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05-28 Miracles

          One of the core beliefs of Christianity is the belief in the miracles, signs, and wonders done at the command of Jesus.  These supernatural experiences were varied in scope with some miracles done in private and others done in public.  Jesus cast our demons, healed the sick, raised people from the dead, and controlled the forces of nature.  The stories of Jesus miraculous powers were shared among the early church.  The miracles were and are an integral part of the Christian Church. 

The miracles of Jesus even drew the attention of people outside the Christian community.  The Roman historian, Josephus, wrote, “Now about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man.  For he was a doer of wonderful works, a teach of such men as received truth with pleasure.”  Josephus’ first mention of Jesus is that as a “doer of wonderful works.”  Jesus’ miracles caught the attention of the ancient Romans.

Jesus and his supernatural acts were written about in the writings of the ancient Jews in the Babylonian Talmud.  The Talmud claimed that Jesus was stoned to death because Jesus had “practiced sorcery, incited people to idol worship, and led the Jewish people astray” (Sanhedrin 43a).  The ancient Jews we know were hypercritical of Jews and the early Christians.  But apparently, even Jesus’ antagonists had to acknowledge that Jesus did some supernatural works but they then dismissed these works as sorcery, magic, or black magic.

          There seems to be ample evidence in the Bible, Roman histories, and Jewish teachings that Jesus engaged in supernatural works.  And yet a growing segment of people today do not believe Jesus ever performed miracles. In the United States, people were asked whether the Bible was the literal word of God, or God inspired words, or myths and legends.  About 20% of those polled believed the Bible was literally the word of God, 30% believed the Bible to be myths, and about 50% believed the Bible was inspired by God. There are some groups within the Christian circles who never speak of miracles because they do not believe the miracles occurred and talking about miracles are the source of embarrassment.

          It seems impossible though it is impossible to speak about Jesus without referring to his miracles, signs, and wonders.  And so it seems we might profit from exploring miracles described for us in the Bible that were so important to the early church, important to be captured in the history books, and important enough to be refuted by Jesus’ adversaries. What can we learn about the miracles of Jesus and what do those insights suggest to us today?

          Let’s begin by acknowledging that the primary sources for the descriptions of the miracles of Jesus come from the gospels. Since historians tend to regard the Gospel of Mark as the earliest of the gospels, let’s look at the first miracle recorded by Mark as found in Chapter 1.  As we enter the scene offered by Mark, it would be important for us to know that Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist.  Jesus had been tempted in the wilderness by Satan.  And Jesus had called his first disciples, Peter and his brother, Andrew, James and his brother, John, all of whom were fisherman. Mark wrote, “21 They [Jesus, Peter, Andrew, James, and John] went to Capernaum” (Mark 1:21a).  Capernaum was a small city on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee and was the hometown of Peter, Andrew, James, and John.

          Mark continued that while in Capernaum, “The Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Mark 1:21b-22).  How might we think about the observation by Mark that Jesus taught with authority not as the teachers of the law? 

We might think about it by example from our own nation’s history.  On November 19, 1863, a ceremony was held to dedicate the Gettysburg Battlefield.  There were two speakers that day, an orator named Edward Everett and the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.  Edward Everett spoke first.  His address was 13,607 words and took him 2 hours to deliver it.  Abraham Lincoln then gave his dedication. Lincoln’s statement was 271 words, and it took Lincoln only a few minutes to deliver it.  Lincoln’s words of “Four score and seven years ago…” instantly became enduring words of authority, history, and hope and they had tremendous impact upon the nation Lincoln governed and still have impact today. Edward Everett’s words are unmemorable and largely lost to history. 

I think that illustration gives us some insight into how Jesus spoke to the people at the synagogue.  We do not know what Jesus said but it seems likely that Jesus spoke only for a few minutes and only a few words.  But there was power in each word about God and about God’s kingdom that impacted each person and caused people to consider sit up and think that something marvelous was happening in that moment.  Jesus words caused people to question the arrogance of their own thinking.

          Consider an example where we do have Jesus’ words from a synagogue teaching offered by Jesus.  Luke wrote, “14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’  20 Then he [Jesus] rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He [Jesus] began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  22 All spoke well of him and were amazed” (Luke 4:14-22a).  Jesus spoke just eight words in the synagogue of Nazareth and the people were amazed because Jesus had something important to say. Namely, Jesus said he was God’s long promised Messiah.  Jesus’ words were impactful because his words meant that God had decided the time was right to act to redeem Israel and to begin the process of bringing about the end of time.  Now that is an astounding message that the kingdom of God is near.  This was the essential message Jesus first preached as recorded for us by Mark in verses 15, “15 ‘The time has come,’ he [Jesus] said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’”  (Mark 1:15).

          So it seems likely that when Mark wrote that the people were amazed at Jesus’ teachings in the synagogue of Capernaum we can safely conclude that Jesus shared something profound, new, and fresh about the fulfillment of God’s promises and about God coming into the world.  We know that Jesus’ words were immediately profound and deeply spiritual because as Jesus finished, “23 A man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!’” (Mark 1:23-24).

          We have this picture that Jesus had spoken and what he said, the authority of his words, astounded the people and then from those in attendance one man stood up and began shouting back at Jesus, “Have you come to destroy us?”  We can imagine everyone turned to see who was shouting back at Jesus.  We might imagine the astonished looks on the faces of Peter, Andrew, James, and John that this opening worship service with Jesus might turn into a shouting match.  What on earth was going on?

          Then we realize that the shouting match was not about earthly things, it was about spiritual and supernatural things.  For this interrupter of the worship service shouted an astounding message of authority shout at Jesus, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”  At those words Jesus shouted back, “25 ‘Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’ 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.” Jesus’ first miracle recorded by Mark was a spiritual battle in which God’s authority was exercised over the forces of Satan and the forces of Satan were vanquished.  At Jesus’ command, the impure spirit obeyed by being silent and then by removing itself from this man.  The oppression of evil was removed from this one man in the presence of many witnesses.  This first miracle of Jesus made it impossible for people to think of Jesus as just a teacher of righteous thought and behavior, or a teacher of a new ethic about love, or a great prophet from God.  This first miracle of Jesus made clear that God kingdom was near, and that evil would have no part in it.  The miracle of exorcism, the removal of an impure spirit, had less to do with authenticating Jesus’ credentials but had more to do with the fact that evil must flee from the presence of God.  Evil cannot hide or remain silent in God’s presence.  Evil must speak out and must come out and will not be found God’s kingdom.

          When it comes to miracles of Jesus, we should care less about how the miracle occurred or where it occurred or who benefited from the miracle and instead, care more about the meaning of the miracle.  We see this emphasis on the meaning of the miracle in what Mark shared after the impure spirit was gone.  “27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits, and they obey him.’ 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee” (Mark 1:27-28).  The people were beginning to show an understanding of what God was doing in their presence and its meaning to their life.  We call this evidence of faith.  The significance of the miracle or any miracle has less to do with the change in the human physical condition and more to do with the faith of the believer.

          Look at the reaction again.  Those who were receptive to the message of Jesus, the teaching of Jesus, saw the miracle as a faith building experience that must be shared with astonishment and hope.  The kingdom of God is indeed near and in that kingdom the presence of evil must flee. And to those who had closed themselves off to the teachings of Jesus, as expressed in the writings of the ancient Jews, saw this very same event not as a work within the kingdom but as an act of black magic and sorcery.  The same event was seen in two completely different ways.  One way was the way of salvation.  The other way was the way of sorcery.  The difference rested in the faith of the witness.

          Four of the witnesses to this miracle were Peter, Andrew, James, and John.  Of the eventual 12 apostles, these four would form the inner core of the Twelve. Whenever the list of apostles is given, these four names always appear first on those lists.  What about these witnesses to this supernatural worship service? There was for them a deeper understanding of the kingdom upon which they had entered.

          Mark had recorded for us earlier in this same chapter that when Jesus met these four men Jesus said to them, “17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people” (Mark 1:17). Jesus was calling these men to be intimately part of the kingdom and the work of the kingdom.  When Jesus encountered the impure spirit, Jesus said, “25 ‘Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’” (Mark 1:25).  Jesus was expelling the impurities from the kingdom.  It seems likely that the contrast of Jesus’ behavior was not lost on his disciples.  Within the kingdom of God, those of faith are drawn closer and the impure spirits are expelled.  This is the meaning of the miracle in Capernaum.  We must consider that a miracle involves a visual indication of a deeper reality.

