Not the End of the Story – Easter 2020

Some facts are much more important than others.

One of my favorite movies of all time is “it’s a wonderful life”. George Bailey, the star of the show is frustrated. All of his dreams for his life has not turned out as he planned. He has not gotten to travel. He has not gotten to be a great architect and build amazing buildings. And now, because of his uncle’s accidental incompetence, he is going to be charged with embezzlement and loose the very little he has gotten in his unfulfilled life.

George is ready to commit suicide there is nothing in his life that he cares about anymore. But right at that moment an angel shows up and proceeds to show him what the world would look like if he had never existed. He discovers that his life is meaningful and that his greatest treasure is his wife and kids. He would gladly take all of his frustrations in exchange for the blessing of his wife and kids. The fact of his going to jail for embezzlement is unimportant the moment he understands the magnitude of having a family that loves him.
 You see the end of the story changes everything.

I once watched my favorite football team, The Philadelphia Eagles get their butts whooped for 48 minutes of a football game. But the last 12 minutes made of one of the most memorable games ever.
The end changes everything.

Growing up in the Church, and being a pastor of all things I have heard many Christian testimonies. Many of the testimonies were simple and awesome, “I grew up in a Christian home, and I always kind of believed in God but I really want to show my love for him now.” Those are great … but the stories that you remember are the ones of, Rebellious teenagers, broken relationships, Drugs, Alcohol, Isolation, Jail, cutting, bullies, and sin. 
 It’s not the beginning of the story that makes us rejoice. It’s not even the middle, but it’s the end of a story that makes us get up and cheer.

Jesus was crucified dead and buried. But that is not the end of the story, we know the end of the story

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.
Luke 24:1-6

 The fact of the empty tomb is a fact that changes everything
 First, it changed the lives of the disciples. They went from the fearing cowardly bumbling fisherman of the gospels to the bold apostles who would turn the world upside down.

 The fact of the empty tomb changes the way we see death itself. The black cloud of fear the screams at the edges of your consciousness is replaced by hope and faith. Even the bleak shadow of death is bright on resurrection morning. 

The fact that Jesus rose from the dead is a fact that changes, every other fact in life.

APOLOGETICS.

This might seem happy and hopeful, but fairy tales are not something to build your life around. Is it true? can we know it’s true or is this something that we need to take by blind faith? 

 First, Christians don’t believe in blind faith, it is the unbelievers that the bible calls blind. 
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:4   
 But the problem comes if you’re skeptical, how can I convince you to see something that you cannot see? 

 Sometimes, when you’re a pastor you get into conversations about the validity of Christianity. People have this expectation that you are going to be able to convince others that God is real, the bible is true and Jesus Christ died for their sins and rose again.

 The truth is I cannot convince anyone. I have arguments, arguments all day long. But convincing people takes far more then arguments. Occasionally you can convince some people of some things, but for the most part, people are not convinced. People more often arrange facts to suit their opinions then opinions to suit their facts.

 So I can teach you about the Liar, Lunatic Lord. Argument. 
 Which is about how Jesus could not just be a good guy or a fine teacher of moral truth. He said that he was God. Either he is a liar, which might seem like a possibility but his character, his life and certainly his death does not match the profile of a liar. Or He is crazy, but he most certainly not crazy because crazy people do not speak as Jesus spoke. And so then he must be what he claims to be.
 Or I could show you the first mover argument. The fact that every cause must have a beginning and in order for there to be anything there must be something that creates without being caused by anything else.

 But too often people hear these things as just noise. Or perhaps they may invoke a “Yeah Maybe”. Often people are willing to kinda believe this. But Jesus does not call people to just barely believing, Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him. He calls us to deny ourselves. 

 If I cannot convince you with clever arguments what can I do? I heard an atheist say this once, and it has always stuck with me, he asked, “How can you believe if you don’t?”. Well, you believe because the Holy Spirit opens your eyes to see Jesus as wonderful and the bible as true. 

but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:23-24  

 The Gospel of Jesus is foolish right up to the point where it is not. The gospel is unbelievable until you believe! 
 This is why if you are out there and skeptical, I pray for you that God would draw you, that the Holy Spirit would convict you, and that the Love of God would fill your heart. 

But if there is one thing that I can say to the skeptical. And it’s so relevant today because the fear of death is all around us. This is the hope that I can offer to everyone out there. I cannot persuade you beyond a shadow of a doubt that everything in the bible is true. But this I know, I know someone who died and still lives, Jesus Christ. I cannot give to the answers, but I can introduce you to THE answer, Jesus Christ himself. 

