MESSAGE DELIVERED: APRIL 2, 2017
Each year as Easter approaches, we tend to dwell more deeply on the SACRIFICE that God made for us, in the giving of His Son. And many people plan on giving a SPECIAL OFFERING…what the Bible calls a “THANK OFFERING”, or a “PRAISE OFFERING”, to borrow some language from the Old Testament.
It’s just that, as people begin thinking how Jesus gave HIS LIFE for THEM, that THEY want to give something BACK. So to help some of you with that, we receive what we call a “30 PIECES OF SILVER” offering, to help us remember what the WORLD thought our Lord was worth. But that is strictly a VOLUNTARY offering, and it is OUTSIDE the church budget, and those funds are then used for something that will benefit the whole congregation.
For instance, we used it to purchase the FLAGPOLES out front, and the WATER COOLER in the hall…things like that. But this idea of special giving reminds me of the time an elderly couple who came to their pastor’s office one morning just before Easter, with a jar filled with cash, and they told the preacher they wanted to make a special offering like we have been talking about. They said “We’ve been saving for a long time to be able to do this, and it’s a big sacrifice for us, but it’s something we want to do.”
Well, the pastor is really touched by their generosity, and they gave him the jar full of cash and asked him to pour it out and count it, which he did. And he was amazed at the total. He said “There’s $54,000 here!” And when he announced that total, the wife looked the husband right in the eye and said “You IDIOT! You brought the WRONG jar!”
Well, I’m just telling you all this in case YOU want to make a similar donation, and I’d just suggest you COUNT it, first! But you know, when we think about all Jesus has done for us, the ONLY thing we will realize is, there is NOTHING we can DO, to even BEGIN to make UP for His Sacrifice.
And it always seems that, each year when Easter rolls around again, it always takes us by SURPRISE, and we find we’re NOT READY for it. And I mean “not ready” in a SPIRITUAL sense. Sure, you’ve got your new CLOTHES, and the CHURCH will be wonderfully decorated, and you’ll probably have a nice big meal planned, or reservations made.
But still, we’re NOT READY to accept the fact that JESUS, this INCREDIBLE man, this VIRGIN-BORN Son of GOD!…who came to earth and put on human flesh, and walked among us, and taught us how to LIVE together, and how to LOVE one another…that HE CAME, for the express purpose of DYING for US!
In relation to that, everything ELSE is just INCIDENTAL. It was His DEATH that was His PRIMARY purpose! But it always takes us by surprise. It took the DISCIPLES by surprise as well, and THEY had the very SPECIFIC teachings of Jesus Himself! They just CHOSE not to BELIEVE Him, I guess.
This episode we are looking at this morning, is one of those WATERSHED moments that appear all through the Bible…where certain teachings first begin, or certain truths or teachings first BEGIN, or else become CLEAR!
Jesus has taken His disciples way UP in the north of Israel, UP by Caesarea Philippi…and they had just experienced this MOUNTAIN-TOP revelation…inspired by Simon Peter, but which all the others were already thinking as well…Jesus had asked who THEY thought He was, and Peter had said “Thou art the CHRIST, the SON of the LIVING GOD!”
And Jesus had commended Peter for his insight, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit…and Jesus had said then, that UPON THAT PROFESSION, He would build HIS CHURCH. But THEN, with THAT revelation out in the open, and with all the disciples thinking the SAME thing, concerning WHO Jesus is…EVERYTHING then CHANGES for them.
BEFORE, they had traveled around the land, preaching and teaching, performing MIND-BOGGLING miracles! NOW, Jesus CLOSES OFF His PUBLIC ministry, and begins to concentrate on His PRIVATE instructions to the 12.
And a big part OF that instruction, concerned His REAL reason for coming TO Earth in the first place…which was “TO DIE, FOR US!”
And when He made that teaching clear, Peter OBJECTED! He took Jesus aside, away from the others, and said “NO WAY! THAT is NOT going to HAPPEN to YOU!” And Jesus REBUKED Peter…rebuked him HARSHLY! He accused Peter of allowing SATAN to influence his thinking!…because the DEATH of the SON, had ALWAYS been the CRUCIAL PART of the Father’s master PLAN, for mankind.