          So what do we learn about miracles and this specific miracle that is useful and helpful for our daily living?  I would suggest two things.  First, the miracles of Jesus were done for specific reasons and that those reasons and second, the telling of the story of those miracles were intended to help us see a deeper reality.  When we look at the opening to the gospel of Mark, we hear three things from Jesus.

  • To all Jesus announced, “15 “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (15)  Many were invited.
  • To the faithful Jesus said, “Come follow me.” (17)  Few were chosen.
  • To the impure Jesus said, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” (25) Some were thrown out.

The deeper reality then for us is that all are invited to the kingdom but only some come into faithfulness with Jesus with the words, “Come, follow me.”  Peter, Andrew, James, and John followed Jesus in faith and so we should also answer Jesus’ call.  For the call to follow Jesus is not that he is offering us some alternative among the many love-inspired thought teachings around the world. Instead, Jesus is offering something supernatural.  Jesus is offering salvation and entry to God’s kingdom to those with faith in God. To those who reject the invitation and are either passively or actively opposed to God, there shall be expulsion from God’s presence.  This is the deeper reality of the miracle of Capernaum.

          Jesus explained these points in a parable.  He spoke about a king who hosted a wedding for his son.  The king invited everyone from the highest to the lowest in the land.  But only the humble came at the king’s invitation. The arrogant stayed away from the wedding banquet.  When the wedding hall was full, “The king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He [The King] asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.  13 Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:11-14).  The message is clear.  We must come into the kingdom fully in faith.  Otherwise, we will be expelled.

          You have been chosen to receive the message the Jesus described as “good news,” that you may enter the kingdom of God, into the wedding banquet of the king, dressed in the garment of Christ, appropriate for the occasion.  In that place, in the kingdom of God, we will not be overwhelmed by evil for evil will be removed at the command of Christ.  We can know that this picture of salvation is true because Jesus showed us this picture through a miracle at worship service in a little village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in the town called Capernaum.  May we be blessed in believing in the miracle of faith.  Amen and Amen.

05-14 - Our Testimony: Eternal Life

          Today, of course, is Mother’s Day.  A celebration day that started more than a century ago in a little church in Grafton, West Virginia.  The founder, Ann Reeves Jarvis, wanted people to stop for a moment and express their thanks for the sacrifices of their mothers.  Miss Jarvis was successful in getting other church communities to adopt this annual celebration of mothers and she was even instrumental in getting Mother’s Day recognized on the nation’s calendar.  But, by 1920, Miss Jarvis had become disgusted with how the holiday had been commercialized. She outwardly denounced the transformation and urged people to stop buying Mother’s Day flowers, cards, and candies.  Miss Jarvis launched countless lawsuits against groups that had used the name “Mother’s Day,” eventually spending most of her personal wealth in legal fees. By the time of her death in 1948 Miss Jarvis had disowned the holiday altogether, and even actively lobbied the government to see that Mother’s Day was removed from the American calendar. 

Miss Jarvis wanted Mother’s Day to be about personal testimonies of what Mom had meant and what Mom’s sacrifices meant to them.  Instead, powerful people, persuasive people, changed Miss Jarvis’ desires and found a way to profit from the day by substituting a new purpose and rationale for the day.  Personal testimony was not needed.  They had something much easier to offer than personal testimony.  They offered candies, flowers, and cards instead.

          Without reaching too far, we can see that Miss Jarvis and our New Testament author, the Apostle John, shared something in common. Miss Jarvis and John wanted people to give their personal testimonies.  Miss Jarvis wanted testimonies about the sacrifices of Mom and what that meant.  The Apostle John wanted testimonies about the sacrifice of Jesus and what that meant. Both the Apostle John and Miss Reeves spoke out against powerful people, persuasive people, who were offering an alternative to personal testimony.

          Today, Mother’s Day, intended to be about personal testimony, we are finishing up our look at personal testimony through the Holy Spirit inspired testimony of Jesus’ Apostle John through John’s letter we call 1 John and how what John said impacts our personal testimony.  This week we will finish our look at John’s letter with the fifth chapter.

          As we begin to look at the final chapter in John’s letter, there are a few things we ought to keep in mind.  John began his journey to know God first by becoming a disciple of John the Baptist.  John spent time with John the Baptist along the banks of the river Jordan listening to the message to “Repent for the kingdom of God is near.”  John witnessed John the Baptist baptize those seeking renewal in faith and John witnessed John the Baptist rail against the hyper religious and hypocritical Pharisees and Sadducees.

          Then, one day, John the Baptist saw Jesus coming along the banks of the river.  John was standing next to him along with another young man named Andrew.  Seeing Jesus, John the Baptist turned to his disciples, John and Andrew, and said of Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29). “32 Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One’” (John 1:32-34).  For John, this was the first testimony he had ever heard about Jesus and that testimony changed John’s life forever.

          For upon hearing John the Baptist’s testimony, Andrew and John, our letter writer, followed Jesus and stayed with Jesus. John remembered that moment in which he came to know Jesus himself, writing in his own gospel account that, “It was about four in the afternoon” (John 1:39b) when he met Jesus and his life changed.  At that precise moment, four in the afternoon, John, our letter writer gave his life to Jesus and began developing and sharing his personal testimony. Scholars believe that the letter we call 1 John was written near the end of John’s life, probably in 95 AD.  Throughout his life, John never wavered in his understanding of who Jesus was, is, and will be.  John heard John the Baptist say Jesus was “God’s Chosen One” who had come to save the world.  We heard earlier testimony in our New Testament reading, “5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:5).  This is testimony came from John, the man upon whom we have been learning from and speaking about these last five weeks.  John’s testimony was given to help Christians avoid the words of the antichrists that were advocating a way other than Jesus is the Christ.  We too need John’s words because the antichrists are alive and well even today, often in Christian Churches, offering an alternative view of heaven, hell, salvation, sin, life, death, love, the Holy Spirit, and grace than was revealed in and through the person of Jesus the Christ.

          John’s testimony of hope was that “5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.  6 This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ” (1 John 5:5-6a). John’s words are not just his testimony about Jesus, but these words are Jesus’ testimony about himself.  Jesus once said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b).  I think Jesus’ testimony, echoed by John, is important because there can become a misunderstanding that once someone accepts Christ then they will no longer experience trouble, heartache, illness, discouragement, in this world.  Jesus was very clear on this point.  We will experience trouble in this world.  In fact, of Jesus’ apostles who heard him speak these words, only John died from natural causes.  All the other were executed in various ways in various parts of the world.  But despite the trouble, the apostles’ understood Jesus was with them and that because Jesus had overcome the world, they would be with Jesus again, face-to-face, after their death.  The presence of trouble to the apostles was not a sign that Jesus had abandoned them.  Trouble was simply a sign that they were alive and living in this world.

          Now the truth that Jesus would overcome the world had been foretold long before Jesus ever uttered those words. The truth that Jesus would overcome the world was given in our Old Testament reading today from the Book of Genesis.  God said to the serpent, the physical representation of Satan, who is the evil of this world, “I will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman (Eve), and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15).  God’s words were a foreshadowing that there would come a battle between Satan of this world and the offspring of the first mother, Eve. And while wounds would be inflicted upon the offspring of Eve, the battle would end in the destruction of Satan. Jesus, and offspring of his mother, Mary, and of the Holy Spirit, would indeed suffer wounds and just as assuredly in his resurrection Jesus would and will demonstrate that he has overcome the world and Satan himself.

          John made it clear that Jesus was the Son of God as a human understood trouble in the world.  John wrote, “6 This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement” (1 John 5:6-8). Here, John refers to testimony of three concerning Jesus.

          First, the testimony of the water speaks of Jesus.  We might think of this as the testimony of John the Baptist that we read earlier that Jesus was recognized at the beginning of his public ministry when the John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the waters of the Jordan and saw heaven open, and the Spirit of God fall and land upon Jesus.

