Dawning Of a New Day – Easter Sunday

4 DAYS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: Dawning of a New Day     1 Thess. 4:13-18  

Sometimes when we gather for Easter, we sing songs about life and resurrection, and it can feel a little bit like we’re telling an incomplete story.  We all know that, in the end, it’s coming, SOMEDAY, but TODAY there’s some stings, aren’t there?  Life is awe inspiring, and it can be awful.  Life is painful, and it’s powerful.  Life can be holy in one moment and harrowing in the next.   That’s the life that we live, isn’t it?  We have these moments of bliss and then we have the reality of brokenness.

If you’ve ever been on a vacation and if you’re anything like me, I’m a time guy.  I always want to know how many days until the vacation, how many days are we going to be on vacation, and then once we hit halfway point on the vacation. . . . .anybody with me?  I start doing a time clock in my mind of ‘this is great but it’s going to end.’  Halfway point, the day is great.  Next day, it clicks over and ‘oh no, it’s ending!’  The beauty of being there is sort of overshadowed by the reality that life’s coming again.  It’s temporary.  I think so much of our lives carry with it that in the shadows we hear this voice saying, “It’s good, but it’s temporary.”  It’s good, but eventually you’ll have to say good-bye.  It’s beautiful, but eventually you’ll breathe your last breath.

The Hebrew poets of old had this way of talking about death.  They sort of had this word picture.  The cords of death entangled me…  {They wrapped around me.  They were all encompassing and, at times, it was all I could think about.}  the anguish of the grave came over me;  {It’s like this voice lurking in the shadows that says it’s coming for us all.}  I was overcome by distress and sorrow.  (Psalm 116:3)    That these cords of death that entangle all of us, eventually, they overcome us with sorrow.  If you’ve ever buried a loved one, if you’ve packed up their room, you know those cords, don’t you?  The Scriptures had this way of talking about them that help us relate to. . . . .okay, so the Bible’s invitation isn’t to just fast forward through the pain of life.  It’s not to just fast forward through things like a miscarriage, through things like a death, through things like a loss of a job or livelihood that we thought was our plan, or a loss of a dream.  The Bible doesn’t call us to just ignore these things, and here’s the great news of Easter—Easter doesn’t ask you to ignore those things either.  There’s a reason that these cords don’t feel natural.  It’s because you were never intended to experience them.  The reason we never get use to death is because we have this residual, eternal residue within all of us, where we go, this isn’t right.  Something’s messed up about that.  {Will you look up a me a moment?  Lean in.  Here’s the reason why.}  This was not a part of God’s original design.

As we read in the Scriptures, in the very first part of the Bible, in Genesis 1, you have this creation narrative where God creates and he goes, it’s good.  He does that six days and on the sixth day, he steps back and goes, “Oh, it’s VERY good.”  If you’re God, you can high five yourself and that’s what he does.  He goes, I’ve done something pretty amazing here.  I’m awesome.  I’m God.  Do you know what was NOT a part of his original design?  Death.  Sorrow.  Pain.  We have inside of us this longing to shed these cords, but we all know that it’s not easy and it’s not even possible.  We try different things, don’t we?  We try rationalization, where we go, “Well, everything happens for a reason.”  In the back of our mind we can’t think of a reason it would happen.  Then we start to rationalize with ourselves like, if we believe that about everything in our life, then we have to believe that about everything in the world, then we have things like the Holocaust, and things like tsunamis, and God’s got to be more creative than that, right?  Everything happens for a reason.  God can make reason out of terrible things, he can bring good out of bad situations, but not everything happens for a reason.  Sometimes the reason is the world is broken.  Sometimes, especially in Christian circles, it’s like hey, just turn that frown upside down.  God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good.  Sometimes you just feel like well, the cords of death are entangling me.  Some of us try to out run the cords.  We plan the next adventure.  We live for the next momentary bliss, the next encounter, the next great meal, that makes us pause for a few moments and go, man, life is beautiful, life is great.  Don’t hear me wrong, it is, but that’s momentary, isn’t it?

If you’re here this morning and you’re going, Paulson, thanks for the uplifting Easter message.  You’re welcome, let’s close in prayer.  No, I think we sing about the end of the story, but we live in the middle.  So let’s talk about that.  Let’s enter in.  Let’s ask the question, for those who first followed the way of Jesus, what was their hope?  Was it that death wasn’t a reality?  Was it that grief wasn’t an actual thing?  Actually, it’s just the opposite.  See, Easter invites us to look honestly at the grief of life and hold onto the hope that God is not done.

Here’s the way Paul will say it to the church at Thessalonica.  It was a church he had relationship with, it was a church he wrote to, and it seems like they asked him this question, hey, Paul, what do we do with death?  What do we do with people that have passed away?  Here’s what he says:  Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed {We want you to have all the information, we want you to know what’s true.}  …about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  (1 Thess. 4:13)  Sometimes it’s helpful to point out what he DOESN’T say before we talk about what he does say.  He DOESN’T say, “Because we believe in Jesus, we don’t grieve anymore.”  Turn that frown upside down.  Bury your head in the sand, pretend like it doesn’t sting.  Could we take a moment and celebrate the fact that that’s not what we’re told?  That there’s a recognition of our humanity here.

So we grieve.  Literally in the Greek, it’s this picture of. . . .we feel it in the depths and bowels of our soul.  We feel it deeply.  But what Paul says is we grieve, but we don’t grieve as people who have no hope.  He says there’s another power at work.  We have the cords of death, certainly, but wrapped around those cords is hope.  This hope that we have that God’s not done with his world.  If you were to ask a Hebrew believer in God about the word ‘hope,’ they would have said there’s two words for hope in our Old Testament Scriptures.  There’s this first word ‘yahkal.’  It means simply to wait.  Often translated hope.  Some of you may have ‘yahkaled’ for your kids to get ready this morning.  They had this other word:  qavah.  It’s a different sort of word picture than just to wait, because the first root word ‘qav’ means ‘cord.’  Literally, to wait, for the Hebrew people, meant to put tension on a cord.  (Ryan invites congregation to get cord from bulletin and hold onto it.)  Some of you had to qavah for your kids to get ready this morning.  There was some tension there.  Maybe it involved some yelling in the car, who knows?  It’s this picture that hope is hard work.  You do not hope passively.  You don’t hope by accident.  It doesn’t happen accidentally.  Hope is hard work.  It’s tension.  It’s also the reason, for some of us in this room, our hands slipped off that cord of hope and we feel hopeless.  Some of you walked in this door and the thing that you related to most was that song about saying good-bye to somebody you loved, and the darkness that often encompasses the life that we live.  You’ve lost hold of hope.

This morning, I want to invite you into the resurrection story.  Followers of Jesus, for centuries and centuries, have been finding their hope in one place and one place alone.  They’ve been holding this tension in between this world that we live in that is stained with the death that God never intended us to live in, and the hope that He is reversing the curse that we introduced into His good world.  Paul will not stop with ‘we grieve but not without hope.’  Here’s what he says:  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  (1 Thess. 4:14)  For early followers of Christ, their hope was not in a circumstance, their hope was in an EVENT that they looked back on and said, “This thing that happened in Jerusalem has changed everything!”  It was NOT wishful thinking.  Please hear me.  If you’re a follower of Jesus this morning, you have something way better than coping, way better than rationalize, way better than just being optimistic, way better than wishful thinking.  Wishful thinking is:  I really hope the Rockies win the World Series, even though they still have no pitching.  Or, I hope the Broncos win the Super Bowl with no quarterback.  WISHFUL thinking.  That’s not what followers of Jesus have.  Wishful thinking is gone when Jesus walks out of the grave.  No, no, no, no, no.  Jesus’s followers aren’t called to wishful thinking, we are called to resurrection informed hope.  Don’t be ignorant about what happened.  Sure it happened 2000 years ago, but the effects of that event shape the world that we live in today.  When Mary and Martha walk up to the open tomb, and they see that the stone has been rolled away, what is emanating forth from that vacuous space is hope.  God. Is. Not. Done. With. His. World.

I get it.  If you’re a skeptic. . . .if somebody dragged you in. . . .somebody twisted your arm.  This is a tradition.  This is family.  If you’re not really into this, I can see where you’re coming from.  So could the early followers of Jesus, by the way.  A resurrection back then was just as hard to believe as a resurrection would be today.  They just had the experience of seeing it and they couldn’t get over it.  I get it.  We have gospel accounts that seemingly contradict themselves.  Listen, do you know that the authors of those gospel accounts knew those “contradictions” also?  They had each other’s writings.  The Roman soldiers didn’t make any account of the empty tomb.  I get it.  I get it.  A physician would say that when you’re dead, you stay dead.  I would say that’s absolutely true the majority of the time.  It’s just not true every time.  Because here’s what I also get.  Without a resurrection of Jesus, you have absolutely zero way of explaining the way that Christianity has taken root around the globe.  You have no way of explaining the way that a fearful, rag-tag band of followers some how get the courage to walk into cities, to stand up to leaders, to be killed and lose their life because of this message. See, while resurrection may be hard to believe, it’s easier to believe than believing all of those things happened without it!    I think Chuck Colson put it so well when he said this:  “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me.  How?  Because twelve men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it.  Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned, and put it prison.  They would not have endured that if it weren’t true.  Watergate embroiled twelve of the most powerful men in the world, and they couldn’t keep a lie going for more than three weeks.  You’re telling me twelve apostles could keep a lie for forty years?  Absolutely impossible.”

They look back on this event and go, this is the reason that we can hope.  We can live in the cords of death, and that’s a reality, but we can look forward to a day when that will be no more, because of what Jesus has done.  There’s this foundation that we stand on.  Let me give you a few things that foundation meant for early followers of the way of Jesus.  Look at 1 Thessalonians 4:14 —  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again.  They couldn’t stop talking it.  They couldn’t get over it.  I’d encourage you to read through the evangelistic sermons in the Book of Acts, this account of the way this way of Jesus spread.   When people first started talking about Jesus, in their proclamation of the Good News, do you know how many times those early sermons referenced going to heaven when you die?  Zero.  Do you know how many of the early sermons of the way of Jesus talk about avoiding hell when you die?  Zero.  Do you know how many of them talk about resurrection?  Every. Single. One. Of. Them.  Because it changed the game, it changed the world that they lived in.  So, Paul, when he’s preaching at this place called the Areopagus, says — For he (God) has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man (Jesus) he has appointed.  He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:31)    Sermon after sermon after sermon.  Here’s their hope:  That Jesus’s resurrection validated his message and vindicated his Lordship.

Here’s a way of looking at it:  When Jesus walks out of the grave, it is God’s stamp of approval on everything that Jesus has said and taught and modeled and done with his life.  God’s looking back and going, “That’s what I’m talking about it!”  When the outcasts are welcomed in, that’s what God’s talking about.  When the people who are broken receive life, that’s what God’s talking about.  When the blind receive sight, when the lame walk, when the woman who’s caught in the act of adultery is forgiven, when anger is released, when our shame is shed and our guilt is taken away, THAT’S what God’s talking about.  When Jesus walks out of the grave, his message is vindicated, his life is glorified, and your mission is now set.  Live in his way.  Follow in his footsteps of doing the things that he did.  God is at work in the world THROUGH Jesus.  That’s what the early followers of Christ said.  They couldn’t get over it.  If you don’t write anything else down today, write this down:  If there is no resurrection, there is no Christianity.  And that’s not some pastoral hyperbole, that’s truth!  If there’s no resurrection, there is no Christianity.

Look at this another way.  When Jesus walks out of the grave, where does he put his feet?  He puts them on the ground.  He puts them on the dirt.  He puts them in a place where, if you were to go to Israel, you could find a similar spot with similar soil and you could put your feet in the exact same place.  When he walks out of the grave, he goes to his friend Thomas and goes, Thomas, I know you’re having a hard time with this.  I get it.  Why don’t you put your hands in my scars?  Touch it.  Touch it, Thomas.  Put your hands in my side and touch it, Thomas.  It’s physical.  It’s material.  It’s there.  It’s on this earth, in front of him.  Here’s what doesn’t happen.  This is a story we often tell, isn’t it?  It’s the story that we often imagine that God is telling.  That Jesus dies for our sins and then goes straight to heaven and we’re going to follow him.  You will follow him to heaven, but you will also be resurrected back on earth.  What Jesus does when he walks out of the tomb is he says, “This world matters to me.”  Matter matters to me.  You can say it like this:  Through the resurrection—this is the hope that early followers of Jesus had—creation is affirmed as goodmatter matters to God.  It’s as though God looks back at Genesis 1 and all of his poetics “It is good!” and when Jesus walks out of the grave he goes, “Did I stutter?  It’s GOOD!  Really good!  And I am for my creation.”  So much so that God was not content to discard us because of sin and brokenness of evil, but he was intent on restoring us and renewing us back to his original design.

Why should this matter to us?  Two reasons.  One, if Jesus had a physical body and hope isn’t just that one day we’ll get out of here, people matter to God and people matter to us.  C.S. Lewis said it like this:  “There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.”  You haven’t, that’s true.  People matter to God, people matter to us.  As a community of faith, you guys, the fact that Jesus walked out of the grave is the reason that we throw something like a glow-in-the-dark egg hunt so we can invite our community to come and have fun.  Because people matter to God.  It’s the reason we run a Food Bank and try to care for 60-100 families every single week, because people matter to God.  It’s the reason we partner with organizations like Whiz Kids and North Littleton Promise, because people matter to God.  It’s the reason we give money to global work all around the world where people are digging wells and where people are sharing the gospel, and where people are telling others, listen, you matter to God.  Every time you walk through these doors, I hope you hear some version of that message.  You matter.  The resurrection tells us that matter matters.  And that God is unwilling to just discard his creation project, but that he is at work renewing and restoring.

