The Miracle of Easter

I’ve got big news: April the giraffe has given birth! Not only is the womb empty, the tomb is empty! Today, Easter is observed all over the world, but do we really understand this day that many people celebrate? Is it just another consumer holiday where we look forward to seeing everyone’s new outfits, finding eggs, and eating jelly beans, chocolate, and peeps? Maybe you enjoy Easter because it generally marks the beginning of Spring. I don’t want you to miss the miraculous and eternal significance of Easter. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, so let’s go back in time from the first Easter to a week or so earlier. As you’re turning to Luke 19:28, earlier in Luke 19, there is the miraculous transformation of Zaccheus; then there is the parable of the talents or minas and we come to what is called the triumphal entry.

Take a look at our passage from Luke 19:28-40.

Who is this Jesus? The name Jesus brings many thoughts to people’s minds.  Names are like that; they mean a lot. Sometimes nicknames are commonly associated with people and are instantaneously recognized. Old Blue Eyes – Frank Sinatra. The King of Pop – Michael Jackson. The King – Elvis. Bruce Springsteen was the Boss. Gordon Sumner is better known as Sting. Michael Jordan is known as Air Jordan. Our Secretary of Defense is James Mad Dog Mattis. There are the not so great people like Ivan the Terrible, Jack the Ripper, Bloody Mary, and Vlad the Impaler. Biblically we have John the Baptizer and Lydia the seller of purple. Few people call him Thomas without preceding it with doubting.

These descriptive names are no different for Jesus. In Matt. 1:21 an angel appeared to Joseph and told him, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus means Jehovah is salvation. Jesus most often referred to Himself as the Son of Man. He is known as the Messiah. The Light of the world. The Prince of Peace. The bright and morning star. He is the alpha and the omega. He is the redeemer, the advocate, the bread of life. He is the power of God. He is the Lamb of God, the good shepherd, the high priest. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He is the resurrection and the life. That’s who Jesus is. This Jesus was loved by people from all walks of life. This is the Jesus that the prophet Micah said would come to rule Israel; One whose, “Goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” While loved and adored by the common people, this Jesus was despised by the religious groups of the day – the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Jesus upset the apple cart; He rocked the boat; He went against the flow, He said things that were different than what those religious people had been taught and what they believed. They called Jesus a blasphemer, they judged Jesus because He hung out with the less desirables; the tax collectors and sinners. They accused Him of violating the Sabbath because He encouraged His disciples to pick grain when they were hungry. They didn’t like this, in fact, “The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him.” (Luke 6:7) Jesus taught on the Sabbath, Jesus healed on the Sabbath.

So now we know who Jesus is, but why do we need Jesus? The religious crowd of the day despised Jesus because He threatened their power, their control, their desire to be elevated above others, their desire to be better than anyone else, their desire to control their own destiny, their desire and requirement for everyone to follow the Law. The Law was an interesting thing. Various religions and even denominations attempt to control people by requiring the strict following of a set of rules and regulations. Rom. 3:19-20 says,  Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”  Even though the Pharisees wanted everyone to keep the Law, they were powerless to keep it – all the Law did was show people they were law breakers. We need Jesus because no matter how good we think we are, the Bible says there is not a single person that is good.

The Bible is very clear about our need for redemption. We need redemption because according to Rom. 6:6 we are slaves to sin. Sin owns us, it is our master. Rom. 3:23 says, “All have sinned.” 1 Jo. 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” Rom. 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” What is sin? If we redefine what sin is, it’s easier to deal with. In our culture, we conform to the idea that personal feelings are the barometer of right and wrong, of morality and truth. We seek comfort and the least resistant path. We seek to please ourselves. We listen to so called “Christian teachers” or influential people who make us feel better about following our own path, about living in sin. Instead of calling people to repentance and authentic Christian living, these people refuse to call sin what God calls sin. We have a whole new generation of people that have succumbed to cultural pressure that it’s intolerant, judgmental, and unloving to declare God’s truth as absolute. I love Paul’s description of this found in Gal. 5:19-21. “The deeds of the flesh are evident.” Evident is from the word that mean plainly recognized. These are the things of the flesh – they are incompatible with a life that follows God. Left to our own devices, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

We know who Jesus is, and we know why we need Jesus, now what should we do with Jesus? In answering this very question to the Jews that gathered in the treasury at the temple in Jo. 8:34-36: “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. ‘The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.’”         There is freedom in Christ. It’s freedom from the penalty of sin, not from the consequences. God will not and cannot allow us to get away with sin, but don’t expect to see someone’s nose grow if they tell a lie. Our cure then, comes not by redefining sin or by avoiding it. Our cure comes by admitting our sin, turning from it and receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Easter is about hope, it’s about life; it’s about fulfilled promises; it’s about Jesus. Maybe you’re thinking, “I want to be free, how do I get this freedom?” To answer that question, we need to go again to the standard of truth. Remember that each of us is a sinner, we have all done wrong. Rom. 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As with any gift, you must accept it; just because it has your name on it does not make it yours until you receive it. Maybe you’re thinking that you need to try harder to be good and righteous. No, the answer to sin is not to try harder to avoid it or change who you are. No matter how hard you try, no matter how good you are, it’s not enough. Eph. 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Rom. 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Confess is a great word. It means the same thing as agree. In other words, when you confess to God your failure to meet His standard or admit your wrongdoings, you are agreeing with Him. Maybe you’re thinking God won’t accept me like I am. Pastor Ian if you only knew about me. Are you thinking, when I give up ___________, I will be good enough and then I will follow Christ. Here’s the good news: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) We don’t have to try harder because God knows that apart from Christ, we can do nothing. (Jo. 15:5) Rom. 10:13: “For ‘WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.’” It is a guarantee. Becoming a Christian is a choice; it is a decision only you can make for yourself. Being a Christian really means being a follower of Christ. God changes your heart, changes your attitude, and you joyfully want to follow Jesus. It’s not something you do begrudgingly. Being a follower of Christ gives you freedom! You are not a Christian because you live in America or because you attend church, or because you pray or read the Bible, or go to a Bible study. You are a Christian because you have made a decision to trust in what Christ did to pay the penalty for sin; you choose to follow Christ. Paul gives us this hope in Rom. 6:10-11, “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (Jo. 1:12)

So how did we get to the point of death? What began just five or so days earlier as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt with people waving palm branches and expressing their adoration for this man from Galilee, all that adoration was overwhelmed by the crowds in Jerusalem that demanded His death by crucifixion. They got what they asked for and Jesus was sentenced to die on a cross for being found guilty of nothing. Jesus dies a horrible death on the cross and was buried in a tomb. The rest of the story is found in Luke 24:1-9. Easter is all about the penalty Jesus Christ paid to cover our sin debt. He shed His blood for you because of His incredible, unending, and unconditional love. He is not here because He is risen. Easter is all about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the new life that He can give you.