          Second, the testimony of the blood speaks of Jesus.  We might think of this as the testimony from the cross that Jesus bled and died like anyone else would do upon the cross.  But the death of Jesus, the loss of his blood, would be overcome on Easter morning to give testimony, yes that Jesus died but more so that Jesus now lived having overcome the world.

Third, the Spirit testifies and the Spirit, the Spirit of God is the truth.  In the previous chapter, Chapter 4, John spoke about the Spirit of God. John wrote, “1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:1-3).  The ongoing testimony of the Spirit of God would be found in those who understand and state clearly and without reservation Jesus is the Christ.  This is true testimony.  Those who say Jesus is not the Christ are antichrists and none of their testimony is of the truth.

          The Spirit, the water, and the blood were all in agreement, Jesus is the Christ, “11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11). 

          Eternal life is life in God’s Son.  What does that mean to us?  Fourteen times in the Gospel of John, John records Jesus speak of eternal life. Jesus said,

  • 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. (John 3:14-15)
  • 13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
  • “24Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

We could go on, but I think we get the point that Jesus was sent to give us a life into eternity free of judgement and sin. Jesus’ words were revolutionary for their time.  Among the Jews, the Sadducees believed in annihilationism.  Namely, that you had to grab for all you could and seek God’s blessing in   this life because once you died, all life ceased.  You were annihilated.  The Pharisees believed in life after death but many believed in Sheol, a shadowy place of life among the shadows, totally absent the presence of God. Jesus comes along and says, “Friends, you have it all wrong.  There is a heaven and an eternal life in God’s presence and there is a hell.  The latter is hell because God is not present.” Jesus said, “I have come to give you that eternal life with God.”  Hearing Jesus’ words, Peter said to Jesus, ““Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Knowing that God has given us life and knowing that God through Jesus gave us provision for eternal life changes everything about how we spend that life in between.  We can live lives in gratitude knowing that while we may experience difficulties and sad events in this world, we have an identity and place coming from outside the world.  This knowledge of assurance gives us joy, peace, hope, and purpose even amid the troubles of this world.  I cannot image the despair I would feel if I had no hope.  That would be hell on earth.

          How then shall we finish up stating our testimony of Jesus that we have compiled from our short review of 1 John.  If we bring forward last week’s statement, we might change it now to read:

“I am a Christian, meaning I have received God’s love through God’s Son, Jesus. I know God is love because God sent Jesus to die on the cross to take away all my sins.  When I accepted Jesus, I became God’s own child giving my life joy, hope, and purpose through all circumstances now and a guarantee of eternal life with God.  God’s love for me becomes complete when I live loving my brothers and sister like Jesus did, offering comfort and compassion.  Sometimes I do not love like Jesus.  Fortunately, Jesus forgives me and shows me how to reconcile with others.  I know without Jesus; I would be lost now and forever.”

Let’s be willing to share our testimony.  If you are still able to do so, share some words of testimony with your mom today. And then let’s all of us share our testimony with others about the God who is love, the Son who gives life, and the Spirit that leads us in the truth that “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11b).  Amen and Amen.

05-07 - Our Testimony; Love Gives Life

We have been developing our Christian testimony as we have explored the testimony of the Apostle John recorded for us in the New Testament letter, 1 John.  This week we will be exploring John’s revelations about God through his writings in chapter 4 of that letter.

Now chapter 4 of John’s letter has probably one of the most often quoted phrases from the Bible.  John wrote, “Theos esti agape,” (theh'-os / es-tee' / ag-ah'-pay) which in English is simply, “God is love.”  The phrase, “God is love,” is a profound statement because it seems as though John is attempting to summarize God into a single word, love.  Think about yourself for a moment.  If someone were to ask you to summarize yourself into a single word, how would you do that?  What one word could be used to summarize the entirety of who you are?  Might we say of ourselves, I’m “nice.”  That’s it?  Perhaps nice does not do it and so we say “friendly,” or “kind,” or “loving.”  You see it is hard for us to describe ourselves in a single word, how then does John presume to define God in a single word? 

But this reduction of God to a single word or attribute is what many people do today.  They see John’s phrase, “God is love,” as the singular defining phrase for the entirety of God.  They want to write John’s expression that “God is love,” mathematically and so they take the phrase to be “God = Love,” and therefore, “Love = God.”  Meaning that anything that can be claimed to be formed by love is from God and that it must be blessed by God, ordained by God, and approved by God. 

Using this sort of reduction of God people come to all sorts of erroneous conclusions about God.  For example, people wrongly conclude that there is no hell because God is love and a loving God would not send someone to hell.  They wrongly conclude that any impulse natural to humanity relatable to love must be from God and therefore is permissible.  We know that “Love = God” is not true because John reminded us in his Gospel that, “19 Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  People love the cover of darkness to obscure their corrupt behaviors. 

John did not intend for God to be reduced God to a single word.  How do we know that to be the case?  Look at 1 John 1:5.  John wrote, “God is light.”  There is another single word descriptor for God.  Is John summarizing all of God to be a single word, light, or is John using these “God is” expressions to focus our minds on essential attributes about God one at a time?  I believe it is the latter because if we were to look at the “God is,” “Jesus is,” or “Spirit is” phrases we would see just from 1 John that:

  • God is love (4:8, 4:16)
  • God is light (1:5)
  • God is forever (2:17)
  • Jesus is faithful (1:9)
  • Jesus is the atoning sacrifice (2:2)
  • Jesus is righteous (2:29, 3:7)
  • Jesus is pure (3:3)
  • Jesus is sinless (3:5)
  • Jesus is the Christ (1:3, 2:1, 2:22, 3:16, 3:23, 4:2, 5:1, 5:6, 5:20)
  • The Spirit is Truth (5:6)

Looking at the “is” statements in all its various forms, it seems to me very clear that John, above all things, intended for this letter to remind his readers that “Jesus is Christ.”

          What does all this mean?  How then should we properly understand John’s statement that “God Is Love” and the impact that understanding has on our own testimony?  Fortunately, John has given us some much-needed help in his own letter.

          “God is love.”  To that phrase John added, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). John was sharing with us here that God, who is love, showed humanity what God’s love looks like when placed on full display.  “God is love” was shown to us in God’s sending his one and only Son into the world not to condemn the world but to give life to the world through his own Son.  John’s words here are profound for three reasons.

          First, that God is love and that love is expressed by God sending his one and only Son means that God’s love, God sending his own Son, is unique to God.  There is no human parallel to God’s love shown by God sending his Son into the world. Our ability and our capacity to express love, no matter how we might express love, are not on the same scale or plane as God’s expressed love.  John went further on this point when he said, “10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).  This is how we can begin to measure God’s love, that God’s sent his only Son to die for us.  God’s love is unrepeatably and unparallel by anything we could do to express love.

          Now, having no ability to express God’s love the way God did might leave us with a sense of inadequacy.  But here is the key point, God is love, but God does not expect us to match his love.  Instead, God expects us to complete his love, if you will, to complement his love.  How are we to do that?

  • Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (4:11).
  • No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (4:12).
  • God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  This is how love is made complete among us (4:16b-17a).

God is love is uniquely expressed by God but the completion of that love, the complementing behavior for that love, occurs when we love one another.  As we talked last week, that love of one another means that we treat others, starting with those in the church, as brothers and sisters and we treat them without any form of hatred or indifference to their life’s struggles. Jesus made this point to his disciples when he said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). 

This is the first of the three reasons why the expression “God is love” is profound to our life.  “God is love” is a call for us to be responsive to God’s love by loving one another as Jesus loved his disciples.

          The second reason “God is love” is profound to us flows naturally from the first reason.  Namely, that God is love was and is uniquely by God’s Son, Jesus.  John wrote, “God loved us by sending his Son” (1 John 4:9 and 4:10).  God expressed his love by sending his own Son.  John quoted Jesus as saying, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). God’s Son, God’s expression of love, gave a command that our response to that love must be to love one another. What makes these two sentences profound is that they do allow us to visualize and then present God’s love in a simple form, a mathematical form if you will. 

“God is Love.”

“God = Love”

 Love = His Son, Jesus, therefore,

“God = His Son, Jesus.”

Jesus is God among us. It is understanding that God is Jesus and Jesus is God helps us to understand that we can and are in fellowship with God as we live out our lives imitating Jesus.  When we follow Jesus, we are doing exactly what God desires. There is no missing the mark by following Jesus and honoring Jesus as God because He is God.  What a relief!

