning.

And as we read through this passage together, there are at least three things that we notice.

First things first, we notice John drawing attention to the fact that Jesus is the God that the Bible is about.

I’m going to say that again because it’s so simple that it might have just gone in one ear and come out the other: The first thing we see in our passage this morning is that Jesus is the God that the Bible is about.

Take a look beginning at verse four. The police have just arrived with Judas to arrest him, and John says, “Then Jesus, knowing everything that was about to happen to Him, went out and said to them, “Who is it you’re looking for?” “Jesus the Nazarene,” they answered. “I am He,” Jesus told them.”

That’s actually a pretty shocking answer for Jesus to give them.

Why?

Because Jesus is quoting a passage of scripture that absolutely no human being anywhere on planet earth should ever apply to themselves.

Jesus is quoting Exodus chapter 3, verse 14.

If you’ve read Exodus recently, you might remember the story of how Moses sees a Bush burning on a hilltop, so he approaches the burning bush and starts a conversation with it. Because what else are you going to do if you see a burning Bush, right?

Of course, he’s not just talking to a bush that happens to be on fire, he is talking to the God of his forefathers. The God of the universe. The God of the Bible.

The Lord came to Moses in a burning Bush, and he said, “Moses, I’m going to use you to set my people free.” And Moses says, essentially, “OK, but when I talk to your people, what if they don’t believe me?” He says, “Tell me your name, so that I can give it to them, so they will know that I am actually coming on behalf of the God of the universe.”

And in Exodus 3:14, God tells him his name.

There are plenty of ways that you could translate this, but I am gonna read from the Holman Christian standard Bible: It says that, “God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.”

That’s the name that God gave to the Moses to call him, and that’s the name that he gave to us to call him by. God is not just an invisible father figure in the sky. He’s not just the ruler over the universe. He’s not just the one who holds the world together. Even though he is all of these things. God is not just a remote figure, or an idea, he’s also a person. God is personal. And he has taken on a personal name and invited us to call him by it. And that name is I AM.

And even though there are plenty of things that you can point to that explain why Jesus was arrested and executed, at the end of the day, more than anything, what John points us to is the fact that Jesus went by this name.

They said, “We are looking for Jesus of Nazareth,” and he used the same expression that God used in Exodus 3:14. He said, “I am he.” /

And this isn’t just a one-off thing. Jesus didn’t just misspeak, here. He didn’t just awkwardly blurt something out that didn’t quite mean what he meant for it to mean. That’s what I do most of the time. Looking through the Gospel of John, this is Jesus’s M.O. When people wonder who this man is, Jesus tells them, “I AM.”

If you’ve been here for most of these sermons, you could probably think of a handful of them in your head right now.

Like John 6:35, “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Or John 8:12, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” And John 10:9, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” Or John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

And as we move through John’s gospel, those “I am” statements of Jesus just keep getting more intense, as Jesus turns the heat up with each consecutive one.

Like John 11:25, “Jesus say, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Or John 15:1, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” Or John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Or maybe most famously, and most controversially, John 8:58, when “Jesus said to the religious leaders, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

Reading this today, it might not be at all obvious to us what Jesus was saying when he said these things. But his audience didn’t have that problem.

In John 8, it says that the crowds immediately started picking up stones to execute Jesus for blasphemy. Why? We see exactly why in John 10:33. They say, “We are going to stone you for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”

When Jesus quotes Exodus 3:14 in reference to himself, they knew what he meant. When he claimed “I am,” as his name, they knew what he meant. When Jesus took the name of God as his own name, they knew plenty well what he was talking about. And so should we.

Jesus means that he is the God that the Bible is about.

That’s our first point. Jesus is the God that the Bible is about./

And our second point flows pretty neatly from our first point. And that is that because Jesus is the God the that Bible is about, nothing can ever happen that is out of his control.

I’m gonna say that again: Nothing can ever happen that is out of Christ’s control.

We see that, beginning in verse 7. It says, “Jesus asked them again, “Who is it you’re looking for?” “Jesus the Nazarene,” they said. “I told you I am He,” Jesus replied. “So if you’re looking for Me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the words He had said: “I have not lost one of those You have given Me.”/

Those few sentences actually tell us a lot.

The religious leaders and the temple police came to the garden to arrest someone that they thought of as a potentially dangerous cult leader. He wasn’t a cult leader, but they treated him like one. Back in the day, when you wanted to put a stop to a potentially dangerous cult, you didn’t just off the cult leader. You snuffed out everybody in the leadership. Sometimes more than that.

There were plenty of very good things about Ancient Rome, but even-handedness was not always one of them. Remember the illegal siege of the Branch Davidians? The Branch Davidians were bad – no doubt about that – but the siege on their compound was infamously built on what have now been demonstrated to be falsehoods and corruption. That is a gigantic blot on our history as a nation, but that would have been, like, a regular Tuesday in the Roman Empire. When they saw a potentially violent or seditious group forming they crushed it mercilessly.

That’s what Rome told themselves they were doing when they arrested and crucified Jesus. Like I said, Jesus wasn’t a cult leader. He wasn’t an insurrectionist. He very specifically refused to stir up a violent revolution. But the religious leaders and the Roman government punished him as though he was. And what that means is that they probably entered the garden with every intention of mowing down every single one of the people that was with Jesus.

And yet, Jesus wasn’t having any of that. He says, “If you’re looking for me, let these men go.” /

That was not actually something Jesus had any earthly authority to ask them.

Like, from the standpoint of the authorities, Jesus isn’t even a Roman citizen. He has almost no civil rights under the law in general, and as somebody who is suspected of being a David Koresh style cult leader, he has absolutely no right or grounds to ask them to do anything.

That would be kind of like if a police officer pulled me over because I was doing 90 in a 45 zone in a stolen vehicle while cooking meth in the backseat of my car and also performing a kidney transplant without a medical license. Perfectly believable situation, right? And when the cop started to handcuff me, I said, “Hey, officer, what if, instead of arresting me, you just let me go, and gave me $20 from your wallet.”

That gonna fly?

Of course not.

Now multiply that by 1000x, and you can maybe get into the same headspace as the temple police who are here to arrest Jesus. Under normal circumstances they’re not going to do anything he asks. They’re going to arrest him, and they’re gonna take him off to be tried and then executed. That’s it.

In any other circumstance, if the Romans were arresting somebody, and that somebody said, “If you are here to arrest me, let these men go.” They would have beaten him to a bloody pulp and told him to watch his mouth.

But that is not what happens. It’s not even close to what happens. He says, “You’re here to arrest me, let these men go.”

And they do.

Think hard about that. There were 10 military aged men, who are well known for traveling around with Jesus, who are commonly known to be part of the leadership of this movement that Jesus is forming, who could absolutely carry the movement on even if he dies, and they let them go home. They let them go. From Rome’s point of view, that would be negligent to the point of treason.

It would be like catching Osama bin Laden and then purposefully letting his entire gang walk free. You haven’t actually accomplished much. Are you going to get decorated with honors for that kind of negligence?

Jesus calmly tells the police to let his people go, and they do.

What does that tell us?

It tells us that Jesus is absolutely in control of this situation.

It tells us that nobody got the drop on Jesus. Jesus didn’t get got, here. The clock didn’t just run out. It didn’t “catch up” with him.

He allowed them to arrest him.

He allowed them to mistreat him.

He allowed them to take him in on bogus charges.

He allowed them to convict him in a kangaroo court that made a mockery of genuine justice.

He allowed them to lash him nearly to the point of death.

He allowed them to mock him by putting a Crown of thorns on his head.

He allowed them to nail him up to a cross.

He allowed them to torture him until his lungs filled up with fluids and he drowned.

Jesus allowed every single aspect of his own merciless torment.

He subjected himself to it willingly. Because nothing can happen that is outside his control.

And I mean nothing. Absolutely nothing that happens can happen outside of Christ’s control.

I’m not saying he’s a puppet master who makes everything happen. I’m not saying that when terrible things happen to you God pulled the trigger. But I’m saying that absolutely nothing gets past him. Absolutely nothing can happen unless he allows it to happen.

Even the deep, prolonged, and profound suffering that he willingly embraced to redeem us.

Once you realize just how glorious Christ is, you start to recognize just how beautiful the gospel is. Absolutely nothing can happen that is outside of Christ’s control. Not even his own arrest and crucifixion.

And that means at least two things.

Firstly, it means that no matter what you are going through, you can rest in the fact that the Lord is in control of it.

Now, maybe you hate that saying.

Maybe you absolutely hate it when people tell you, “God is in control.” Like, if you break my arm, or you get really sick, or something like that, and someone says, “Hey, don’t worry, God is in control.” Or, “Hey, don’t worry, God has a plan.” Maybe you know in your head that those are good things, but they really do not resonate emotionally when you’re having a bad day. Right?

It’s like, if something terrible happens to you, and someone says, basically, “Don’t worry, God let that happen on purpose.” And you’re like, “Uh, thanks. I guess. Not sure how that helps me.”

On the face of it, “God is in control” sounds like the least comforting thing on planet earth when things are going absolutely terrible for you.

And I get that. So I want to slightly rephrase how we put this. It’s going to mean exactly the same thing, but I want to put it to you in a way that, at least, I find much more comforting, personally.

And that is that every time you get beaten to a bloody pulp by the universe – maybe you lose your job, or you’re in a car crash, or one of your loved ones dies, or you get really badly sick, or somebody betrays you, the list goes on – You’re in Gethsemane. You’re in the garden where Jesus was arrested. You’re at that part. You’re having a Gethsemane Experience.

What does it mean to be in Gethsemane?

It means that you are suffering immensely. You’ve been wronged. Something terrible is happening. And it sucks. It’s bad. You don’t need to try to spin it to make it seem positive. You don’t need to try to tell yourself something that will soothe you or numb you or comfort you immediately, because the reality is that it’s terrible. We don’t have to say anything else to feel deep or spiritual, or anything. When you’re suffering, you’re suffering.

But it also means that your suffering is like the suffering we see Jesus suffering, here.

You are suffering, but you are very much still in the hand of God.

You are suffering, but you are still very much in the will of God.

You’re suffering, but you are still very much in the plan of God.

You are suffering, but you are still very much in the mission of God.

Your suffering is real, and it is terrible, and it is unjust, and it is something you need to be rescued from, not opiated out of feeling in its fullness, but your suffering is part of a story it ends in redemption.