You have heard about who Jesus is and why we need Jesus. You have heard about what you should do with Jesus now there remains just one question. What will you do about what you know?

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The Kiss of Death

KissYou can listen to the podcast here.

Today marks one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar. This day along with Christmas are the most attended church services across our nation. The story of Easter is filled with all the makings of a modern day movie blockbuster. It’s filled with intrigue, action, adventure, love, and betrayal. The story is of Jesus and He will always have our focus, but there is another man who plays a significant part in one of the greatest stories ever recorded. We know Jesus had 12 disciples and the names Peter, James, and John are widely recognized. There is another man whose name will be recognized and it is his kiss of death that we will look at today. The name Judas is synonymous with hatred, betrayal, personal gain and a host of other less than ideal adjectives that could be used to describe someone. I’d like to dig into what we know about this man that will help us understand the real miracle of Easter.

Matt. 26:1-5 tells us, “When Jesus had finished all these words, He said to His disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas; and they plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him. But they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise a riot might occur among the people.”

Betrayal is something only a friend or loved one can do. A stranger or even an acquaintance can’t betray you. Betrayal can only come after you trust someone. Trust is developed after time. No one trusts strangers. Others can plot your destruction, but betrayal is something that can only come from one that has pledged you support – someone close to you. Rejection may cause hurt, but betrayal rubs salt in a wound that makes it sting. Failure may knock you down, but betrayal kicks you and stomps on you while you’re down. No one likes to be criticized or insulted, but betrayal breaks your heart like nothing else and affects you deep in your soul. We look at Judas as the picture of betrayal. He used a kiss, something that we hold precious, as a symbol of betrayal. “But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Lu. 22:48) Jesus’ favorite term for Himself is Son of Man and that’s the title He used here. I always find it strange when people refer to themselves in the third person. Why didn’t He say, “Betray Me?” Mark records the same title. This wasn’t a disagreement or misunderstanding between two friends. This was a demonstration of Judas’ total opposition to Jesus’ purpose. This gives us the scope of Judas’ betrayal – it wasn’t just against Jesus, but against humanity.

Are there people like Judas among us? I think there will always be questions about Judas’ life. Why him? Was he just an unwitting pawn in God’s plot for humanity to make the story more exciting? Judas is part of the story and I think we often give him a pass. Following this betrayal, Judas doesn’t get much space in Scripture and after all, it is all about Jesus. In simplistic terms, I think it’s easy to hurry past Judas in order to get to Jesus’ glorious resurrection. I think there’s a deeper, more meaningful purpose we need to explore. It’s a theme Jesus brought to the forefront in His earthly ministry. When you consider who felt most threatened by Jesus’ teachings, you begin to understand who’s behind the proverbial curtain. I encourage you to read Mark 11:27-33 to get an understanding of what Jesus was up against. It was the religious leaders of the day that were on the offensive against Jesus. It was the religious status quo – they made the rules, they enforced the rules, they changed the rules when necessary to ensure they stayed as the religious elite. These were the visible enemies of Christ and they knew what they were doing. Jesus goes on to tell a parable of a man that planted a vineyard. The conclusion of the parable is quite startling when Jesus asks them, “Have you not read this Scripture?” (Mark 12:10) For all of life’s challenges and problems we face, I often find myself asking the same question. Have you not read the Scripture?

And then Mark 12:12 says, “They were seeking to seize Him, and yet they feared the people, for they understood that He spoke the parable against them. And so they left Him and went away.” Judas represents something that has always been a source of confusion and danger throughout history. It is the illusion that religion provides someone a place in eternity. Judas provides us with something we are seeing all too often today. Judas shows us that you can walk with God and talk with God and yet not be a part of God. It is possible to know who Jesus is and yet not know Him as Savior. It’s possible to have the knowledge and not the relationship. This revelation was not shocking to Jesus. Throughout His ministry, He warned about the deception that eventually destroyed Judas. Jesus declared there would be wolves in sheep’s clothing. He warned of false teachers. He explained that the enemy planted tares among the wheat. A tare is a weed that resembles wheat until it matures. It may look like wheat on the outside, but it’s not. At the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:22-23) We need to remember the story of Judas and remind ourselves that an authentic relationship with Christ is not just knowing about Jesus or believing that God exists. It’s about embracing Him as our Redeemer, our Mediator, our Atonement, our payment and penalty for sin. It is about the transformational power of Christ. You cannot make a credible claim that you have a relationship with God when you do not embrace Jesus as Messiah. In Christian circles we often associate asking Jesus into your heart for salvation. In our study through Proverbs, we’ve seen numerous times that the heart is the seat of emotion, the center of who you are. When Jesus resides there, transformation must result.  Jesus didn’t just lecture about doctrine and theology. He used stories to tell the wonderful story of redemption and freedom. He wove doctrine and theology into the fabric of everything He said. He illustrated the truths of God in a manner that the people would understand. Judas’ place in history ends with the harsh reality that there really are eternal consequences for our decisions. Judas walked and talked a good game, but in the end, no transformation was evident in his life.