          The third reason “God is love” is profound is that God is love, Jesus, serves a specific purpose; that is to give us life.  But God’s love is costly.  John made the point that Jesus’ through his death gives us life.

          You see, the inauguration of human life itself and the giving of life into eternity are acts of God’s love.  The inauguration of human life we read earlier was God’s decision.  Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).  God gave life to us and not just any life, but one that is in the image of God.

          To be made in the image of God means that we are without parallel in this world.  Yes, we can see the wonderful creativity of God in the natural world.  Yes, we are to be stewards of God’s creation but nothing, absolutely nothing in all of creation compares even remotely to human life. This is because only human life bears the image of God himself.  This is why the command from Jesus we spoke about earlier was not love the earth and all of God’s creatures.  The command from Jesus was to love one another because each of us bears the image of God.

          What does that mean to bear the image of God?  That is a whole sermon series on its own.  But what is important for the moment is to know that to be made in the image of God is to know that because of God’s love we, like God, are alive and eternal.  Each of us has a birth into natural life as a living breathing human being bearing the image of God.  And because God is love and that love was expressed by God sending his Son that we might live through him, our eternal life, the life of our soul can be forever with God.

          But here is the important point.  Each of us has had a birth into natural life.  To be born into an eternal life with God, we must be born a second time, born of the Spirit of God.  John recorded for us Jesus’ teaching on this matter.  Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again’” (John 3:5-7). To be born again is to accept Jesus and have your sins removed.  In our tradition, we express this acceptance of Christ and this second birth by being immersed in baptism.

          That God is love is a profound statement for our testimony because through that phrase we know and are reminded that God’s love is made complete when we love one another.  God is love is made understandable in seeing that God is Jesus makes our life and destiny understandable and assured by following Jesus.  God is love mean life to us now in abundance and life eternally with God himself.  God is love is a blessing to our sense of wellbeing and adds power to our personal testimony.

          How then might we express our testimony.  Bringing our testimony statement forward from last week, our testimony now might sound something like:

“I am a Christian, meaning I know and have received God’s love through Jesus, God’s Son.  I know God’s love and that God is love because God sent Jesus to die on the cross to take away all my sins.  In accepting Jesus, I became God’s own child, and I am in fellowship with God.  This is love.  That love, God’s love, becomes complete when I live my life loving my brothers and sister like Jesus lived, offering comfort and compassion.  Sometimes I miss the mark and do not love like Jesus. Fortunately, Jesus forgives me, restores me to fellowship with God, and shows me how to reconcile with others.  I know without Jesus, I am lost.”

This could be our testimony, our way of expressing who Jesus is to us.  This week, we should be thinking about the phrase “God is love,” and be joyous that we can complete God’s love by loving others, that we can know the freedom that following Jesus is following God because Jesus is God, and that we have life now and eternally because God is love.

We can know and experience the phrase “God is love,” by participating in the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord’s Supper reminds of the extent of God’s love through Jesus as he gave comfort, compassion, and life to his disciples when Jesus gave of his body and blood.  Let’s prepare ourselves to be surround in the love of God.  Amen and Amen.

04-30 - Our Testimony; Brothers and Sister

This is our third week discussing the Apostle John’s letter to the early Christian Church.  We call that letter 1 John.  We have been using John’s letter of personal testimony to the church to help us understand our own personal testimony of who Jesus is and what Jesus means to us. Last week, I had summarized our testimony from the first two chapters of 1 John and said it might sound something along these lines: “I am a Christian and by that, I mean I know Jesus is the Son of God and that Jesus died on the cross to take my sins.  This is grace and this is love.  I now seek to obey Christ and be in fellowship with God.  I know Jesus by living my life as Jesus would do by showing his love to others.  But I am not perfect.  So when I stumble in walking with Jesus in this life, Jesus is there to call me back to Him, and restore me to fellowship with God.  I know without Jesus, I am lost.”

And so, we come to the third chapter of 1 John, and we want to explore John’s personal testimony and see how what John reveals to us might cause us to add to our testimony or alter what we have previously written.

Now John’s third chapter begins with testimony about our relationship with God through Jesus that grows with greater intimacy than he did in the two previous chapters.  Up to this point, John had said that we had fellowship with God and Jesus Christ but now John refines that definition of fellowship making it much for personal. John said, “1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1a). John was reminding the early Christians that their relationship with God through Jesus was that of child to a father. But not just any father. Christians, John wrote, have a father who lavishes love on his children.  There is a sense here of a father who just cannot help but love his children.

How might we get some sense of how John sees God toward those who have accepted the completed work of Jesus?  I think a good picture of that sort of father who lavishes love comes from a story Jesus himself told that we have for us in the Gospel of Luke.  That story is often entitled “The Prodigal Son,” which I believe is an incorrect title.  I think a better title to that story, if a title was needed at all, would be “The Forgiving Father,” or for today, “The Father Who Lavishes Love.”

We know in this story that a man had two sons.  The younger son demanded his inheritance from his father, even though the father was still alive.  The father gave the boy his inheritance and the son left the father and began living life large, spending as though there was no tomorrow.  Then, the money ran out and the boy became homeless, living and working among pigs.  The boy decided to return to the father in the hopes his father would take him in as another one of the field workers the father employed and fed.  Jesus said, “20 So he (the boy) got up and went to his father. But while he (the boy) was still a long way off, his father saw him (the boy) and was filled with compassion for him; he (the man) ran to his son, threw his arms around him (his son) and kissed him. 21 The son said to him (his father), ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:20-24).

          The father in this story was looking, longing for the redemption of the child who had left his side.  And when the father was in the distance that this child coming to home to him and the father could not wait for the child’s arrival.  Instead, the father ran to his child and began to lavish love upon his child. He kissed his child and then dressed his son in the best robe available.  The father put a ring on the child’s finger and sandals on his feet to show the father’s delight in having his child with him.  Then the father began preparing a celebration party.  The father was lavishing love.  In Jesus’ story by whatever title, the father is to be seen as God, and we are to be seen as the returning child.  The story gives us a sense of the joy God has when we come to Him through Christ.  God is overjoyed at our redemption and membership into God’s family and therefore God wants to lavish his love upon us.  John wanted his fellow churchgoers to remember this is the way God has treated them and will treat them for eternity.

          John’s message would have resonated with the early churchgoers because family, particularly a child’s relationship with his or her father, was a key factor to their wellbeing.  The father was responsible for the wellbeing of his family.  The children were known by their father’s name.  The social status of the children would not be higher than that of the child’s father.  The father provided security, safety, nourishment, and identity. John’s message was that God will now provide the ultimate expression of security, safety, nourishment, and identity. John’s readers would have understood John’s words.

Sadly, John’s words may not resonate as well today since the number of mothers only family households has climb to about 8 million in 2022, that is about 15 million kids, or about 20% of all the children in the United States.  Twenty percent of all children might have difficulty relating to having a father at all, and still others have difficulty relating to having a father who is loving.

          But the good news is that God has not changed, and God will lavish love on all his children in the manner Jesus described in that homecoming scene.  And because we become God’s children, we gain brothers and sisters.  In my case, I was the youngest of four children and so I have a brother and two sisters, one of whom died in September of last year.  I get along well with my siblings, but I see and talk with my biological brother and sister on occasion, not anywhere nearly as often as I have fellowship with my brothers and sisters who are found in the church, born of Christ. My greater relationship with my brothers and sisters in Christ, has been that way for the last 35 years or so and I expect it to remain that way until I die and for eternity.  This is the nature of the Christian relationship.  We have an immense family.

          Now sometimes, to accept the relationship with Jesus, to become a child of God with many brothers and sisters, can cause issues and problems with our biological family.  Sometimes people seek to accept Jesus but are discouraged and even threatened by their family members who have rejected Christ.  Jesus once said of the that, “26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).  This is one of those disturbing statements of Jesus.  We follow the first part of what Jesus said in that we must come to him and be prepared to be his disciples.  But we struggle with the second part of what Jesus said in that it seems like Jesus is saying we must hate our entire family in the process. What Jesus was saying here was that we cannot let family loyalties of our family prevent us from following him. If our families would rather we not follow Jesus, then we must be willing to break with our families and their traditions and become children of God.  In some ways, this would seem or feel like as though we had in fact decided to hate our biological families.