Your suffering is part of a story that ultimately ends in a crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and then glorious return at the end of everything that undoes all the terribleness you underwent in this life.

Your suffering is part of a story in which your sorrow is ultimately turned into joy, Psalm 126. Where your mourning is ultimately turned into dancing. Where your weeping is ultimately turned into laughing. Because God is still carrying you – bruised faces and black eyes and all – to the finish line. /

That’s the thing that is actually comforting about the fact that even in our suffering, God is still at the helm./

Once you realize that everything that happens is under Christ’s control, you can rest in a way that you probably couldn’t rest beforehand. You can rest amidst your suffering, you can rest amidst your fear, you can rest through the storms and trials and difficulties and uncertainties of your life./

But it also means that you can stop trying to babysit Jesus.

You know what I’m talking about? Once you realize that everything that happens is under Christ’s control, you can stop trying to babysit him.

We would never own up to this, but at some level, most of us really want to babysit the God of the universe. We want to babysit Jesus. We want to put him in a stroller and push him around the sidewalks of a brightly-lit suburb. We want to drop him off at daycare and then pick him back up and then take him home and make him Spaghettios and then here-comes-the-train it to him. Not literally, obviously, but I am dead serious. I think most of us, no matter what we say, have something deep down within us that is really convinced that God is weak and powerless and defenseless and absolutely incapable of doing anything at all unless we take him by the hand and walk him across the street like he’s a fragile old lady in downtown Louisburg. But that is just not true.

Like, look at what happens when the Roman guards and the Temple police tried to arrest him by force, here. Looking at verse 6, it says “When Jesus told them, “I am He,” they stepped back and fell to the ground.”

Just to clarify: Jesus said his name, and a regiment of soldiers and police officers – the toughest guys in town – fell back involuntarily. They couldn’t even stand up on their own in his presence.

Jesus didn’t have to beat his chest. He didn’t have to say anything aggressive. He didn’t have to do that thing that we do, where we make our backs real straight and kind of puff our chests out and lower our voices a couple octaves to sound tough. All he did was say his name when they asked and it knocked them over.

Why? Because they couldn’t even stand without his permission.

Literally. You cannot even stand on your two feet without the express permission of Jesus. The fact that you are breathing right now has everything in the world to do with the fact that Jesus continues, moment by moment, to allow you to breathe. The fact that you woke up this morning has everything in the world to do with the fact that Jesus allowed you to wake up this morning.

This is a theme that runs all throughout the Bible. We see it in Acts 17, when the Lord drops a massive Reality Check on us. He says, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”

We also see it Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, and all who live in it.”

And James 1:17, which reminds us that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Everything we have came from Jesus in the first place.

So there is nothing we can give him. There is nothing we can offer him. There is nothing we can do to pay him back or put him in our debt.

God says in Job 41:11, “Who has ever given me anything, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is already mine.”

You cannot feed him. You cannot protect him. You cannot strengthen him. He does not need your anything. You absolutely need him, but he absolutely does not need you.

And we see that, maybe more clearly than anywhere, in our passage this morning, when Peter tries very hard to babysit Jesus and he gets chewed out for it something fierce.

Looking at verses 10 and 11, it says, “Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. (The slave’s name was Malchus.) 11 At that, Jesus said to Peter, “Sheathe your sword! Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given Me?”

Matthew 26 records even more of what happens, here. He says, “They took hold of Jesus, and arrested Him. 51 At that moment one of those with Jesus reached out his hand and drew his sword. He struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus told him, “Put your sword back in its place because all who take up a sword will perish by a sword. 53 Or do you think that I cannot call on My Father, and He will provide Me at once with more than 12 legions of angels? 54 How, then, would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?”

Peter tries to “babysit Jesus,” and Jesus does not like that one bit.

Because the God who could call 10,000 angels to annihilate his enemies if he wanted to does not need you to draw your sword and strike the folks arresting him.

The God who sustains the life of everyone, everywhere, all the time, who keeps the air flowing in everyone’s lungs and the blood flowing in everyone’s veins does not need you to draw your sword against somebody else in his name.

This is actually one of the reasons that we are Baptist. Literally. For a very long time, one of the great shames of Christian history, is that the “Established church,” both the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, and many of the Protestant churches that broke off from them believed that they could serve the Kingdom of God with violence. They thought that they could conquer the surrounding territories and then force them all to become Christian.

That did not work. Because you can’t do that. I didn’t say you shouldn’t do that – even though you obviously shouldn’t – I said you can’t. You cannot conquer someone into faith in Jesus Christ. You cannot conquer a society into Godliness. You literally just can’t.

And so when the earliest known Baptists rejected Catholicism or rejected Eastern Orthodoxy or rejected the state churches established by early Protestants, a very large part of why we broke off from them was because we understood, from the scriptures, that you cannot serve the Kingdom of God by force.

They understood that you will never accomplish anything for the kingdom by taking up a sword where Christ has called you to take up a cross. They understood that we are called to win over the world, not to conquer it. They understood that we are called to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,” not to “Go, therefore, and conquer them.” They understood that we are called to “Baptize people in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” not to “Drown them if they won’t accept our way of thinking.” They understood that we are called to “Teach everyone to obey the things that Christ has told us to do,” not to coerce everyone into doing what we tell them.

That’s a large part of what it has always meant to be Baptist.

Maybe this seems like a bizarre sermon point, because I strongly doubt anyone listening to this was planning on starting the crusades back up or overthrowing the government and turning the U.S. into the Holy Roman Empire 2.0., but I bring this up because it’s a perfect example of what happens when we ignore the scriptures and chase our own desires instead. When we ignore the calling Christ has placed on us and chase after power instead. Terrible things happen when you forget that Jesus called you to take up your cross to die with him, not take up your sword to kill for him.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that the Bible teaches pacifism. I don’t think it does. This is not about to turn into some kind of weird 1960s hippie diatribe. I think Paul makes it perfectly clear in Romans 13 that, if nothing else, the government is sometimes called to use the sword, because every nation needs a military. Every nation needs police. Every nation needs to be able to punish crime, and in some extreme cases that might require the death penalty. In the same way, if someone breaks into your home or attacks you, I think self-defense is perfectly warranted.

I don’t think Jesus snapped at Peter because he wanted Peter to act more like Ghandi, I think he snapped at Peter because Peter was trying to babysit him. Peter had it all wrong. He snapped at Peter because Peter was trying to “fight for Jesus” at all costs, even when it ran against the mission that Jesus came for.

That’s where the problem is. After all these years with Jesus, Peter still fundamentally thought that god was small, and the because God was small, he needed Peter to jump in and protect him.

But God is not small. One of the things that I hope that people have picked up during the time that I have been here at Mount Zion, and that I hope people will continue to pick up during the rest of my time here is that God is really big. That;s a goofy sounding point to make, but bear with me. God is strong. God is not like the well-groomed pictures of the soft, longhaired Jesus that you see in most illustrated Bibles or Thomas Kinkade paintings.

God is powerful. God is overwhelmingly vast, and strong, and irresistible, and authoritative, and he will win out in the end.

He will not be deposed.

He will not be defeated.

He will not be overcome.

The devil will not win.

The forces of darkness will not win.

Evildoers will not get away with their evil-doing.

The people who have abused you will not get away with it.

The terrible things that you have been through will not be the end of the story.

Because you serve a gloriously big God.

And because you serve a gloriously big God, you can throw yourself into carrying out the mission that he’s given you without worrying about how it will turn out. You can rest, even in the midst of unbelievably difficult sufferings and trials knowing that justice will ultimately prevail.

You can endure the darkness of the crucifixion and the burial knowing that all of this is all leading towards resurrection. /

It means that you can put your hand to the plow with confidence, to steal a turn of phrase from Jesus. You can throw yourself into everything that Christ has called you to with absolutely zero worries about whether you are up to the task or whether things will go smoothly or whether You are smart enough or strong enough or prepared enough or clever enough because you don’t have to be any of those things. You just have to be faithful.

You can dive faithfully into the work the Lord has given you in the confidence that Christ is holding you together through every single moment of it and that he is carrying you by the collar over every single hurdle and obstacle that you face.

As a father. Or a mother. Or a teacher. Or a mechanic. Or a nurse. Or a cashier.

Or a witness.

An evangelist.

Somebody that Christ has sent out into the world to share his good news with your neighbors. That’s you, no matter what else you are. You are a witness. You are an evangelist. You have been sent out into the world to share the good news.

Does that scare you?

It probably should. I’ve been doing this for years, and it still scares me. Every single time.

And yet.

I don’t have to be smarter than the person that I’m witnessing to.

I don’t have to be more clever than the person that I’m witnessing to.

I don’t have to have a smart response to every objection that a person that I’m witnessing to can bring to me.

All I have to do is commit myself to witnessing to them with perseverance, patience, graciousness, and clarity, and the Lord who holds both of us in his hands will empower me through it.

The same is true about you.

The great glory of the fact that everything that happens is within Christ’s control is that it means that we can count on Christ through everything. Like I said just a moment ago, we can struggle through the darkness of the crucifixion and the burial knowing that all of this is all leading towards resurrection.

Let’s pray.

‘The Prayers Of Jesus’ – John 17 – August 9th

If you would, please turn with me in your Bibles to John chapter 17. John says:

Jesus spoke these things, looked up to heaven, and said:

Father,
the hour has come.
Glorify Your Son
so that the Son may glorify You,
for You gave Him authority
over all flesh;
so He may give eternal life
to all You have given Him.
This is eternal life:
that they may know You, the only true God,
and the One You have sent—Jesus Christ.
I have glorified You on the earth
by completing the work You gave Me to do.
Now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence
with that glory I had with You
before the world existed.

