Monday, April 5, 2010

SURPRISED BY HOPE

Mark 16:1-8

Easter Sunday April 4, 2010

Let beauty awake in the morn from beautiful dreams.

Beauty awake from rest!

Let beauty awake

For Beauty's sake

In the hour when the birds awake in the brake

And the stars are bright in the west.

(Robert Louis Stevenson)


As I stood outside with the dogs prior at 6 am I wondered if that first resurrection morning was like this. A small cool breeze, freshness with each breath, birds chirping in nearby trees, the stars glistening in the sky… the neighbor dog barking. I wonder if they sensed those same things. As Sandy Patti sung, "Was it a Morning Like This?"


But yet, I know that their hearts were already pounding with sorrow. They likely did not sleep well and if they did it was out of heart-ache exhaustion.


I wonder about Pilate who had sentenced Jesus to death. I wonder when he awoke that morning if it was just going to be another day at the office. Another day of a Roman general overseeing a seething nation of people who hated him. I wonder if he knew what was coming?

I wonder about those chief priests and elders who had rejected Christ almost from the very beginning of his ministry. I wonder if they awoke on that third day wondering themselves if everything would be "kosher." I wonder if they awoke with some fear that Jesus might truly do what he said. Perhaps they were the only ones who really thought this could happen?


I wonder about those disciples who followed him more closely. I wonder what they figured would be their next steps as fugitives. Certainly with all of the Passover and Sabbath days completed if they would be hunted down by the authorities and one by one arrested and imprisoned and face the same fate as the one they followed.


What no one saw was that beauty had awoken. In fact, the stone was not rolled away to let Jesus out. The stone was rolled away so that those coming to the tomb to could look in. Look in and see.


What did the angel say? "Don't be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! See the place where they laid him."


Everyone who came to the tomb would have seen the grave garments still lying there including the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head which was folded and separate from the linen according to John (20:6-7) There would have been no question about Jesus not being there.


Matthew tells us that an angel of the Lord came down after a violent earthquake and rolled the stone back and sat on it. These Roman soldiers- these trained killers- were so afraid of what they saw that instead of enforcing the seal on tomb, they fainted.


And what was our reaction when we awoke this morning? Was there fear? Maybe not the kind of fear that these disciples and women faced. But I will bet that some of you have fears:


  • Fear of not measuring up to God or others.
  • Fear of not having enough money.
  • Fear that your kids won't do the right things.
  • Fear that your health will get worse.
  • Fear of death? Maybe.

So what do we do with that? I believe that we can learn a few things this morning from Christ's resurrection that might help us as we strive to live Spirit-filled lives as followers of Christ. I like what the Apostle told the Corinthian Church:

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed. [Why? Because] We always carry around in our bodies the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body." (2 Corinthians 4:10)

Despite all that may be happening in your life you don't need to buckle into fear. You can discover or re-discover that as these followers of Jesus found the tomb empty they were surprised by hope.

And I am praying this morning that as we hear this message that the Holy Spirit would once again surprise you with the hope that we all have in Jesus Christ.

So what were these followers of Jesus afraid of on that resurrection morning? First, they were…

  1. Fearful of Fear.

They were afraid because they lived in a constant culture of fear. The people of the first century could easily be divided into two demographics: those with and those without. Either you had something or you didn't. You either lived on this side of the tracks or that side. You were either in power or without power. And ultimately, if the Roman government decided something against you then you were toast.

They lived in fear of the natural world. Drought and storms could wipe out an agricultural community in one hot summer. People died of hunger all the time in their world.

And so when any one of them encountered the resurrection of Jesus they already possess a pre-disposition to fear. And so their natural reaction to a an empty tomb is fear itself mingled with curiosity and amazement. What the devil is going on here? When is the next shoe going to drop? Great, we'll get blamed for this, now!

Not only fear to fear itself but…

2. Fear of the Supernatural.

I remember my grandmother telling about a young woman who would visit the cemetery across the country road from her home when she was a child. Night after night in the summer time this young mother would go to the gravesite of her baby and weep. Did I mention that the young woman was buried beside her baby as well?

Talk about giving a kid the shivers on a hot summer day. Yikes!

The supernatural to us is fairly non-existent as far as today's society. Yeah, I know people are dabbling with "Twilight" and "New Moon" and all those vampire books and chic-flicks. Harry Potter is still trying to have his day. "Ghost Whisperer" had her following. But nobody really takes any of that very seriously except those who want to immerse themselves further into the cultic and those Christians who understand the risk of dabbling. After all, most of us are a more affluent, educated, scientific and cultured society. We've got answers that the first century people didn't have.

But let's not mistake our lack of discernment and miss the truth of these folks who experienced a very real fear of the supernatural. They just looked into the tomb and found it empty. Something's up and they know it. But what, they don't know.