People matter to God, but do you know what else matters to God?  When Jesus puts his feet down on soil, when he walks around in the Judean countryside after his resurrection, here’s what he’s saying:  I’m not done with people, and I’m not done with my creation.  I’m for my creation.  Right now, it feels like you have these pangs of death intertwined with this hope of life, don’t you?  You can go and you can observe an unbelievable sunset.  You can just sort of take it in and go, man, Lord, you’re amazing!  You’re good!  This world is unreal!  There’s some spots on this globe that take your breath away, aren’t there?  Then there’s also some things that take your breath away in a whole different way.  This (picture) is called the Pacific Trash Heap or island.  It’s an island of trash in the Pacific Ocean that, as of Wednesday of this week, is three times the size of France.

Oftentimes followers of Jesus don’t talk about these things, because we get the story wrong.  We think that Jesus dies and just goes to heaven.  No, no.  He puts his feet back on this earth.  He affirms this world matters.  Paul will write to the church at Rome, listen, creation is groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Rom. 8:22)  Asking for its redemption, which will happen when you and I are risen from the grave.  People matter to God.  This world matters to God.   It’s broken, but it’s beautiful.  It’s intertwined with hope and grief, and one day God will straighten it all out.

The Scriptures are really clear, but we read them wrong sometimes, but they’re really clear.  Jesus says, in the book of Revelation (21:5) — Behold!  I am making all things new!   Sometimes we read that. . . Behold, I am making all new things.  Which isn’t the story.  God’s for this creation, he’s for people, he’s at work renewing, redeeming and breathing into things that are dead.  Like a great physician or a great architect, he’s putting back together things that we have destroyed, and when Jesus walks out of the grave, he says, “I will not forget.  I am for my creation and I will one day restore it to be what I always intended it to be.”  So if the story you think about when you think about Christianity is an escape from this world or destruction of it, it’s the wrong story.  The story is one of restoration, the story is one of renewal, the story is one of God at work making all things new.

Paul says that’s why we can have hope and he adds this second thing:  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (1 Thess. 4:14)  That God will do for you what he’s done for Jesus.  So when we say “Christ is risen,” and we repeat back “He is risen indeed,” to that I say yes and amen and I want to add, “And so will you!”

Paul, in his letter to the church at Corinth, says:  But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Cor. 15:20)  This term ‘first fruits’ is sort of hard for us to understand.  If we lived in a farming community it wouldn’t be that hard to understand.  The first fruits was that first grape that popped off the vine, or that first piece of wheat that shot out of the ground and sprouted.  This is after a long winter and harvest is starting to come.  It’s this picture that what’s happened in one thing (first fruits) is going to happen for all things.  What happened in Jesus, will happen in you.  The Hebrews had this offering called ‘The Offering of First fruits,’ where they would take those first fruits and wave them up to God, as a way to say, “God, thank you for this thing that’s first and we believe that there’s many more to come.”  They had it on the same day and the same time every single year.  It was on the day that followed the Sabbath that followed Passover.  Jesus celebrates Passover with his disciples.  He goes to the cross and is killed on Friday.  On Saturday, the Jewish people had Sabbath.  The day that followed Saturday, back then, is the same day that follows Saturday now. . . .it’s Sunday.  The same day Jesus rose out of the grave, you have Hebrew people waving their sheaves of wheat before God, waving that little grape, saying, “Oh, there’s one here but there’s many more to come.”  Jesus looks at humanity and goes, “There’s one here, but there’s many more to come.”  Early followers of Jesus, all around the Mediterranean, would have their graves pointing towards Jerusalem, believing that one day they would walk out of them.  They had one thing written on their grave stones — Resurgam.  A Latin word that meant “I will rise.”  They believed For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:22) 

See, friends, the reason we can have hope intertwined with our grief is because death certainly is a reality—we’re not here to ignore that today—but it’s just not a finality.  One day you will be resurrected.  You will have a body that the Scriptures say is like Christ’s resurrected body. (Phil. 3:20-21)   You will be transformed.  There will be no more sorrow, no more crying, no more death, no more pain, for the old order of things, he says, is gone!  What Jesus did in resurrecting from the grave, God says, “I will be good on in restoring my creation.”  We can have confidence in that, friends.  That sorrow will be no more.  That the existential ache that we feel in our souls about ‘this isn’t the way it was suppose to be,’ God will lead us into the way that it was always suppose to be.  But today?  Today we live in hope.  Today we look squarely at the world we live in—as it is—and we feel deeply for loss, we feel deeply because of pain, we feel deeply because of sorrow, but we recognize that this is not the end of the story.  We grieve, but we do not grieve as people who have no hope.

Would you read this great passage of Scripture with me, as we begin to close our time.  Death has been swallowed up in victory.  “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”  (1 Cor. 15:55)  I think a lot of us hear the story of the gospel and here’s what we imagine and here’s what we think of.  We think the story of the gospel is God sort of takes the rope and throws it down to us and he’s like, “Climb! Come on! Climb up to me.”  Work hard.  Be a good person.  Do all the right stuff.  Climb.  Can I just tell you that if you’re new to the Christian story that is not the story that God is telling through Jesus.  He’s not saying to humanity, climb.  We have other versions of it, too, though.  We sometimes say, “Okay, hold on,” and God is like the one who pulls us in.  It’s not the story either.  You know what the story is?  The story is that God loves this world so much that the rope that he throws down into it is his own person, Jesus the Christ.  He steps into our brokenness, he steps into our sorrow, he steps into our pain, he steps into our death, and he doesn’t say “Climb!” and he doesn’t say “Hold onto the rope,” he says, “Get on my back!”  Like you do with your kid when they run out of gas on a hike.  Get on my back.  Then HE climbs up the rope and he carries us home.  THAT’S the story we celebrate today.  THAT’S the story of resurrection.

Jesus has a real simple question he asks people when he tells them about his life, death, burial, and resurrection. . . .he says this to his friends in John 11:25-26 — Do you believe it?  Do you believe I am and resurrection and life?  Do you believe that even though you die you shall live?  It takes us letting go of some of our own coping, some of our own self-salvation projects, our self effort, and it takes us just climbing on his back and going, “Yeah, I believe it.  I believe it.”  The Bible calls that salvation.  I would encourage you. . . .if you’re here this morning and maybe you’re a skeptic, or maybe you got dragged here, if that’s you, can I just tell you, God’s trying to get your attention today.  His invitation isn’t climb up, his invitation is climb on.  Climb onto me, because I have conquered sin, and I have conquered death, and I have provided forgiveness.  Do you believe this?  I pray that you do.  I pray that you will, because life is being held out to you, the question is:  Are you going to hold onto your death, or are you going to reach out for his hope that he’s saying is available to all today.  Friends, the grave is empty!  Death has been defeated and Jesus is victorious.  Join your song in the one that never ends.

Lord, we thank you for this life that’s available, the hope that’s available in you.  We love you!  We worship you today.  We thank you that you care about people, that you care about your creation, that death is not a period but it’s a comma, and that you are the king of the world, the cosmos.  We love you.  It’s in your name we pray.  Amen.

Dawning Of a New Day – Easter Sunday2023-06-27T11:36:29-06:00

4 Days that Changed the World | Divine Descent: What happened on Saturday before Jesus rose again? | 1 Peter 3:18-20; 4:6 | Week 4

4 DAYS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: Divine Descent   1 Peter 3:18-20; 4:6

We are in a series that we’ve entitled “4 Days that Changed the World.”  That’s not some sort of spiritual hyperbole, this is the most talked about week, most written about week, most debated week, in the history of the cosmos.  On Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered into the streets of Jerusalem, you start a clock ticking from there. One week.  It’s about .06% of Jesus’s life and it’s roughly 33% of the gospel narratives.   Do you think they thought this was important?  Just a little bit.

Two weeks ago we talked about what happened on Thursday.  On Thursday, Jesus reimagined for us and taught us what love really looks like.  He shed his outer garment and got down on his hands and knees and he washed his disciples’ feet.  It’s this picture of what you do when you have power.  You don’t use it to oppress people and keep people down.  You actually leverage your power to lift others up.  Last week, we saw that on the cross, on Friday, Jesus offers us forgiveness.  He takes on our forsakenness and that he says it’s finished. . . .you’re reunited with the King of kings and the Lord of lords, God Almighty.  If you weren’t here last week, I’d encourage you to hop online and watch that video, if you can.

Today. . . . .Saturday.  What happened on that in between day?  That day, in between when Jesus gives his life on the cross for atonement for sin, and that day on Sunday, which we’ll celebrate next week—spoiler alert: He walks out of the grave.  But is Saturday just some sort of weird intermission?  Is this the halftime show where Bruno Mars, or Justin Timberlake, or Janet or Michael Jackson, pop out and do a little ditty?  What actually happens on Saturday?  Luckily for you, this has been debated for roughly 2000 years, but I’m going to solve all of our problems this morning.

We went to Mexico (last week) and there was one day when it was really, really windy.  We were walking on the beach and getting buffeted by the wind.  But when you dive into the water, what happens?  It just goes silent, right?  The waves that are rolling up top, and the wind that’s blowing. . . . .you go underneath and it’s just silent.  I think the best way to picture what happened on Saturday is to flip that image.  On earth, it’s silent.  Jesus has died.  His life is over.  He’s been carried to a borrowed tomb.  His followers mourn and assume that this following of Jesus, discipleship, this way of life is over.  But underneath, something else is going on.  The waves are rolling, the wind is blowing, and I propose to you that there’s a battle that’s waging.

What happened on Saturday?  Where was Jesus on Saturday?  {Admittedly, this is going to be a little bit more teaching than preaching this morning.}  Let me answer first where he wasn’t.  He was NOT in heaven.  In John 20:17, Jesus says to Mary:  Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.  My ascension hasn’t happened yet.  Where wasn’t Jesus?  Jesus was not in heaven.  Where wasn’t Jesus?  Jesus was not in hell.  Because no one’s in hell yet. . . . .even today, no one’s in hell yet.  Revelation 20:14, towards the end of the story — Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  The lake of fire is the second death.   This is where we start to learn more about what happens when people go to hell, but it hasn’t happened yet.

So where was Jesus?  Open your Bible to Luke 16:19-24.  We typically think in terms, when we talk about the afterlife, of heaven and hell.  I’d like to propose to you that that’s an incomplete way of thinking about what happens when people die.  I’d like to propose to you that it wasn’t the way that Jesus talked about what happened when people die.  {Admittedly, this is going to mess with us a little bit, but would you just go on Mr. Paulson’s Wild Ride for this morning, then step back and see if it’s right and if it’s what the Bible says.}  So, we typically think ‘heaven’ and ‘hell.’  Luke 16:19-24.  Jesus is going to tell a story and the story’s going to illustrate what happens when people die.  There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.  Even the dogs came and licked his sores.  The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.  {Some Bibles say Abraham’s bosom.  Side note: It’s not heaven.  How do we know that?  If it were, Jesus would have said that.}  The rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”   

Let’s just stop right there.  Here’s the picture that Jesus paints.  There are two people and they both die.  One of them goes to Abraham’s side.  The other goes to Hades.  Unfortunately, some translations will translate ‘Hades’ as Hell.  It’s a bad translation, in my opinion.  They should have just left it, because Hades is different than hell. He goes to Hades.  And what do they do?  They’re able to communicate back and forth.  So, there’s something else going on than just heaven and hell.  There’s actually this other place, this third place, that we would call ‘Sheol’ or ‘Hades.’  The Scriptures use this term a number of times.  Sheol is the Hebrew word for the Greek word Hades.  It’s the “underworld.”  It’s the place of the dead.  In Hades, or Sheol, it appears (specifically from Luke 16) that there’s two sections or compartments within the same general place.  One section is for the righteous.  This is where Lazarus is.  There’s other terminology that Scriptures use to describe this place.  It’s Sheol, where the righteous go, or Abraham’s bosom, or paradise.  {File that away, keep that in mind, that’s real important.}  Or, where the unrighteous go.  This is where the rich man was.  But they’re both in Hades.  This was a very generic term for the place of the dead that they used all throughout the Old Testament to talk about where people go when they die.

So, where was Jesus on Saturday?  He was not in hell and he was not in heaven.  He was actually, I think, in Hades.  But is that what the Bible says?  Listen to the words of Jesus.  He’s telling this parable to people who want a sign from him.  We want to know that you’re God, we want a sign.  He goes, listen, no sign is going to be given to you except that of the sign of the prophet Jonah.  (This is Matthew 12:39-40).  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.   That doesn’t help us a whole lot just yet.  What does he mean by that?  Well, Peter, in the sermon that he gives after Pentecost, is going to unpack this idea a little bit more.  Flip over to Acts 2:31, this is in a much longer section, where Peter is actually referencing Psalm 16 — Seeing what was to come, he {He here is David writing in Psalm 16.} spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned  {He does not say he didn’t GO, he just says he didn’t STAY there.} to the realm of the dead.   {If you were to go to Psalm 16:10 and look at it, what does it say?  For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol.   In the Greek, in the New Testament, he was not abandoned to. . . . .Hades.  He was there, he just didn’t stay there.}  nor did his body see decay.  I see Acts 2:25-31 is probably the clearest picture of what we see happening on Saturday.

But to muddy the waters a little bit, you can throw in 1 Peter 3:18-20, some of the most debated and talked about passages in all of Scripture.  For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.  {Raise your hand if you think that’s good news?  He BRINGS you to God.  Reference to last week, he doesn’t bring God to you, he brings YOU to God.  Because the offense is in us, not in God.}  He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.  After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits.   WHAT?!?!  Flip over to 1 Peter 4:6 —  For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.  