I have revealed Your name
to the men You gave Me from the world.
They were Yours, You gave them to Me,
and they have kept Your word.
Now they know that all things
You have given to Me are from You,
because the words that You gave Me,
I have given them.
They have received them
and have known for certain
that I came from You.
They have believed that You sent Me.
I pray for them.
I am not praying for the world
but for those You have given Me,
because they are Yours.
10 Everything I have is Yours,
and everything You have is Mine,
and I have been glorified in them.
11 I am no longer in the world,
but they are in the world,
and I am coming to You.
Holy Father,
protect them by Your name
that You have given Me,
so that they may be one as We are one.
12 While I was with them,
I was protecting them by Your name
that You have given Me.
I guarded them and not one of them is lost,
except the son of destruction,
so that the Scripture may be fulfilled.
13 Now I am coming to You,
and I speak these things in the world
so that they may have My joy completed in them.
14 I have given them Your word.
The world hated them
because they are not of the world,
as I am not of the world.
15 I am not praying
that You take them out of the world
but that You protect them from the evil one.
16 They are not of the world,
as I am not of the world.
17 Sanctify them by the truth;
Your word is truth.
18 As You sent Me into the world,
I also have sent them into the world.
19 I sanctify Myself for them,
so they also may be sanctified by the truth.

20 I pray not only for these,
but also for those who believe in Me
through their message.
21 May they all be one,
as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You.
May they also be one in Us,
so the world may believe You sent Me.
22 I have given them the glory You have given Me.
May they be one as We are one.
23 I am in them and You are in Me.
May they be made completely one,
so the world may know You have sent Me
and have loved them as You have loved Me.
24 Father,
I desire those You have given Me
to be with Me where I am.
Then they will see My glory,
which You have given Me
because You loved Me before the world’s foundation.
25 Righteous Father!
The world has not known You.
However, I have known You,
and these have known that You sent Me.
26 I made Your name known to them
and will make it known,
so the love You have loved Me with
may be in them and I may be in them.

This is the word of the Lord.

Father we thank you that even as we are temporarily forced to change some of what we do because of COVID-19, you are greater than COVID-19. Not one of us wouldn’t rather be inside that building, sitting in the pews, catching up with the folks who usually sit next us face-to-face instead of simply over the phone. And yet, You are greater than our inconvenience. We thank you for the way that you are with us even in the midst of our social distancing, that you are near us even in the midst of our isolation, and that even as we try to serve our neighbors by distancing ourselves to try and mitigate the spread of the virus, you have given us the profound blessing of being able to look closely at your word together, to learn from it, to be changed by it, and be edified through it.

We pray these things in Jesus’s name, Amen.

*

So, our passage this morning has three points that’s really about 3000 points.

Now that I have you in a panic, let me backtrack a bit. As you probably noticed when we were reading through the passage together a moment ago, the bulk of this chapter is a prayer that Jesus prays, first, for his disciples, gathered at the table with him, and secondly, for all of us, every believer throughout all of history, to the end of the age. He says, “I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message.” That’s us. That’s you. Over the course of our passage today, we’re gonna look at a handful of things that Jesus himself is praying for you. /

But before we get to that, there’s a couple other things that John points us to first.

First things first, John’s first point, is that he reminds us that Christ has given us eternal life.

That’s a fairly basic point. That’s, kind of, Christianity 101.

For a lot of us, that’s the first thing we ever learn. I remember being on my grandparents farm when I was little and grandma, Mary Foster, would say John 3:16 to me and she’d bribe me to say it back to her. Anybody else’s grandma do that?

She’d say, “Listen close: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whosever believeth in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And if I could say it back to her basically coherently she’d give me candy or a quarter or something she found laying around the house she didn’t need anymore – kids’ll go for just about anything if you tell ‘em it’s a toy. Right?

But that was one of the best things she could possibly have done for me, because it drilled it into my head from an early age that Christ has given us eternal life. And we see that in the opening few verses of our passage, Jesus says, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son so that the Son may glorify You, for You gave Him authority over all flesh so that He may give eternal life to all You have given Him.

Christ has given us eternal life.

But what, exactly is “eternal life”? We use that term a lot, but we rarely define it. But in our passage this morning, Jesus goes out of his way to define it. He says, in the next verse, “[And] This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent—Jesus Christ.”

“Eternal life” is what we call it when we know the true God and we know his Son Jesus Christ.

That’s actually very interesting. Because that means that “eternal life” has every bit as much to do with what kind of life we have as it does with how long our lives last. You know what I’m talking about?

A lot of translations use the phrase “everlasting life,” here, and that’s not wrong, by any means, but it can cause us to miss the point by a few degrees. Because what John draws attention to, here, is the fact that “eternal life” is what we call it when you receive the glorious gift and privilege of knowing the God who created you.

You have eternal life because Jesus has introduced you to your Father.

You have eternal life because Jesus has given you refuge under your King.

You have eternal life because Christ has made you into God’s friend.

You have eternal life because you and God aren’t enemies anymore, you’ve been reconciled through the his blood on the cross so you are closer than family, closer than flesh and blood, you’ve been knit together with a love and a loyalty that will never be undone. That’s you. That’s eternal life. And it’s yours.

That’s John’s first point. Christ has given you eternal life.

But John is actually just getting started.

We tend to think of “eternal life” as the Finish Line. We wanna get people to say the “sinner’s prayer,” so we can get them across the Finish Line. Right? But the Bible actually seems to present that as the Starting Line.

Like, it’s true that Christ has given you an eternal life that you did not earn and you cannot lose, and you will never be without it again. That’s the truth about you no matter how you feel on any given day, no matter how far you fall or how hard you fail. But what next?

Surely that can’t be it, right?

That’s one of the strangest things about Christianity in the United States: How little people seem to think their faith has to do with anything else in their lives. We seem to think of salvation as a kind of rite of passage. We think of eternal life as, like, a factory line that we move through on a conveyer belt. People move along in a single file line, go into the little box and come out saved, and then that’s it. They go about the rest of their lives.

If you wanna know why people usually leave the church after they turn about 20, there’s a lot of reasons but one of those reasons is “Why wouldn’t they?”

In the version of the faith we’ve sold them, what’s the point of church? What’s the point of anything? What’s the point of praying? What’s the point of reading the Bible? What’s the point of ever gathering together on a certain day of the week to sing worship songs and study the scriptures together?

If all of this is only ever about turning people from Hellbound to Heavenbound then everything after conversion is basically extra credit and we all know that the only people who care about extra credit are nerds.

America has a nerd church.

I can say that, because I am the biggest nerd on planet earth. Which you already knew. Because look at me.

And if all of this sounds a little bit like a doomsday prediction, I apologize.

Because there is good news.

None of what I just described is biblical. It’s not even close. Don’t get me wrong. Hell is real, and you don’t wanna go there. Heaven is real, and you do wanna go there. Jesus talks more about hell than anybody else in the Bible. But when Jesus evangelizes, he’s not just inviting people to not go to hell, he’s inviting people to join his Kingdom.

He’s enlisting people into his army – it’s an army that wages peace instead of violence, but it’s still an army.

He’s adopting people into his family.

He’s inducting people into his circle of friends.

He’s taking people under his protective wing.

Listen very carefully: Salvation is the starting line. When Christ gives us eternal life, what it means, more than anything, is that our real life has finally begun.

And that leads us to our second point, and that is that because Christ has given us eternal life, now he prays for us.

That’s a strange thing to think about, but we see exactly that in verses 6 through 11. He says, “I have revealed Your name to the men You gave Me from the world. They were Yours, and You gave them to Me” . . . [he says], “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world but for those You have given Me, because they are Yours.” And in verse 20, “I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message.”

Eternal life means that you know the God of the universe, and you know his Son Jesus Christ, and what happens when you know Jesus is that Jesus begins to pray for you.

And that makes sense, right?

Because, generally speaking, we pray for the people we know.

Every day, I have a long list of people that I pray for. I pray for everybody connected to Mount Zion Baptist Church that I know of. If you are in this parking lot you are probably one of the people that I pray for on a daily basis.

I also pray for nearly all of my friends over the course of a month, a couple a day.

And I pray for my wife – I made a list of all the scripture passages that directly deal with marriage and I converted them into prayers that I pray for Elyse each morning over the course of each month.

The list goes on.

If you pray, you probably pray for certain people, and one of the things that “eternal life” means is that you are one of those people on the prayer list of Jesus.

That’s really kitschy-sounding, I know. Sounds like something I got off a Hallmark card. But it’s true. When Christ gives you eternal life, he also adds you to his prayer list.

That’s how dear you are to him. That’s how deeply and unreservedly committed the God of the universe is to you. And in our passage this morning we see at least six ways that Jesus prays for us. Theoretically, this is gonna e our third point, but it’s basically six mini-points.

Here are six ways that Jesus is praying for you today:

First things first, beginning at verse 11, we see that Jesus is praying for your protection.

Jesus is praying for your protection. He says, “Holy Father, protect them by Your name that You have given Me.” He says, “While I was with them, I was protecting them by Your name that You have given Me. I guarded them and not one of them is lost, except the son of destruction, so that the Scripture may be fulfilled.” And verse 14, “I have given them Your word. The world hated them because they are not of the world, as I am not of the world. 15 I am not praying that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one.”

Jesus is praying for your protection.

That’s kind of strange to think about, but it’s true. The same Jesus who enlists you into his army, who engrafts you into his kingdom, also prays deeply for your protection to his Father in heaven who can make good on that prayer.

That means that every time you find yourself in a situation that scares you, your fear is only part of the equation. The danger that you feel is only part of the equations. No matter how scary or uncertain things feel the reality is that you re under the glorious protection of a God who covers you with his shield in one hand and prays earnestly for your protection with the other. That’s the truth about God, and it’s the truth about you.

That’s the first way that Jesus is praying for you. Jesus is praying for your protection.

We also see that he is praying for our joy.That’s the second thing. Jesus is praying for your joy. Looking at verse 13, he says, “Now I am coming to You, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have My joy completed in them.”

We’ve talked about this before, but Jesus wants you to be happy. That’s the truth. Don’t let the fact that Joel Osteen says stuff like this ruin it. This is also a running theme throughout the scriptures. God wants you to be joyful. The call to a Christian life is not a call to stop enjoying your life. It’s the opposite. God cares about your happiness. And so Jesus prays that his joy would be completed in you. He prays that you would have his joy.

That’s a strange sentence, but it means a lot.

And it’s extremely important to keep this in mind.

Why is it so important to keep that in mind?

Because it is equally true that when Christ calls us to come follow him, he calls us to leave everything behind, in a sense. Inevitably, we lose something.

Maybe we lose a relationship that we had invested a lot of our identity in. There’s more stories than I can count of people who realized they needed to break it off with the person they were dating after coming to know the Lord because their relationship was not godly and their significant other was not gonna follow them in living a godly life. So they had to leave that relationship behind.

