Sunday, April 4, 2010

Jesus Is Alive!

Today, around the globe Christians are celebrating. We celebrate the great work of God. Today, we celebrate the Resurrection. Jesus was dead, but now He is alive. And this celebration of what God has done has a goal. Listen to a Psalm. ‘We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God…’ We celebrate to remember God’s great works. We celebrate so that we and our children, being awed by those great works of God, might set our hope in Him. What I would like to do is help you in that. I would like to help you to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, so that your hope in Him, and that of your children, might be strengthened. Let’s see what the Spirit will do.

Jesus died on Good Friday. He died to pay the penalty for all of our sins. He really died. But having accomplished that task, He walked out of the tomb. On the first resurrection Sunday, Jesus was alive again. That means His heart was beating, His brain was working, He walked away from His grave. On that Sunday Jesus was alive just like He was before Friday, except more so. Jesus is alive.

Now how does that translate into hope? Satan is quite content to let us believe whatever we want – as long as it’s not translated into action. Do you want to believe in Jesus’ resurrection? Fine – as long as you gain no hope from it. That’s Satan’s attitude. But it really is about hope, hope for dealing with today as well as hope to face the future. So, to help you as you work at translating this great deed of God into action, I’m going to pose and then answer a question that will move you a little further along in building hope. So, here’s my question. What is Jesus doing now? If it’s true that He is alive – and it is! – what is He doing? Dead people do nothing. Living people act. What is Jesus doing? Luke gives his answer in the book of Acts.

‘In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.’ [Acts 1.1-3]

This is the introduction to Luke’s second book. He begins by reminding Theophilus about his first book, what we call the Gospel of Luke. And what was that book about? ‘In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach…’ Well, that tells you what this second book is about. It’s all about what Jesus is continuing to do and teach. The name of the book is ‘The Acts of the Apostles’. But I suppose we could rename it ‘The Acts of Jesus’. That’s what Luke thinks. But did all of this stop with last chapter of Acts? Did Jesus stop His doing and teaching at that point? Certainly not! And that gives us the beginnings of an answer to our question. What is Jesus doing now? Jesus is still busy doing and teaching just as He was when He walked with the Twelve back in the first century. If we want to have some sense of what that actually looks like all we have to do is look at the Gospels. By showing us what He did then the Gospels will explain what Jesus is doing now.

Luke talks about Jesus doing and teaching. Let’s start with the teaching part. Luke is clear. Jesus taught in the first century and He is still teaching today. Why? What’s His goal in this? That can be a very helpful question. Does Jesus want all His followers to be smart? To be expert theologians? No. The goal of Jesus’ teaching isn’t knowledge. His goal is love – love for God and love for neighbor. And that means that even as His goal is for more than just knowledge, it also goes deeper than the mere behavior. If the point of it all is for us to act properly, to obey, then we are no different from well trained pets. They obey – in hope of the payoff. What Jesus wants is something that is deeper than that. He wants something that has its roots in the heart. He wants love. And that requires more than a well trained will. It includes the affections. Our desires and yearnings and feelings are to be involved. Jesus is after your heart. Because of the way that we are created, the heart is reached through the mind. You reach the heart by teaching. So, Jesus is busy teaching you about love. Jesus is teaching you what love is and what it isn’t. He’s teaching you how to love and why. And He’s doing this because life is best lived in the context of love: His love for you, yours for Him and your love for each other. And that is important because living in context of love is the best way to make God look good. And after all, that’s the point, right? All of that explains this verse. ‘When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.’ Our need is to understand and express love. And the way we get to that point is by Jesus teaching us. Jesus is alive. And He is busy teaching you. And the proof of that is your growing ability to love.

That was the teaching part. Now the doing part. What do you find Jesus doing in the Gospels? One thing is miracles. And lots of them. You can divide the miracles up into three categories. First, there are the nature miracles. Jesus walks on a stormy sea, feeds five thousand with someone’s lunch, changes plain water into the best wine. There are lots of lessons here. Let me get at one with this quote from Jeremiah. ‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.’ You have faced – and will continue to face – many situations where Satan will tell you, ‘Give up. This situation is beyond hope. There’s nothing that you can do to change that. So, just give up.’ It’s at times like that that you need to remember that Jesus does impossible things. He transforms seemingly hopeless situations into times of joy and celebration. Isn’t His resurrection a great example of that? And that’s not just something limited to the first century. Jesus is still at work. He still does the impossible. Jesus is alive, and He still does miracles.

Then there is the second category of miracles, exorcisms. Throughout the Gospels, you see Jesus casting out demons. Again, lots going on, but here’s a thought. I don’t know a lot about angels, but I do know that they are very powerful. So, try imagining a very powerful angel, a leader of angels, who is evil through and through. That’s your enemy. That’s Satan. He and those with him attack you every day. And there are times when they gain a bit of success and life just feels awfully dark. This whole area of Satan and his demons is an area that many of you know little about. And that’s not good. Do you think that Satan has given up and will leave you alone? Remember Peter’s exhortation. ‘Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.’ Much of what you deal with on a regular basis is the effect of Satan’s roar. He’s after you, seeking to devour you. Be aware of that, but don’t be afraid. Remember that Jesus is alive, and He still sends demons running. And because of that, you can be full of hope even when life gets dark.