Now, we’d have to go on a completely other tangent in order to say what exactly happened here and I would need a lot more time to study.  So, here’s what we’re going to say about it this morning.  I think what these passages suggest is that on Saturday not only does Jesus descend into Hades (as it said in Psalm 16 and Acts 2) but that he went there with an explicit purpose:  to proclaim or announce good news.  In the Greek it’s kerygma.  It’s a proclamation of that which is true.  Not necessarily to elicit any sort of response, but just to declare it.

The question you might be asking is why didn’t he go to heaven?  Why didn’t he go to hell?  Or you might be asking, when in the world did people start going to heaven?  If before we had these two different compartments of Sheol or Hades, one for the righteous, one for the unrighteous, when did people start going to heaven? Jesus will say in John 3:13 — No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—-the Son of Man.   When did people start going to heaven?  Ephesians 4:8 would say it like this, quoting from Psalm 68.  Paul writing to the church of Ephesus says:  This is why it says:  When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.   When Jesus ascends, what does he do?  I think what the Scriptures are teaching is that when he ascends to heaven. . . . .after he’s resurrected and lives on earth and ascends to heaven, I think Ephesians 4:8-9 says that, at that point in time, the righteous portion of Sheol or Hades or Abraham’s bosom or paradise is reunited with heaven.  It’s why the picture of heaven in Isaiah 6 doesn’t include people, but in Revelation 4, 5, and 6 it does.  Because it’s post-ascension.  Paul could right to the church at Corinth that when we’re absent from the body we’re present with the Lord. (2 Cor. 5:8)  He wouldn’t have said that before the ascension.  He would have said that we were in paradise, or we’re in Abraham’s bosom, or we’re in the righteous part of Sheol.

What’s the current reality?   {This is a little bit side note, little bit tangental, but I think it’s important.}  What’s the current reality?  If it’s not heaven and hell, what is the current reality of people who have died?  Well, there’s two options:  heaven and Hades.  Both of these places are temporary.  They’re both temporary.  They will not last forever.  In this sense.  They’re both awaiting resurrection.  Those in heaven, the righteous, those who have followed Jesus, who have surrendered to his love, who are disciples walking with him, longing for him, they will  be resurrected to new heaven and new earth.  Spoiler alert — Jesus walks out of the grave.   Another spoiler alert — You will one day too.  That’s the hope of every early follower of Christ.  It’s not heaven.  Heaven wasn’t their hope, resurrection was their hope.  And, people in Hades are also waiting for resurrection, but not to new heaven and new earth, but to hell, or a second death (is what the Scriptures would technically call this), or separation from God.

When Jesus says to the thief on the cross, today you will be with me in paradise, (Luke 23:43) it’s entirely possible, isn’t it?  Not, today you will be with me in heaven, because Jesus didn’t go there yet.  He said that in John 20.  But today you will be with me in paradise. . . . .you will be with me in the section of Hades that’s for the righteous, Abraham’s bosom, paradise.  And even there, I will be able to preach, to proclaim, to enter into the darkest regions of, what some would call, the netherworld.  If you don’t do that with that verse, what do you do with it?  Does that make sense?

So, we looked at what Scriptures said, what does history say?   Followers of Christ, how did they wrestle with this throughout the 2000 years that we’ve been around as a people?  It was unanimously undisputed amongst the early church that Christ descended.  It wasn’t in the earliest creed that he “descended into hell.”  They did not say that in 180 or 200 when they originally wrote the creed.  That popped in around 320, when somebody was looking at the Latin and looked at the word for death and looked at the word for hell, and they were so similar that they chose hell instead of death.  That happened in AD 390, wasn’t solidified until AD 650 that the creed said “he descended into hell.”  The earlier creed said he “descended to the dead.”  I think that’s, technically, more accurate.  If you look at the Westminster Catechism, question 50 says this:  “Christ’s humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death until the third day; what hath been otherwise expressed in these words, ‘He descended into hell.'”  But they’re talking about the dead.  They’re talking about Hades.  They’re talking about Sheol.

If you look through the ages, there’s some fascinating, artistic renditions of this event.  As you can imagine, it needs some picture, needs some illusion, in order to talk adequately about it.  This is the most famous piece.  It’s called the “Anastasis Icon.”  Anastasis, in Greek, means ‘resurrection,’ but really, this is the descent into the dead.  What you see here is Jesus reaching for Adam and Eve to bring them out of Sheol and is going to take them into heaven.  Underneath him, you see death or Satan depicted and defeated with a chain around his neck and around his hands.  You see all sorts of keys and locks floating around in this netherworld.  Keep that in mind, that will be important at the end.  But it’s a really interesting picture of what they thought happened on Holy Saturday.

Nearly all of the reformers would say, yeah, Christ descended.  We don’t want to say what happened when he did, but they would have agreed that he did descend.  John Calvin said it maybe most succinctly:  “If Holy Saturday is left out, much of the benefit of Christ’s death will be lost.”

The question is WHY?  Okay, so maybe you agree Christ descended to the dead, to Hades, to Sheol.  But why does it matter for our lives?  Who cares?  I think you should care and I should care, because here’s the reality, friends:  Jesus’s descent to the dead gives you and I and humanity confidence for life.  His descent to the dead is intended to stir up a confidence in us.  WHY?  Whether you picture it as hell or whether you picture it as Hades. . . .I think Hades is probably more accurate, but we have more pictures in our mind that go along with hell, thanks to the Catholic church trying to raise money in order to fund their basilicas, okay?  So we have all this imagery that goes along with hell, but when we think about Hades, we don’t have a whole lot of imagery that goes along.  We could look at the rich man in the Lazarus and rich man story and know that the unrighteous place in Hades is not exactly a place that we’d want to go to.  Agreed?

So what does Jesus do when he enters into THAT place?  Well, he says to you and to me, “Your life is dark.”  If you’ve walked through pain, if you’ve seen suffering, if you’ve felt abandonment, if you’ve been abused. . . . .the darkest things you’ve seen. . . .he looks you in the eye and he says, “I’ve been there.”  I don’t know about you, but I get the chance to talk to a lot of people and most of the people who wrestle with belief in God have this question that underlines every other question.  WHERE IS GOD WHEN….?   Where is God in suffering?  Where was God during the holocaust?  Where was God when absolute atrocities took place?  It seems like he’s just silent.  What the doctrine of the descent into the dead says to you and to me is listen, we don’t have all of the answers to the questions of why? but we do know this, that Christianity’s answer to that question is God enters into that with us.  He is not distant from it.  He’s not ambivalent to it.  When he descends to the dead, to hell, to Hades—however you want to look at it—he looks death in the eye and he speaks gospel truth over it.  He looks evil in the eye and he speaks the Word of God into it.  The reality is that our world feels and seems broken, and it is! If you haven’t wrestled with that, you aren’t watching the news or paying attention to anything going around us.  It’s unhelpful when followers of Jesus offer glib, distant answers to deep and destructive issues going on in our world.  Here’s the thing:  You don’t need to answer that way.  Your answer can be:  I don’t know why it happens, but I know my God is in it.

Ellie Wiesel, the great author and survivor of the holocaust, wrote in one of his books.  He said he was walking passed the area where the Nazi guards used to hang prisoners from the gallows.  They would typically choose two men.  And then, in order to flex their muscles and to prove they were powerful, they would also choose one child.  They would march them pass.  He said one time as he walked passed, he looked and the two grown men were hanging and they were dead.  But the child’s rope was still swinging and he was gasping for air.  He was too light to hang himself.  He recounts that he heard a voice behind him whisper, “Where is God?”  Here’s what he says:  “From within I heard a voice answer: ‘Where is He?  He’s hanging there from the gallows with him.'”  He’s entered in.  He’s descended to the darkest, most horrific, most evil, the thing in your head you wish you could take back and never have to experience again, Jesus is in it with you and weeps alongside of you.

In 1994, there was a genocide in Rwanda.  The cover of Time Magazine was a quote from a missionary that said, “There are no devils left in hell.  They’re all in Rwanda.”  Where was God in Rwanda?  Where’s God today?  The UN just announced last week that the situation in Syria today is “hell on earth.”  Where’s God?  He enters in.  He enters into the pain, he doesn’t distance himself from it.  He enters into it.  God does not offer Christians a rational, logical ordered explanation as to why everything in our world happens, he says, “I’m entering into the pain and the brokenness WITH you.”

I love the way that Fleming Rutledge put it when she said this: “In all of religion, only the story of the Crucified God can stand up to the challenge of the long history of human wickedness.  Jesus is the loving savior who redemptively enters into our suffering.”  So we don’t need to try to explain away evils.  We don’t need to try to come up with a “reason” for it.  Have you ever heard somebody do that?  Here’s the reason that this INSANE, EVIL thing happened. . . .and behind it they’re going, “God must have wanted it to happen.”  GARBAGE!!!  We don’t have to answer like that.  We can say no, no, no, no, our God enters into the suffering with us, and from the inside out, he redeems it, he renews it, he restores it, because he’s making all things new.

What do we learn from the descent?  Who cares?  Well, we should.  Because it says to us that Jesus has solidarity in human suffering.  He goes to the deepest, darkest places.  The Bible’s answer to evil and suffering isn’t always alleviation of it, it’s God’s presence in it.  Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)  But we may walk through the valley of the shadow of death, yes? There’s no “Keep Out” signs that keep God out.  Nothing that’s too dark, nothing that’s too painful that He doesn’t enter into.

So, we may not be able to answer the question: Why do all these evil things happen?  But, {Look up at me for just a moment.} we CAN answer definitively why we know that one of the reasons they happen is NOT.  We know it’s NOT because God doesn’t love us.  We know that!  Why?  Because He took the nails on Calvary and he descended to the dead on our behalf.  So nothing can separate us from the love of God.  “What shall separate us?” Paul says.  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (Rom. 8:35) He’s like, I could go on but I’m running out of paper.  His point is. . . . .NOTHING!   For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39)   NOTHING!  We can know that because he descends even to the dead.

Which begs the question: Who does God have solidarity with today?  You look around the world. . . . .certainly, with those who are suffering.  Certainly with those in Syria, who the UN says this is hell on earth.  Certainly with the 8.4 million people in Yemen who are on the verge of starvation.  Certainly with the 13 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who the UN says that this is a situation we need to step into.  God’s not distant from that, friends, he steps right into it.

Secondly, what does Jesus do when he enters into the dead?  Here’s what we need to understand real quick.  Our understanding of the world, our cosmology, if you will, is typically pretty flat.  We think, “What you see is what you get.”  We have a very Western, materialistic view of the world.  The Scriptures DO NOT paint that picture of the world that we live in.  This is a spiritual world that we live in.  There is Good and there is Bad.  Yes?  There’s good and there’s evil, and we live in a time and a place where those two ideas are eroding beneath our feet, but we all intrinsically know it.  Some things are good and some things are bad.  Some things allow for human flourishing and some things allow for the flourishing for a few at the expense of many.  What the Scriptures teach is not only that there’s good and that there’s bad, but there are Powers behind the goodness and the badness of the world that we live in.  We would call these cosmic Powers — Cosmic Powers of Evil.  Cosmic Powers of Sin.  Cosmic Powers of Death.  So what does Jesus do when he enters into the dead?  He’s not only conquering the event of death, but he is going to conquer the power of death.  So in Hebrews 2:14-15, here’s what it says:  Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—-that is, the devil.  What does Jesus do when he descends to the dead?  According to 1 John 3:8 — The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.  In Colossians 2:15, after forgiving us, it says:  Having disarmed the powers and authorities, {These are the cosmic Powers of Sin, and Death, and all of his friends.} he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.   

What’s going on in the descent to the dead?  NT Wright would say it like this: “The real enemy after all was not Rome, but the powers of evil that stood behind human arrogance and violence, powers of evil with which Israel’s leaders had fatally colluded.”  Cyril of Alexandria, in the 4th/5th century, would write: “If Christ had not died for us, we should not have been saved, and if He had not gone down among the dead, death’s cruel empire would never have been shattered.”  What does Jesus go down to the dead in order to do?  Punch. Death. In. The. Face.  The power of death and then walk out of the grave, one day later, crashing death’s party.  That’s what happens.  We’ll say it like this.  Not only does Jesus have solidarity in suffering, but that he has conquered cosmic evil.

When Jesus comes and declares that the kingdom of God is here, this is not a nicety.  He does not get high fives.  He puts the enemy on notice. . . .your time is limited.  Sin, death, evil, and all of its friends have been invaded.  The prince and power of this air is on blast from the kingdom of heaven, because He’s coming to redeem, restore, and renew his good, but broken, world that He deeply and dearly loves.  He comes preaching the kingdom of God. . . .{Look up at me a second.} This is a declaration of cosmic war!  That’s what’s going on.  Do you wonder why every super hero movie has the same plot line?  Essentially, it’s good against evil.  Who’s going to triumph?  Is good going to win out?  Why is it the story we tell?  It’s the story that the cosmos is telling. So when Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, he says, listen, your battle is NOT against flesh and blood. You know what?  That’s not who our battle’s against and that’s not who God’s battle was against either.  But against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph. 6:12)   It’s THOSE that He conquers.

If you’re like me, you’re going, well, if in your descent to the dead you punched death in the throat, well then, why do people still die, and why does evil still happen, and why does our world still look the way that it looks?  It’s the difference between being elected and being inaugurated.  There’s a time period in between.  The victory is sure.  He is on the throne.  He does reign.  Right now, there’s competition between the kingdom of evil and the kingdom of God.  One day there will be no more competition; the kingdom of God will win out!  It’s like watching a Bronco game that you DVR’d and you already know that they win.  You’re still sorta on the edge of your seat.  You know they win but you’re still watching the game.