One of my favorite authors is a guy named Wesley Hill. Wesley Hill is a man who is attracted to men. But when Wesley responded to Christ’s call to come and be reconciled to God through him, he rejected any kind of romantic or sexual relationship with other men and has lived a life of celibacy ever since. Because he knew that that was what Christ has called him to.

Think about that. Think about having to make that kind of sacrifice.

That is an incredible, and incredibly costly sacrifice – the kind of sacrifice that most of us will never have to make and wouldn’t have the gall to make even if we did. And yet that is exactly the kind of sacrifice we see people making to follow Jesus all throughout the gospels, because when Christ calls us to come follow him, he also calls us to leave our old ways behind.

Those are just two examples, and they’re both kind of extreme, but they’re important reminders that when Christ calls us, there are things we have to leave behind. There are sinful habits and attitudes and lifestyles that Christ calls us to abandon. We are all like the Rich Young Ruler, that Jesus tells to sell everything and come follow him.

And because of that, I think a lot of us get it into our head that the Christian life is about being desperately miserable for about ten decades and then dying so we can finally go to heaven to make up for it. But that’s just not true.

Because the truth is that even with everything we have to abandon as we follow Jesus, what we get instead is joy. If you talk to Wesley Hill or read one of his books, what he’ll tell you is that for everything that he abandoned when he answered the call to follow Jesus, what he got instead was joy. What we get is the joy of Christ.

We lose some of the things we think we want, but we gain the thing we actually need.

That’s why in Matthew 19, when Peter says, “Lord, we have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Jesus responds by saying, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

Jesus brings joy. That is the second thing that Jesus is praying for, for you.

But there’s more! Because beginning at verse 16, we also see that Jesus is praying that the Lord would make you holy. That;s the third thing.vHe says, “They are not of the world, as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.” And verse 19, “I sanctify Myself for them, so they also may be sanctified by the truth.” Jesus is praying that the Lord would make you holy.

So, you have a problem. Actually, you and I have the same problem. Actually, you and I have the same problem that everybody else on planet earth has, and you could probably say that it’s our fundamental problem. The root of nearly all our other problems, and that is that we are not holy.

Right? At least, I’m certainly not.

Like, there’s something wrong with me. I basically know the right thing to do most of the time. But the right thing to do is usually very different that the thing I want to do. And if we are honest with ourselves, most of the time, the thing that drives us is not our moral compass, it’s our appetite. It’s our desires.

What I ought to do is help the folks a few apartments down from mine who can’t afford this month’s water bill. What I wanna do is use that money to buy a car with a working driver’s seat window. Ever seen the red Volkswagon? The driver side window doesn’t roll down, which is really annoying at drive-thrus. Right?

That’s a pretty mild example, but everything else in this sermon has been so extreme, I figured that’d be a nice change. But the point is clear enough. We are not holy. Our hearts aren’t right. You may be saved, you may be Heavenbound, you may know the One True God and his Son Jesus Christ, but that doesn’t automatically undo everything that’s wrong with you.

In bookworm-seminary-student language, we’d say “You are justified, but now you need to be sanctified.” You need the Lord to sanctify you. That’s what we call it when the Holy Spirit changes your heart – like we talked about a few weeks back – and replaces your old, Fallen, worldly, childish desires with new desires that glorify your Father in heaven.

It’s the word we use to describe the glorious reality that from the moment you put your faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins to the day somebody puts you in the ground, the Lord spends the rest of your life turning your sinfulness, your ugliness, your bitterness, your selfishness, and your rebelliousness into love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control.

Jesus is praying for that for you.  That’s the third thing. Jesus is praying that the Lord would make you holy.

But even after all that, we’re still not quite done. Because moving forward to verse 18, we see that Jesus is praying that you would obediently continue his mission. He says, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” And verse 25, “Righteous Father! The world has not known You. However, I have known You, and these have known that You sent Me. 26 I made Your name known to them and will make it known, so the love You have loved Me with may be in them and I may be in them.” Christ is praying that we would continue his mission where he left off. He is praying that we would make him known in the world. That’s the fourth thing that Jesus is praying for, here, that you would continue his mission in the world.

We talked about this a few weeks back, when Jesus told in chapter 14 that we have watched him do his works and that now we will do even greater works than he did. Jesus sends us on to continue his mission in the world.

That is why we do evangelism. That is why we approach people who do not know the Lord and try to introduce them to the Lord.

It’s why we put a significant amount of our own money toward financially supporting Christians in other countries as they try to evangelize their own countries.

It’s why every Spring and every Fall, I go and talk to the Jehovah’s Witnesses that set up shop in downtown Wake Forest. I made friends with a few of them and we talk through the differences in our beliefs every year. It’s why I flag down the Latter Day Saints missionaries who go throughout the neighborhoods in my area evangelizing and serving and talk to them about what we believe. Same thing. I made friends with a few of them and we talk through the differences in our beliefs every year. I try to convince them, they try to convince me, we’ll see where it goes.

It’s why, when there isn’t a pandemic happening, Mount Zion Baptist Church takes a few people out each month and literally knocks on doors and invites people to church and talks with them about what we believe. It’s because our one job is to continue the mission that Jesus began before his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.

The same thing applies for things like service projects.

It’s why we do the Chicken Cookin’ each year. It’s why we financially support a number of orphanages. It’s why we adopt a few families to help them afford Christmas gifts for their children. It’s why we hold fundraisers for medical treatments, injuries, and all sorts of other things when we can. The list goes on. It’s because our one job is to obediently continue the mission that Christ began before his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. And Christ is praying for you, that you would throw yourself into doing exactly that.

And if that sounds exhausting, it’s because it is. Right? There’s no point denying it.

Sharing the gospel with people is exhausting. Most of the time we think of sharing the gospel as “preaching,” like, from a pulpit. But honestly, this is probably the least exhausting version of this. It is way easier to preach than it is to personally witness to people. I say that from experience.

It’s also way less effective. Ever looked at the numbers on how people tend to come to faith?

It’s eye-opening. The number one, obviously, is being raised diligently by people who actually faithfully practice the faith. That’s number one, by about a million miles.

What might surprise you is how low preaching is on the list. Good sermons certainly can convert people, but they usually don’t. I’m serious. And I say that as someone whose job security is contingent on your continuing to think that preaching is important. The reality is that Preaching and Programs are really, really low on the list of things that actually tend to draw people to the faith.

But you know what’s high on the list? Personal evangelism from a friend. That’s usually number two, just below raising someone in the faith from birth. So unless you raise someone, personally evangelizing to them is your best shot at bringing them into the faith. That is number two on the list. Personal evangelism.

Surprisingly enough, it is not the kind of hyper-confrontational shout at somebody in the street type of evangelism that statistically draws the most people into a lifelong faith and obedience, it’s the careful, persistent, winsome evangelism that comes from a person you trust and care about. Purely from a numbers standpoint, that is the thing that wins the world. Personal evangelism from a friend.

So this is gonna sound goofy, but bear with me: Have kids. Raise them in the faith. Make friends. Draw them into the faith. You want your church to grow? It’s not gonna come from good sermons. It’s gonna come from you. You want your community to see revival? It’s not gonna come from your pastor. It’s gonna come from you. And Christ is praying for you, that you would throw yourself into doing exactly that. And Christ is praying for you, that you would throw yourself into making that happen. That’s the fourth thing.

And, like I said, that probably sounds exhausting. But the very good news is that is that the very next thing that Jesus prays for, here, is your rest. Jesus is praying that you will be with him one day. That you will rest with him one day. That is the fifth thing that Jesus is praying for you. Jesus is praying for your rest. Looking at verse 24, he says, “Father, I desire those You have given Me to be with Me where I am. Then they will see My glory, which You have given Me because You loved Me before the world’s foundation.”

Existing in this world is exhausting. But one day you will be exhausted no more. One day, you will be at rest. One day, you will be with Jesus where he is. And you will be okay.

You will be truly and genuinely okay. More than okay. You will be at rest with a restfulness you didn’t even know existed, that you didn’t even know to wish for. You will be at peace with a peace you have never experienced in this life but your soul has been homesick for since the day you were born.

To quote the Log Lady from the show Twin Peaks, if anybody here is just, enough of a nerd to have watched Twin Peaks back in the day, “One day the sadness will end.”

Jesus is praying for that, for you. Christ is praying that you will rest with him in glory.

But there is one last thing that Jesus is praying for, and it’s easily the most intense. Hence the reason we saved it for last. And that is that Jesus is praying for your unity.

This one’s kind of a tough one, on a couple levels. Jesus is praying for our unity. As a church. As a people. As the body of Christ. We see that starting in the second half of verse 11. He prays, “that they may be one as We are one.” Jesus is praying that we would be one in the same way that he and his Father are one. That we would have unity the way that Jesus and the Father have unity.

We see the same thing beginning in verse 21. He says, “May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me. 22 I have given them the glory You have given Me. May they be one as We are one. 23 I am in them and You are in Me. May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me.”

Jesus just made a few very specific claims. He says, “May they all be one, so that the world will know that you sent me.” We demonstrate to the world that Jesus really is the Son of God by our unity.

We glorify God by our ability to find unity even amidst differences in our personalities, or preferences, or, maybe the most difficult one of all these days, politics.

As a case-in-point, one of my pastor friends told me a story about one time when he was a youth pastor and the pastor he was working for nearly split the church because two separate members were running for the same position in a local election and the pastor decided to pick a side and actively campaign for her. That’s insane.

But that’s the really obvious side of all this. That’s the tip of the iceberg.

But what sunk the Titanic was the iceberg itself. And pretty much all churches everywhere are guilty of these things at some level.

Most churches have infighting and bickering. Most churches have members who’re holding such deep and bitter grudges against each other that they can’t spend any significant length of time in the same room as each other.

More than that, most churches have invisible lines drawn out that clearly separate who they will have unity with and who they won’t that have absolutely nothing to do with the Bible.

Since this is an election year, the best example I can think of is the way that American politics have absolutely taken over American church life in ways that are wildly unbiblical.

As a case in point, you might have the story about the church that put “Democrats Not welcome” on the church sign. What do you think of that?

Or you might have heard the story about the many who visited a church on vacation but was told to leave after someone saw his “Make America Great Again” bumper sticker. What do you think of that?

I use those two examples because they’re both guaranteed to touch a nerve.