So what’s this all mean for us today? I think it’s a great question that many people in the church dismiss. I think the rationale is that answering this question would mean coming to a very personal conclusion about themselves, their families, and their friends. When people talk about Judas, the question is often asked, “Was Judas a Christian? Was he saved? Was he a follower?” Some would say, he lost his salvation. Others answer the question with a question, “If he wasn’t a believer, why would Jesus pick him as a disciple?” Still others might be inclined to think that the money was too great a temptation for him. Still others conclude the devil made him do it. When we examine the Scriptures, we’ll see the real answer. “But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.” (John 6:64) Later in Bethany, we see Mary anoint the feet of Jesus with some very expensive perfume. Judas protested saying that the perfume should be, “sold for 300 denarii and given to poor people.” (John 12:5) That equated to about eleven months’ wages. The Bible tells us that Judas wasn’t concerned with the poor. He was concerned because he was a thief and that meant there would be less to pilfer from the money box. In Matt. 26:14-16 we learn, “Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus.” Judas conspires against Jesus and looks for the right opportunity for the betrayal to take place. Judas knows the place where Jesus will be because he had often been there with Jesus and the other disciples and according to Jo. 18:2, he passes on that information to the chief priests. The plot against Jesus is complete and following the last supper, Jesus and His disciples minus one retreat to the place they had gone so many times before. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that the disciples were told to sit. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John a little further and asks them to keep watch while He prays. Shortly thereafter, Judas comes along with a large crowd armed with swords and clubs and Jesus is taken into custody. The verdict against Jesus was in before a real trial, without any real evidence presented because there was no real crime. Matt. 26:59-63a says, “Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward, and said, “This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’” The high priest stood up and said to Him, “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” But Jesus kept silent.” All because Judas betrayed Jesus.

Here’s what we know about Judas. He refused to believe the claims of Christ although he spent a significant amount of time with Jesus and His followers. He chastised the humble and heartfelt worship of Christ by others. He stole money that was given to support the ministry of Christ. He used his inside knowledge of Jesus and the disciples for personal gain. He betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Finally, Judas, “saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.” (Matt. 27:3-5) He dies a broken man unwilling to call upon Christ for forgiveness. After looking at the Bible, one can only conclude that Judas was lost. The words of Jesus spoken at the Sermon on the Mount ring loudly in our ears, “‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:23) Many people today will hear these same words when they stand before Christ.

How does that affect us? The story of Judas is not meant for our entertainment and it’s not supposed to be taken as some metaphorical tragedy. This is a real life story meant to show us the consequences of denying Jesus the Messiah who offers us eternal life through His death, burial, and resurrection. We need to understand what this means for us today and we can see these things or lack thereof in Judas’ life. Salvation creates positive change in a person’s life. The Bible is filled with examples of people who had a life-altering encounter with Christ. Judas never changed because he was never saved. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36) God is not against the rich. The Bible reveals that Judas’ greed enslaved him and was a big factor in controlling his actions. Here’s a big one. You can deceive people into thinking you are something you are not. I picture the surprised looks on the faces of the disciples during that last supper when Jesus tells them, “Truly I say to you, one of you will betray me . . . They each began to say, “Surely not I, Lord.?” (Matt. 26:22-23) This was a man that was at every meeting, was involved in everything the disciples were involved in yet did not know Jesus as Savior. He went through the motions of being a follower. It’s possible to fool others, it’s possible to fool me, but you cannot fool God.

One final question asked in Heb. 2:3, “How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” The answer is we cannot escape in ourselves. Jesus Christ is the only way of escaping the judgment for our sins. What do we do? Make the decision to become a follower of Christ today. Not like Judas where he just went with Christ and played the part. The longer you put the decision off, the harder it will be to respond. Your heart grows harder without Christ. Don’t confuse knowing about Christ with knowing Christ. Getting smarter is not the same thing as saving faith. If Christ is not your Savior, then call upon Him to save you today. Judas saw Jesus give sight to the blind, make the lame walk, heal the sick. He was there serving alongside the other disciples that fed 5000 people from just five loaves and two fishes. Judas saw Jesus walk on the water. He heard Jesus say, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.” (John 6:35-36) Judas knew that Jesus claimed to be the Savior of the world, but Jesus was not his Savior. Don’t make the same mistake. Make that decision today.

The Miracle of Easter

CrossYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we checked out Solomon’s words regarding wisdom and learned that no matter the path you’re on, there’s always opportunity to get back on the right path. Maybe you’re here and you’re thinking, I don’t know the right path to take. I didn’t even know there was a path. Today is your lucky day! Today, Easter is celebrated all over the world, but do we really understand this day that many people celebrate? Is it just another consumer holiday where we look forward to seeing everyone’s new outfits and enjoy chocolate and jelly beans? Maybe you enjoy Easter because it generally marks the beginning of Spring. I don’t want you to miss the miraculous and eternal significance of Easter. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s go back in time from the first Easter to a week or so earlier.

Take the time to read our passage for this morning found in Luke 19:28-40.

So who is this Jesus? The name Jesus brings many thoughts to people’s minds. Names are like that; they mean a lot. Sometimes nicknames are commonly associated with people and are instantaneously recognized. Old Blue Eyes – Frank Sinatra. The King of Pop – Michael Jackson. The King – Elvis. Michael Jordan is known as Air Jordan. There are the not so great people like Ivan the terrible , Jack the Ripper, Bloody Mary, and Vlad the Impaler. Biblically we have John – the Baptizer. Lydia – the seller of purple. Few people call him just Thomas without preceding it with doubting. These descriptive names are no different for Jesus.

In Matt. 1:21 an angel appeared to Joseph and told him, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, f He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus means Jehovah is salvation. Jesus most often referred to Himself as the Son of Man. He is known as the Messiah. The Light of the world. The Prince of Peace. The bright and morning star. He is the alpha and the omega. He is the redeemer, the advocate, the bread of life. He is the power of God. He is the Lamb of God, the good shepherd, the high priest. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He is the resurrection and the life. That’s who Jesus is. This Jesus was loved by people of all walks of life. This is the Jesus that the prophet Micah said would come to rule Israel, One whose, “Goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” While loved and adored by the common people, this Jesus was despised by the religious groups of the day – the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Jesus upset the apple cart; He rocked the boat; He went against the flow, He said things that were different than what those religious people had been taught and what they believed. They called Jesus a blasphemer, they judged Jesus because He hung out with the less desirables; the tax collectors and sinners. They accused Him of violating the Sabbath because He encouraged His disciples to pick grain when they were hungry. They didn’t like this, in fact, “The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him.” (Luke 6:7) Jesus taught on the Sabbath, Jesus healed on the Sabbath.