How does this defeated enemy work?  Here’s a few ways.  He works in encouraging people to hold onto bitterness and not forgive.  This is the defeated enemy at work.  Forgive so you don’t give the devil a foothold, Paul would say. (Eph. 4:27)  How does he work?  He works through planting thoughts in your mind.  So Paul will write in 2 Corinthians 10:5 — ….take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  How does he work?  He causes us to get off of the gospel, so Paul will write in Ephesians 6, stand firm.  Three times in the most prolific passage in the New Testament about spiritual warfare, Paul will say, “Just stand!”  Stand in the gospel.  The devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8-9)  You read that and go, oh my goodness, that’s nerve-racking.  Then you read the solution to it. . . .standing firm in the faith…  Wait!  That’s how we fight this battle?  Yes, that’s how we fight this battle!  The enemy is already defeated.  Just tell him!  It says he’s the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10), so we stand firmly planted in truth.  I just want to remind you today, that greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world.  (1 John 4:4)  

In Revelation 1:17-18, John records this about Jesus.  This is just awesome and let this inform all that we’ve talked about up until this point and send us forward.  When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.  Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid.  {Maybe you need to hear him say that to you today.  Do not be afraid.  Listen to why we don’t have to be afraid.}  I am the First and the Last.  I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!  And I hold the keys of death and Hades.  If Jesus holds the keys, let him take the wheel.  The truth of the matter, friends:  “Though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us.  The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.” (Martin Luther,  A Mighty Fortress)   On the cross, Jesus forgave our sins, in his descent he conquers death and enters into solidarity with human suffering, in his resurrection he purchases new life!  Don’t miss next week!

Let’s close with that great hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God.  {Ryan gives instruction for writing on the stained glass windows.}   Lord, thank you for being a God who descends to the darkness, to the pain, to the questions, to the doubts, and also being a God who ascends and who invites your creation to ascend along with you.  We love you.  It’s in your name that we pray.  Amen.

4 Days that Changed the World | Divine Descent: What happened on Saturday before Jesus rose again? | 1 Peter 3:18-20; 4:6 | Week 42023-06-27T11:36:58-06:00

4 Days that Changed the World | Good Friday: What happened on the cross? | Week 3


As a youth pastor, I can remember telling my students a fictitious story about a father and a son.  The father was a draw-bridge operator.  His son was with him at work, down climbing around in the gears, having a good time.  A train was coming.  The drawbridge was up.  The father had to decide:  Am I going to crush my son, kill my son, and save everybody on the train?  Or, am I going to let my son live and everybody on the train die?  It’s a very emotional story and one that stirs the human heart.  The punchline was that this was a picture of what happens on the cross, and God decides to kill his son, so that we, humanity, on the train might live.  It’s emotive.  It stirs a response.  But is it accurate?  Is that what’s going on on the cross?  Ever since there’s been a cross, there’s been discussion.  Paul would say:  For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God .  (Romans 1:16)    The reason he’s saying ‘I am not ashamed’ is because there were some people who were ashamed.  There was shame to be had.  The cross was as much about shaming someone as it was about killing someone.

Jesus’s cross wasn’t the only cross people had seen.  It’s the cross we talk about, but there’s this story that Josephus records.  He was a Roman historian.  He wrote that in 4 B.C, when Varus, one of the governors of Rome, propped 2000 people on crosses. . . . .ONE day, outside the city of Galilee, and he crucified them all in ONE day.  People in Jesus’s day would have understood the shame of the cross.  They would have understood the pain of the cross.  They would have understood the cross in a far better way than we do.  They would have struggled just as much with Paul’s statement that the cross is the wisdom, and the power, and the glory of God.  How could something that was so shameful be so glorious?

Well, 2000 years later, the cross is one of THE most recognized symbols in the entire world.  It adorns jewelry, it marks gravestones, it identifies churches.  It’s THE most identified symbol in the entire world.  But there’s still so much debate about what’s going on.  How does the cross work?  Why does the cross work?  The Bible’s really clear in saying the cross is the power of God to save and to forgive, but how and why?  {I’d encourage you to write this down.}  The cross is the crux of Christianity and the center point of all of history.

But I’m convinced that it’s a story that we often get wrong.  I’m going to call today the highjacked gospel.  The highjacked gospel starts in Genesis 3, instead of Genesis 1.  The highjacked gospel goes something like this:  Humanity sins against God.  They essentially rob God of some of his glory.  They’re disobedient.  Because humanity sins, God is angry.  God is angry and he kicks them out of the garden, and it’s like God is playing a Cold War game. . . .He snubs humanity.  He turns his back on humanity and says I want nothing to do with you.  So humanity’s caught in this predicament, they’re fractured from God.  They’re out of relationship with God.  God decides you know, I’m really angry with humanity, but the way I can become happy with humanity again is to kill my son.    He’s sort of viewed as this bloodthirsty, vindictive God.  This version of the gospel is God is angry and Jesus’s blood makes Him happy.  Then, because God kills his own son, He can open his arms to us and welcome us home.

Now, there’s a lot of questions we have about that story.  There’s some things in there (and we’ll talk about those) that are really true.  Then there’s some things in there that are true-ish.  They’ve been twisted just a little bit, a few degrees, where they’ve lost their meaning almost entirely.  Here’s the true story of the gospel.  The true story of the gospel starts in Genesis 1.  It starts with God creating humanity, God creating the earth, and it’s good, it’s really good.  He looks on it and goes, “It’s really good.”  Humanity, created in the likeness and image of God, decides they’d make a better God than God, so they eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  That fractures relationship with God and we are, according to Genesis 3:15, involved in this cosmic battle now between good and evil.  Genesis 3:15 is called the protoeuongelion, it’s the gospel before the gospel.  In it, God says, “I will crush the enemy under my foot.”  That’s the first promise we have of what God’s going to do on the cross.  Keep that in mind, it’s really important to the story.

All throughout the Scriptures, here’s what we see. . . .it’s NOT God playing the Cold War with humanity.  We see God pursuing humanity.  From Genesis 3 in the garden, when he clothes them, to sending them Moses, sending them the Law, sending them the prophets, sending Wisdom literature.  We even see Him pursuing humanity when he sends them into exile, saying I want to woo you back, I want to win your hearts.  That’s Hosea where he says that.

So the true gospel is God creates good, humanity fractures that relationship with Him through sin, God continues to pursue, continues to pursue, until finally, He sends his own son to give his life, to bring us back into right relationship with God, creating a restored humanity that invites us home.  So here’s the question:  Does God kill his son?  Is that what’s going on?   Does God need blood in order to forgive?  Does Jesus’s death make an angry God happy?  There’s all these questions that we have about the cross, but my conviction is that we can understand what goes on on the cross best if we listen to the words of Jesus himself.

The first saying that we’re going to look at today, as Jesus, it says, is being crucified.  Luke 23:33-34.  And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and  one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”   And they cast lots to divide his garments.    Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they’re doing.  If this is a story, ultimately, that we’re in, about a God who is angry or vindictive because he has had glory robbed from him, and he wants to get back at humanity in a retributive sense, that statement doesn’t seem to make sense.  I think one of the areas that we go wrong is in trying to understand who actually killed Jesus.  So part of the narrative goes, well, God killed Jesus.  The Father killed Jesus.  That’s who killed Jesus.  We get twisted because in Acts 2:23 it says it was the plan of God, but it says it was clearly executed by evil men.  In Acts 3:15, Peter speaking, says to a group of people:  …you killed the Author of Life.  All throughout the Scriptures, it’s really clear that the person or people that killed Jesus is humanity, not God.  You can write this down, it was by the plan of God, but by the hand of evil, wicked, blood thirsty , vindictive people.  That’s who killed God.  I love the way that Brian Zhand said it:  “The cross is not what God inflicts upon Jesus in order to forgive; the crucifixion is what God endures in Christ as he forgives.”

When Jesus says, “Father, forgive them,”  he’s not asking his Father to do something that’s outside of his character, he’s asking him to do something that’s completely in line with who he is, and completely in line with what we saw originally in the garden when sin entered the picture.  God shows up, God pursues, God covers, and God forgives.  In one of my favorite passages in the entire New Testament, Romans 5:8, it says that Christ died for us while we were sinners. That while we were his enemies, he died for us.  The cross is the ultimate show of God’s love for humanity, not his thirst for blood or his thirst for death.  In your notes, can I encourage you to write down:  The cross reveals what God is like.  The cross reveals God, it doesn’t appease God.

A lot of times I think we misread the Scriptures, or maybe we hear some verses that we just no longer hear them.  Like John 3:16 — For God so loved the world that he gave his only son.    Some versions of the gospel story that you hear people tell sounds more like “for God so hated the world that he killed his only son.”  But Father, forgive them.  ‘Father, forgive them’ reveals the heart of God, it reveals the purpose of God.  Here’s three things we see God doing in the cross of Christ under this banner of forgiveness.  One, God is continuing to pursue humanity—broken, hurting, fractured humanity.  He is purifying them.  In Colossians 2:13-14, it says he takes the death that was against us, the sin that we had incurred, and he takes it on himself and he nails it to the cross and he frees us from that which separates us, ultimately, from God.  He pursues us, he purifies us, and he proves that, ultimately, he is love.  The cross is what God endures as he saves us, as he forgives us.  It’s evil,  it’s murder, it’s violence from humanity towards God, and it’s God saying I’ll take all of that to bury it in the ground and to raise you up on the other side for eternal life.  The cross reveals what God is like, it does not appease a bloodthirsty God.

When I was a kid, I could remember going to Southwest Plaza Mall with my mom and my siblings.  I was probably six-years-old.  We were shopping somewhere and I wandered off.  All of a sudden, I’m in the middle of this really busy mall and I know absolutely no one.  My mom’s gone.  My siblings are gone.  I’m just standing there.  People all around, but completely alone.  Eventually, somebody who worked at the mall came and asked me if I was lost.  I told them I couldn’t find my mom.  They called over the loudspeaker and had her come.  But it was that moment of feeling like, I’m all alone, I’m completely abandoned here that was absolutely terrifying.

As we continue to look at the cross and try to ask and discern what’s actually going on here, the next cry from Jesus that we’re going to talk about is a cry of abandonment, a cry of aloneness.  Mark 15:33-34.  Mark is writing about the crucifixion and he’s going to record this phrase, this utterance of Jesus.   And when the sixth hour had come (noon), there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.  And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  

At this point it’s really important that we remember what story we’re in.  Remember, this is a story that began in Genesis 1.  It began with God creating, and God creating good, and God creating beauty, and God creating humanity in his image and in his likeness.  But in Genesis 3, humanity chooses to go their own way.  They’re created to live eternally, feasting on the tree of life, and in connection with God himself.  But they decide that they’d rather have the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The Scriptures are really clear that the result of that choice is death.  There’s a curse that comes along with that and there’s a number of things that you can read in Genesis 3 that come along with this decision to live in sin and apart from God, but, ultimately, the punishment for sin is death.  If you flip over to Romans 6:23, you’ll see that again.  It’s a verse that probably a lot of us have memorized — For the wages of sin is death.  A lot of us read that and think the wages of sin is punishment.  But really, the wages of sin is death and ultimately, the worse kind of death.  It’s saying to God, “God, we think we can do it better on our own than we could with you.”  And it’s God saying, “If that’s your decision then I’m going to let you have that.”  So it separates us from God.  So when Jesus says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he’s calling on himself the sin of the entire world and the result of that sin. . . which is death.  Ultimately, separation from the Author of Life himself.

So when Jesus cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he’s identifying with us.  He’s identifying with human beings.  I love this quote that says:  “The slave has sinned and the son has suffered.”  It’s really interesting because the early church and the church fathers came up with a lot of solid theology, and what they thought about certain topics. . . .who is God?  The deity of Christ.  The deity of the Spirit.  But one of the things they never came to a conclusion on was what happened on the cross.  In fact, they maintained this tension, believing like the rabbis used to talk about the Scriptures being a gem that you could turn and look at from different angles and see different things that were equally true, but that we needed all of them to fill out the picture of what was going on in the Scriptures with God.  That’s the same way the cross functions.  I think the way that we see Jesus associating with humanity, or being a substitute for humanity, is in his cry of dereliction — My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  So throughout the New Testament, there’s this emphasis on God dying in our place.   In Romans 8:1-3, we see one of those instances.   There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh {Jesus takes on humanity and becomes one of us.} and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.  So what’s going on on the cross?  It’s not that God is condemning Jesus, it’s that God is condemning sin.  God’s judging, in a sense.  He’s saying this is evil, this is bad, this must be punished and put to death.  How does Jesus take our place?  He takes our place by living a perfect life and bringing on himself sin.  What’s condemned in Jesus is not Jesus, and it’s not you and it’s not me.  It’s SIN and death and all of his friends.

There’s another passage in Galatians 3:13-14.  This is Paul writing to the church at Galatia.  He’s going to talk about the Law, again, and the Law is the barometer.  The Law is the way God intended us to live that we just couldn’t live up to.  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us   {He condemns sin, he becomes the curse, he takes on the violence that the Romans put against, and that you and I did by our sin as well.  He takes on the curse, he becomes the curse for us.}  ….for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who  is hanged on a tree”   {Paul’s quoting from Deuteronomy 21:23}  …so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.   Jesus, it says, becomes a curse for us.  This is substitutionary language.  I’ve heard people say, and I’ve said it too, that Jesus takes the punishment that we earned.  Jesus dies the death that we should have died.  I wondered if I should have died on a cross, should you have died on a cross?  Is that somehow what our sin deserved?  Well, no!  What our sin deserved was ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’  Why are you abandoning me?  The wages of sin is death, and death, ultimately, is separation from God.