We don’t always realize it in the moment, but when you take a step back and look closely, one of the things that you’ll realize is that American politics have absolutely taken over American church life in ways that are wildly unbiblical and almost always have the effect of dividing us to the point that we cannot accomplish anything meaningful for the kingdom. That’s a fact.  

So we need to get this into our heads real fast: 90% of the time, if your politics are powerful enough to drive you to break fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ over it, then your politics are your God.

Right? I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating.

And as tense and tightly wound as things have gotten over the last several months, we should take another step further and be explicit: If you are thinking about turning to violence depending on the results of the 2020 election, your politics are your actual God. Do not kid yourself, if you are willing to kill your fellow Americans because of your political beliefs, then your politics are what you actually worship.

Let me be even more explicit: If Donald Trump wins in 2020, and it angers you so much that you are willing to light a building on fire or attack a police officer or beat up a dude in a Make America Great Again hat, then your politics are your actual God. Don’t slap the name of Jesus on it.

If Joe Biden wins in 2020 and it angers you so much that you arm yourself and join a milita in an insurrection against the U.S. government, then your politics are your actual God. Do not slap the name of Jesus on it.

These are extreme examples, but the same principle applies in much less dire situations. If you will not be friends with a Christian who’s voting for the other guy, then the problem is you. The problem is your heart. The problem is what you worship, because what you worship is your politics.

So if you want, take this as a homework assignment. Make friends with a Christian who is voting differently than you. If you’re a Biden person, make friends with a Trump person. If you’re a Trump person, make friends with a Biden person. Make friends with a Christian who’s voting third party. Hang out with them. Talk politics with them. Try to understand them. Pick them up from the airport when they need a ride. Have a barbeque with them on the fourth of July. Let the unity that you have in Christ be stronger than the division that the devil tries to bait us into.

Let the Lamb of God unite you in a way that the Donkey and the Elephant cannot tear apart.

Let the Lion of Judah unite you in a way that the Donkey and the Elephant cannot tear apart.

Let your unity through Christ be a testament to the reality that gospel heals all wounds and bridges all divisions. /

That’s the sixth thing that Jesus is praying for you, and that is that you would have unity, so that the world will see that he is truly the one who was sent by God.

And so the only application that I have for you this morning is to pray these things with Jesus.

Pray these things alongside Jesus. Let your prayers echo the prayers of Jesus.

Join Jesus in praying for your protection. When you ask God to protect you, Jesus is praying with you.

Join Jesus in praying for joy. It’s not selfish to do that. Pray that the Lord would make you joyful.

Join Jesus in praying that the Lord would make you holy. Pray for holiness. Pray that God would make you want the things he wants, love the things he loves, and do the things he commands.

Pray that God would move you to join in the mission of Jesus. Jesus prays that you would continue his mission in the world. Join him in praying for that, and then open your eyes and see what he’s pointing you towards.

Pray that he would give you rest. Join Jesus in asking your Father in heaven to bring you home to rest one day. Ask the Lord to give you peace about the difficulties that you’re dealing with today in light of the rest that he will give you tomorrow.

And pray that God would give you unity with other Christians that nothing in the world can tear apart. Join Jesus in praying that the Lord would strengthen you to overcome the way that the world seeks to divide us. Pray for unity with your neighbors, unity with the people you go to church with, unity with the people that your flesh, the world, and the devil have taught you to think of as your enemies.

This is the point in the service where, typically, I would give something that we refer to as an “altar call,” but that’s not quite possible this morning, for obvious reasons. What we’re doing instead, is that as we respond to the Lord through song, we invite you to text or email me with your prayer requests, or decisions, or burdens, and we can set a time to sit down over the phone sometime the week and talk or pray through whatever is on your heart.

‘Powerful, Wise, Good’ – Psalm 33 – August 2nd

If you would please turn with me to Psalm 33. The Psalmist says:

Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous ones;
praise from the upright is beautiful.
Praise the Lord with the lyre;
make music to Him with a ten-stringed harp.
Sing a new song to Him;
play skillfully on the strings, with a joyful shout.

For the word of the Lord is right,
and all His work is trustworthy.
He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the Lord’s unfailing love.

The heavens were made by the word of the Lord,
and all the stars, by the breath of His mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into a heap;
He puts the depths into storehouses.
Let the whole earth tremble before the Lord;
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.
For He spoke, and it came into being;
He commanded, and it came into existence.

10 The Lord frustrates the counsel of the nations;
He thwarts the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
the plans of His heart from generation to generation.
12 Happy is the nation whose God is Yahweh—
the people He has chosen to be His own possession!

13 The Lord looks down from heaven;
He observes everyone.
14 He gazes on all the inhabitants of the earth
from His dwelling place.
15 He alone shapes their hearts;
He considers all their works.
16 A king is not saved by a large army;
a warrior will not be delivered by great strength.
17 The horse is a false hope for safety;
it provides no escape by its great power.

18 Now the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him—
those who depend on His faithful love
19 to deliver them from death
and to keep them alive in famine.

20 We wait for Yahweh;
He is our help and shield.
21 For our hearts rejoice in Him
because we trust in His holy name.
22 May Your faithful love rest on us, Yahweh,
for we put our hope in You.

This is the word of the Lord. Let’s pray:

Father we thank you that even as we are temporarily forced to change some of what we do because of COVID-19, you are greater than COVID-19. Not one of us wouldn’t rather be inside that building, sitting in the pews, catching up with the folks who usually sit next us face-to-face instead of simply over the phone. And yet, You are greater than our inconvenience. We thank you for the way that you are with us even in the midst of our social distancing, that you are near us even in the midst of our isolation, and that even as we try to serve our neighbors by distancing ourselves to try and mitigate the spread of the virus, you have given us the profound blessing of being able to look closely at your word together, to learn from it, to be changed by it, and be edified through it.

We pray these things in Jesus’s name, Amen.

*

Well, we are continuing our short break from the Gospel of John this morning to take a look at another Psalm, this time Psalm 33.

Like last week, our passage this morning gives us the luxury of having three fairly simple points that lead into one fairly simple application.

And thank God, right?

Like, I love the Gospel of John, but some weeks it makes my head hurt reading it, and then it makes my head hurt preaching it, so I can only imagine that it would make my head hurt hearing it.

That just comes with the territory of John’s gospel. But the Psalms consistently display a straightforwardness and a simplicity that we desperately need sometimes. The same is true of the Proverbs.

Don’t get me wrong. Life is complicated. The universe is complicated. Just about everything in the world is unbelievably complicated. That’s a fact. And yet, for exactly that reason, we need simplicity.

If all you ever do is float around in the endless complexity of everything, you will find yourself wildly disoriented and confused and perpetually agitated and hopeless and scared and angry. Right?

That is a significant part of why people my age tend to be the way that we are. A lot of people like to lean back and wistfully say, “I grew up in a simpler time.” And that’s great. But people my age did not.

We have grown up in a time in which the overwhelming complicated-ness of everything is always screaming in our faces from every single direction at every single moment, and absolutely nobody provided us with the tools to deal with that.

And because of that, quite a few folks my age have developed in really unhealthy ways.

But the truth is that it’s not just a generational thing. Right? Like, whether you’re 25 or 75, the world is unbelievably complicated and difficult and confusing, and there is no manual, but you have to exist here whether you like it or not. And because that is the case, we desperately need simplicity. We need clarity. We need straightforwardness.

We need it.

Now, that doesn’t mean we need people to lie to us. That’s one of the reasons misinformation spread so quickly, right? That’s one of the reasons that wild and impossible-to-verify stories spread around Facebook and the internet and everywhere, because those are simpler, and therefore they are attractive to us.

The world is extremely complicated and extreme conspiracy theories are simpler.

It is so much simpler to believe but there is one billionaire funding everything in the world and that he is the obvious bad guy and if we could just deal with him, everything would be fine. Right? That’s probably not true, but it’s comforting, in a way, to believe that because that is so much simpler than the truth, which very complicated.

In the same way, it is so much simpler to believe that one specific president is the root of all of our problems, so if we can just get rid of him, everything would be fine. You ever met somebody who thought that all our problems would go away if we could just get rid of Donald Trump, or Barack Obama, or George Bush, and so forth. That’s probably not true, but it’s comforting to believe that because that is so much simpler than the truth.

It is so much simpler to believe that there are secret societies meeting underneath the airport in Denver, Colorado, and that they make all the real decisions in the world, so if we can just get rid of them, everything will be fine. You heard that one? That’s probably not true, but it’s comforting to believe that because that is so much simpler than the truth, and therefore we are drawn to it.

But the problem is that that is a false simplicity.

That is simplicity-through-deception.

And what we need is not to be deceived. What we need is to be told the truth. But we need to be told simple truths.

We need someone, somewhere, to tell us the truth in terms that are so simple we cannot possibly misunderstand them. And that is part of what the Psalms do. And that is part of what the Proverbs do. And it is part of what the Gospels do.

Even if you don’t understand everything you read in them, the Proverbs give you simple wisdom for existing in a world that makes absolutely no sense 90% of the time.

The gospels give you a simple model that you can follow as you try to be faithful to the Lord in a world that is perpetually opposed to his good will and his good design.

And the Psalms give you a simple image of how the world really works, who’s really steering the ship. The Psalms very simply peek behind the curtain and show you that no matter how nauseatingly strange and confusing and difficult and frightening the world that you live in is, behind everything, God is working to accomplish his mission.

To bring all of this back into goodness.

To bring everything back into his will.

To turn everything that is bad good again.

To turn everything that is broken fixed again.

To turn everything that is lacking complete again.

The Psalms show you that. And we desperately need that. Right?

At least I do. I desperately need that simple clarity that the Psalms give us. I need it every day. And I need that right this moment.

So we are going to walk through Psalm 33 and allow Psalm 33 to move us, comfort us, and then mobilize us with its simple clarity about the God of the universe. 

And so, looking at Psalm 33, the first thing that we find is that God is gloriously powerful.

Like I said, painfully simple.

God is gloriously powerful.

How powerful?

According to the psalmist, he is create-the-universe-by-the-power-of-His-word powerful. That’s how powerful.

The Psalmist says that “The heavens were made by the word of the Lord, and all the stars by the breath of his mouth.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t create anything by my words, except maybe confusion. Occasionally nervous laughter. Right? I can make you uncomfortable. I cannot create worlds.