FALLING IN LOVE
Because believing in Jesus Christ is more like falling in love, and less like understanding the Pythagorean theorem. For some reason, I’m thinking a lot about middle school math right now because I’m supposed to be teaching my children all the time. So one of my children is learning the Pythagorean theorem which states. 
 The sum of the areas of the two squares on the legs (a and b) equals the area of the square on the hypotenuse (c). I just gave some of you a warm feeling of recognition and others a horrible shiver.

I like this math equation because it is one of the only mathematical equations that are useful if you are building a house and trying to determine if it is square.
But anyway, to learn the Pythagorean you just write out the theory, you use it a bit, and you get a good grade in math and you move on with life.

Jesus is not like this. I could go through all the historical evidence from scholars, I could show you through Anselm’s proofs, I could teach you Pascal’s wager. But you can’t learn Jesus like that because Jesus is not a mathematical formula to learn, Jesus + Faith = Eternal life. Jesus is God in the flesh for you to meet in your heart by the mysterious power of the Spirit’s working.

 It’s like how I fell in love with my wife. I don’t know how it works, but one day I was so entirely smitten by her that I could not think of anything else but being with her. Jesus is like that. One day he is just a name associated with some religion, and another he is the treasure that you would give everything for. 

There is only one thing that I can do, and it’s kind of like setting up two people on a blind date. To fall in love you need some contact, you need to know who the person is. There is no better way to get to know Jesus than to read about him in one of his three official authorized biographies. I would recommend reading the Gospel of John. Which you can look up, on the internet or find in a bible about 2/3rds of the way through it unless it’s one of those little Gideon NT bibles where it’s right near the front. 

WHAT IS EASTER?
 Today is Easter. This is the celebration of Jesus death and resurrection. Which is the only grounds for our being reconciled to God and being freed from the curse of death.

 All people are sinful, this is a plain and almost indisputable fact. 

 It’s a strange time we are living in, and I cannot think of another time in my entire life where sin was so much on people’s minds. Sin is breaking God’s law, and for much of my life I have lived in a society that hardly even believed in sin, but all of a sudden I live in a society that really believes in sin, although they don’t call it that.

Every-time you see someone online complaining of another person’s failure to practice “social distancing” they are complaining about sin. I think the two most popular activities during this time are; 1) complaining about having to be socially distanced, and 2) complaining about other people, not social distancing as well and you are.

People are angry and an internet mob is ready to pop up to judge. Now what we do not realize is that our definition of sin is not God’s definition of sin. But that feeling of wanting Justice, there is something there. And it speaks to the knowledge that we all have on our hearts that there is a measuring stick in the universe, and there is hell to pay for those who do not live up too it. 
God is perfectly just and will judge every sin in just measure

But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works:  Romans 2:5-6

This is our situation without Christ. We are crushed under our sin and even more God’s pending judgment on it. And that feeling we get when we see people being reckless with other’s health, that sense of justice. That justice that is so quick to condemn others condemns ourselves. Even more, is the fact that our sins against each other are just the tip of the iceberg, we are commanded to Love God with our whole heart soul mind and strength. How does once even measure how far short of that standard one has fallen.

 You might, like some, want to add up all the good against the bad. So to God, sure I’ve done some rotten things in my life but look at all the good things I’ve done. But you can only get on the good side of the ledger if you radically redefine good and bad according to your flimsy standard.
And try this with your spouse, sure I had one little affair, but hey I washed the dishes …. Good deeds do not cover over bad ones.

And so by ourselves and our own merits, we are without hope in this world. 
 But the end of the Story does change everything. 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.    John 3:16

Christianity is not about what you can do for God. It’s about what God has done for us. Because we could not help ourselves Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe, Because…

The cross was not Jesus cross, It was my cross. It was my cross for every angry word I’ve said, for every trust, I’ve betrayed for every time I have blasphemed God by my words and actions. It was my death and hell that he volunteered for.
As God’s word declares

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:13-14  

Justice cried out death, crucify, and it called out for me, but Jesus stepped into my place and died on my cross. The record of debt that was impossible for me to pay was crucified with Christ on the cross. And now since the penalty is paid, I am free by faith.

But why faith, why is faith the necessary thing that links us with Christ?
HOW DOES FAITH CONNECT US WITH JESUS?
God’s word tells us
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 
Romans 4:4-5 

Paul, using the example of Abraham, shows here that it must be by faith because if it was by any single thing we did it would make Christianity be some sort of commercial exchange, we give this to God, God gives us a ticket for Ethereal life. But there is no payment we bring to the ticket office of salvation. We provide nothing except the sin that made Christ’s cross necessary. Our faith is not what we bring but the mere trust God who in Christ gives us everything. Our faith in the God who saves us according to his love alone and not for any speck of good in us.

God’s word declares that we are saved by faith, or our believing in Christ alone for salvation. 