So what does Jesus do on the cross?  Well, maybe the most succinct way it’s put in the Scriptures is that He becomes sin on our behalf.  He takes all of the evil, all of the death, and all of the separation from God.  He bears that punishment—that is death—he buries it in the ground and he comes out holding new life, saying, he became sin for us that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21) 

There’s a lot of talk these days about penal substitutionary atonement (PSA).  A lot of people wondering what do we do with that doctrine.  One of the things I would say is that I believe in penal substitutionary atonement, but I believe we need to define it better.  If by penal we mean that God is punishing Jesus, it’s not what the Scriptures say.  The Scriptures say that he’s punishing sin.  So what’s being punished?  Sin and death.  We’re going back to the Garden, it’s the separation from God.  Penal—that’s what’s being punished: sin and death.  Substitution—Jesus bore our sin.  Jesus took our place.  He calls it all on himself and he atones for it.  He dies that death—My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?—-goes into the ground, buries it, and rises with new life in his hand.  I think the best picture we see on the cross of the wrath of God is Jesus saying ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’   He takes all of that. . . . .all of the evil, and all of the sin, and all of the shame, and all of our weakness, and he bears it on the cross, for you and for me.  He condemns sin in the flesh, he bears the penalty, which is death itself and separation from God.  He becomes sin that you and I might become the righteousness of God.  Penal substitutionary atonement.  He bears the consequences of sin, not a punishment from God.  Sin is its own punishment, and Jesus takes it fully and squarely on his shoulders.

In 1961, East Germany decided they didn’t want a “fascist” West Germany coming in and tainted their people.  So they built a wall.  They built a wall that separated Berlin right almost down the middle.  But on November 9, 1989, the government finally decided that there could be passage from east to west.  On that evening, people went into the wall and started to rip it down.  They started to tear it down.  Well, sin is like a wall.  It’s a wall between us and God.  Here’s the question:  Whose side of the fence is the Law on?  Is the Law on God’s side of the fence, is it God who builds a wall or is it humanity?  All throughout the Scriptures it’s like we said, God is pursuing, he’s jumping over the wall—-through prophets, through leaders, through Wisdom literature, through kings, through exile.  What God does on the cross through Jesus is he doesn’t just jump over the wall.  With his own blood, he jumps onto our side and then he tears that wall down.  I don’t know the exact mechanism of the way that works, that is a profound, cosmic mystery.  But he bears in his body the punishment of sin, that is death and separation, so that you and I might have life.

Well, that brings us to the last of our three sayings that we’re exploring of Jesus on the cross.  Flip over to John 19:28-30.  After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”  A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.  When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

That phrase ‘it is finished’ is three words in our English Bible, but it’s actually one word in the Greek, in the original.  It’s the word ‘tetelestai.’  It’s a word that, in the Greek, is in the perfect tense.  Here’s why it matters.  It indicates that it’s an action that happens at one point in time, that has an ongoing effect or result for potentially ALL of time.  So when Jesus says it is finished, he’s not just saying he’s finishing something then, but that he’s accomplishing something that would have lasting impact on you and on me.

So the question is:  On the cross, what does Jesus finish?  There are at least three things that Jesus finishes when he’s on the cross.  The first thing that happens is the enemy of God, ultimately sin and death and all of its friends, are defeated by Jesus on the cross.  The second thing Christ finishes is a reconciliation of the world to himself.  This is really, really important.  Fleming Rutledge who, I believe, is the preeminent scholar on the crucifixion right now, writes that there’s no where in the New Testament where you can find that God is even suggesting that he is reconciling himself to the world.  The problem isn’t in the heart of God; the problem, the locus of the offense is in the heart of humanity.  Paul will write in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that while Jesus is on the cross, God is, in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.

So what’s finished?  Well, he (Jesus) drives out evil.  He defeats, destroys the work of the enemy, and he draws in people, as we said last week from John 12.  Here’s why this is really, really beautiful, really good news for you and I.  The book of Hebrews (10:1-4) will say it like this:  For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. {What the author of Hebrews is writing is that the sacrificial system of the Old Testament wasn’t an end in and of itself.  It didn’t actually work.  It covered sin, but it didn’t remove sin.) Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, have once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?  But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.  {It’s a reminder of the fact that we needed to continually go back to God to be washed clean.}  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.  {Skip to verse 10.  Talking about the sacrifice of Jesus.}  And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

So what’s finished?  A sacrifice for sin.  Here’s why that’s beautiful news:  If you walked into this place today, carrying guilt about the things that you’ve done in the past, about the places that you’ve been—-and the enemy LOVES to remind you of those things. . . . .the enemy always wants to point you back to a past event. . . .what Jesus is telling you today is that you can drop the baggage, because once and for all, on the cross, sin has been atoned for.  It’s finished!  If you came in today carrying shame….    Guilt is when we feel bad about what we’ve done, shame is when we feel bad about who we are.  If you came in carrying shame, I want to tell you that is not from God.  He has finished his work of redemption on your behalf, and the Scriptures are really, really clear that There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1)  Somebody say amen to tetelestai.  IT. IS. FINISHED. And the results continue to move us forward.

There’s this really interesting scene at the end of the movie, “Saving Private Ryan.”  The captain, who is going to save Private Ryan, to rescue him, after many people have given their life for Private Ryan, to bring him back, pulls him (Private Ryan) in close, grabs him by the shirt and he says to him, “Earn this.”  You know what?  When Jesus pulls you in, he does not say, “Earn this.”  Because the reality is, friends, we never could.  We could never do enough to earn his love.  We could never do enough to get back in his good graces.  What the cross declares is that we could never earn it, and that we were loved anyway.  When Jesus pulls you in close, here’s what he says:  I love you!  I’m for you and I have always been for you.  He’s always been for humanity.  He’s always been pursuing humanity.  The cross reminds us just how far he will go to offer you and I forgiveness.  So he pulls us in close and says, “I love you.”  He pulls us in close and he doesn’t say, “Earn this.”  He says, “Embrace this!”

In all the talk about the cross today, what if, what if, we became the type of cruciformed community who had this conviction, this deep seated conviction, that God was passionately, ferociously FOR his creation.  That he’s redeeming it.  That he was not content to allow us to suffer in the muck and the mire of our sin, but he went so far as to offer us forgiveness—-that’s what we explored first—-to take on himself our forsakenness, and to finish the work of reconciling the world to himself.  What if we had that same conviction?  That God was passionately pursuing the people around us. . . .in our neighborhoods, in our families, in our work places.  Not counting their sins against them, but reconciling them to himself.  What if we were carriers of that message?   Today, we placed crosses all over this city.  What if we became a community committed to declaring the goodness, the power, the wisdom, and the strength of God, through his love that he displayed for us on the cross, given to the entire world.  That’s the type of community I want to be.  One where we’re convinced that death has defeated death, that sin has slaughtered sin, and that evil has enveloped evil, and that Jesus, on the cross, is redeeming the world to himself.  Let’s be people of that good news.

4 Days that Changed the World | Good Friday: What happened on the cross? | Week 32023-06-27T11:37:17-06:00

4 Days that Changed the World | Downward Mobility | John 13:1-17 | Week 2

From the moment Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, at what we refer to as the Triumphal Entry or Palm Sunday, to the time he rises from the grave is about .06% of his life.  Not a lot of time.  But if you read through the gospels, that one week encompasses 33% of the gospel narrative.  It’s one-third of the story that the gospel writers tell.  If you put it all together, this one changed the world.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John felt compelled to tell us about it.  From a lot of different angles and a lot of different ways to recount that week, and specifically these 96 hours—-Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday—of that week changed the world.

There’s a way that the world works.  If you watched the Academy Awards last week, you know this way.  Here’s what it looks like:  If you’re beautiful, if you’re wealthy, if you’re famous, then people cater to your every need.  They put out, literally, a red carpet for you.  The more powerful you are, the more prominent you are, the wealthier you are, the more people you have to cater to your every need.  I read an article a while back about the way celebrities use their assistants.  Christian Bale has an assistant who, as he walks down that red carpet, actually smells his armpits to see if he has B.O.  Madonna has an assistant that wakes up every hour (six times during the night) to get Madonna a cold glass of water.  She also has somebody who goes into the restroom before her with Lysol and disinfectant, and wipes them down from top to bottom before she uses it.  Mariah Carey, who is a notorious diva, has somebody who holds her drink for her while she drinks out of the straw.  She has somebody who washes her hair for her.  She has somebody who walks in front of her so she doesn’t trip while wearing her high heels.  That’s pretty impressive!  Ceelo Green has somebody in his entourage who is responsible for dabbing the sweat off of his brow.  Can you imagine being THAT dude?  Where do you sign up for that?  Or, Prince Charles.  Prince Charles has somebody who irons his shoelaces before he puts them into his shoes. . . . .and it shows!  He also has somebody who undresses him after his day and puts him in his pjs before he goes to bed.  Prince Charles walks in, falls down on his bed, somebody takes all his clothes off and puts his pjs on.  Frank Sinatra had a butler who wash his boxers (his underwear), by hand, and followed him around to straighten his toupee in case it got off.

There’s a way that the world works.  The more powerful you are, the more money you have, the more prominence you garner in life, the more people you have to serve you, the more people you have to cater to your every need, to make sure everything goes well for you.  It’s part of the wiring of our world.  In fact, during Jesus’s day, there’s a tradition that rabbis would try to teach their apprentices, or disciples, how to live in the way of Torah.  There were forty-eight different things you would do in order to train to live in the way of Torah.  One of those things was to be of service to a rabbi.  You would get dinner ready.  You would sometimes wash the feet of the rabbi.  These were all ways of being a personal attendant for someone who was really, really important.  It’s the way that the world worked.  Until Jesus flipped everything on its head.  John 13.  Open there with me as we look at the Thursday that changed the world.  Because there’s a way that the world worked and Jesus flips all of that on its head.  In one meal, he gives his disciples a picture of what you are called to do when you have the power, what you’re called to do when you have the influence, what you’re invited to do when you have the strength.  Do you use it to prop yourself up or do you use it to propel others forward?  THIS, friends, was a revolutionary meal.

John 13, starting at verse 1 — It was just before the Passover Festival.  Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.   Or to the uttermost.  It’s not a word that signifies just a time period, but a way that you lavish love that it fills up a capacity.  Teleos in the Greek. . . to fulfill, to finish.  Jesus takes it ALL the way.  The whole life of Jesus, the trinitarian Godhead, is about love.  From the beginning of creation to the very end, it’s about relationship.  In Genesis 1, it’s God with his creation.  In Revelation 22, it’s God with his creation, motivated the entire time by love for people like you and people like me.  John tells us that what Jesus is doing is he’s painting them a picture.  When he wants to tell them what he’s like, he doesn’t give them a twelve-point sermon, he gives them a meal.  He doesn’t give them didactic, theological truth, he gives them a sacrificial, symbolic act that changes it all.

In the 16th century, Niccolò Machiavelli wrote a book entitled The Prince.  It was revolutionary in that it unpacked what you do with power.  His proposition was: “It is much safer to be feared than loved.”  Well, Michael Scott, in The Office, flipped that around a little bit and said, “I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.”  I think Jesus would agree far more with Michael Scott than he would with Niccolò Machiavelli.  This act of love.  Not saying I want to be afraid of me, but I want you to receive the love I have.  From the beginning to the end, that’s what he’s about.

This is the way he lives that out.  Verse 2:  The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Everybody that writes about the gospel of John says that it’s divided into two parts.  Chapters 1 through 12 is Part 1, chapters 12 through 21 as a shorter Part 2.  Chapter 1 begins with the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.  It begins with God shedding himself of all of the benefits of being God.  Part 2 begins in the exact same way, with Jesus Messiah approaching probably a mat with his friends sitting around it, eating a Passover meal together, and shedding his outer garments to bend down and serve his friends.  Typically, the father or master of the ceremony would have, in this point of the meal, washed his disciples’—or the people sitting with him sharing the meal—hands.  But Jesus flips it all on its head and he gives them a new picture. . . . .a new picture of what you do when you’ve got the power.  What’s really at stake here is not just the way of Jesus, but the person of Jesus.  What you’re seeing is not just something Jesus DOES, you are seeing who Jesus IS.

So he washes his disciples’ feet, much to their chagrin, as we’ll see in a moment, and to their awe that the God of the universe bows down before them.  At the end of it he says this (v16):  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.  Jesus says okay, you want to be blessed?    And everybody does.  We have this human longing to be known, to be loved, to have the favor of God poured out on us, which is what blessing is.  He goes okay, you want that?  Well then do this.  There’s a way that the world used to work.  If you have the power, use it to push others down.  If you have the power, get the entourage, have them serve you, beat your chest, go that way.  Jesus says how’s that working out for you?  There’s a better way.  What he wants to teach you and me this morning, his followers during that meal, that evening, is that self-giving (this modeled way of Jesus) is the pathway to abundant blessing.  When we give ourselves away. . . . . .see, Jesus is illustrating with a meal what he told us last week, which is that in order to find out what it really truly live, you’ve got to die.  You can’t try to garner everything for yourself and expect that you’re going to find sustenance and joy in life.  Actually, joy is found when you shed the outer layer, get down on your hands and knees, and serve the people around you.  That’s the way true life is found.