So now we know who Jesus is, but why do we need Jesus? The religious crowd of the day despised Jesus because He threatened their power, their control, their desire to be elevated above others, their desire to be better than anyone else, their desire to control their own destiny, their desire and requirement for everyone to follow the Law. The Law was an interesting thing. Various religions and even denominations attempt to control people by requiring the strict following of a set of rules and regulations. Rom. 3:19-20 tells us, “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” Even though the Pharisees wanted everyone to keep the Law, they were powerless to keep it – all the Law did was show people they were law breakers. We need Jesus because no matter how good we think we are, the Bible says there is not a single person that is good. The Bible is very clear about our need for redemption. We need redemption because according to Rom. 6:6 we are slaves to sin. Sin owns us, it is our master. Rom. 3:23 says, “All have sinned.” 1 Jo. 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” Rom. 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.”

What is sin? If we redefine what sin is, it’s easier to deal with. In our culture, we conform to the idea that personal feelings are the barometer of right and wrong, of morality and truth. We seek comfort and the least resistant path. We seek to please ourselves. We listen to so called “Christian teachers” or influential people who make us feel better about following our own path, about living in sin. Instead of calling people to repentance and authentic Christian living, these people refuse to call sin what God calls sin. We have a whole new generation of people that have succumbed to cultural pressure that it’s intolerant, judgmental, and unloving to declare God’s truth as absolute. I love Paul’s description of this found in Gal. 5:19-21 that says, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Evident is from the word that mean plainly recognized. These are the things of the flesh – they are incompatible with a life that follows God. Left to our own devices, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

We know who Jesus is, and we know why we need Jesus, now finally, what should we do with Jesus? In answering this very question to the Jews that gathered in the treasury at the temple in Jo. 8:34-36: “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. ‘The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.’” There is freedom in Christ. It’s freedom from the penalty of sin, not from the consequences. God will not and cannot allow us to get away with sin, but don’t expect to see someone’s nose grow if they tell a lie. We live in such a hectic, no time for anything world; a world where we seek instant gratification. Our cure then, comes not by redefining sin or by avoiding it. Our cure comes by admitting our sin, turning from it and receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Easter          is about hope, it’s about life; it’s about fulfilled promises; it’s about Jesus. Maybe you’re thinking, “I want to be free, how do I get this freedom?” To answer that question, we need to go again to the standard of truth. Remember that each of us is a sinner, we have all done wrong. Rom. 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As with any gift, you must accept it; just because it has your name on it does not make it yours until you receive it. Maybe if we just try harder to be good and righteous. No, the answer to sin is not to try harder to avoid it or change who you are. No matter how hard you try, no matter how good you are, it’s not enough. Eph. 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Rom. 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Confess is a great word. It means the same thing as agree. In other words, when you confess to God your failure to meet His standard or admit your wrongdoings, you are agreeing with Him.

Maybe you’re thinking God won’t accept you like you are. Pastor Ian if you only knew about me. Maybe you’re thinking, when I give up ___________, I will be good enough and I’ll trust in Christ. Here’s the good news: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) We don’t have to try harder because God knows that apart from Christ, we can do nothing. (Jo. 15:5) Rom. 10:13 says, “For ‘WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.’” You are that whoever. It is a guarantee. Becoming a Christian is a choice; it is a decision only you can make for yourself. Being a Christian really means being a follower of Christ. God changes your heart, changes your attitude, and you joyfully want to follow Jesus. It’s not something you do begrudgingly. Being a follower of Christ gives you freedom! You are not a Christian because you live in America or because you attend church, or because you pray or read the Bible, or go to a Bible study. You are a Christian because you have made a decision to trust in what Christ did to pay the penalty for sin; you choose to follow Christ. Paul gives us this hope in Rom. 6:10-11, “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (Jo. 1:12) So how did we get to the point of death? What began just five or so days earlier as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt with people waving palm branches and expressing their adoration for this man from Galilee, was overwhelmed by the crowds in Jerusalem that demanded His death by crucifixion. They got what they asked for and Jesus was sentenced to die on a cross for being found guilty of nothing. Jesus dies a horrible death on the cross and was buried in a tomb.

The rest of the story is found in Luke 24:1-9. Easter is all about the penalty Jesus Christ paid to cover our sin debt. He shed His blood for you, because of His incredible, unending, unconditional love. He is not here because He is risen. Easter is all about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the new life that He can give you.

You have heard about who Jesus is and why we need Jesus. You have heard about what you should do with Jesus now there remains just one question. What will you do about what you know?Risen

A Tale of Two Men

TransformationYou can listen to the podcast here.

This time of year brings about lots of changes. The trees get new leaves, the flowers bloom, and the grass comes back to life. Our students took a break from school and eagerly await summer vacation. Is this what Easter has become in our culture? Is it just another day, another time of year that bridges the gap to something better? If Easter represents the risen Christ, what significance does that hold for us today?

We are in an age where simple profession of faith has replaced transformation. Churches seek the right mix of charismatic leaders to draw the crowds. Find the right mix of musicians, creative teams, and speakers and it doesn’t even have to be a Christian church. Elaborate, high energy worship services filled with emotion seem to draw the bigger crowds and people look around and conclude, “God must be doing something here.” In order to more effectively understand Easter, we need to go back in time. Does the resurrected Christ represent the same thing today as it did back in the first century? For many people in our culture, Easter is part of the semi-annual pilgrimage to church. For others, it represents the culmination of the truth that was foretold from the beginning of time. The church was growing dramatically in the first century and continues to grow at a rapid rate in countries where it is most dangerous to be a follower. I want to look at a first century man that was considered extraordinarily religious, yet was not a Christian.