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 
Romans 10:9-11

By believing in Jesus, by trusting in him, the benefits of his death are bestowed to us as a gift. That is what it means to be saved by grace to be saved by a gift of God alone.
 We could think about it as a bank account. We have a huge negative balance and faith unites us to Jesus’s account. Jesus covers our dept and so much more.

I have been following everything with this COVID 19 pretty closely. Too closely, I would be better off if I ignored all of this more. Life does go on, and as someone with four kids at home this is a gift, there is so much more precious time with these precious girls. 

 One of the more hopeful things is possible treatments, of which there are few and the science is pretty anecdotal, which is too say bad. And there are a million conspiracy theories and quack medicine, don’t share conspiracies. Anyways.
  Of all the things I have seen, there is one that is interesting and already being used in many places around the world. This is a treatment that is so old that it was used over 100 years ago in the first worldwide global pandemic, the Spanish flu of 1918.
 Amazingly, in the last 100 years, we have hardly improved in fighting viruses, how fragile we are.

 The treatment is called “convalescent blood plasma transfusion” and it’s pretty simple to get your mind around. You take blood plasma from someone who has recovered from COVID 19, and you put them into someone who is sick with COVID 19. The antibodies from the recovered person work in the sick person’s body to fight off the disease. You can only donate enough plasma from a recovered person to help 3 sick patients, but it isn’t a cureall but it is something.

This is an awesome picture of what Jesus does for us in his death and resurrection. He takes on the sin and sickness of the world, suffers the penalty of death for it, but through his perfect life rises again on the third day to the glory of God the Father, Hallelujah AMEN!
Now that he has defeated death he can share that with us by faith, just like the antibodies in the blood get shared with the sick patient. We get his healing blood applied to our souls by faith. This is an inoculation against death itself!

Things seem dark in this world now. But as we know the end of the story changes everything. 
 If you today are struggling under the weight of your sin, come to Jesus Christ, there is freedom from sins, freedom from death itself in such a way that Cancer, car accident or COVID 19 can never take away from you.

THE BEAUTY OF THE RESURRECTION
 Five weeks ago we were living our lives as if everything was just going to keep going as it was forever and ever.   

 all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 2 Peter 3:4

But this one fact, a little virus, smaller than the tip of my hair. Has brought everything in this modern machine to a grinding halt. This one little fact has changed everything about how we live our lives today.

On that gracious morning almost 2000 years ago the body of Jesus Christ was cold in the ground. The disciples wept and hid in fear. The powers of the world triumphed. Death itself was ascendant. But in the twinkling of the eye that formerly cold body was breathing and more alive then we have ever been. In a moment everything changed forever in the resurrection of Christ the Lord.

Did I tell you that the end of the story changes everything

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 
1 Corinthians 15:55-57

The fact of Jesus’ victory over the grave changes everything.

When faced with disappointments in life, I know that each one pales in comparison to the eternal weight of glory that is waiting to be revealed, because, Jesus rose from the dead. 
So what if I didn’t get everything I wanted in my 80 years here. I have eternity and Jesus waiting just on the other side of that door.

When faced with the addictions that trap and ensnare us. Even in the darkness, we can know that no matter how low good Friday seems, Sunday’s a’coming. the tomb is still empty, the end of the story changes everything.

When faced with the darkness of our sin. When we look in that mirror and feel that no-one could love us. We can come to God in repentance and hope, knowing that He has and will make dead hearts live, because the end of the story is an empty tomb.

When we have family conflicts that can never seem to be resolved. When drama whips around like a stone in a sling. We can endure with grace and love because the end of the story is an empty tomb and a risen Savior.

When we bury the ones we love. In Christ we can plant them in hope knowing that they will not stay there. Because the end of the story is Jesus walking out of that tomb that he was carried into.

When we face the long dark day of our death, We can declare with Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:55   “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” – 
 Because the end of the story is an empty tomb.

There is no disappointment so crushing. There is no weakness so complete. There is no personal failing so absolute to stand in the face of the empty tomb.

No virus, sickness or cancer on earth can hold up to the remarkable fact that Jesus went into the tomb cold and dead, but walked out alive and whole never to suffer again.

The tomb is empty, you can wake every day with the hope that no matter what terrible thing happens today it is not the end of the story

You can sleep, safe in the hands of God, knowing that even death itself will not keep his love from you.

Today is not the end of your story. Even if you die today, that will not be the end of the story, if you believe in Jesus or not. 

We need to remember that we are not at the end of our stories, and the thing about the middle of stories is that they are often difficult, they often have many obstacles to overcome. But with Jesus, we know the one fact that changes everything. The fact that Jesus Christ rose from the grave. 

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