It’s really interesting, if I were Jesus, I don’t know what I would have done because later on in this meal in Luke 22:24-27, Luke records what the disciples say.  Catch this: A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.    {Can you imagine?  Jesus has washed his disciples’ feet, down on his hands and knees, with a towel, and a water basin.  He goes okay, the servant’s not greater than his master, love each other, DO this, you’re blessed if you do this, and then a few minutes later they’re going which one of you thinks he’s going to be the greatest?  Jesus was probably like Father, take me now!  I’ve suffered enough.  The cross is one thing, but these guys are a whole other thing!   Which one of us is going to be the greatest?  Jesus said to them, “You morons!”    No!  He didn’t!}   Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; {There’s a way the world worked.  When you had the power, you kept people under your thumb.}  and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  {They’re the ones that garner all the attention.}  But you are not to be like that.  {There’s a way that the world worked, but there’s a new way.  There’s a new day.  There’s a new invitation to what we do with strength and power.}   Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  

In the 20th century, there was a missionary by the name of Wilfred Grenfell.  He was a missionary to Newfoundland, in the northeast.  Someone gave him a brand new motorboat in order to bring medical aid to people who were sort of off in the outskirts.  One evening he got summoned that someone needed his help.  He got in this brand new motorboat.  It was dark out, but he’d been on this route a number of times, but he followed the compass to get to the place he needed to arrive at.  But within a few minutes of riding in this little motorboat, he found himself in the middle of the vast open sea, his tiny boat being hit by a torrent of waves.  He eventually made his way back to shore.  In the morning he went and looked at his boat.  He noticed that instead of finishing the compass in the the correct way, whoever put the compass on his boat, finished it with a steel screw.  It took that arrow that was suppose to point north and turned it right back towards that screw.

The same thing has happened to us, you guys.  We have an arrow in our life that was designed to point north, that was designed to point toward God.  That we would love God and love others.  That would be what our life would be about.  But we’ve all got this steel screw—it’s called sin—in our lives that keeps moving the arrow back to us.   So when we get power, we prop ourselves up.  When we have authority, we use it for our own benefit.  Jesus says, “Not so with my people.”  You know what?  This plays out in life.  Jesus is not just saying hypothetical niceties.  Think about the people who have been the best leaders.  They’ve been servants.  The Martin Luther King, Jrs. of the world, they’ve been servants.  The Abraham Lincolns of our world, they’ve been servants.  The Mother Teresas — bending down and washing feet.  The Corrie ten Booms.  The people who have given their lives.  They were not only the ones who lived lives of legacy, but they were people who lived lives of blessing.  There’s a way that the world worked, and Jesus turns all of that on its head.  I love the way author Andy Crouch put it:  “The most transformative acts of our lives are likely to be the moments when we radically empty ourselves, in the very settings where we would normally be expected to exercise authority.”  There’s this self-giving that leads to abundant blessing.

Jesus illustrates this for his disciples and for us, because if you’re maybe like I am and go that’s a great idea, in THEORY, but to actually live that out, how do we do that?  {I’m glad you asked that.}  Here’s how Jesus lived that out (John 13:4-5):  So he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing…     For Jesus and people back in the first century, they would have had a tunic that was on the outside, and then, maybe, depending on how wealthy they were, they would have a really light shirt, like underwear, that they wore underneath.  Jesus takes off his tunic.  Everybody who writes about this—or at least writes well about what is going on in the gospel of John—says that what’s going on at the foot washing is the same thing that’s going on in chapter 1 and Jesus is not just shedding a tunic, but he’s shedding all of the things that he could hold onto in being God.  He takes it off so that he could bend down.  When you have one of those big outer coats on like they had, getting down on your hands and knees, in order to serve the people around you, would be physically difficult.  So he takes off his coat and the king of the cosmos bends down.  Lays his glory, lays his majesty, lays his power aside.  This is the same rabbi, that just a few chapters earlier, a few days ago. . . .the disciples had seen him walk up to his friend Lazarus’s tomb and go, hey Lazarus, I hate that you’re dead, so why don’t you be undead.  Come on out.  He’s spit in the mud and wiped it in people’s eyes and they’ve started to see.  They’ve seen lame men walk, blind men see, sick people healed. . . .and he takes off that coat.  For Jesus, power isn’t something you wield over people, it’s something you use to prop people up.  He takes it off because it would have gotten in the way of serving.

But if you and I are going to follow the Jesus way, the Jesus model, there’s some things we’ve got to release to.  In the same way, in the same vein that Jesus did, we’ve got to release power, and instead, live in the way of vulnerability and humility.  According to Philippians 2:3-4, Paul writes about living in the way of Jesus, and he says:   Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.  {Anybody nail that one yet??  I mean, my goodness.  To be quite honest with you, as I’m preaching this, I envision myself sitting with you rather than telling you, man, I’ve got this one.  Rather, in humility. . . .literally, lowliness of mind.  I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less, having others in your view.  That’s the attitude.}   …not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  This is the attitude, but the action is vulnerability.  It’s taking off the outer garment so you can see what’s underneath.  The outer garment prevents us from getting on our knees to serve.  The outer garment prevents us from actually being able to love and to love well.

This vulnerability is maybe summarized by one word, the potential for being WOUNDED.  Which is why we don’t embrace it often.  I mean, thanks to Brené Brown—and I mean that genuinely—vulnerability is on our radar screen now.  That’s a great thing.  Vulnerability is a beautiful thing and it’s extremely difficult to live out.  We’ve got some robes too, don’t we?  We have some robes, we have some outer garments, some things that we’d like to cinch up so that people can’t see on the inside.  Let me give you two that I see in my life and in the life of people I walk closely with:  One is the garment of pride.  I’ll let you see my successes, but I will not let you see my shortcomings.  Sometimes pride looks like a title.  Sometimes pride looks like a position.  Sometimes pride looks like a sarcastic, humorous, or maybe even, condescending comment so we can deflect somebody from getting into what’s really going on in our life.  Right?  That’s just me.  Sometimes pride might look like a physical build or an ability to manipulate people to get them to do what you want.  Or maybe even to say I’m going to withhold forgiveness so I have this power that I can just wield over you.  But when we have that robe on, there’s no way we can get down and wash feet.

Here’s the other robe we sometimes wear.  We have the robe of pride.  We have the robe of pain.  The robe that says, “Be vulnerable again?”  I was vulnerable once and it bit me.  I shed that outer layer and I let somebody in and they abused that invitation and took advantage of it and took advantage of me.  That story, that truth, that thing that happened replays over and over and over again, and maybe even subconsciously that anthem is I will not be vulnerable because I will not be hurt again.  Listen, if that’s you this morning, I just want to say, one, I get it.  I don’t understand exactly where you’ve been, but I know that that’s one of the things we do.  We cinch that coat up tight because we’ve been hurt.   And more than I get it, God sees it.  And he’s asking if you’ll open up just a little bit, because your inability to love well is actually preventing you from walking into the blessing he has for you.  Friends, if we are going to live in this Jesus way, we’ve got to embrace the reality that what we continue to hide, God is not going to heal.  What we continue to hide is going to prevent us from actually being able to give and receive love.  When we only wear the outer garment and refuse to take it off, the only thing the people around us can love is the outer garment.  They can’t love you if they don’t really know you.  You can’t genuinely give love if you’re not willing to genuinely be known.  So the shame just keeps that robe on and it keeps it on tight.  Here’s the truth of the matter, though.  What I don’t want you to hear me say is if you’re walking in pride or if you’re walking in pain, you just gotta muscle up and shed that robe!  That’s not what Jesus would say.  The truth of the matter is that if we’re going to do what Jesus did, we’ve got to know what Jesus knew.  You can only do what Jesus did if you know what Jesus knew.

What did Jesus know?  Verse 3:  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power…    Jesus knew his authority.  Do you know yours?  Scriptures say that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to .  (Matthew 28:18)  He promises I will never leave you nor forsake you, I am with you always even to the end of the age.  He’s going, my authority is your authority.  Do you know that?  Do you know that you can take a risk and make a difference because the King of kings and the Lord of lords is with you and for you?  The second thing is that he knew all power had been put under him, so he knew his power so he didn’t need to prove it.  Make sense?  When you don’t genuinely know you have power, you’ve got to continually prove it to all the people around you.  You know people like this?  They always feel like they’re on the bottom so they’ve got to one up you, one up you, one up you.  You’re like, this is laborious to be around you.

The second thing Jesus says it that he had come from God.  First, authority.  Second, identity.  Jesus knows who he is.  Do you know who you are?  You’re a son or daughter of the Most High King, loved beautifully and perfectly by Him.  You have been new by faith in Christ.  That’s who you are.  It’s the truest thing about you.

Finally, he says this: ….and was returning to God.  Authority, identity, destiny.  Jesus knew it all.  He’s going listen, I can bend down and I can serve, because death is a real thing but it’s not the most ultimate thing.  I know, I KNOW what awaits me on the other side, so I can serve.  Authority frees service, identity frees vulnerability, and destiny frees inconvenience.  And washing feet is inconvenient.

Listen to the way Jesus goes on:  He came to Simon Peter,  {Any time that happens in the Scripture, you should just sit back and wait.  You just know it’s going to be great, because Simon Peter is what we all would be and do if we didn’t have the inhibitions the other disciples have.  He just says what everybody’s thinking.}  …who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”  {You wonder if the other disciples were like, oh gosh, it’s sorta like watching a train wreck.  Peter has said some ridiculous things to Jesus, so much so that Jesus had said to him, “Get behind me, Satan!”  You wonder if the disciples, as they’re walking down the road, are like, remember the one time He called you Satan?  That was awesome!  Amazing!  This is another one of those times where they’re sitting back going, listen, if Messiah wants to wash your feet, I know it’s going to be awkward, but just let Him!  Let Him!!  Peter, in his quintessential overreaction says in verse 9…}  “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”  Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean.  And you are clean, though not every one of you.”  For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.  

This phrase in verse 10 stood out to me — And you are clean.  Peter, you’ve been washed new.  It’s a picture— most commentators would say—of salvation expressed in baptism, fully cleansed, fully covered, fully washed, made new.  Totally!  {Would you look up at me for just a second?}  If you follow Jesus, YOU. ARE. CLEAN!  You’re clean.  That’s the beautiful truth of the gospel.  Jesus is teaching that believers are not only saved by faith, but that they’re invited to continue to walk by faith, to be purified day by day by day by day.  Isn’t it a beautiful thing that Jesus doesn’t just wash us, save us, cleanse us, and then go, well, see you when you get to heaven?!   But it’s a daily, minute by minute, hour by hour, walk with me.  You’re forgiven, let me continue to forgive you.  Let’s do this together.  Let’s do this life together.  He does not just save us and let us go, he washes us clean and then continues to serve us along the way.

So the first we thing we do is release.  We shed this outer garment that we often wear of pride and pain. . . . knowing our authority, knowing our identity, knowing our destiny.  We shed that so we can actually get down and serve.  The second thing we do is we receive.  We receive lavish, ridiculous, reckless, messy love and grace.  You want a verse that summarizes the gospel?  Verse 8, Jesus saying to Peter:    Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.    It’s Jesus wooing you and I and Peter in, by his love, saying, “I will not be your Lord if I am not first your servant.”  There’s no other picture of a deity in any world religion that would suggest such absolute insanity.  I will not be your Lord if I cannot first be your servant.  Picture it:  You’re sitting around this table and the King of the world, who’s just risen somebody from the grave, comes to you.  He bows in front of you, picks up a water basin, and starts to wash your feet.  If you’ve ever been part of a foot-washing service, here’s what you know.  You know that it’s a lot easier to wash somebody else’s feet than it is to get your feet washed.  It’s a lot easier to extend grace sometimes than it is to receive it.

In the mid-1850’s, an artist by the name of Ford Madox Brown painted a picture of Jesus washing Peter’s feet. He painted Jesus, at first, having no robe on, like the Scriptures would say.  The painting wouldn’t sell with Jesus looking like that, he was too scantily clad, they said.  He painted a green robe on him and eventually the painting sold.  It’s a fascinating picture of Peter, isn’t it?  With his head down, almost can’t make eye contact with Jesus, because it’s so awkward to have the Ruler of It All bend down and wash your feet.  Look at the way Jesus’s hands are around Peter’s foot.  I picture a teenage mom grabbing her boy’s face and planting a big kiss on it, as if to say, “You’ll kiss me whether you like it or not.”  Jesus is like, we’re doing this and I ain’t letting go.  All the people in the background look around in awe.  In terror, thinking, my time’s coming next.

It’s this picture of grace, this picture of mercy, that you and I often resist.  Jesus saying, “I will not be your Lord if I first cannot be your servant.”  The truth of the matter is, friends, we resist it on two fronts.  Some of us think we just don’t need it.  You’re not washing my feet!  Absolutely not!  And Jesus says, “If I don’t wash your feet, you have no part with me.”  If you miss grace, you miss God entirely, that’s what he’s saying.  Forgiveness is the foundation that every life of faith is built on.  You can’t skip this part and jump to something else.  This is something we all must first receive.  The King of kings and Lord of lords bowing down to wash our feet.  Unneeding?  No!  None of us is beyond the grace of God.  Nobody in this place!

The second thing that happens is like Peter, like the other disciples, we go, well, Jesus, I’m not unneeding, I’m undeserving.  So many of us have this narrative of God like he’s just waiting for us to earn what he wants to freely give us.  The picture is one of grace, friends.  So, if you’re struggling with being undeserving, let me assure you. . . .you are!!  Let me assure you. . .WE are!  Every last one of us!  {Look up at me for a moment.}  You are perfectly loved, but you are not loved because you are perfect.  You are loved to the uttermost, not because you’re amazing, but because your God is awesome.  So he looks at us in our undeserving, and sometimes thinking that we’re unneeding, and he comes up and he grabs our foot and says, “We’re going to do this or you don’t have any part of me.”  As if to say, when you let me be your servant, you get a part of me.  So we release and then we receive the lavish love that the Father has poured down on us.