Because I am not gloriously powerful. I am not the God of the universe.

But the Psalmist says that “The heavens were made by the word of the Lord, and all the stars by the breath of his mouth.”

That should affect the way that we think about God.

Because that means that God’s creativity is also God’s power. God’s word is powerful. So powerful that when God speaks, things that didn’t exist start existing. God speaks and things happen. God authoritatively tells the universe to start existing and it does. He’s not asking.

So you can think of God the way you would think of a woodworker. Or a carpenter – which is a really obvious one to reach for because of Jesus, right?

Think of God in the garage building a chair out of the wood from a tree that he cut down from the forest in his backyard.

God is a powerful craftsman. God is a powerful carpenter. God is a powerful woodworker. He speaks with authority. He speaks power. He speaks and every molecule in the universe obeys.

And so the Psalmist says that “he gathers the waters of the sea into a heap, he puts the depths into storehouses.” Therefore, he says “Let the whole earth tremble before the Lord, let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him, for he spoke, and it came into being, he commanded, and it came into existence.”

The Lord is gloriously powerful.

And there is nowhere that we see his glorious power more clearly than in the fact that he created the universe when there was nothing.

Like, think about that!

Nothing obeyed him and became something.

Nonexistence obeyed his powerful word and became existence.

You exist because God called you into existence. He called you out nothingness to become somethingness. He commanded you to have flesh and bone and blood and soul and spirit and life, and you did. You exist because God is gloriously powerful, and your every move, your every breath, your every thought is held up and sustained and protected by his glorious power.

That’s the first thing that we learn about God from our passage this morning. God is gloriously powerful./

But that’s not the only thing that we learn.

Because our Psalmist also tells us in no uncertain terms that the same God he just described as gloriously powerful is also gloriously wise.

He says, and I quote, “The Lord looks down from heaven, he observes everyone, he gazes on all the inhabitants of the Earth from his Dwelling Place, he alone shapes their hearts, he considers all their works.”

And again, he says, “The eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, those who depend on his faithful love to deliver them from Death to keep them alive in the famine.”

God is gloriously wise.

Not only did he create you, he also knows you. The Lord sees you with clear vision. The gloriously powerful God of the universe is also gloriously familiar with you. He shaped your heart. He considers your works. He observes you from heaven.

Whether you know God or not, he knows you. And he knows you well.

He knows you better than your wife or your husband knows you today and better than they will ever know you tomorrow. You could even say he knows you better than you know you.

One of my favorite quotes is from a British author named Francis Spufford, and he says that “To be known by God is like being known from the inside, but without all of my delusions.”

God knows me for who I really am, not just for who I tell myself I am. God knows me without all of the lies that I tell myself.

You know what I’m talking about?

That’s important, because we lie to ourselves like nobody’s business. Right?

If you pay close attention to your own heart over a long period of time, one of the things that you will notice is it we are always telling ourselves stories about ourselves.

We are always telling ourselves stories about ourselves.

And when we tell ourselves those stories, usually we fudge the details just a little bit.

We don’t really notice that we’re doing it most of the time, but we are. We’ll take the story of our own lives and then we’ll trim off some of the edges to fit into a straightforward story that props up the identity that we wish we had.

I’m gonna say that again another way, because that’s kind of a strange sentence: Without even knowing it, we lie to ourselves to try and fit ourselves into the identities that we want.  

Like, take Young Me, for example. If you’re like Young Me, you try to convince yourself that you’re a real “Prophet”-type.

The story you tell yourself is that you “stand outside the system” and you point to all the ways that it’s lost its way. That’s the story that you tell yourself. And because that is the story that you tell yourself, you lie to yourself about the things that happen to you to fit that narrative.

So if you have a nasty argument with somebody at work, you lie to yourself and tell yourself that the folks at your workplace just don’t understand. That they don’t have the vision you have. That seeps out into every corner of your life. Your parents just don’t understand. Your teachers just don’t understand. The people you go to church with just don’t understand. Not like you do. You know what I’m talking about?

That’s how I used to see myself. And you know what? I was wrong. I wasn’t a powerful prophetic voice. I wasn’t a modern-day Jeremiah. I was jerk. And not even a very smart one. I had a smug sense of superiority and a bunch way-too-strong opinions and very little spiritual maturity. That was me.

But that’s just one of the false identities that people try to fit themselves into.

Yours may be totally different. Maybe you try to convince yourself that you are the glue that holds your family together. That if you stop trying to control your adult children, they would spin off the rails. That if you stop trying to control your spouse, they’d have no idea what to do with themselves. That if you stop trying to control your parents, they would waste away into nothing. And so you tell yourself a story that makes you feel much better about your controlling behavior, the list goes on.

Or, maybe you see yourself as everybody’s maidservant. So you tell yourself a story that makes you feel better about allowing other people to trample on you. You tell yourself that you are always there for everybody. That even when people take advantage of it, that’s okay, because that’s just who you are. You’ve got a special mission from God to meet everybody’s needs all the time even if your own needs never get met. And so person after person will use you and then discard you. You get chewed up and then spit back out again and again and again, and even though something deep down in you knows that’s wrong, you continue to let people do it because the story that you tell yourself numbs the pain that comes with it.

We could do this all day.

The point is that we are always “trying on” identities. We are always reaching for false identities that make us feel strong or powerful or important or self-sufficient or worthy. But God sees through all of those. God sees you as you really are. God sees the you that actually exists, minus all of your self-deception.

And as stern as all of this sounds, the truth is that this is good news, not bad news.

Because you don’t need those identities. You don’t need to lie to yourself. You don’t need to tell yourself a flattering-but-fake story that makes you look like the hero, or the prophet, or the glue that holds your family together, because the truth is that you are already important.

You are already of infinite value in the eyes of God./

Now, usually when I’m listening to a sermon, this is about the part where I start rolling my eyes, because I am not touchy-feely. I’m just not. But don’t tune me out here. Stay with me.

You don’t need those false-identities because you are already of infinite value in the eyes of God.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things that God expects from you, and he’s not asking. But God has already treated you as worthy. God has already accepted you as good enough. God has already declared you to be perfect. He has already judged your debt to be paid in full, because of the cross. Jesus took all of the ways that you cannot measure up and he nailed them to the cross, Colossians 2:14 says. He canceled your record of debt. He raised you up from the ash heap. He drank away all of your wrath. He lived up to everything that you couldn’t, and then he turned around and declared you worthy, too.

You matter deeply, infinitely, and unchangeably because you exist, because God has created you with his powerful word, and you matter deeply, infinitely, and unchangeably because Christ has purchased you with his blood.

Nothing in the world can change that. Nothing can overturn that. Nothing can overshadow that. Nothing can nullify that.

That is the truth about God, and that is the truth about you.

And so you do not have to lie to yourself. You do not have to white knuckle your way into an identity that makes you feel worthy, because you are already worthy in Jesus Christ. Because he knows you from the inside, but without all your delusions. And the you that God knows, the you had actually exists, has been welcomed into the Glorious Kingdom of the gloriously powerful and gloriously wise God of the universe.

Once again: That is the truth about God, and that is the truth about you. 

But there’s one last thing that our passage tells us very clearly about God. And that is that God is gloriously good.

You can see how that would be important, right?

The Psalmist tells us that the God of the universe is gloriously powerful, gloriously wise, and gloriously good.

God is good.

The Psalmist says, “The word of the Lord is right, and all his work is trustworthy. He loves righteousness and justice, and the earth is full of the Lord’s unfailing love.”

So we’ve seen that the Lord is gloriously powerful, and we’ve seen that the Lord is gloriously wise. But with that glorious power and glorious wisdom, what does the Lord choose to fill the earth with?

Unfailing love, the Psalmist says.

What does a gloriously powerful and gloriously wise God long for?

Righteousness and justice, the psalmist says.

He says the gloriously powerful and gloriously wise God of the universe is “trustworthy.” /

But, why?

He doesn’t owe us anything. That’s the truth. We don’t have a leg to stand on. And even if we did, what could we do about it? We have absolutely no power or authority over God. His fate is not in our hands. And yet the God who owes us absolutely nothing, and has never owed us anything, and will never owe us a single thing in the universe deals with us exactly one way: Honestly. Justly. Fairly.

He says, “The word of the Lord is right, and all his work is trustworthy. He loves righteousness and justice. The Earth is full of the Lord’s unfailing love.”

This is the God that you worship.

The God of the universe holds out to you a love he does not owe you. He holds out to you a justice he does not owe you. He holds out to you a righteousness he does not owe you. He is trustworthy towards you with absolutely nothing to gain from it. The gloriously powerful and gloriously wise God of the universe is also gloriously good.

And we see that glorious goodness in action starting in verse 10. The psalmist says that “the Lord frustrates the counsel of the nations. He thwarts the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart from generation to generation.” Therefore “happy is the nation whose God is Yahweh. The people he has chosen to be his own possession.”

In other words, the goodness of God revolts against the wickedness that we see in the world. And the goodness of God revolt against the wickedness that we find in ourselves.

What is the Lord’s response to injustice? He frustrates it.

What is the Lord’s response to the crooked plans that we make? He thwarts them.

Without a doubt, we’d probably like to see that more often, right?

We’d like to see God pull an Acts 11 on the folks we see actively working against God’s will in the world today. Remember Acts 11? In the middle of a speech, God strikes King Herod with worms that eat him alive. We’d probably like to see that more often.

Or we’d like to God Ananias and Sapphira the folks who are actively working against God’s will in the world. Remember Ananias and Sapphira? God makes them drop dead at the feet of Peter, Acts 5.

And when that doesn’t come, sometimes we wonder out loud whether God even cares about what’s happening, whether he’s paying attention, whether our suffering matters to him, whether there is really any hope for the world after all.

But into that fear and doubt and hopelessness, the Psalmist reminds us that “the counsel of the Lord stands forever,” and “the plans of his heart from generation to generation.”

Behind all of this, in ways we can’t see, in ways we don’t feel, in ways we may only recognize once in a blue moon, the Lord is working. The Lord is working out his will. The Lord is bringing all of this around to the only conclusion any of this can ever possibly lead to, and that is that Christ is returning. He’s returning to heal the world, to overcome the darkness, to break every last chain, to conquer every last stronghold that the devil has taken, to “turn every sad thing untrue,” to quote one dead British guy.