This is a tale of two people. Stephen was an example of Christ like behavior and our story picks up as his life is ending. I hope you’ll take the time to look up the Scripture references. Look at Acts 7:51-57. Stephen was brought before the religious leaders of the day. They were the Sanhedrin, the elders, and the scribes and he was brought before them because of his testimony of Christ. He told them the truth about the history of Israel telling the leaders about Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David. They had received the law yet did not keep it. This was total hypocrisy and when Stephen pointed this fact out, they became outraged. So outraged that they took him outside the city and began stoning him where we focus on a man whose story is just beginning.

Look at Acts 7:58-60. Who is this cruel, wicked, evil, heartless man that was so opposed to Stephen that he just stood there? His name was Saul. Stephen and Saul were polar opposites. Stephen is full of the Holy Spirit and Saul is without the Spirit. But Saul is more than an innocent bystander. Keep reading Acts 8:1-3. There was no coercion for Saul, he heartily agreed with what was happening. Heartily means loudly vigorous and cheerful. Think cheering like at a sporting event. The persecution of the church in Jerusalem began that day at the hands of Saul forcing Christians to scatter and Saul begins, “ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” Ravaging means to cause extensive damage, to devastate. Saul wasn’t content to do this in public settings; no he went in people’s homes and dragged them out and it didn’t matter if they were men or women, he was an equal opportunity hater. To say that he was evil incarnate might be an understatement. But something happened in his life that would change the course of his life and change the course for humanity. Read some more from Acts 9:1-22.

Saul is an example of a total life make over. I want to compare his life prior to Christ with his life following his decision to follow Christ. The key for Saul was written in v. 18, “And he got up and was baptized.” We have to understand the biblical meaning of this word. It wasn’t just that he got put under the water. Biblical baptism comes after a change of mind and heart. It is the outward demonstration of what happened in Saul’s heart. It was a miracle. When you look at Saul’s life, there was a complete and total transformation that could only be attributed to the power of the Spirit of God. Look what happened immediately following Saul’s baptism. Read Acts 9:19b-22. Saul went from destroying Christians to preaching the risen Christ. What he was saying so upset the religious crowd – the Jews – that they developed a plot to kill him. The tables are now turned on Saul. The hunter now becomes the hunted.

In order to protect him, look what happens in Acts 9:26-30. We don’t hear anything about Saul until Acts 11 when Barnabas was sent to get him in Tarsus. Are you thinking, that’s just two chapters over? Even though it’s just two chapters, those two chapters represent about 14 years. Another year passes before the Bible calls this man Paul in Acts13:9. We don’t know all that went on in those silent years of Paul’s life, but I’m sure he knew firsthand the meaning behind 1 Cor. 2:14 as he wrote, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” We often think that Saul got saved, God changed his name to Paul and he packed his bags and began his first missionary journey. That just isn’t so. There was a period of years where he must have studied the Scriptures with fresh insight and renewed vigor. We know he taught some and shared the Gospel during that time. He was preparing for ministry during the time he was engaged in ministry. We do get insight that God had big plans for Paul from Acts 9:15, but for about 15 years, Paul did what he could where he could. Paul had a lot of baggage and I’m sure people had their doubts about his authenticity. This is evident in his later writings. Paul mentions his turnaround I his letters to the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Philippians, and to Timothy.

There was such a radical transformation in Paul’s life that after his first recorded sermon (which was off the cuff) in Acts 13, the people begged him to speak again the following Sabbath. Look at Acts 13:42-44. That kind of turnaround can only be attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul went from being a persecutor of the church to one that was persecuted because of his faith. Why should we expect less of modern day people that are indwelt by the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead that we celebrate today? One last passage from Phil. 3:3-6. You see, Saul was very religious, but had no relationship with Christ. His attempts to get to God were fruitless because Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (Jo. 14:6) That’s the key to get to God. Saul resisted Jesus for the same reason we resist Jesus. We think we can make it on our own. We think we make the rules, we think we’re doing good and right in our own eyes. Easter is about the resurrection. 1 Cor. 15:17 says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” Easter is about acknowledging what Christ did on our behalf and trusting that His words are true.

The teaching of Jesus was countercultural and it still is. We talk about self sufficiency and Christ speaks of total dependence. Living authentically for Christ is the best way to show others He is alive. Saul was a religious zealot, Paul considered himself the chiefest of sinners. That can only be accomplished through the work of a holy and perfect God. We don’t see a period where he did nothing for Jesus, we don’t see a period where he was too busy to serve, too busy to study, pray, or be with fellow believers. We don’t see where he ever quit or gave up when things got hard or didn’t go as expected. For all the incredible things Paul did through the power of God, his main purpose in life, his main goal is found in Phil. 3:7-11. It should be our goal too.

Living Powerfully

God's PowerListen to the podcast here.

Today is Easter, a day we celebrate the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, of our Messiah. How was He raised from the dead? Through God’s limitless power. As we’ve studied Peter’s second letter, we’ve seen that there are certain expectations for God’s children. 2 Pet. 1:5-7 provide a list of qualities that are expected to be present and increasing in our lives. What we don’t see is power. We talk about powerful people in the world. Every year Forbes magazine provides a list of the most powerful people in the world. They use four dimensions to determine this:

  1. Power over people.
  2. Power over financial resources.
  3. Power in multiple spheres.
  4. Active use of power.

Not surprisingly, President Obama is listed as the most powerful. Angela Merkel (German Chancellor) is next, followed by Vladimir Putin, Bill Gates, and the Pope. People pursue power, seek power, want power, but real power is not found in political or financial spheres. One of the most incredible attributes of God is that He is infinitely powerful, and He chooses to share His power with us if we’ll only let Him.

1 Cor. 1:18 tells us, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

The word power is found in 113 times in the N. T. It is an awesome word. It’s used to describe God as the most powerful force in existence. It was the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead. That’s what Easter is – it is a resurrection. That same word is used to describe God’s children too.