Sure they were afraid in a human sense because they were touching on the supernatural. They already had an affinity to the idea of ghosts and demons. But understand something:

Stories don't come close to what these folks were involved in. Realize that this resurrection stuff was serious business and that what they understood was they were touching on something that was not of this world- at least not something they had experienced before.

We still can't Appreciate how they did not understand everything Jesus said about destroying this temple and rebuilding it in three days. Hello? Their minds were immersed in a first century thought pattern that truly believed, "Dead men don't talk." And when a dead man simply disappears from a sealed tomb, well, my first instinct as a first century man would be: I'm afraid.

If I go to my mother's grave next month and it's open with an angel sitting on a rock I think I might faint like a dead man.

Something else they were afraid of:

3. Fear of Ruthless Authorities.

They were afraid because of the obvious disobedience to a Roman decree.

In particular—and this is perhaps the most important point to grasp—most first-century Jews believed that the Exile was not yet really over. Yes, they had come back from Babylon, geographically. But the pagans were still in charge: first Persia, then Alexander the Great from Greece, then the various rules of Syria, and now the iron fist of the Roman Empire.

And now the typical first century Jew who encountered a revolutionary such as Jesus had plenty to fear. I guess I don't blame the disciples for running off. Their dream of a new Israel has just been squashed by the Roman army and the Jewish leadership. Not only did their association mean that they were wanted men but that they faced expulsion from Jewish society for their deeds of following this radical named Jesus.

These disciples have good reason to fear the ruthless authorities- especially those of the Roman soldier kind. The Romans were professional killers who were skilled in making sure that people who were supposed to die actually died. They knew their job and did their job very well.

These Roman soldiers very well might have been thinking:

And now this dead Jesus is alive? Are you sure? We saw the blood pour out from his side. We saw him breathe his last. We know he was dead when he was taken and put into the tomb. We know that we sealed that tomb and put a guard around it.

Our first century brothers and sisters in Christ must have certainly sensed not only fear of the Roman authorities but also the fear of the rulers over them. If they weren't put to the death then they would surely be put into prison. And if they somehow survived that, they would never have a place in the synagogue or allowed in the temple to worship. And for a Jew in those days that might be as good as death.

then they had a…

4. Fear of the Unknown.

They were afraid because of what they could not see. They were not yet men and women of true faith.

I realize I've already mentioned fear of the supernatural but this one is different. I'm speaking about that fear of what we don't know. In so doing, realizing that what we don't know can be good or it can be bad.

What they could not see with their own eyes and feel with their hands could not be real. They had to ponder these things. Fear of the unknown is not unusual to anyone of any culture.

We all fear things that we don't understand or have no light on. I can honestly say I don't like being in total darkness. That stirs up a fear inside of me. So I'll keep my night-light, thank you!

People fear bumps in the night. People fear the ringing of the telephone in the middle of the night. I get that sometimes: "Hello?" "Yeah, is Melissa there?" "What?" "Isn't this Wesco Gas Station?" "No. Look to the number above the Wesleyan Church and you'll find it." "Oh, thanks, man."

Fear of the unknown is very real to a lot people and it should not be missed that these feared the unknown.

They feared fear itself, they feared the supernatural, they feared the authorities, they feared the unknown but they experienced

5. Fear Overcome by Hope.

The bottom line is that everyone who encountered the resurrection was surprised by hope. And maybe that is the definition of their amazement mingled with fear. They somehow harbored hope beyond their fear.

None of them- not a single one saw what was coming. And when the truth of the Jesus' resurrection began to dawn in their hearts they began to experience a kind of hope that is greater than scratching off a winning lottery ticket. They knew that they were encountering something that put down fear, went beyond the supernatural and circumvented the ruling authorities. What they experienced brought them out of the unknown and put them into the very real.

And that is what I want us to all understand and experience this morning. Jesus' resurrection, a fact of history and a cornerstone of Christian faith should and must move us out of the realm of fear and into the realm of hope.

These followers faced very real fears. And as Jesus showed himself the fears began to fade away. Why? Because they became like you by faith in a resurrected Savior. "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.'" (Romans 8:15)

I'm not saying that we should be concerned about our everyday welfare and responsibilities. We don't throw duties to the wind. What we do is allow the death of Jesus within us to become the life of Jesus outside of us. We are crucified with Christ and yet somehow by the miracle of the Holy Spirit it is not we that live but Christ that lives within us and through us for others to see.

Regardless of your problems, frustrations and dangers you do not need to live in fear.

Matthew 28:6-
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy and ran to tell the disciples.

John 11:25-
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live.


BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES

Mark 11:1-11

Sunday March 28, 2010

Many moons ago, back in the mid-1990's, there was a Jesus movement that took the nation by storm. Maybe you were a part of that or maybe you saw it on the evening news. When it came to Mecosta County our church jumped on board with many other churches, got the necessary permits and set a date for a third Saturday in May of 1996. What was it? The "Jesus Parade."

Yeppir. While others marched for civil rights, gay rights, human rights and all other rights, we marched for Jesus. Our youth and children made signs that the men fashioned with wood and nails into banners. The women packed lunches and water. We loaded up our vans and cars and headed to Big Rapids.

All 300 or so of us began on the southern end of the city just north of the Ferris state campus, hiked through downtown Big Rapids and ended up at the river park. We sang songs along the way, shouted Jesus chants and handed out tracts to any that would take one. We passed the downtown restaurants and coffee shops, the supermarket and Dunkin Donuts (and I didn't even run in!).

Wow, what a day! I was so wore out and hungry I didn't think this thing would ever end. But finally we arrived to our destination and celebrated by breaking open out lunch baskets and feeding ourselves.

Now maybe you heard about that and felt guilty that you didn't go and march somewhere. That's alright, because we really didn't grow the kingdom of God by much. But what we did do is get some much needed exercise and fresh air.

I am reminded of this when I think about the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem the week before he was killed. There was great celebration at our event though I can't say it compared with the real one in Jesus day. But the day that Jesus made his grand entrance into Jerusalem there was fervor among seemingly everyone.

What I see of this great victorious entrance of Jesus Christ into the city of Jerusalem that day was something of an event that points our eyes to a greater understanding of whom Jesus was then and who Jesus is now. Truly Luke heard right: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."

Jesus brings a newness to everything in a person's life and this certainly was demonstrated when Jesus entered into Jerusalem. There was excitement in the air not because Jesus was a

  1. Jesus bringing a new kingdom.

The scripture tells us that when Jesus sat upon the young donkey that the others with him spread their coats on the ground in front of him. This was a symbol there homage to his royalty. They began to see Jesus in a new light. Jesus did not come to refit an old kingdom with new ideas. He brought something greater than a revolution. Jesus came to establish something greater than any kingdom of this world.

What kind of kingdom did Jesus come to establish?

a. The Kingdom of God.

Jesus did not ride into Jerusalem on a war-horse representing himself as a man of military means but instead chose a simply donkey that was commonly used. Donkeys are sturdy animals, not much speed but are able to weather the uneven roads and do a variety of agricultural needs.

Something else this represented was Jesus as someone holy. The holy men of that time would ride proudly on a donkey. You actually see this in the movie "The Passion of the Christ."

What Jesus ushered was not just another super power. Our world has been overrun by military and economic super powers at one time or another. Most of them selfishly driven. During Jesus earthly lifetime the world was over powered by the powerful Roman Empire.

For those who suffered under the Roman rule they saw in Jesus a different kind of kingdom. The Kingdom that Jesus came to establish was the Kingdom of God- not separated from this world but yet separate from this world. This was…

b. A Kingdom not of this world.

Jesus taught values of living that was different than those of this world's thinking. Power, money and charisma are the things that people hunger for yet Jesus taught that these values were valueless in his kingdom because here "the first shall be last and the last shall be first." In this world you build your house upon the sand. In the Kingdom of God you build your house upon the rock of confession in Jesus as Lord. This is…

c. A Kingdom that transcends our daily life.

Who we are is now different. Jesus shows us what it means to be truly human, that we can live out the holiness that we were created for and that we are set free from the sinfulness that traps men and women into despair.

This Kingdom of God transcends this world's significance and importance. No longer do we fear death because we have an eternal home in the presence of our Savior and Lord and King, Jesus Christ. No longer do we fear Satan because we are now a child of the King. The enemy can't touch you! No longer are we worrying and fretting because we can approach the King's throne of grace.

We are truly a part of a kingdom that is a living, breathing and unshakeable kingdom of God.

What do we discover in this new kingdom? We discover that…

2. Jesus Brings a New Peace.

Palm branches represented not only national pride but victory. Furthermore, by laying down these branches for our Lord, they represented honor and recognition of their submission to Jesus. This had to simply gall the Jewish leaders as they saw this. Here they saw people actually showing off that they believed Jesus to be at the very least the Savior of Israel.

Luke says that as Jesus was approaching Jerusalem he began to weep and said, "If you had known on this day what would bring you peace- now it is hidden from you." (Luke 19:42) He knew that the crowds were seeing something but his own people- especially the Jewish leadership- were not seeing Jesus for who he was. He was the one who would bring a true peace that they longed to have. But instead they trusted in their own little kingdom instead.

Jesus was not simply bringing in a whole new kingdom but he also brought peace to the hearts of those who chose to follow him.