          Jesus expressed this idea of breaking from the family, including one’s father in a rather cryptic response to the cost of discipleship.  One of Jesus’ followers came to him and said, “‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’  22 But Jesus told him (the disciple), ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead’” (Luke 9:21b-22).  Jesus’ response to this man at first sounds cold and uncaring.  The man seemed to only want a few minutes to bury his father. But that is not likely what is going on here.  What appears more likely to be the case is the man wanted to follow Jesus, but he knew that following Jesus is going to create problems with his father who is still alive because the father wanted none of his family to have anything to do with Jesus.  So when the man says to Jesus, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father,” what he meant was that the man would be freed from family obligations to follow Jesus once his father has died and is buried.  So, Jesus let me wait until my father is dead and buried before I follow after you. Jesus’ response then was, “Follow me (now), and let the dead (those who have rejected God’s Messiah) bury your father (who has rejected me) when he dies.”  The exchange between this man and Jesus helps understand the significance of accepting God’s offer to become his child now even if our family of birth has rejected God’s offer.

          John said that in the new family setting with God at the head and many brothers and sisters, there comes some new understandings.  John wrote, “11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his (Cain’s) own actions were evil and his brother’s (Abel’s) were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him” (1 John 3:11-15). John is equating hatred of another child of God as murder making the hater to be no different than Cain, humanity’s first murder who himself murdered his own brother, Abel. 

          John’s words are strong words indeed, but John’s words do not express an original concept.  Jesus was said, “21 You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22). John’s words reconvey Jesus’ teaching that hatred toward a brother or sister in Christ will not be tolerated by God. It must be corrected.  Jesus said, “ 23 Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).  The message is simple.  Jesus said before we presume to come and worship God our Father, we must first make things right with God’s other children.  If there is a hatred toward another brother or sister in your life, do not wait to resolve it.  Do it now.

          John, for his part, also showed us that hatred comes not just in anger toward another brother or sister but also hatred comes in the form of indifference. Indifference is a lack of concern, interest, or sympathy.  In fact, many believe that the opposite of love is not hatred.  The opposite of love is indifference.  John equates indifference to hatred.  John began to explain that point first by describing love. John wrote, “16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).  Jesus loved by giving his life.  Jesus was not indifferent to you and me.  Jesus saw that we could not help ourselves.  Jesus saw we could not on our own conquer sin.  We could not conquer death.  We could not become children of God unless the matter of sin was dealt with once and for all.  Jesus, who could gain nothing from us, was not indifferent to us, and so he gave his life to us in love.

          John said, in recognition of and in imitation of Jesus’ love, “We ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18).  Hatred of a brother or sister in Christ can be expressed by indifference toward their circumstances.  We cannot be indifferent toward one another, but we must act for the good of one another even if there is nothing for us to gain from acting good.

          What then do we do with John’s words inspired by the Holy Spirit of God?  How does what John talked about change our testimony about how Jesus has changed our lives?  What is different about us because of Jesus?  For me, the focus this week has been on family.  We have become a child of God and part of a family with many brothers and sisters each of whom is to be committed to loving each other.  We have become part of a family that seeks reconciliation not division.  This is whole we are to be and if we are that way, then we have a powerful, bold, compelling story to tell that will resonate with all generations.  Our testimony might sound something like this:

“I am a Christian, meaning I know Jesus is the Son of God, that Jesus died on the cross to take my sins, and that through Him I became God’s own child and part of a family devoted to loving one another.  This is grace and this is love.  I now seek to obey Christ, to be in fellowship with God, and to love my Christian brothers and sisters.  I try to live like Jesus by striving to love to others who are in need as Jesus did offering comfort and compassion.  But I am not perfect.  Sometimes I miss the mark and do not act as Jesus asks.  Fortunately, Jesus forgives me, restores me to fellowship with God, and shows me how to reconcile with others.  I know without Jesus, I am lost.”

This week let’s focus on loving like Jesus.  Let’s live out our testimony confident that doing so pleases our Father, God Almighty. Amen and Amen.

04-23 - Our Testimony - Obey and Love

This is the second week we are looking at the Apostle John’s first letter to the early Christian Church that we call 1 John.  We are looking at 1 John as a way to help us better understand our Christian testimony, that is what Jesus Christ means to us.  Last week, we looked at how our testimony should be bold and bright even if we sound a little strange to others.  We should sound strange because our testimony is that we believe we have had a spiritual encounter with Jesus the Christ and that we are in fellowship with God who stands outside of creation.  Last week, I summed up our what our testimony might sound like after reading Chapter 1 of 1 John, and it might sound something like this: “I am a Christian and by that, I mean I seek to imitate Christ and be in fellowship with God.  I can imitate Christ Jesus because he has removed all my sins from me when he died on the cross.  This is grace.  Because of this grace, my mind has been transformed, it has been changed.  I now try to see my life through Jesus’ eyes and do the things He would have me do.  This is living in the light.  But I am not perfect.  So when I do veer again into sinful behavior, Jesus is there to call me back to Him, to clean me up, and restore me to fellowship with God.  Without Jesus, I am lost.” 

Today, we are going to continue with Chapter 2 of John’s letter to see what else we may want to add to or alter about our testimony.  And if I could sum up in a single word what John main charge in his testimony in Chapter 2 it would be the word “known” or “know.” Fourteen times John used one of two Greek words for the English word know or known.  John was putting an emphasis on knowing Jesus and knowing that obedience to Jesus and love are inseparably joined together.

We saw the emphasis on certainty and knowing from our Old Testament reading in Psalm 100.  The psalmist said, “3 Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture…5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:3, 5).  There is emphatic confidence coming from the psalmist declaring what he knows to the core of his being.  There is nothing wishy-washy in what the psalmist is saying in his testimony.  And what the psalmist was certain of was that God’s love was unchanging.

Our testimony is compelling when we express it with certainty.  Studies of court testimony by eyewitness has shown that persuasion occurs when there is certainty expressed by the witness.  This persuasion occurs because the jury wants to bring its beliefs into line with reality and believes that a witness having confidence is communicating valid information about reality.  This is true because in general, when we are unsure of ourselves, when the situation is unclear or ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns, we are most likely to look to and accept the confident actions of others as correct. 

There was an infamous case of uncertainty that contributed to the death of a young woman named Kitty Genovese.  One summer evening in New York City, Kitty was returning home to her apartment when she was attacked and stabbed by a former boyfriend.  Many people heard her cries for help and went to their windows to see what was going on.  Each person observed the attack and Kitty’s the screams for help.  When the witnesses could see other witnesses not reacting to the situation, none of the witnesses reacted.  No one called the police or rendered assistance to Kitty. Uncertainty proved fatal.

John’s testimony in Chapter 2 began with what John knew for sure.  “We have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1b-2).  At the time John wrote these words, there were people from the Christian Church who were suggesting a different path of salvation, one that did not depend upon the work of Jesus upon the cross.  These folks were called Gnostics.  The Gnostics believed knowledge itself brought human enlightenment, a sense of salvation.  The Gnostics believed that Jesus was merely a human who attained the pinnacle of enlightenment through gnosis, knowledge of spiritual mysteries, and taught his disciples to do the same.  John was confident and adamant the Gnostics were wrong.  John said, Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for sin (1 John 2:2a) and that Jesus came from God and had returned to God to be our advocate (1 John 2:1b).  There was no other pathway to salvation.

Now we might think that 2,000 years later, the Christian Church has settled itself on who Jesus is, why he came, and why he died.  Unfortunately, within those who say they are Christians, there are some interesting beliefs.  For example, it is a core belief of Christianity that Jesus never sinned. However, 25% of Christians recently surveyed believe that Jesus committed sin like all of us.  It is a core belief of Christianity that Jesus is the only way to God.  However, about half of the Christians surveyed all religious beliefs are of equal value.  It is a core belief of Christianity that Jesus died for your sins and my sins and because of the completed work of Christ we can have eternal life with God. However, more than half the Christians surveyed believe that just living a good life is enough to get into heaven.