I want you to think about this for a minute; the life of Jesus Christ was the most remarkable life ever lived! His every word and action have influenced MILLIONS of people, down through the centuries. His PROMISES and His PREDICTIONS are DEEPLY engraved on our hearts, and His LOVE is REFLECTED in our lives. BUT IT IS NOT BY HIS LIFE THAT WE ARE SAVED! It is by His DEATH and RESURRECTION that has purchased our Redemption!
And Jesus DID die. THAT is a historical fact!…recorded by several of the historians of the time. AND He ROSE AGAIN! And THAT fact is confirmed by HUNDREDS of EYEWITNESSES!…BY people who had SEEN Him DIE, and then, 3 days LATER, saw Him ALIVE AGAIN!…and THAT is where a DILEMMA comes in.
Every year, as Easter rolls back around, you are forced to make a decision, if you have not already done so. The CROSS upon which Jesus Died, is the central figure, in the Christian Faith. And everyone who SEES it, HAS to make a DECISION, concerning it. And there are only TWO possibilities, from a HUMAN perspective, and BOTH of them are DIFFICULT!
- “IF” Jesus died, and was buried, and the disciples then stole His Body, as the PRIESTS tried to contend, then the entire structure of FAITH that has been built UP over the last 2000 years, is a LIE! That’s ONE possibility!
“OR”…Jesus really DID die, and then Rose again, as the angels reported…as the disciples attested…as the witnesses swore! And after showing Himself for 40 days, He ascended BACK into Heaven, with the Promise to RETURN one day, to claim His Bride in WHICH case, everyone OUTSIDE that structure of Faith, is DOOMED! That’s the SECOND possibility!
So, look at that FIRST possibility…the disciples were SO frightened when Jesus was arrested, that they ALL ran away, and only a FEW of them found the courage to SNEAK back, to witness the trial, from OUTside! And only ONE, John, was even AT the site of the Crucifixion.
They were all huddling in FEAR, abject TERROR, that THEY would be arrested too, and subjected to the SAME fate that Jesus had experienced, ALL of them were scared to death of that happening, and they were HIDING, behind locked doors.
BUT, some people want you to believe that, somehow, they found enough courage to go to the Garden Tomb, and there sneak PAST those highly trained and well-armed soldiers that were guarding the Tomb against that very eventuality!…and there to BREAK the Roman seal, which by itself was an offense punishable by death!…and then to remove the heavy stone that blocked the entrance TO the Tomb, and then go inside, unwrap the Body, and then take the time to RE-WRAP the Burial Shroud, into the shape it held when the Body was inside!…so it would LOOK like the Body had simply VANISHED!
And THEN to CARRY the Body PAST those guards, ALL without being SEEN and then to HIDE that Body so well that it has NEVER been discovered, in the relatively SMALL city of Jerusalem!…and to get ALL that done, before MARY arrived AT the Tomb, very early on the 3rd morning!
THAT is the FIRST choice…the choice YOU are EXPECTED to believe! But when you LOOK at it, you HAVE to see how DIFFICULT it would have been, for this small group of frightened fishermen to CONIEVE of, and then to CARRY OUT such a plan.
But, the OTHER choice can be JUST as difficult to believe, from a strictly HUMAN perspective…and THAT is, to believe that Jehovah God had SUPERNATURALLY restored His Son to LIFE, after He had been so HORRIBLY killed, to RESTORE that beaten and ravaged Body to life, after THREE long days in the Tomb!…to believe that Jesus came OUT of the Tomb, ALIVE again, but with the MORTAL WOUNDS still visible ON His Body, still visible, but no longer capable of causing Him PAIN or HARM!
To believe that His Body was TRANSFORMED from a PHYSICAL Body, into a SPIRITUAL Body, capable of being SEEN, and TOUCHED, capable of EXISTING FOREVER in Heaven, where mere flesh and blood cannot enter…a Body that could pass THROUGH locked doors as easily as you can pass through a FOG, that can TRANSCEND time and space…that will never become HUNGRY, or THIRSTY, never be INJURED or ill, or grow OLD.