Then Jesus ends this picture, this parable, like this (v12):  When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place.  “Do you understand what I have done for you?”  he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, you Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  {Look up from your Bible for just a second.  Look around.  These are people that we’re called to wash the feet of.  Do this for each other.}  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Teacher and Lord.  Living in his way, living in his rhythms, but can we just be honest?  Sometimes being a foot washer is really inconvenient.  I was driving with me kids in the car the other day, and my daughter Avery is having some trouble with this boy at school that sort of picks on her a little bit.  It mostly happens before school and my older son Ethan knows this.  They’re both there before school.  He says to her in the car, “Avery, I was going to come stand up for you on Friday, but I had to go see about a candy-gram.”  Like, I was going to come to your rescue but there was candy involved, I know you’d understand.  Then he follows it up with “I was going to get you a candy-gram too, but I had to get one for Cooper and Fletcher before that, so I ran out of money.”  She’s like, “Oh, that’s cool, Ethan.  Thanks for thinking of me, buddy.”  Kids are just more honest.  We do the same thing too!  I was going to serve you, but I got a better offer.  Something came up.  We cloak that, but we say the same thing.

Jesus said:  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. (John 20:21)   We release power, embrace vulnerability.  We receive lavish love and grace.  And then we respond with extravagant forgiveness.  In a selfie culture, God is calling us to be selfless Christians.  {So look up at me for a second.}  I’ve said this to you before, and I’m saying it again to us, if you are a follower of Jesus, you don’t get to decide who you love, but how you love.  You are called to love every single person that you meet.  The people that can’t reciprocate it, you’re called to love.  The people that won’t reciprocate it, you’re called to love them.  The people that have hurt you, you’re called to love them.  The people who believe differently than you and have a different lifestyle than you. . .you don’t get to decide if you love, you only get to decide how. The people of a different faith?  Jesus is bending down to wash Judas’s feet.  Friends, what if followers of Jesus started to actually live in the way of Jesus?  Do you know how much pain, and war, and violence, and hurt, in our world would be healed if our posture was ‘I know we disagree on a lot of stuff, but I want to listen.’  I want to learn where you’re coming from.  I want to hear you out.  I want to serve you.  I want to wash your feet.  That takes a confidence in our authority, our identity, and our destiny that most of us just don’t really have.  But Jesus is inviting us to embrace it.  To serve in his way.

I read this story about Pope Francis, who, on Holy Week of 2016, washed the feet of twelve Muslim and Hindu immigrants.  No strings attached.  Just living in the way of Jesus.  What if someone can’t reciprocate it?  I love the way C.S. Lewis says it:  “Love is never wasted, for its value does not depend upon reciprocity.”

So how might we practice this way together this week, friends?  Biblical compassion does not say we’re just content with whoever’s around our table.  It’s continuing to pursue, continuing to build bridges, continuing to love people who are very different and “other” than we are.  This is his way.  This is his calling. . . .for you and for me.  He says it will change the world if we live that way.  It’ll change you, and, if you read John 13:34-35, the world will know that we are his disciples by the way that we love.  So what might you do this week, if you want to practice this?  What if you volunteer?  We have Family Promise coming this week.  There’s opportunities to serve in our Food Bank.  I had a friend let me know that right now there’s about forty kids in the foster care system who need homes.  I don’t know about you, but I just can’t imagine what it would be like to be a little kid without a place to call home.  I don’t say that to guilt or shame you, I’m just thinking we have to enter in with them.  How do we do this?  What if you just, as a random act of kindness, bought somebody coffee who was behind you in line?  Or send somebody an encouraging note, or watched someone’s kids, or listened to somebody who you disagreed with.  I know, it’s crazy, but it’s possible.  I just want to say, South Fellowship, you do this so well, and I want to say, let’s listen to the Spirit as he pulls us forward to say. . . .let’s hold our lives open to say, “Jesus, it’s all yours.  You speak into it and tell me what to do and how you want me to love.  I’m going to do my best to follow you.  I believe that there’s blessing there.  There’s some things in me that stand in the way and I want to receive from you in a way that I can shed my robes.  I want to receive love from you in a way that allows me to stand firm.  And I want to respond to live in your way.”  Just a huge shout-out to the parents, to the moms who do this, to the grandparents who do this, to the single parents who do this.  Oh my gosh, you think no one sees.  I just want to affirm to you that your God knows the way that you love, the way that you serve.  You’re a picture of what he’s done for you.

Friends, the reality is that a life of service leads to a legacy of influence.  Jesus says you want to be great?  Wonderful!  He’s not down on greatness.   He wants to tell you how to get there.  The greatest among you will be your servant.  Let’s live in this way.

We’re going to sing “Reckless Love.”  It’s a picture of foot-washing God coming after you.  I’d like to invite you to come during this last song and write a word .  Maybe it’s a name, maybe it’s a family member, maybe it’s someone who’s driving you crazy at work, and you’re going to serve them this week.  I want you to write down how you’re going to do that and live it out this week.  Our prayer is that the light of Jesus will shine through us saying, “This is how we want to live, that the world might know that He’s good and that He’s God.”  Jesus, we love you and our lives are open to you.  Would you bring something to mind?  Would you bring a person to mind?  A way that you want us to love sacrificially the people around us.  We believe that there’s blessing in living your way and we want it.  Lord, we’re following you.  Amen.

4 Days that Changed the World | Downward Mobility | John 13:1-17 | Week 22023-06-27T11:37:49-06:00

4 Days that Changed the World | The Turning Point | John 12:20-36 | Week 1

We are starting a new series today that we are calling “4 Days That Changed the World.” Sometimes a walk has a way of changing things. I did a wedding yesterday — those doors in the back of the worship center opened, and a bride walked down the aisle to be received by her groom. Anecdotally, it was a ‘Cook’ marrying a ‘Hunter.’ By the end of the wedding, it was two had become one. Some walks change everything. March 21, 1965: Martin Luther King, Jr., and a number of his civil rights workers with him, left from the city of Selma, Alabama to march to Montgomery, to fight for the right for African-Americans to vote. They’d been turned back two times already, but this time they had the backing of President Johnson. He had given his support to the march. Instead of having armed guards there to turn them back, they were there to protect the marchers as they embarked on a 54-mile walk. When they got to Montgomery, Dr. King gave one of his most famous speeches. It was summarized by the phrase “How Long, Not Long.” In that speech he said, “Like an idea whose time has come, not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. We are moving to the land of freedom.” On August 6, 1965, African-Americans were given the right to vote in this country.

Some marches change everything. It was March 29, AD 33. Jesus of Nazareth got on the back of a colt to ride into Jerusalem. We call it ‘The Triumphal Entry.’ It started the clock ticking on a week that has changed the world that we live in. Maybe in more ways than we recognize, that week changed everything! The reason you have Sundays off as part of your weekend? It’s because Jesus rose from the grave on a Sunday. It used to be that followers of Christ, until Christianity was the religion in the Roman empire, would go to church before work, early in the morning, before the sun came up, to worship, then go to work. Because Sunday was just like every other day in the week. THIS changed everything! We now have a weekend. It changed more than that. Over the next few messages, we’re going to wrestle with these four days, these 96 hours that changed the world. My hope is that over the next week, the Spirit of God invites you into this story to know it better, but maybe knowing IT better, we would be known. That we might not just regurgitate it and the facts of what happened. We’re going to wrestle with questions like: Why did Jesus die? Why did Jesus have to die? Who killed Jesus? Who did Jesus “pay off” for the debt of sin? What was that all about? Please come back. We’re going to wrestle with a new type of influence. . . .an influence of love. We’re going to talk about ‘he descended to the dead’ or ‘he descended to hell.’ What does that mean? On Easter morning, we’re going to celebrate the fact that what Jesus does on Easter morning changes definitively the world we live in. It’s a march that changes everything.

As I was preparing and reading through some of the gospel accounts, I was struck by if you take the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and you start to read them, you’ll notice something really interesting. This one week, this Holy Week as we call it, beginning with the Triumphal Entry and culminating with resurrection from the dead. . . . .if Jesus lived 33 years, which is roughly what most scholars would say he lived, this is 1/1716th of his life. Which, if you’re doing the math, is .06% of Jesus’s life. That’s a small percentage. But if you read through the gospels, you’ll start to recognize that they seem to put an awful lot of emphasis on this one week. It’s .06% of Jesus’s life, but it’s 33% of the gospels. From the time of the Triumphal Entry forward. I’m not even including times that Jesus definitively says, “I’m pointing my face towards Jerusalem,” or he starts to talk about the cross. I’m starting the timer when he walks into Jerusalem on the back of the donkey. Thirty-three percent of our gospel narrative is this one week. That’s amazing!

You might be asking the question: Why is it so important? Glad you asked that. Open your Bible with me to the gospel of John 12. Jesus is going to begin to tell us why this week is so important, why this week is going to change the world. We want to listen to the words of Jesus and the teachings of Jesus today, and sort of let these 96 hours just press in on us a little bit. John 12:27 then we’ll jump back to the beginning of this story to see it for its whole. Listen to why Jesus says it’s so important: Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? {Quick timeout. I love that the gospel writers are going to include for us these moments of Jesus’s humanity. He’s looking at what he’s walking into, and like you or I, he says I am troubled. His soul is in turmoil. He asks a rhetorical question then.} Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. The reason I’m clothed in humanity, the reason I’m walking the face of the earth, the reason the incarnation happened is for THIS MOMENT. Everything has been coming and leading up to this. . . .like little streams that eventually merge into a river. . . .Jesus goes this is what it’s all about. Jesus’s turn towards the cross turns the world upside down. Today we’re going to look at sixteen verses in the gospel of John where Jesus lays out, for us, sort of a methodology why we can say this with confidence. Why did these 96 hours, why did these four days, why did this week change it all? He goes, “Let me tell you.”

Let’s go back to verse 20, because that’s where this story begins. Jesus’s turn towards the cross, and his resurrection. . . .so we’re seeing that as an entire event, turns the world upside down. Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. {I think they chose Philip because he was also a Greek.} “Sir,” they said, “we would like to Jesus.” {Underline or star that in your Bible. It’s going to be important and we’ll come back to that in a few moments.} Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single see. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify you name!” Then a voice came from heaven, {Timeout! This only happens three times in the gospels, so it’s sort of important. Often, we just read right over things in the Bible without trying to put ourselves in the picture of people who are just standing there going, “What in the world is going on??”} “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.”

What is going on? They begin by saying ‘We want to see Jesus,’ and Jesus says ‘Oh, you’ll see me alright.’ He goes into this almost riddle-laden teaching about his cross. But notice what he wants to address first. Verse 23 — The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Jesus says, “Here’s what you’re going to see. You’re going to see the Son of Man glorified. Father, glorify your name.” He says, “I have glorified it,” talking about his life, “and I will glorify it again.” Most people who study the Scriptures say that Jesus is unequivocally declaring that the cross is THE picture of God’s glory. Which is astounding!!

This word ‘glory’ has a lot of history to it. If you were to be a good Jewish person, your immediate thought would be going to the book of Exodus 33, where Moses, arguably one of the best leaders the nation of Israel had ever seen, asked to see God’s glory. God, let me see your glory. God says I’d love to show you my glory, but it would kill you! We’ve got a little problem here. So how about you just look at my backside after I pass by. Or your mind, as a good Jewish person, would be drawn to Psalm 19:1 — The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. This word ‘glory’ could literally be translated ‘weightiness.’ If you took a pebble and threw it into a lake, you’d get to see its glory by how much water it displaced. If you took a boulder and threw it into a lake, you’d get to see its glory by how much water it displaced. It’s a way of talking about majesty. It’s a way of talking about beauty. So Psalm 19 says if you go out in the evening and look up in the sky and try to count the stars, it’s a little bit like taking in God’s majesty, his glory, his beauty.

But when Jesus says that the Son of Man will be glorified, talking about the cross, it changes everything. It changes the entire view of what we think of when we think about God, but also about what we think about when we think about glory. What Jesus is saying, what the Triune God is saying, if you want to see what I’m like, in all of my glory, in all of my weightiness, in all of my splendor, and in all of my beauty, then you cannot look passed Golgotha. You cannot look passed Calvary. That’s where you see, ultimately and definitively, what I’m like. Every other picture of God’s glory is subsidiary to the cross. We go that doesn’t make any sense, that God would show his beauty, his majesty, his power through the cross?!? Yeah, I know. Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist, echoes our lament and questions about that: “I don’t see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on a cross as worthy of grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it’s going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible.” To Richard Dawkins, I’d say, “What’s more incomprehensible than the cross?” I think he nailed it, unknowingly to him. This is the upside down world that Jesus invites us into. Friends, Jesus is the exact radiance of the glory of God (Hebrews 1:3). The glory of God is best displayed, according to the gospel of John, on the cross. That’s where you see him most fully. If you read through the New Testament, it’s going to be really clear that the cross is the wisdom, and the power, and the glory of God.

So why does this week change the world? It exposes the reality that God’s glory is sacrificial love. So glory’s this word about weightiness, but the word ‘glorify’ is a little bit different. It’s the request. When Jesus says glorify your name, he’s saying put your glory on display. Let everyone see it. Literally in the Greek, it means ‘to recognize the real substance of something.’ Where you go, oh, so that’s what that’s like. That’s what that tastes like. That’s what that means.

Anybody else like the show “Fixer Upper” on HGTV? Chip and Joanna Gaines go into these houses that look like yours and mine, and then they turn them into houses that don’t look like yours and mine. They do all sorts of remodeling and make it awesome. There’s this moment at the end of the show where they have this big banner in front of the house, and there’s a picture on the banner of what the house used to look like. They have a big reveal. {Are you ready to see your fixer-upper?!} They pull back the curtain and the couple gets to see their new house. You know what they’re doing? They’re glorifying it. They’re displaying it. They’re letting all of its beauty shine forth.