There are more statistics, but I think you get the point.  Basic Christian beliefs within the church suggest significant uncertainty about core Christian beliefs.  Uncertain witnesses give poor and unconvincing testimony.  Think of it this way.  Suppose you were on trial for a serious crime of which you were innocent. How would you feel if during your trial your character witnesses were asked whether they thought you committed the crime and their response was, “I place the odds at about 50/50.”  That kind of uncertain response would be a serious situation for your defense.  John, in his letter, was indicating the early church was facing a serious situation about core beliefs and that there were people from the church actively preaching and teaching untrue doctrine that was leading to uncertainty among Christian. The Church today is facing a serious situation about core beliefs with people teaching untrue doctrine leading to uncertainty among Christians and weakening the gospel message to non-believers.

John expressed the crisis this way, “18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18).  John is the first in all of Scripture to use the word antichrist.  What is the antichrist?  John wrote simply, “Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ, such a person is the antichrist” (1 John 2:22).  There were antichrists in John’s day and there are antichrists aplenty in our day, because they deny Jesus as the Christ.  John said though, “21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth” (1 John 2:21).  John was saying here that his reader knew the difference between the truth and a lie, and that truth will not fail you.  The truth was Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and the only pathway to salvation.

What then was the significance of confidently knowing Jesus for who he was?  John said it was this, “We know that we have come to know him (Jesus) if we keep his (Jesus’) commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” (Jesus) but does not do what he (Jesus) commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his (Jesus’) word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him (Jesus): Whoever claims to live in him (Jesus) must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:3-6).  To confidently say we know Jesus, John said was not based upon head knowledge of some secret mysteries of life and the universe.  To confidently say we know Jesus, is however, based upon obedience, it is based upon behaviors, that show that we believe Jesus is the Christ, that we have listened to what Jesus said, and we are doing what Jesus said.

That was quite a lot that John put forth there about knowing Christ.  John was saying here that we can be confident in our testimony and in our destiny by knowing Jesus, abiding in Him, and being like Him.  And the simplicity of John’s charge to his church of knowing, abiding, and being in Jesus has huge and eternal implications.

Think of those implications this way.  Jesus once said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21).  Those words from Jesus immediately sounds quite disturbing because Jesus was saying that there will be people who recognize Jesus on earth and say Jesus is their “Lord” who will not later be found in heaven.  That means people who are in the church itself will not be in heaven. 

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will say, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23).  These “churchgoers,” if you will, said and did some marvelous things but they did not know Jesus because they were not obedient to the words of Jesus which express the will of God.  And because they were not obedient to Jesus, Jesus did not know them.  These “churchgoers” did not abide in Jesus, and Jesus did not abide in them.  These “churchgoers” were not being like Jesus, and Jesus being evident in them.

What was the problem with these “churchgoers?” The problem with their testimony was that these “churchgoers” did not genuinely obey Jesus because they would not love like Jesus.  Obedience and love.  As a society we dislike the word obedience, and we like the word love.  John was saying for us to confidently know Jesus and thus be assured of our destiny we must embrace equally embrace obedience and love.  We will recall, John wrote, “Whoever claims to live in him (know, abide, and be) must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6).  Claiming Jesus must be seen in living like him.

John helps us understand his point this way, “Anyone who claims to be in the light (claims to live in Jesus) but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness” (1 John 2:9).  We heard this point from John last week as well, “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth” (1 John 1:6).  We “churchgoers” cannot genuinely claim Christ and hate people.  Let’s not get confused here.  We do not have to like and approve of things people do and we may even hate some of the things they did because of the pain that those behaviors brought about, but we cannot hate the person.  And John started off by making it emphatic that you cannot hate a brother or sister, meaning you cannot legitimately claim Christ and hate another Christian, that is the context of brother or sister.

John then restated his point that, “Anyone, any churchgoer, who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble” (1 John 2:10).  Our confident testimony about Christ should be evident because of our obedience to Christ is shown by our loving of all in the church.  Obedience and love are coupled, and we must equally embrace both.  John then concluded with, “If you know that he (Jesus) is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right (obeys Jesus) has been born of him (Jesus)” (1 John 2:29).

What then do we do with all that John has shared with us today?  First, we must get our minds straight and confident on basic Christian beliefs. Jesus is not just a good teacher or wonderful mentor.  Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who died to take your sins and to take my sins. Second, Jesus is not a pathway to God. He is emphatically the only way to God and eternal life.  Third, we must not only accept Jesus as the Christ and the pathway to eternal life but we take the power that comes in knowing Jesus and then confidently obey Jesus and demonstrate that obedience daily by loving one another.

How then might we state our testimony after reading the second Chapter of John’s letter.  We might say, ““I am a Christian and by that, I mean I know Jesus is the Son of God and that Jesus died on the cross to take my sins.  This is grace and this is love.  I now seek to obey Christ and be in fellowship with God.  I know Jesus by living my life as Jesus would do by showing his love to others.  But I am not perfect.  So when I stumble in walking with Jesus in this life, Jesus is there to call me back to Him, and restore me to fellowship with God.  I know without Jesus, I am lost.”

Let’s be confident in our testimony and demonstrate that this week through our obedience to Jesus and our love for one another.  Amen and Amen.

04-16 - Our Testimony

As we know, it is the Sunday after Easter Sunday and a few things have changed.  The pageantry and the flowers of Easter Sunday are gone as well as some of the people who were here last Sunday.  These are predictable changes.  But certain things remain unchanged.  Most important among these things that remain unchanged is God. Theologians say God is immutable meaning God is consistent and unchanging in his use of wisdom, mercy, justice, and love.  God’s acts are never arbitrary.  God does not spin a wheel of misfortune and fortune to decide what pleases him on any given day.  God is the same, even though everything else in our physical world, in our human experience, is always changing.  I cannot imagine what life would be like if we had to keep guessing what God was going to be like today and how he might be different next Sunday.  God is always consistent in his regard for our wellbeing.

We see this sense of consistency, the immutability of God, expressed in our Old Testament reading from the prophet Micah.  Micah, whose name means “Who Is Like the Lord?” observed that: “18 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. 19 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.  20 You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago” (Micah 7:18-20).

Micah was happy to tell others about the God that loved him.  Micah said that God:

  •  Pardons sin,
  • Forgives transgressions,
  • Does not stay angry,
  • Delights to show mercy,
  • Has compassion, and 
  • Is faithful.

These are the attributes of God to which Micah gave his testimony.

          The word “testimony” for me in the context of church was at first a very strange word.  I came from a Roman Catholic background into the Baptist church in 1985. People at the Baptist church were excited and hoped for a time to share “their testimony.”  I had no real idea what they were talking about.  The phrase “sharing your testimony” was not a phrase I found in the Roman Catholic Church any more than making the sign of the cross was found in the Baptist church.

          It took me a while to come to understand that to give your testimony meant that you wanted to share with someone else how Jesus and his saving power came into your life and how your life is different as a result.  The act of giving testimony is the act of being a witness for Jesus.  In church terms, those who witness, those who give testimony, bear the name in Greek, martyrs.  Micah, from our Old Testament reading, was a prophet but also a martyr because he was giving his testimony as a witness to the unchangeable nature of God as one who pardons sin, forgives transgressions, does not stay angry, delights in showing mercy, has compassion, and is faithful.  There are hundreds of other passages in the Old Testament in which men and women from all walks of life gave testimony, acted as witnesses, to the unchanging nature of God.  The psalms, for example, contain numerous statements of testimony about the nature of God.  And the testimony about God has great consistency among the many people who gave testimony separated by hundreds of years.  For example, David’s testimony concerning his relationship with God was very similar to that offered by Micah’s testimony.  David’s testimony said in part: “8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; 10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.  11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:8-12).  David’s testimony, given from his experience with God, was very similar to the testimony of Micah and his experience with God.  So to give your testimony is to share from your experience with God. 

I thought it would be profitable for us to focus a few weeks on shared testimony so that we can be better prepared to share our own testimony, our own story of life with God.  I would like us to look at testimony through the lens of John’s first letter to his church, 1 John.

1 John is a short letter, on par with the length of a letter one friend might write to another.  And I recommend that you take some time this week and read 1 John like a letter.  By that, I mean read it from beginning to end in one sitting so that you get the full impact of what John has to say.  Over the next weeks we will dive deeper into the words John uses but our time together should supplement the time we each spend on our own with John’s letter.