  • Rom. 15:13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
  • Acts 6:8, “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.”
  • 1 Thes. 1:5, “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”

The God that raised Jesus from the dead doesn’t hoard His power. He gives it away while we tend to hoard our power and we don’t want to waste it. Turn off the lights, change the thermostat, consolidate errand to save gas, make sure your tires are properly inflated. God wants us to have His power. When we get anxious, He gives us peace. When we burn the candle at both ends, He gives us the strength to go on. When we lack courage, “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:7)

Who needs power? Who wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of God’s generous offer to infuse us with his supernatural strength? For many Christians, it seems like the power has gone out. We don’t have the energy to face the demands of life. We don’t have the wisdom to make sound biblical choices. We don’t seem to have the will power to avoid the temptations of life. We don’t seem to have the hope to face the tragedies of life. We don’t seem to have the resolve to do the right things in life. We lack a desire to participate in the things of God and the church.

So what are we to do? If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, you may remember when they installed electricity in the Abbey. The Dowager didn’t see a need for that and later commented “First electricity, now telephones. Sometimes I feel as if I’m living in an H.G. Wells novel.” In Spiderman 2, Dr. Octavius was able to sustain a fusion reaction and said that he created “The power of the sun, in the palm of his hand.” Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor always wanted more power. Submarines typically operate using just a small percentage of the available power. I think that’s the way we are. We’re connected to an infinite power source, but we’re only utilizing a small percentage of what’s available. We’ve trusted Christ for salvation, but like the Lady Dowager of Downton Abbey, we resist the change.

How can we fully utilize the power? What if we became like Tom Bodett and we left the light on? What if we maintained the connection with the power source? Harnessing God’s power is not like making sure you have the breaker on, or the extension cord plugged in. It’s not about reciting some magic words and then you’re zapped. We must recognize and accept that we need God’s power. Too many professing Christians are trying to live life separated from God’s power. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Cor. 12:9) You’ve heard the saying that God helps those that help themselves? Utter nonsense. His power is perfected in our weakness. When we recognize we need His power, He is able to provide the help we need. When we try to do things in our power, we just spin our wheels. There’s a lot of effort, but no movement.

We need to recognize God’s presence. 1 Chr. 16:11-12 reminds us to, Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face continually. Remember His wonderful deeds which He has done, His marvels and the judgments from His mouth.” Once we recognize our own weakness, we need to remember that our God is all powerful and who will infuse His children with strength. Ps. 18:1, “I love You, O Lord, my strength.”  Is. 40:29, “He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power.” It’s not us, it’s Him!

We need to align ourselves with the will of God. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (Jo. 15:5) Sometimes we seek God’s strength for wrong reasons. We want to accomplish our goals, our desires, our agenda, and many times we don’t seek God’s direction. God’s strength enables us to accomplish His will. Apart from God, we can’t do anything. Ask God for His power. James 4:2 says, “You do not have because you do not ask.” Tell God what you need. He already knows. Be obedient to God. Times will come when we don’t feel like God is there. We don’t feel like He loves us or cares for us. We must trust. Heb. 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Faith doesn’t just mean believe and that’s it. It means believing and acting in accordance with what we know.

That’s how you stay connected with God’s power. Do you have the power? You are my strength when I am weak, You are the treasure that I seek, You are my all in all.

Is There Eternal Life?

You can listen to the podcast here.

Today is Easter. This day is of great significance in the life of every Christian. With all the Easter sales around, non-Christians often ask the question, “Is there life after death?” Job asked the question, “If a man dies, will he live again?” It’s a question most people ask themselves at some point. There are people that seek to prolong their lives here on earth as long as they can. Jesus asked the question, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36) The longer you live, the more you realize that life is short. Today we’ll answer the question, “Is there eternal life?”

Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:1-2, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.”

Paul begins this passage with what Jesus did. The word gospel here comes from the word that means good news. The resurrection of Jesus who is the Christ provides proof positive that there is life after death. Verses 3-5 contain the foundation of our Christian faith. It says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” Prophecy in the Old Testament predicted that Messiah was going to die. It said that Jesus would be led like a sheep to the slaughter. His death was not the accidental death of a martyr. It was the deliberate death of a person who offered His life as a sacrifice. On that first Easter morning Jesus Christ walked out of that tomb as a living being. Later when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb to anoint His body, they discovered the stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. In Luke 24:6-7 the angel said, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again?”

Paul goes on to say, “And that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” (1 Cor. 15:5-7) After the resurrected Christ appeared to all those people, in v. 8 Paul says, “I know that Jesus lives because I saw Him myself.” Before Paul met the Lord Jesus Christ, he was known as Saul. When Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus, Saul was not the great man of God that wrote 13 books of the N. T. He was on his way to Damascus with letters in his hand from the high priest giving him permission to bind anyone that believed in the truth of Jesus and bring them to Jerusalem. Acts 9 tells us how God intervened in his life and radically transformed him into the man that we have come to know and love named Paul. I encourage you to read this incredible transformation. And now Paul is confused as to why people would deny the reality of life after death. He says, “Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say, there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:12) Jesus is not standing here and I would guess that no one in here would say they’ve ever seen Jesus physically, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist. We’ve got plenty of Scriptural evidence as well as non-biblical evidence to support this fact. Maybe you discount the Bible as the true Word of God. What I know is what Christ has done and continues to do in my life so if you tried to tell me that Jesus did not rise again, I would take exception with you. It’s not just me though, Jesus has radically transformed millions of people. Each person has the choice to believe or not. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) Jesus proved there is life after death in His own life and He’ll prove it in your life too.