What if the trinitarian God is looking at the cross going that’s it! That’s what we are like. He’s echoing what early church creed would have said, and Paul records it for us in Philippians 2:6-7. Here’s the way this creed read: (Jesus Christ) Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; {Paul is saying that the way that Jesus characterizes God, displays God, glorifies God, is not by coming and powerfully suppressing those under him. He could have done that but he didn’t He actually showed us what God is like by emptying himself.} rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. He doesn’t empty himself of God, he empties himself of grasping and displays what God is like. That’s good. {You can write this down.} The cross is not something God does, the cross reveals who God is. The cross reveals what God is ultimately like. The cross is showing us forgiveness extended to all. Love for enemies put on display. Hope for the hurting held out. Relationship with God ultimately and finally restored. This is what your God is like.

I know a lot of people who want to “live for the glory of God.” That’s so up-in-the-air that we have no idea what that means. Can we just agree with that? I’m a fan of the Westminster Confession that says the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. To that I say praise the Lord, but let’s define glorify. And let’s define it like the Scriptures do. What if we looked at it as the chief end of man is to selflessly love which allows us to enjoy a God who is love. What if we actually defined what we’re talking about and sunk our feet into the ground that we actually walk on and say well, this is what it actually looked like for Jesus and this is what it looks like for us. So he’s transforming the world. This is what glory looks like, this is what God looks like. Self-giving, sacrificial love for those who are distant and obstinate towards him. That’s who God is. That’s what God is like. {You can say Amen if you’d like to.}

Listen to John 12:23-26 — Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. {I can imagine Jesus being a great rabbi—being witty, being funny, using props and all the things around him—picking up a stalk of wheat and putting it in between his hands, rubbing it, and it falling to the ground. He’s making this point: The rhythms of grace are sown into the soil of creation. Every time you see a seed go into the ground and come out with more life than it went into, you’re seeing something that God has wired into his world. That’s awesome.} Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

What’s Jesus saying? Should we read this literally? Literally, Jesus says that we should hate our lives. Well, he also teaches that the Golden Rule is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you hate your life, literally, and want to harm your own life and your own self, then that command doesn’t make a lot of sense. Can we agree on that? Jesus is using hyperbole; he’s going to the nth degree to make a point. He’s saying you’ve got to surrender your own life, and in doing so, find what it means to actually, truly, genuinely live. That’s his point. He’s not calling you to be a sadomasochist. He’s actually inviting you to be a hedonist. He’s going this is what real life looks like.

January 7, 2007, The New York Times Magazine ran an article about a study they had done. They were trying to figure out what makes people happy. They called this article “Happiness 101.” They found that the people who were trying to just live for pleasure, to live for the next high, to live for the next newest thing, were actually some of the most unhappy people they studied. You know why that makes sense? We’ve all seen it. Here’s what they decided. . . .if that type of please is our ultimate goal, it keeps distancing itself from becoming a reality. You get something and it satisfies temporarily, but then you need just a little bit more in order to make yourself happy the next time. You need a little bit newer car, you need a little bit nicer, a little bit brighter, a little bit shinier, a little bit bigger… All of that and we’re on this treadmill that keeps getting pushed up, up, up, more, more, more, bigger, bigger, bigger, brighter, brighter, brighter, and soon we’re running so fast that we can’t even keep up. The study found that we become addicted to our own pleasures and the need for it keeps growing until it outgrows our capacity to feed it. You have to do more and more to be satisfied, they said. According to this study, the best way to increase happiness is to do acts of selfless kindness, to pour yourself out to those who are in need. Research shows that an unselfish life of service gives a sense of meaning, of being useful and valuable, and of having significance.

Jesus is like hey, look up at me! That took you 2000 years? I was telling you that!!! Come on! That’s exactly what he’s inviting us to. . . .the life where we lay down ours and find what it means to really, truly live. He says it like this in Mark 8:34-35 — Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. {In the same way that Jesus uses an illustration about a stalk of wheat and seed that goes into the ground, he’s using a saying from the day. ‘To take up your cross and follow’ was to say I’m going to place myself under the authority of the Roman empire. I’m going to surrender to them. I’m going to submit to them. What they ask of me, I will do. So, when people talked about carrying their cross—which they did back in Jesus’s day—they were talking about a surrender to the empire. When Jesus says take up your cross and follow me, he’s inviting them to surrender, not to an empire, but to a kingdom. Live in my way.} For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. Taking up your cross is essentially saying back to God, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

When Jesus turns toward Jerusalem, he turns the world upside down, because he reveals that death is actually the path to life. You have to hear me on this, Jesus is not calling us to look at the cross and admire the cross. He’s asking us to look at the cross and emulate it, to live in the same way. It’s not hey, Jesus, that was great. He’s like wonderful, will you do the same? You follow me in this. Look at how he does this. In John 12:21, there’s these Greeks that come to Jesus and they say we want to see you. He’s like, great, you’re going to see me lifted up in all of my glory, but my goal is not just that you SEE me. That’s important, but it doesn’t end there. My goal is that you FOLLOW me. That’s my goal.

Unfortunately, because we live in a world that’s twisted and permeated with sin, we’ve seen this idea of laying down your cross and dying to yourself abused, and taken advantage of. Where people in position of power try to manipulate other people and say well, you’ve got to die to yourself, which actually really means to live to my desires, not yours. But when Jesus invites us and calls us to die ourself, he’s calling us to die TO ourselves, not to a death OF ourselves. {Lean in for a moment.} In order to die to ourselves, we’ve got to first KNOW ourselves. Otherwise, we will just die to ourselves and live to what everybody else wants us to do! I love the way John Calvin puts it in the beginning of Institutes of Christian Religion: “Nearly all the wisdom which we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” If we don’t know ourselves, we will die to ourselves and live to whatever anybody else wants us to do. Let me ask a question: Is that what we see Jesus doing? NO! Absolutely not! Nobody wanted Jesus to do the things that he did. It’s the reason he was crucified. He gave them what they needed, he didn’t give them what they wanted. He lived to the Father’s will, not to their will.

Death to self looks like something different to every person in this room. For the people pleaser, death to self looks like becoming a truth-teller in some instances. For the fearful, death to self means embracing a life of faith and maybe a little bit of risk. To the stingy, death to self means becoming generous. To those who’ve been sitting on the sidelines, death to self means jumping in and taking that risk, going a little bit extroverted when your natural tendency is introverted. . . .or the opposite, right? To those who’ve been working their fingers to the bone and feeling like their soul is shriveling, can I just tell you, that’s not what God wants for you. That is not death to self, that’s not knowing self and living to whatever anybody wants you to do. Death to self might mean saying “NO!” Or, to some, death to self might be saying, “I don’t know.” A surrender of pride. A surrender of ‘I’ve gotta have my own way.’ To the adventurous, death to self might mean planting yourself firmly in the soil of community and staying, and being known, and going against some of the natural desires and the natural tendencies. Death to self is laying aside everything else and saying, God, what do you want from me? Not my will, but yours be done. Jesus says something really beautiful happens when we do that. . . .it actually allows us to really, truly, fully live. Which is what he’s after. . . . .you want to hold onto your life, you want to control everything? It’s going to kill you! But if you’ll let me, you’ll find out what it means to really, truly live.

It’s something hard to diagnose in ourselves. Have I died to myself? Let me ask you a few diagnostic questions that could help. How often do you get offended? We live in an easily offended culture and world, don’t we? We get offended at everything! It’s like a sport sometimes! I would submit that maybe you’re not dead in the way that Jesus invites you to be, if you’re often offended, because I think that’s pride showing. How often do you find yourself defending yourself? How often do you feel sorry for yourself and wallow in self-pity? I’m right, how dare they! I deserve fill-in-the-blank. How do you respond when you don’t get your way? How often do you say “I’m sorry,” and not I’m sorry you’re a moron and didn’t understand what I was really trying to say, which is sometimes how we do it, right? Did you say sorry? Yeah, technically, I did!

What do we do with this? Here’s the truth of the matter: you cannot die to self by trying harder. You can’t! You can die to yourself by training better. So, if you were to train, what does this look like to release a little piece of ourself? The Christian community, for centuries, has said a good practice of learning how to do this is fasting. We don’t do that often in our culture, but it’s a great way to learn how to just. . . .in a little bit, one day, or one meal, die to self. You go, if I did that I’d be really hungry. Well, that’s part of the point! We can take that hunger and put it back to a God who says I’ll satisfy you and we can release some of our desires and take on his. Or maybe, you embrace what the early fathers would call a posture of simplicity or frugality. Maybe this week you don’t go out to dinner at all. Or maybe this week, you decide to not go to the store and just live off of what you have in your house. {Look up at me.} Most of us have enough, in our house, to live off of until Jesus comes back! You go, well, I wouldn’t get to eat anything that I want to eat! That’s the point! So we’re training ourselves to die to some of our desires and to step into the way of Jesus, where he says death to some of our desires and our pride and us, is actually where life is found. That teaching changes the world. Here’s a quote by Jan Johnson, who wrote An Invitation to a Jesus Life: “Does ‘death to self’ sound too hard? It’s easier than living for self.”

Here’s how Jesus continues (John 12:31) — Now is the time for judgment on this world… We have this visceral response to this word ‘judgment,’ because we probably picture somebody with a sign on a street corner…. We picture something like fire. . . . .I don’t know what’s in your mind, but we typically have a step-back response. What I’d like to present to you today is the way that Jesus talks about judgment we should all go “YES!” Finally! Because listen to what he says. . . .judgment has two parts to it. The first part (he’s talking about judgment): Now the prince of this world will be driven out. That’s great news. He’s talking about the Satan, he’s talking about sin, he’s talking about death, he’s talking about evil. He’s presenting sin, death, and evil, personified in the Satan, with an eviction notice ‘You’re done!’ That’s great news. Paul will recount that in Colossians 2:13-15. I’d encourage you to read the whole section, but he finishes in verse 15 by saying that by the cross he’s forgiven us, he’s taken our debt, he’s cancelled it out, and he’s disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. What’s his judgment? His judgment is this is not the good world that I created, and I’m turning it back to that world. I’m kicking the Satan, the Evil One, the one who’s behind systems of oppression, and racism, and manipulation, and keeping the low on the bottom and propping the higher up higher and higher. . . . .he’s like, I’m kicking the Evil One out! Literally, in the Greek, it’s exorcizing him. He’s throwing him out for being over us. We haven’t lived with him over us, so I don’t think we get the full weight of all that that means. Suffice to say, it’s doesn’t mean the devil’s defeat doesn’t always mean the devil’s absence. So we have this tension of what’s going on and we’ll talk about it more in a few weeks.

The second thing Jesus says is just as fascinating. . . .all in the context of judgment: And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. This is judgment. This is awesome! The cross is driving out evil and drawing in people. It’s driving out evil and it’s drawing in people. How many people? Jesus says all of them. 1 John 2:2 says that he’s atoned for the sins of the world, especially for those who believe. The sins of the world! In 2 Corinthians 5:19, it says that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. He’s drawing all people to him. Does it mean that every path leads to Jesus? No, but it does mean that people on every path are led to Jesus. His blood, and his death, and his life, and his resurrection is sufficient for every single person. We have this picture of judgment that’s presented as restoration. The word ‘judge’ literally means ‘to separate.’ It’s God looking at the world that he created, the world that he loves, and it’s him saying these things are right, these things are wrong.

People that live in a culture that’s been suppressed far more than ours has, long for the day of judgment. The day of judgment is like going into your chiropractor, and saying you have a kink in your neck. He looks at it and says that you do, that you’re all out of whack. He tells you to relax your head for a moment. How many of you find it really hard to relax your head in that moment because you know he’s about to break you? Judgment feels like he’s going to break us sometimes. Judgment is God looking at humanity, taking our head and saying relax, this might hurt a little bit, but you’re out of joint, you’re out of place, you’re not walking in the way I created you to walk. So. . . . .CRACK! That’s better. That’s judgment. If we don’t want to be bent, it feels like a fire. If we’re willing to surrender, it feels like refinement. But either way, it’s love. It’s love through and through, it just depends on whether you want to swim up that stream or get in line with it, but either way it’s love. Driving out evil—-if we aren’t ready to let go of our evil, we will be driven out with it—-and drawing in people. So, now when people ask you if you believe that God is a God of judgment, you can say, “ABSOLUTELY! Isn’t that great news?” Then you can explain: According to the gospel of John, Jesus is really clear. Judgment is driving out evil and drawing in people.

Here’s how Jesus closes: The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?” {They’re just quoting back the Scriptures that say The government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end. (Isaiah 9:6-7) NO. END. They’re going, gods don’t die, they reign. You’ve got this wrong Jesus. Here’s what Jesus says.} Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.

He’s going listen, you have this opportunity in front of you. You’ve got this picture of what God is like: sacrificial love, it is his glory. You’ve got this picture of the path that he’s called you to walk: death as a way of abundant life. And you have this picture of God: restoring his good creation, driving out evil, drawing in people. He says, believe it. Believe it! Believe that light. Walk in that light, and in so doing become children of that light. I pray that we would. It’s just one day in the midst of many. But it’s one day that began a domino effect that changed the world.

So for 2000 years, followers of Jesus have been gathering around a table to remind themselves that the sacrificial love of God is his glory on display. To remind themselves of the path that they’re also invited to walk, of death to self and finding what it means to really, truly live. They talked about a cross that bids us come and die and find that I might truly live. As we come to the table this morning, would you remember his cross, not just to admire it, but as you come would you come with the anticipation of God, how do you want me to live this? Would you come and taste his sacrificial glory? And would you come saying, oh yeah, that illumination, that light is an invitation that I respond to today. If you’re not a follower of Jesus, I invite you to believe and step into the light, and come to this table.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s march ended with the right to vote. But Jesus’s march into Jerusalem ends with eternal life. Let’s come and let’s celebrate that light and that life together. {Ryan gives specific communion instructions.}

4 Days that Changed the World | The Turning Point | John 12:20-36 | Week 12023-06-27T11:38:04-06:00
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