That is where this is headed, “from generation to generation.” And so the Psalmist says, “Happy is the nation whose God is Yahweh, the people he has chosen to be his own possession.” /

That’s a good verse.

When the Psalmist was writing, that applied to a specific nation that you can find on a map. At that time he was talking about Israel. As we move into the New Testament, the geographical nation of Israel becomes a thing of the past, as God shifts into inviting people into his kingdom all over the world, “from every tribe and tongue and nation,” as Revelation says.

But even though the nation of Israel is a thing of the past, the Psalmist’s words are still true, because one day this will be true of every nation. One day every tribe and tongue and nation will be happy because their God will be Yahweh. One day the gloriously powerful, gloriously wise, and gloriously good God of the universe will bless every tribe, tongue and nation with his glory, and everything will be exactly the way it’s supposed to be./

That’s where this is headed. All of it. No matter what you see happening around you and how much it may scare you, this is where all of this is headed, period./

And that leads us to the Psalmist’s very clear and very simple application point. And that is that, in light of all of this, the Lord is entitled to our worship. The Lord is entitled to our worship because he is gloriously powerful, gloriously wise, and gloriously good.

We see that in the opening verses, he says, “Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous ones; praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the Lord with the lyre; make music to Him with a ten-stringed harp. Sing a new song to Him; play skillfully on the strings, with a joyful shout.”

The correct response to the glory of God should be worship. The Lord is entitled to your worship.

And in the same way, he is entitled to your trust. We see that in verses 20-22. He says, “We wait for Yahweh; He is our help and shield. 21 For our hearts rejoice in Him because we trust in His holy name. 22 May Your faithful love rest on us, Yahweh, for we put our hope in You.”

If you are like me, you are probably anxious these days. There’s plenty to be anxious about. Whether it’s the pandemic, or it’s the unrest we’ve seen in the streets, or it’s any of the ten thousand other things that might be robbing you of sleep nowadays, not to mention the difficulties that you might be facing in your personal life, you are probably anxious about something.

And into that anxiety, we’re invited to be comforted and strengthened by the fact that we are protected and empowered by a gloriously powerful, gloriously wise, and gloriously good God.

That’s why the Psalmist reminds himself in verses 16-17 that “A king is not saved by a large army” and “a warrior will not be delivered by great strength.” “The horse is a false hope for safety that “provides no escape by its great power.” Because true security comes from the Lord. True strength comes from the Lord. You can have everything stacked in your favor and it will not protect you from the Lord’s will, or you could be beat down and trampled on by nearly everyone you know and it will not prevent you from being lifted up by God’s power, wisdom, and goodness.

Put your trust in this God. Draw your strength from this God. Bury your fears in this God. Find your rest in the God Psalm 33 rejoices in.

This is the point in the service where, typically, I would give something that we refer to as an “altar call,” but that’s not quite possible this morning, for obvious reasons. What we’re doing instead, is that as we respond to the Lord through song, we invite you to text or email me with your prayer requests, or decisions, or burdens, and we can set a time to sit down over the phone sometime the week and talk or pray through whatever is on your heart.

Let’s pray.

‘A Glorious Faithfulness’ – Psalm 117 – July 26th

If you would, please turn with me to Psalm 117. The Psalmist says:

Praise the Lord, all nations!
Glorify Him, all peoples!
For His faithful love to us is great;
the Lord’s faithfulness endures forever.
Hallelujah!

This is the word of the Lord. Let’s pray.

Father we thank you that even as we are temporarily forced to change some of what we do because of COVID-19, you are greater than COVID-19. Not one of us wouldn’t rather be inside that building, sitting in the pews, catching up with the folks who usually sit next us face-to-face instead of simply over the phone. And yet, You are greater than our inconvenience. We thank you for the way that you are with us even in the midst of our social distancing, that you are near us even in the midst of our isolation, and that even as we try to serve our neighbors by distancing ourselves to try and mitigate the spread of the virus, you have given us the profound blessing of being able to look closely at your word together, to learn from it, to be changed by it, and be edified through it.

We pray these things in Jesus’s name, Amen.

*

Well, we are taking another short break from the gospel of John to trek through one of the Psalms. Our passage this morning is Psalm 117, which, as it happens, is the shortest chapter in the Bible.

Now, because Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter in the Bible, our first temptation might to be to think of it as unimportant. We might think of Psalm 117 as a throwaway Psalm. A throwaway chapter. A throwaway passage that we really don’t have to look at or think about or deal with. But the truth is that there aren’t any of those.

You know what I’m talking about?

There is no such thing as a throwaway chapter. There is no such thing as a passage in the Bible that is not “inspired by God” and “profitable for teaching, and for rebuking, and for correcting, and for training in righteousness,” so that “we may be complete” and “equipped for every good work,” as Paul says in 2 Timothy chapter 3.

So because Psalm 117 is so short, and because it is so simple, we may have been inclined to write it off and ignore it in the past. But what we’ll find, as we walk through the shortest chapter in the Bible this morning, is that there is still a wealth of Godly wisdom to be drawn from it./

So let’s take a look at Psalm 117. The psalmist opens by saying “Praise the Lord, all nations. Glorify him, all peoples.” That sounds simple. And it is.

He says “Praise the Lord, all nations.”

Why?

Because that’s what they exist for.

He says, “Glorify God, all peoples.”

Why?

Because that’s what all people exist for.

Have you ever thought about that? You exist to glorify God. You exist for the glory of God.

Now, listen closely to what I just said, because it might not be what you heard. I did not just say that “You should glorify God.” I did not just say “You should think about praising the Lord.” I did not say, “I strongly recommend glorifying God today.” I said you exist to glorify God. You exist for the glory of God. That is what you exist for.

We see that explicitly in Isaiah 43:7, when God tells the Israelites, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.”

We exist for the glory of God. God created us for his glory. That’s why in Psalm 115, the Psalmist says, “Not to us, O Lord, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!”

That’s a running theme throughout scripture. Psalm 72:19 says, “Blessed be God’s glorious name forever, may the whole earth be filled with his glory.” In Philippians 2:11, Paul looks forward to a day when “every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” And that’s why in 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul says, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”/

In other words, your life has a purpose. Before you were born, your life had a purpose. You have a specific calling. You have a specific mission. Before you could speak, before you could crawl, before you were anything, you had a purpose. You existed for a reason. And that reason is to glorify God. You exist to glorify God.

Now, that’s a very different thing from much of what you typically hear nowadays. Here in America and most of the western world nowadays the rallying cry is “Be yourself.” “Do what makes you happy.” “Don’t let anybody tell you what to do.” “You create your own destiny.” “The world is what you make of it.”

You know what I’m talking about?

And it’s not just young cosmopolitan college students, either. It’s everybody.

Very weird story, but one time I was in line at a McDonald’s, which is how every good story starts, right? I was minding my own business, which is usually what I’m doing, and the man in line behind me just decided that he wanted to debate me and my friend Ian about US foreign policy – because, what else are you gonna do in line at McDonald’s.

Now, at this particular time, I’m, maybe, 19, so I don’t have a whole lot of really strong opinions on the subject. But the man says, “So, the Middle East.”

And I was like, “Yeah?”

And he said, “You know what I think we should do? Make an ocean out of it.”

And I said, “Oh. Which part of the Middle East?”

And he said, “All of it. Get rid of all those terrorists.”

And I said, “The whole thing, everybody who lives there?”

And he said, “All of it.”

And I said, “So, Israel?”

And he said, “Well no. They’re our friends. Not Israel.”

And I said, “Okay, so, not all of it. Any other Middle Eastern countries you do not want to make an ocean out of? Any others?”

And he said, “Okay. Evacuate Israel, get the good ones out, then just nuke the whole place.”

And I said, “I think that might break a lot of international laws.”

And he said, “There’s a higher law than international law,” and he pointed up with his finger, I guess, to heaven.

And I said, “That’s true. So you think that God wants us to make an ocean out of the Middle East?”

And he said, “Well, no.”

And I said, “So you don’t think wants us to nuke the entire Middle East?”

And he said, “No. I’m not saying it’s the Christian thing to do, but this is the real world, and you’ve gotta make real-world decisions.”

And I said, “The Bible isn’t the real world?”

And he paused for another few seconds, and he said, “Look. I’ve got a constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and what makes me happy is nuking the Middle East.”

And then my McDouble came up in the window, so our conversation was over.

And don’t read too much into that story, obviously, but the point here is that the “Do what makes you happy,” “Write your own destiny,” “You are your own man,” and so forth mentality is so unbelievably widespread throughout our culture that it it’s basically taken everybody captive whether they realize it or not.

You might be a hardcore secularist who doesn’t believe that any God or any gods exist and that even if they did exist they couldn’t tell you what to do, or you might be a devout lifelong Christian who sees yourself as a staunch defender of Christian values, but either way, I guarantee you that it is baked into your psyche that at the end of the day you own yourself.

That you are your own master.

That at the end of the day your life belongs to you.

That your body belongs to you.

That you write your own destiny and you are your own person and so on and so forth, but that’s not true.

Here is the truth, and you might hate this: You are not your own. You do not belong to yourself. You do not exist for yourself. Your body and your soul and your heart and your mind are not yours. You exist for the glory of God. You exist to glorify the name of God both by worshiping him and by living in accordance with his good design, his good commands, his good promises, his good design for the universe.

Your life purpose is not primarily to find yourself, it is not to make your own destiny, it is not to fulfill your dreams, it is none of those things. It’s to glorify God.

That doesn’t mean your dreams don’t matter. That doesn’t mean your goals don’t matter. That doesn’t mean that your needs and desires don’t matter. All of those things matter, and we see throughout scripture that the Lord cares deeply about all of those things.

But your fundamental purpose is to glorify God. Your purpose is to find your place in God’s will and then carry it out faithfully, to find your role in God’s mission and then carried out faithfully, to find your place in God’s will and then submit to it faithfully. And when you do that, you glorify God.

Maybe that sounds kind of dreary to you. Not long after I became a Christian, and I started seriously studying the Bible for myself, when I started reading these things in the scriptures, it struck me as a buzzkill. I did not want to exist for the glory of God, I wanted to exist for the glory of me.

I didn’t want my life to be about finding my role in God’s will, I want my life to be about doing what made me happy. About finding fulfillment. About being myself.