Let’s look at John’s letter of testimony as a letter between dear friends.  John opened his letter without the customary greetings of ancient or modern letters.  There is no “Dear Friend” or even a “To Whom It May Concern.”  Instead, John got right into the heart and substance of what he wanted to say to us about his experience with God.  John wrote, “1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete” (1 John 1:1-4).  John was setting out that he intended to give testimony from a firsthand perspective of having personally met someone who existed before creation and yet John met this someone in not in a vision but in a form that was visible, touchable, and hearable with the physical senses.  Moreover, this someone of John’s testimony is the Word, the Source, of life itself. John said that because of this encounter John and others like John who had such an encounter have fellowship, have a personal relationship with God and that John wanted his friend reading this letter to have the same relationship he has with God.  That is why John is writing this letter.

The opening to John’s letter, the foundation of his testimony, is frankly shocking.  John is saying here that God, who is outside of the creation, that God decided to come into creation, into the world, as a human being, one that could be seen, heard, and touched, and that John met this person, fellowshipped with him, and because of that time and experience with this God in person, John now fellowships with God himself who is outside the created world. 

When we let John’s words sink in for a moment, we easily find John’s words fascinating but we can be just as easily conflicted because we must immediately conclude that either John has had an awe-inspiring supernatural experience or John has lost his mind.  There really is no middle ground here.  And the concern about being thought to be out of your mind is the first obstacle most people have in sharing their personal testimony of their experience with God.  We do not want to be thought of as lunatics so we either withhold our testimony or try to present our testimony in a less fascinating way than did John or in a way that leaves open the possibility that we have not lost our minds.  John’s opening here tells us that we should be in our own testimony brave and bold with our faith and begin with an unmistakable stance about our experience with God.

Let me illustrate this notion from my personal life. When I worked for the federal government, I frequently traveled throughout the country.  Most weeks, I flew somewhere for a meeting or to conduct an inspection or address a problem.  On those airplane rides, inevitably the person seated next to me would ask me questions like, “What is your name?  Where do you live?  Where do you work?  What do you do for a living?” etc.  And these questions are all intended in a roundabout way to elicit testimony from me about myself.  There is nothing fascinating about these questions or the answers these questions would elicit.

I now wonder what my experiences on those airplanes would have been like if someone said to me, “So what is your name?” and I answered, “My name is George.  I am a Christian and by that, I mean I seek to imitate Christ and so that I can remain in fellowship with God.”  Now that is a fascinating response and the person next to me might well conclude that I have something important to say or that I have lost my mind.  And if my fellow passenger did not immediately seek to change seats, then I could add, “And I nothing would make me happier than for you to have the same fellowship I have with Jesus and the Father.  Can we talk?”  This is essentially what John did in the opening of his letter to his friends. The start of John’s testimony is either fascinating or disturbing.  But either way, John believed what he had to say was important enough to risk being thought a fool or insane.

With the starkness of his opening testimony, John began to explain what he learned from his experience in equally stark and contrasting terms.  John wrote, “5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7).  John’s testimony is that God is light, meaning God is pure, holy, righteous, and good.  There is nothing corrupt about God.  John emphasized this latter point by saying, “In him [God] there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5b).  God is pure and not corrupt.  For John, in his experience with God, God stands in contrast to the worldliness. God is light; the world is darkness. 

Now for John’s friends to experience the joy John is having; John’s friends must have fellowship with God.  By this John means his friends must walk, live out their everyday life, in the light.  They must not live their life immersed in the darkness of the world.  John’s friends might then have asked as they were reading this letter, “How can someone born into the world and its darkness move into the light of God so that they can live in the light?  How is it possible to leave behind the corruption of the world, the darkness, and enter the light?”  Anticipating just such a question, John said the way to move from the darkness into the light is to accept Jesus, this person who existed before creation and lived for a brief time on earth as a human being.  John’s testimony then is that John was changed by Jesus because Jesus purified John from all sin allowing John to be full in the light (1 John 1:7b).  And John said the same purification can happen for John’s friends.

How do we relate to John’s testimony?  How might we explain our experience with God to the person seated next to us in the airplane.  We might say, “I am a Christian and by that, I mean I seek to imitate Christ and be in fellowship with God.  I can imitate Christ Jesus because he has removed all my sins from me when he died on the cross.  This is grace.  Because of this grace, my mind has been transformed, it has been changed.  I now try to see my life through Jesus’ eyes and do the things He would have me do.  This is living in the light.”  This might be how we might give our testimony to the passenger seated next to us.

But whether you were a friend of John, or the passenger seated on that plane, one of the things you would quickly pick up on is that in all this testimony of fellowship, light, darkness, and sin, we are saying not so subtly that we have called the person receiving this testimony a sinner.  “You are a sinner.”  That is not a compliment and is not a label anyone exactly wants to be called.

Again, I think John anticipated hs readers would react negatively to being called a sinner.  So John wrote, “8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10).  John was saying two things here, one much more important than the other.  First, let’s consider the thing of lesser importance.  “If we say we do not sin, then we deceive ourselves.”  I think most people, if they think about it, can get through the idea that they are not perfect and can agree they have sinned. We don’t like saying or having someone say we are a sinner, but we can eventually agree with that statement. Now, let’s consider the thing of greater importance from John’s testimony.  While God is immutable, unchangeable, us being a sinner is not an immutable, unchangeable, part of who we are.  We do not have to continue to be a sinner.  John said, “If we confess our sins, he (Jesus) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Jesus changed John and Jesus can change you. Our nature as a sinner is changeable.

How might we explain our testimony to the passenger next to us on the plane?  We might say, “I am a Christian and by that, I mean I seek to imitate Christ and be in fellowship with God.  I can imitate Christ Jesus because he has removed all my sins from me when he died on the cross.  This is grace.  Because of this grace, my mind has been transformed, it has been changed.  I now try to see my life through Jesus’ eyes and do the things He would have me do.  This is living in the light.  But I am not perfect.  So when I do veer again into sinful behavior, Jesus is there to call me back to Him, to clean me up, and restore me to fellowship with God.  Without Jesus, I am lost.”  This is the beginning of our testimony.

The Bible is very much a book of testimonies from men and women across the ages seeking to share with others their experience with God. We have seen a sampling of this from the Old Testament and have looked in some detail at the testimony of John in the New Testament.  Those who gave testimony were called witnesses or martyrs.  The reason we want to give our testimony is first that is what Jesus asked his disciples to do.  And second, being witness, telling your story of your experience with God in your own words, is always fascinating and compelling.  You have a story to tell about walking with God, about being in the light, about being a sinner who was changed when Jesus came into your life.  This week I want to encourage you to read 1 John and begin thinking about your personal testimony.  Start writing down how you might explain your life with Christ and how it differs from your life without Christ.  Let’s all begin to see how we too can be a martyr, a witness, by sharing our testimony. Amen and Amen.

04-02 - Undefeated by the Grave

          This is our fourth and final week in our journey through the story of Jesus as foretold in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, Chapter 53.

          We like a good story.  And for most people, we like a story with a happy ending.  We inherited this desire for a happy ending to a story from our ancient ancestors.

          Our exploration today of Jesus’ story through the prophesies of Isaiah give us a pause as to whether the story will end happily.  We have seen over the past four weeks through Isaiah that God’s anointed Messiah was at first, “3 Despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.  Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:3).  Then later people came to realize that they were wrong about Jesus.  The people came to see that Jesus bore their sorrows and sufferings.  They saw that Jesus was subjected to injustice and yet did not cry out against the injustice.  Jesus spoke only to affirm the truth.  None of this sounds much like a good story, particularly for Jesus.

          But mixed within the sadness of Jesus’ story, is the good news story for us.  For Isaiah said the people would come to see that “the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5b). There was the good news.  He brought us peace and he brought us healing. Somehow in the plan and power of God, the Messiah, Jesus, being subjected to injustice brought us mercy. In Jesus’ sufferings, we are brought peace.  In Jesus’ wounding prior to and upon the cross, we are healed.  As we talked about a couple of weeks ago, what Isaiah saw coming and what Jesus lived out was the paradox of God’s grace.  Human injustice, suffering for another, and wounds inflicted upon Jesus translated through God’s grace is transformed into mercy, peace, and healing from God to humanity.