If there is life after death, what is it like? Great question. In 1 Cor. 15:20 Jesus demonstrated this life after death. Paul wrote, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.” (1 Cor. 15:20) First fruits refers to the O.T. practice of giving the first part of the harvest to the Lord as an offering. Since this is the first part of the harvest, more is to come. In other words, Paul is saying that the resurrection of Christ is not the one and only resurrection, it is the first of what is to come. “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (1 Jo. 3:2) If you want to know what it’s like for a Christian to die and live again, look at Jesus. There are two things we need to know about this life after death. First, there was a separation of the body. Jesus’ last words before He died were, “Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT.” (Lu. 23:46) His body died and was subsequently buried, but His Spirit went to be with the Father. To the thief hanging next to Him, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Lu. 23:43) When our bodies die, our spirits live on in eternity. Paul was emphatic in 1 Cor. 5:8, “We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” Second, there is a resurrection of the body. We don’t come back to earth to take over some random person’s body, and we don’t spend a period of time in an undisclosed location to have our sins purged so we can go to heaven. Jesus left behind the cloth that His body was wrapped in. After three days He came back into the tomb to re-inhabit the body He left behind, but it had been changed. He showed people the nail scars in His hands and feet. But it’s not only Jesus that will be resurrected. “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” (Jo. 5:28-29) What about those that have been cremated or blown up in a war? Remember that it was God that spoke the universe and all that it contains into existence. He made man from the dust of the ground; putting together a body is no big challenge for Him. Following the death of Lazarus, Jesus told Martha that He would take care of it. Martha protested, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.  Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (Jo. 11:39-40) At the place where Lazarus was buried, Jesus commanded, “Lazarus, come forth.” The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth.” (Jo. 11:43-44) Four days, four weeks, four months, four years, 4000 years is all the same. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (1 Thes. 4:16-17) Some might not be able to wrap their brain around that; perhaps it’s too strange. How a baby comes into being is pretty strange, yet no one would deny it. One egg, one sperm coming together – invisible to the naked eye. They form a cell that divides, and divides, and divides. 18 days later a tiny heartbeat begins. Some nine months later and out comes a little human being completely furnished with little hands and feet. Every life that is conceived is miraculous; but it happens so often that we dismiss it.

After Jesus was resurrected, He appeared to the disciples in the upper room. Read Luke 24:37-48. Jesus ate after He rose from the dead. I’m thinking we’ll be able to do the same. We’ll not be floating around playing a harp wearing a halo. We’ll have bodies like Christ’s resurrected body. 1 Cor 15:35  says, “But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” Paul responds to this question. Take a look at 1 Cor. 15:36-42. Fish were created with scales so they can live in the water. Birds were created with hollow bones and with feathers so they could fly. God is certainly able to create us with an immortal body that will never perish, spoil, or fade. So if you’re old and decrepit, you’ll be renewed. If you’re blind, you’ll be able to see; the deaf shall hear again. Paul finishes by saying, “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” (1 Cor. 15:54-55) Just as the disciples recognized Jesus, we’ll recognize one another and the people that have gone before us. There are numerous Old and New Testament examples that confirm this.

So just one question remains. How can we attain eternal life? If life after death could be purchased, what would you pay for it? If I told you all the glorious things of heaven, what you would experience there, who you would meet, what kind of house you would live in: how much would it be worth to you? If I could guarantee that your life after death would be better than the life you now enjoy, how much would you be willing to spend on it? Fortunately, heaven can be purchased: unfortunately we can’t pay the price. Heaven is the dwelling place of God, a place of perfection, and we forfeited our right to be there because of our sin. The price for entry is the blood of a perfect person, and we just don’t measure up. We can’t earn heaven and we don’t deserve heaven, but the good news is that Jesus Christ stepped in to pay the debt for us. 1 Cor. 15:56-57 says, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The victory comes from believing in what Jesus did on the cross. So why would you refuse this great offer? We have a deep love for sin. On one hand, eternal life doesn’t cost anything. On the other hand, it costs everything. God’s desire is for us to turn from sin to Him. We leave our past behind us and become new. A new life, new goals, new desires, new passions all put in our hearts by a loving, holy, and perfect God. Being a follower of Christ is not in what you have to give up; that’s the wrong perspective. Personal pride gets in the way of this great offer. There are plenty of smart people in this room and maybe you’re too smart for your own good. There is lots of evidence to verify the resurrection of Jesus, but you weren’t there so maybe you doubt. You weren’t at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but you believe it happened. It takes faith.

Eph. 2:8-9 reminds us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Faith is a simple yet difficult thing. It is a choice.

The Wondrous Cross

You can listen to the podcast here.

This is a great day in the life of every Christian – every person. It is Easter – a day we celebrate the greatest triumph ever recorded. It is a day that we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus who is the Christ. For some, the cross is a nicely polished piece of jewelry that is worn around the neck. For others, the cross is what is displayed in the church building.

I think many of us may gloss over the events leading up to this event and why it is the most important event in history. Perhaps it’s too personal; after all it was your sin and my sin that drove God to send Jesus to die for us. Maybe it’s the unfathomable pain He endured,  maybe it’s the blood that poured out of His body in order to pay the penalty of sin for you and me. Maybe you don’t really understand the importance of that wondrous cross. I pray this morning you’ll understand it and have a deeper appreciation for our Messiah.  Before we get to the cross, we need to look at the early days of Jesus’ public life.

In order to understand the message of the wondrous cross, we need to go back in time. Very little is recorded about the life of Jesus prior to coming on the scene around the year 30. We know that He was born of a virgin and lived in Nazareth. We know He grew and became strong.  He increased in wisdom and grace. We know His parents brought Him to Jerusalem every year for Passover and when He was 12, His parents left Jerusalem without Him. After three days, they found Him in the temple where He was listening and asking questions in the middle of the teachers. The people were amazed at His answers. For the next 18 years of Jesus’ life, the Gospels are silent. Jesus comes back into the public eye from relative obscurity when He walked up to John at the Jordan River. The baptism of Christ is recorded in Matt. 3, Mark 1, and Luke 3. Following His baptism, Jesus is tempted by the devil and after John is taken into custody, Jesus leaves Nazareth and settles into Capernaum and begins His public ministry. Matt. 4:17 says, “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This is the message that He preached. Of course there are other great doctrines and principles Jesus taught. But the primary theme of Christ is repentance. Luke 5:1-11 tells us the story of Jesus calling Peter, James, and John to follow Him. These men willingly chose to abandon their jobs; they chose to follow a man they did not even know. But this was no ordinary man. This man was the One that John called the Word. This man was the One that when John saw Him coming to the Jordan River, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