The Hebrew word for peace has some interesting connotations. Its first and more common understanding is that of peace. When I was in Junior High we used to sing a song at the end of our concert that said, "Shalom my good friend, shalom my good friend." It signifies peace with either God or another person

The other sense of shalom has to do with paying a debt. When a debt is unpaid something is incomplete and unsatisfied. And so to pay a debt is to complete something that was incomplete. When I was lost in my sins I owed a debt for my sins when I came to God for forgiveness. Jesus' death on the cross completed the transaction for my salvation. I could not earn it or work for it because salvation is by grace. So by faith I trusted Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Now the transaction is complete and nothing is left undone. In other words, shalom is now present.

The kind of peace that Jesus brings is central to living:

a. Peace with God- no longer a child of wrath or hell, but a child of God.

This is incredible! By my confession of faith in Jesus Christ, by my salvation from sin through Jesus Christ I am now a part of this kingdom of God.

Now to be a part of a kingdom you have to have peace with the King. This peace with God takes me out of the clutches of hell and put beneath the wings of our heavenly Father.

b. Peace with self- no more guilt, shame or condemnation.

Romans 8:1- "There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." No longer do we live under a guilt complex; Jesus has paid the price for our sins. No longer does God condemn us to hell because we are now a child of his kingdom.

Romans 5:1- "Therefore since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."

c. Peace with neighbors- learning to love others with the compassion of Christ.

As Christians who now have peace with God we learn that we have a new peace with those around us. We are called to give cold cups of water to those who are thirsty. We are called to clothe the naked and feed the hungry. We are called to a whole new sense of how we are to live our lives.

Hebrews 12:14- "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord."

This verse links holiness with peacefulness with others. Do you want to serve your King with all of your heart? Then you will love others just as Jesus first loved you.

Besides a new kingdom and a new peace, Jesus does something else.

3. Jesus brings new life.

The crowds shouted: "Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."

It has been suggested by one scholar (I don't remember who) that the crowds were likely led by children singing. These children would have been young boys celebrating their bar-mitzvah.

What see though, is not just the singing and the celebration of our Lord coming in holy power with a new kingdom at hand but by entering into this kingdom, by receiving his offer of peace you are given a new life.

2 Corinthians 5:17- "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone the new has come!"

What does this new life in Christ supposed to look like?

a. A new life better than the old life.

Very rarely- if ever- you will find someone at the end of their life regretting that they served their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ all of their life. What you might hear is regret that they serve him more diligently.

This new life in Christ is better because you are not a child of hell any longer but a child of God. You no longer live with guilt, shame and condemnation but you are now filled with God's Spirit and have a joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Again I have to refer to Romans 8 and this time verse 6- "The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace." Let Jesus have full control of even the wrong thoughts that come through your mind. Stamp those things out so that you can live in the fullest of significance in Christ Jesus.

Furthermore, there is…

b. Significance through Christ's life.

My way of doing things have been a failure. But God's way of doing things don't simply bring success to my life but better yet, I receive significance. In the world, I may be somebody by their standards or I may be nobody by my standards or vice versa. However, in Jesus Christ I am now somebody. I love Romans 8:14- "those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God."

As I had explained in a Christmas sermon at Hart Wesleyan, the idea of being a son of God in this context is not about male or female. The truth of that word "son" signifies inheritance. In a few verses later it says, "Now if we are children, then we are heirs- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…" (v. 16)

We are important to God. I am important to God. You are important to God. He wants you to have such a significance as his child through Jesus Christ that he will give you an inheritance that outweighs any earthly inheritance. This means that there is…

c. An eternal life with God forever.

When you became a Christian the very eternal life of God was put into your heart. This life is the life of Christ. No longer is the air I breathe my own but my Lord's. If I should die before I wake I know that I will be in heavenly glory with my Savior.

Conclusion: Has Jesus come into your heart?

Jesus came into Jerusalem that day to usher in a whole new way of living. He brought peace then and today he offers his peace to you. Do you long to have peace in your life? Do you long to have a new life that gives you freedom to truly live without guilt and shame? Do you long to be loved for who you are not for what you do?

Then Jesus is the answer for your soul.

Do you know Jesus Christ personally? Have you accepted him as your personal Lord and Savior?

Admit that you are a sinner. This is important. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All have walked their own way. However, Jesus gives you an opportunity to receive forgiveness of your sins and begins by admitting that you are a sinner.

Believe that Jesus died for your sins. Yes, all of your sins. By admitting that you are a sinner you admit that you have committed sins. Jesus died on the cross so that you can be forgiven and receive a new life.

Confess Jesus as Lord. This is a huge step that changes everything. This means that you recognize Jesus as the one who died for your sins and that he also was raised from the dead. Since Jesus is alive, you are now made alive spiritually by his life.

Do you wish for Jesus to come into your heart today?

"I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation." 2 Corinthians 6:2




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