As wonderful and surprising as the paradox of God’s grace is, Isaiah saw more coming. Isaiah saw that for humanity to have the ultimate assurance in life, the Messiah would have to also confront death. Death is a hard topic for us to talk about because grief from death can strike within us many strong negative emotions. Noted Christian writer, C. S. Lewis, said, ““No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.  At other times it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.”

Isaiah foresaw the death of the Messiah and grieving. Isaiah wrote, “8a By oppression and judgment he was taken away…9a He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death” (Isaiah 53:8a, 9a). 

The idea of the Messiah dying was not acceptable to the Jews awaiting the Messiah.  In their minds, the Messiah was to be an invincible human being ushering in the glorious rule of God and the restoration of Israel.  To have the Messiah suffer on the cross, pierced by iron nails and spear, and die without putting up a fight was and is unacceptable.  But Isaiah had foreseen that the Messiah, the true Messiah, must die, the Messiah must go to the grave.  This was all necessary for the Messiah to fight humanity’s truly one unbeatable foe, death itself.

The thinking in the days of Isaiah was that death ended all relationships, human and divine. The people then did not have a conception of heaven and hell as has been revealed to us.  The people of Isaiah’s time, and even in Jesus’ time, and even some today, believed and still believe that God was and is only to be found among the living.  That upon death, the body was put in the ground and the spirit of the person went to Sheol, a place of nothingness.  They believed from the depth of Sheol one cannot praise God and one cannot hope for the truth of God.  (Isaiah 38).  Death into a shadowy underworld of nothingness was the destiny for all.  No one escaped death.  It was the unbeatable foe, the frightening idea of all people

Isaiah foresaw the Messiah would die and be assigned a grave among the wicked and the rich.  How did Isaiah’s vision play out in the life of Jesus?  Our Gospel writer Mark told the story this way.  “37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.  38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’  40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there” (Mark 15:37-41).  Jesus, the Messiah, was dead and grief came in place of his life and his spirit.  Upon Jesus’ death, the Apostles began to grieve. The woman standing nearby the cross began to grieve.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, began to grieve.  They believed from now on they would be forever separated from Jesus, their Lord, Teacher, and friend.  All was hopeless and dark.  They could not reach Jesus and he could not reach them.  Isaiah said, “8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away…For he was cut off from the land of the living” (Isaiah 53:8a).

          Mark continued, “42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he [Jesus] was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he [Pilate] asked him [the Centurion] if Jesus had already died. 45 When he [Pilate] learned from the centurion that it was so, he [Pilate] gave the body [of Jesus] to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body [of Jesus], wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he [Joseph] rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he [Jesus] was laid” (Mark 15:42-47).

          Jesus was dead.  Joseph of Arimathea a member of the Council asked for the body of Jesus. Joseph, we are told was a member of the Council, the same Council that had met in secret, put Jesus on trial, and sentenced Jesus to death.  Isaiah had foreseen that, 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.  Yet who of his generation protested?” (Isaiah 53:8).  Apparently, Joseph did not protest.  Other Gospel accounts have another member of the Council, Nicodemus, helping Joseph collect Jesus’ body.  There is no indication Nicodemus protested at Jesus’ trial.  But something happened to Joseph and Nicodemus along the way. Somewhere between convicting Jesus and witnessing Jesus’ death just hours later, something changed within these men.  Something changed that drew them out of the shadows of belief in Jesus and into an open desire to care for his body.  Grief can do that to us.  Suddenly, in grief, we do not much care what people thinking about us.  There is a purity of thought, there is an unashamed truthfulness that comes over a grieving person.  Grieving people want the world to know who they loved and still love.  Mark said that Joseph who apparently had been silent at Jesus’ trial now went boldly to Pilate to seek Jesus body to bury it in Joseph’s own unused tomb.  Joseph would have many questions to answer later from the Council for showing compassion toward Jesus.  But that did not matter.  What mattered now for Joseph was to express his love for Jesus in the only way that he thought he could do. And so, Joseph placed Jesus’ body in the tomb and rolled a stone to seal the opening.

          There is much mystery to what happened after Jesus’ died and placed in that tomb.  We know only bits and pieces about the disciples’ actions and next to nothing about Jesus’ actions.  Even our dear friend Isaiah could not pierce the denseness of the death and describe for us the specific activities of the Messiah after death.  But Isaiah was able to share with us the purpose and the result of the Messiah’s death.  Isaiah said, “10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10).  Isaiah had revealed something shocking here.  The Messiah was a sin offering for all the people.  Lambs used in sin offerings were put to death.  But Isaiah saw that through he was a sin offering, through death, the Messiah would give life to many, and the Messiah would become prosperous.  How could one give life to others and become prosperous after death?  There was only one way.  To give life and be prosperous on any terms was possible if and only if the Messiah had life himself.  Isaiah said, “11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life” (Isaiah 53:11a).

          Isaiah may not have been given insight to the spiritual battle the Messiah would undertake while dead, nevertheless, God gave Isaiah insight in knowing that the impossible had been accomplished in and through the Messiah.  The Messiah would overcome death and see life again.

          As I was thinking about Isaiah’s vision of the Messiah’s battle against death, doing so for the benefit of others, and returning to life, I was struck by the words of a modern era song that speaks of such a quest.  The words come from the musical, Man of La Mancha, in the epic song, The Impossible Dream. The song writer there described the quest this way and I find the emotions of this song express much about the work of Jesus:


To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow,
To run where the brave dare not go.

To right the unrightable wrong,
To love pure and chaste from afar,
To try when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star.

This is my quest,
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless,
No matter how far.

To fight for the right
Without question or pause,
To be willing to march
Into hell for a heavenly cause.

And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will be peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest.

And the world will be better for this,
That one man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage.
To fight the unbeatable foe.
To reach the unreachable star.


Isaiah’s vision, h dream-like revelation of the Messiah being scared, scorned, entering the grave, fighting against death, and returning was not just a happy ending to a story, it was quite frankly an impossible ending.  People do not overcome death.  Yet Jesus took on that fight with that unbeatable foe of death.  Jesus bore the unbearable sorrows of sin and ran in the direction of death, a place where even the brave do not even go.  Jesus did so to right the unrightable wrongs without question or pause.  He was willing to march into hell, into Sheol itself, to this heavenly cause.  And the world isl be better for this, that one man, scorned and covered with scars, still strove with his last ounce of courage, to reach the unreachable, to die and overcome death.

 We do not know what happened on the Sabbath following Jesus’ death.  But we are certain what happened when the Sabbath had ended.  Jesus rose from the dead and was restored to life.  The resurrection of Jesus altered our understanding of God and life itself.  The resurrection of Jesus ended all questions about what happens when we die in the body. Jesus’ resurrection means we have life in him, and therefore, those who die in Christ, should have no fear of death. To have life in Jesus means they, and we, have continuous life in God.  We are not separated from others, we are not separated from God, and we are not confined to some place of nothingness or to a place of fiery torment.

The resurrection of Jesus transformed the lives of his disciples.  The disciples had been in grief, devastated by the loss of their friend Jesus.  Seeing and knowing Jesus lived changed the disciples by giving them unquenchable joy. While we will still grieve when our loved one’s die, it is our loved ones who celebrate the inexpressible joy of knowing that they have full and abundant life. 

This will be the same for us.  We will in this life experience devastating grief when those we love die.  There is no shame or loss of faith in grieving the death of a loved one.  We will feel aloneness and despair.  We cannot help but experience grief.  But that grief, as awful as it is, is also a terrible and wonderful preparation for unquenchable joy.  On the day we come to be joined with Jesus through our own death we will also be reunited with those who we love who died before us.  The joy we will experience in that moment that breaks the backs of our words and our lived experiences.  This joy we will experience will overwhelm us and I believe will never leave us.  This joy comes because one man, scorned and covered with scars who strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable, fought the unbeatable foe and won.  Jesus’ resurrection is the winning victory over death.  Jesus was undefeated by death.  Our loved ones in Christ who have died are undefeated by death.  And we who are in Christ will be undefeated in death.  This is the happy ending to the story.  This is the triumphal victory parade for which the people shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest!” Amen and Amen.