And to think that He has promised ALL who will BELIVE all that, that THEY will ALSO one day receive a body just LIKE the One He now has!
HUMANLY, NONE of that is POSSIBLE! We KNOW that! But, it wasn’t DONE ‘humanly’…GOD did it! The God FOR Whom, NOTHING is impossible! And we know THAT, TOO!
And every year, as long as we remain alive, Easter will come rolling back, and we will once again be confronted with the CROSS, and we will be forced to make a DECISION…to BELIEVE, or to DENY!
For way too many people, that image of the CROSS will be mostly OBSCURED, by visions of BUNNIES, and baby CHICKS, and colored EGGS…but it will STILL be THERE, no matter HOW hard the world tries to HIDE it from you.
That same ‘world’ has now pretty much succeeded in hiding CHRISTMAS from people, by obscuring it as SANTA CLAUS day, and covering it with evergreen boughs and twinkle lights…with a shopping extravaganza that now begins even before the TREES begin to change COLORS.
In that ‘world’, the Baby in the Manger has been replaced by REINDEER and SNOWMEN, candy canes and too many presents! And NOW, they’re trying to hide the CROSS behind EASTER EGGS…but it STILL shines through…and it still demands that you make a DECISION!
In that text that we read, Jesus didn’t try to CLOUD His statements about His impending Death. He spoke OPENLY and CLEARLY. He told the 12 that He was going to Jerusalem to DIE!…and that it would be the LEADERS of Israel that KILL Him, and that He would RISE AGAIN, on the 3rd Day!
Peter tried to DENY that this would happen, but Jesus rebuked him, saying that THIS was the Will of God the Father, and the disciples HAD to accept it…and that WE have to BELIEVE it!
And when you believe, ACTION is then required. Verse 24 says “If anyone desires to come AFTER Me,…” if anyone wants to GO to where HE has now gone, when He went back to HEAVEN, back to His FATHER…and OUR God.
Now listen, do YOU want to go there as well? Because there are ONLY two choices…either HEAVEN, and eternal blessings, or HELL, and eternal TORMENT!…a place of AGONY, of FIRE, of DARKNESS, of complete SEPERATION from EVERYTHING good! WHY would ANYONE choose THAT?
But every day, people DO! But if YOU prefer HEAVEN, then HERE are your instructions…Jesus said “Let him (or her) deny themselves, and take UP their cross and follow Me.”
That is pretty clear language. If you want to follow Jesus to Heaven, then you can’t LIVE the way we, in the FLESH, want to live. We are to DENY our EARTHLY impulses, and instead do what GOD wants us to do.
Maybe, if I had never heard about what God has done for me, I might be living a HUCKLEBERRY FINN life, floating down the big river on a raft, catching catfish for my dinner and stealing the things I want, swiping pies off windowsills.
But, I DO know! I know that God LOVES me, that he sent His SON to DIE, to SAVE me!
So now, MY CROSS, is to spend my LIFE, telling people that! And trying to TEACH them, WHAT God wants, so THEY can go out and tell OTHERS!
THAT IS MY CROSS! It is NOT necessarily YOURS! Maybe YOURS is to go out and pass out Gospel tracts…or maybe go to those who are ILL and PRAY for them, give them comfort…or maybe your cross is to give of your INCOME so MISSIONARIES can be supported, and they can tell others that God loves them.
There are many different crosses, not all the same…but when you look at the Cross where Jesus Died, and BELIEVE that He Died for YOU, and CONFESS that He ROSE AGAIN…and understand that He’s coming BACK one day…then there WILL BE a cross for you! Maybe a life of PRAYER…a life of SERVICE…whatever it is, if YOU will faithfully follow it, then one day, HEAVEN will be yours.
There are really only TWO choices! Look at the Cross, and then make the RIGHT choice!
And for all who have MADE that choice, we are now going to go into a time of OBSERVING that Sacrifice Jesus made for us…so I’ll invite the deacons and deaconesses to come and prepare the Lord’s Table for us…and I’ll invite YOU, if you have been saved by the Blood of Calvary, to join us as we make this Remembrance, as the Lord asked us to.
And I will read again the words of the institution, as Paul recorded them, in the 11th chapter of 1st Corinthians…