I didn’t want to make an ocean out of the Middle East like the McDonald’s guy, but I also didn’t want to be told by God that I couldn’t want that. You know what I’m talking about?

I wanted my faith to be part of my life. I wanted it to be something that helped fulfill me as I balanced it with everything else. I wanted to carry the Lord around as a passenger in my 2006 PT Cruiser while I kept driving in the same direction I was going to head anyway. But that’s not how this works.

This is a dumb analogy, but the Lord demands the driver’s seat.

And yet that’s not the way that we think about these things, culturally speaking. We think of God as a passenger we take along on our road trip. But the reality is that God is the driver. We turn over the keys and become passengers in our own lives as the Lord drives us on towards home.

And as weird and goofy as that sounds, it makes sense, right?

Because if God isn’t your driver, then what do you even mean when you say he’s your God?

To put that another way: If God isn’t allowed to fundamentally change what you think, what on Earth do you mean when you say that he is your God? If God isn’t allowed to fundamentally change what your life is about, what exactly do you mean when you say that he is your God?

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying you should become a religious fanatic. Most religious fanatics don’t actually have God in the driver’s seat. They’ve still got God gagged and bound in the passenger seat while they drive the car into a crowd of people. Religious fanatics aren’t submitting their lives to the glory of God, they’re using God as a prop to justify their own worldly lust for power. Or they’re using God as a prompt to justify their own worldly lust for control. Or in some cases they’re using God as a prop to carve out an identity that makes them feel important or significant when the world has made the feel insignificant and disposable. So I’m not talking about religious fanaticism.

Like, the radical Al Qaeda and Isis folks who blow up buildings and crash airplanes into landmarks are still in the driver’s seat. They’re slapping a God sticker on a power trip.

And in exactly the same way, the folks who take up arms every once in awhile and try to overthrow the US government and institute some kind of Christian theocracy, they’re still in the driver’s seat. They’re slapping a God sticker a power trip.

Religious fanaticism doesn’t glorify God any more than wishy-washy religious sentimentalism. It’s just a different coat of paint on that same exact thing. So, hear me. I’m not calling you to become a religious fanatic.

But I’m absolutely calling you to turn over the driver’s seat to the God of the universe.

Let Jesus be your actual God. Let the Bible be your actual guide. Let the way of Jesus be the actual compass that guides you. Let the call that Jesus places on you be the actual anchor for your life. Because you exist for the glory of God. You exist to praise the name of the Lord. That’s not just something about you. That is what you are

Now, like I said a few moments ago, that probably sounds kind of dreary. But as we continue on in our Psalm, I want to make the case that everything I just said is the opposite of dreary.

If we’re honest with ourselves, this is the only thing that isn’t dreary.

To quote the Heidelberg Catechism – one of my favorite Cinfessions of Faith that isn’t Baptist. The first section of the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What is your one comfort in life and death?” And then it answers, “My one comfort in life and death is: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.” 

I don’t know about you, but that gives me chills.

I actually feel that way.

That is my one comfort in life and death: I am not my own.

As dreary as it sounds to our worldly imaginations, the reality is that this is the only thing that isn’t dreary.

So the Psalmist says, “Praise the Lord, all nations. Glorify him, all peoples, for his faithful love to us is great.”

It is very good news that we exist to glorify God. It is very good news that we exist to praise him. Because, as we see throughout scripture, the praise that we pour out on the feet of the Lord almost always comes in response to his faithful love.

I’m gonna say that again: You exist to glorify God, but the glory that you turn around and place at God’s feet isn’t just a de facto Glory. We’re not talking about “sucking up.” As a person who exists to praise the name of Yahweh, your call is not to be a “teacher’s pet,” the glory that you pour out on God’s name is a response to his faithful love to you.

In other words, God’s glory speaks for itself. When you see God as he is, glory is what your heart pours out on him. When you see the Lord with open eyes, your natural response is praise.

It’s like the story we read in Luke 19. It says:

When Jesus came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

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.”

Jesus says, essentially, “If I shut these people up, the rocks will cry out.”

It’s the same thing throughout the rest of the Psalms, and the Book of Job, we could pick about a thousand examples, the creation itself worships the Lord. The creation around us worships the God of the universe. Every blade of grass, every tree, every particle in the universe praises the name of our God. And what that means is that humans are the odd ones out. So that’s, like, the ultimate peer pressure. That’s, like, cosmic peer pressure. Every single atom in the universe is pressuring you to glorify God.

Why is that?

Because glory is the only reasonable response to the beauty and power and graciousness and might and love and strength and majesty of this God.

Looking at the God of the universe with unblinded eyes, you will glorify him, because his glory speaks for itself. And it speaks for itself most clearly and most loudly through his faithful love to us. The Psalmist says, “The Lord’s faithful love to us is great.”

That’s actually a really interesting thing to say.

Because among other things, that means that God is very different from what comes naturally to us. The God that actually exists is very different than the God that we are inclined to make up on our own. Right?

Like, ask yourself, if you were absolutely powerful, absolutely glorious, if you “owned the cattle on a thousand hills, as God says in Psalm 50, would you be merciful?

If you were God, would it be good news for the folks you don’t like?

Would you be gracious?

Would you be patient?

Would anybody say that your “faithful love” was great?

I would guess not.

My guess is that if you were God, it would be bad news for everybody. I say I because if I were God, it would be extremely bad news for everybody. Because I am wildly unChrist-like.

Like, as a 19 year old I got real smug about the fact that at least I didn’t have a worldly and unbiblical desire to “make an ocean out of the Middle East,” but between 19 and 26 the Lord purged me of a little bit of that smugness by casting a blacklight over me and showing me that I’ve got issues of my own, and those issues are every bit as serious as the McDonald’s guy’s issues. If I were God, it would be bad news for everybody, and the same is probably true about you. And the result is that the God of the Bible is wildly different from the God that we envision in our minds when we are left to our own assumptions.

There’s about a million things that we could point out, but the thing I find the most endlessly fascinating is that the God of the Bible apparently doesn’t have an ego.

The God that actually exists doesn’t even kind of mess around with that insecure, fragile, chest-beating, egotistical nonsense that we’d what expect. It’s difficult to overstate just how offensive so much of God’s word is to our fallen, worldly imagination. Like, I don’t even like it when people make fun of my shoes, but have you seen the things that Psalmist gets away with saying to God?

When I say “get away with,” I mean, the Psalmist will say the nastiest, most disrespectful sounding stuff to God, in the middle of praying, and instead of sending a lightning bolt, the God of the Bible listens, patiently receives it, and then puts it in the Bible.

Here’s just a short list, just enough to make you cringe.

In Psalm 44, the Psalmist says, “You have rejected and humiliated us” (v. 9), “You sell Your people for nothing” (v. 12), “Why do You hide Yourself and forget our affliction and oppression?” (v. 24).

And Psalm 60. He says, “You have made Your people suffer hardship” (v. 3).

And Psalm 80. He says, “You fed us the bread of tears and gave us a full measure of tears to drink. You make us quarrel with our neighbors and our enemies make fun of us” (vv. 4-7).

And Psalm 88, he says, “You have put me in the lowest part of the Pit, in the darkest places, in the depths” (v. 6), “You have overwhelmed me with all Your waves” (v. 7), “You have distanced my friends from me; You have made me repulsive to them. I am shut in and cannot go out” (v. 8), “My eyes are worn out from crying” (v. 9), “LORD, why do You reject me?  Why do You hide Your face from me?” (v. 14), “From my youth, I have been afflicted and near death. I suffer Your horrors; I am desperate” (v. 15), “Your terrors destroy me. They surround me like water all day long; they close in on me from every side. You have distanced loved one and neighbor from me; darkness is my only friend” (vv. 16-18).

And Psalm 13: “How long, Lord? Will you utterly forget me? How long will you hide your face from me? How long shall I harbor sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day?”

And Psalm 22: “God, I cry out by day, and you answer not; by night, and there is no relief for me” (Psalm 22:3).

These are things you wouldn’t say to the floor manager at Food Lion you work at, let alone the God of the Universe. And yet at no point does God lash out. Because the God of the Bible is gloriously patient.

I harp a whole lot on our culture’s tendency to say that God is mean and crotchety and angry all the time but Jesus is nice and gentle and patient and friendly, and the reason that I harp so much on that is because that’s not even vaguely grounded in the scriptures.

Because the God that actually exists, the God that we read about in the Bible that we actually have, is this God. And he’s a God who is all powerful, and all-knowing, who could crush you, and who knows you well enough to know exactly why he should crush you, and yet comes to you not with a bottomless and insatiable desire for flattery and sucking up and petty ego boosts, but instead comes to you with faithful love. The Psalmist says, “The Lord’s faithful love to us is great.” And we see exactly how great that faithful love is in the cross.

I’m gonna say that again: The Psalmist says, “The Lord’s faithful love to us is great.” And we see exactly how great that faithful love is in the cross.

Because in the cross, “God shows his love for you in that while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you,” Romans 5:8.

In the cross, Jesus became “the propitiation for your sins,” 1 John 2:2. He reconciled you to God.

In the cross, Jesus “cancelled the record of debt that stood against you” and “nailed it to the cross,” Colossians 2:14. Jesus erased your debt.

And the result is that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Romans 8:1. Because of the Lord’s faithful love, through Jesus, you are un-condemned. You are not condemned anymore. And you will never be condemned again because “God made Jesus to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him you might become the righteousness of God,” 2 Corinthians 5:21. In God’s eyes, you are every bit as righteous as he called you to be when he created you. God treats you as though you are every bit as righteous as Jesus.

And therefore Paul rejoices in Ephesians 2:8-9, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

That’s what God’s faithful love looks like.

You are loved with a love that pays all your debts, erases all your faults, washes away all your uncleanness, forgives all your sins, and embraces you even at great cost to itself. God saw from the foundation of the world what it would cost him to love you. And he loved you anyway.

That’s why in Isaiah 55:1, he issues a call to everyone listening. He says, “Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters; and you without money, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost!” Jesus calls you, in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

That’s what the Lord’s faithful love looks like. The Psalmist says, “The Lord’s faithfulness endures forever.”

God glorifies himself through his faithful love to you. You exist to glorify God through his faithful love to you.

Cling to that truth. Cherish that truth. Build your life on that truth. Draw your strength from that truth.

The Lord’s vast, costly, and radical faithfulness to you will endure forever.

Let’s pray.