One more category, the healing miracles. The healing miracles of the first century and today are pictures of Jesus rolling back the affects of sin. There is nothing good about sin. It’s just evil and destructive. And one persistent reminder of that is what is happening to your bodies. The destructive power of sin is not limited to the body. Sin also affects the soul. It’s just that sin’s destructive power becomes very obvious in the body. It’s fine to use the medical language of arthritis and viruses and cancer and all the rest, but remember that behind all of that is sin. Our bodies become diseased and deteriorate because of sin. Jesus’ healing miracles are a sign that He is removing the effects of sin. He has come to heal people, to heal their bodies and their souls. Sometimes that becomes obvious when He heals someone’s body. But that is just part of the work, and a reminder of the part that is not so obvious, though just as miraculous. Jesus is also removing the effects of sin from the soul. So, these miracles of healing are a taste of heaven, a reminder that Jesus has come to undo the damage that sin has caused. And one day sin will be completely gone, from the body and the soul. Complete healing! Jesus is busy dealing with sin and its effects in your life. That gives hope as you continue your fight against remaining sin.

Let me mention one more thing that Jesus did in the Gospels that He is doing today. He is praying for you. He did that on the night before He died. ‘I do not ask for these only [the apostles], but also for those who will believe in me through their word…’ Jesus prayed for you then. And He is still praying for you. And He prays to the Father as someone who has experienced life just as you do. So, He prays for you as you wrestle with decisions, strive to do what is right, are confronted by nasty people and all the rest. He understands by experience what those things are like. And that affects His prayers. Do you remember the time that Jesus was in the synagogue with a man whose hand was withered? Everyone was wondering whether Jesus would heal him. It was the Sabbath, after all. And do you remember Jesus’ response? ‘And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart…’ Jesus has not changed. He has not become some stoic. He is still emotional. He still gets angry. He still is grieved. And all of that becomes a part of His prayers for you. He understands what’s going on in your life and He prays accordingly, sometimes with a little heat and sometimes with tears. Jesus is praying for you.

Now, all of this needs to be seen in a larger context. All the things that Jesus is doing have a common goal. They all fit together. Jesus said, ‘I will build My Church.’ That’s what He was doing in all those events recorded in the Gospels. And that’s what He’s doing today. His goal is not to have a bunch of individuals show up in heaven some day. His goal is to have a Church. By Church I don’t mean some institution nor do I mean simply a collection of people. Paul uses the imagery of a body to describe the Church. A body is more than just a bunch of parts, a hand here and an arm way over there. A body is a union of parts, each one fitting in with the others. So Paul writes, ‘For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.’ That’s Jesus goal, for all the saints to be a unified body, His unified body, His Church. That’s what Jesus was aiming at when He began to do and teach and that’s what He is still working toward. That’s what Jesus is doing with us here at Faith Reformed. Jesus is still building His Church.

Let me close with this. I want to explain a little of what was behind this sermon, what my goal has been in preaching it to you. Far too many Christians struggle with being faithful disciples because they assume that they are basically on their own. It’s them and a book. The task is to figure out how to use the book so that they can make it to heaven. Once they get to heaven’s gates they know what to say so that they can get in, but it’s getting there that’s the problem. So, they work at trying to live according to the book. But it gets really frustrating at times because they know that they aren’t doing all that well. What is this? What shall we call it? How about ‘salvation by works’? Of course, Christians respond to this by saying that they believe in Jesus, that getting into heaven is a matter of grace. And they really do believe this. They know what to say once they stand before God. Their thinking is fine. It’s their emotions that are off. It still feels like getting to the place of standing before God so that they can profess their faith is something that is all up to them. It’s them, alone, with a book. Salvation by works. And this is more than frustrating. At times it’s frightening. ‘Can I do this well enough to hang on? Will I make it?’ Now, when I say it this way, it’s obvious to everyone that it’s all wrong. But this is how it feels for too many saints. So, what’s the solution? Well, that’s what this sermon has been about. You are not alone. Jesus is alive. And He is busy working in your life. The whole thing is summarized at the end of Matthew. Here is the verse that you take home with you. Jesus said: ‘I am with you always.’ Dead people cannot say that. We do not follow some famous dead person. Jesus is alive. And He isn’t up in heaven busy taking in the sights. Yes, He has ascended to the right hand of the Father, but He is also with you, walking with you every step of the way. He’s alive and continuing to do and to teach.

This basic doctrine of the faith, Jesus’ resurrection, makes its dent in your life when you tell yourself, ‘Jesus is alive and because of that He is with me. He is doing and teaching in my life just as He was doing and teaching in the lives of all those people in the Gospels.’ So, you are not alone. Jesus is with you. And that gives hope.

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