Over the next three years, Jesus was on a mission throughout Galilee. News about Him spread and large crowds gathered wherever He went. Jesus went on to choose 8 other men that would willingly follow Him. They witnessed firsthand the miracles Jesus performed. They saw people fed, they saw people healed, they saw demons cast out, they saw cripples walk, they saw people’s lives transformed by the Man they loved, by the Man that loved them. What Jesus taught was radical.  It was controversial. It upset the religious leaders of the day. Why? The message Jesus brought focused not on what you do to reach God, but what God did to reach you. Fast forward to Mark 14:1 that says, “Now the Passover and Unleavened Bread were two days away; and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to seize Him by stealth and kill Him.” The religious leaders wanted to secretly seize Jesus and kill Him and so the stage is set for the most incredible event in human history.

First things first. Why did Christ have to come to earth? Too often we put the cart before the horse in our explanation of salvation. We talk about the depravity or sinfulness of man, but the beginning of salvation rests in the righteousness of God. In the introduction of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he wrote that, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Rom. 1:18-21) Gentiles failed to understand their inherent knowledge of God. Jews failed to live up to their covenant relationship with God. Rom. 3:19 tells us that all are, “accountable to God.” This teaching was problematic for the religious leaders because it revealed that their way did not effectively deal with the fundamental problem of sin. Rom. 1:17 says, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” Righteousness is not found in maintaining or following a set of rules found in the Law. “The righteousness of God is revealed.” But the religious leaders were lacking in this area of righteousness. So what’s the answer?

The wondrous cross. For the Apostle Paul, the cross is the defining point in theology. It is the point from which everything else is drawn. To put it is simply as I can, the central theological message is summed up with two words Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 1:23: “Christ crucified.” It was at the cross that God accomplished something extraordinary. Something beyond comprehension; something that was and is the defining moment in eternity.  The cross is something we have come to know as God’s demonstration of His great love for mankind. Paul refines his purpose by saying, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor. 15:3)

Let’s look at one of the greatest passages of the Bible found in Rom. 3:21-24. Martin Luther wrote in the margin of his Bible that this passage of Scripture was, “The chief point, and the very central place of the Epistle, and of the whole Bible.” Why is this passage so incredible? It begins with two great words: “But now.” It introduces the beginning of something new, a new way, a new relationship, a new covenant. “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.”  It’s apart from the Law, apart from our doing or not doing. This righteousness was witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. This is another way to say the Old Testament. The O.T. points to something God would do in the future that would provide humanity with the solution to this fundamental sin problem. The O.T. points to the new covenant found in Jesus Christ. This is a radical plan. Humanity tends to be legalistic. We have laws in America with people elected to make new laws; we have judges to interpret the law, and courts to declare innocence or guilt. We have law enforcement agencies on the city, county, state, and federal levels. Our society is set up to follow the laws and that’s why this teaching is so radical. For God, it’s not what we do, but rather what He did. No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by keeping the Law. Paul said, “Apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested.” If man developed a plan to get to God it most certainly would include what we must do. The salvation plan isn’t measured by what we do to attain righteousness. God’s system is different. God doesn’t need or want our help in doing what we could never do. Paul says, “Even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.” No difference between Jew and Gentile; slave or free, church member or not. Rich or poor; black or white; good or bad. There is no difference because, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That word “all” is an interesting word. It means the whole quantity or extent and in this context Paul is talking about humanity. Everyone of us has violated God’s moral Law. We’ve lied; we’ve hated; we’ve taken something that didn’t belong to us. We’ve been angry, bitter, jealous, and proud.

God’s standard is perfection and even just one little slip in our actions or thoughts brings us short of what God requires in us. No matter how hard we try, no matter what we do, no matter how religious we try to be, we just don’t measure up. But God made a way to give His righteousness to us through His Son Jesus Christ. “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” That righteousness is offered as a free gift. It cannot be purchased or earned. If it could, it wouldn’t be a gift. This is an inherent problem for some people. It’s hard to accept righteousness as a gift. We want to do something to earn God’s favor. This sounds reasonable, right? After all, we work in order to earn wages. We go to the grocery store and buy food; we don’t expect it for free. We live in a culture where money is the motivator; it is what makes the world go around. Whoever has the most money; has the most power.

God’s system is different than the world’s system. We have been justified. That means we have been declared righteous. You might ask, “But how can this be?” This is the incredible truth of the wondrous cross! God offers this righteousness as a gift because of His great love for you. God offers this gift to you by grace – undeserved favor. It may be free to you, but it wasn’t free to God. The redemption that He offers to us for free cost Him His one and only Son.

How did it happen? Paul describes it back in Rom. 3:25-26. This act of redemption occurred for everyone to see. Jesus Christ was our propitiation. Propitiation means removal of wrath. Some would argue that God’s wrath is old fashioned, that God is a God of love and would never condemn anyone. God’s wrath is spoken of 580 times in the O.T. and nearly 200 times in the N.T. God is absolutely right in His view over sin. What kind of parents would you be if you didn’t care about your children’s wrong doing? What kind of heavenly Father would He be if He ignored our wrong doing – our sin?  It is God through Paul that said, “all have sinned.” You see it’s not a matter of guilt – we are all guilty. God declared that we are guilty and the punishment is to be death, because that’s the right thing to do.    That’s the complete wonder of the cross. Even though we are guilty, God made a way to restore our relationship with Him and be declared righteous at no cost to us. What God did is much more than a pardon; there’s still the conviction of the crime, but a pardon removes the punishment. What God offers is so much more. We are declared righteous; free from the accusations; free from the guilt, free from the punishment. This occurred on the cross.

So what happened on that day nearly 2000 years ago? It is recorded in Matt. 26:59-66 through Matt. 28:10. Please take the time to read the conclusion to this great story.

It was for you that Jesus died. Paul concludes back in Romans by saying, Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” It is faith – trust in what Jesus did. What Jesus did for you.